Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Wages of ... Hastiness ... is Death?

345 people were killed in a stampede in Mina today.  The stampede took place at a part of the hajj (Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca) where pilgrims have to hit each of three stone pillars (" al-Jamarat") that represent the Devil with seven thrown stones in order to purge themselves of sin.  My condolences to the families of the pilgrims.
I don't know anyone with relatives on hajj, or I'd definitely call them.  Before blogging to make fun of the Saudi government about it.
So, uh, how exactly did that happen?
It seems the Saudi authorities and, well, everyone else, have different ideas about the cause of this tragedy.
According to ABC:
The site in the desert of Mina outside the holy city of Mecca is a notorious bottleneck in the weeklong pilgrimage and has seen deadly incidents in seven of the past 17 years, including a stampede in 1990 that killed 1,426 people and one in 2004 that killed 244.
Ensuring a smooth pilgrimage is a key concern for Saudi Arabia's royal family, which bolsters its legitimacy by touting its role as the "custodian of the holy cities" of Mecca and Medina, where Islam's 7th century prophet Muhammad was born and lived.
So important that the Saudis would probably have gone to any trouble to prevent another stampede, right?  And they did.  Of course. 
First, Saudi Arabia "sets a quota of participants, allowing every nation to send 1,000 pilgrims for every 1 million in population."  That's one in 1,000, and with 1.5 billion Muslims, only gets you to 1.5 million pilgrims.  But the same article said this year's hajj drew 2.5 million pilgrims.  Saudi population is about 26 million, so it's at least conceivable the extra million pilgrims are all locals, and not that the quota system isn't run properly.
Besides, "[a]bout 60,000 Saudi police and soldiers patrolled the Mina plain once the stoning ritual began Tuesday to direct pilgrims. Helicopters flew overhead, and authorities monitored the pilgrims from a control room through closed-circuit TV."  Please, no Saudi army jokes-- this is a family blog.
"They look indifferent. They don't carry out their duties seriously," Iftikhar Hussein, an Iraqi pilgrim, said.
Well, I think we can chalk that comment up to Iraqis and their impossibly high standards for personal security and competent government.  What else?
There are also entrance and exit ramps, and signs...
Thursday's stampede occurred below the platform, near one of the four big ramps. In theory, the crowds are supposed to enter the platform using two of the ramps and exit down the other two, but pilgrims often ignore the rules. Thousands of pilgrims were rushing to complete the last of the three days of the stoning ritual before sunset when some of them began to trip over dropped baggage, causing a large pileup, said Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, spokesman for the Interior Ministry.
Many pilgrims carry personal belongings tents, clothes and bags of food as they move between the various stages of the hajj.
"This was fate destined by God," al-Turki said. "Some of the pilgrims were undisciplined and hasty to finish the ritual as soon as possible."
Now I see. Destined by God.  Punishing with death those who were . . . hasty? Yes.  The wages of hastiness is death (Sura cite not likely forthcoming, though I've e-mailed al-Turki).
I'm sure God wouldn't care that "[m]any of the pilgrims are in a rush because of the time constraints on the ritual and their anxiety about past stampedes."  It's not like He would care that the pilgrims trekked from halfway around the globe to fulfil their religious duties if they finally succumbed to Hastiness.  A lack of discipline and patience, while it's not at the top of His list of sins, is certainly one of his, I dunno, pet peeves.
"This should not happen every year. It should be stopped, it's a scandal. There must be a way to organize this better," said Anwar Sadiqi, a pilgrim from Pakistan.
Sadiqi, you faithless whiner!  You think just because your government can split the atom that crowd control is within Man's reach? Didn't you listen to the Major General?  It's because God created Man from dust and clay, which are, if you don't think too hard about it, irredeemably undisciplined and hasty.
Past stampedes serve to test the valor and patience of the present pilgrims.  And those past stampedes, along with another stampede (in spite of, I might add, some at least half-assed efforts by the Interior Ministry to prevent stampeding) must mean this was God's will.  This is in no way a reflection on the feckless government in charge of Mecca, and anyone who insinuates otherwise is probably committing the sin of judgmentalism.
Whatchyagonnado?  It's not like people will stop coming.
I need a nap.

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