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The Other Seven Wonders of the World - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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One hundred million people around the world have cast their votes for the New Seven Wonders of the World almost 2,000 years after the Greek historian, Herodotus, selected the ‘old’ seven wonders. Among the old wonders were the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (Iraq) and the giant Colossus of Rhodes (Greece). From Egypt there was the Lighthouse of Alexandria and the Great Pyramid of Giza (the latter being the only entry to have made both lists), in addition to the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (Turkey), the Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus (Turkey), and lastly, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia (Greece).

Obviously, the Greek historian and the intelligentsia of that age never looked beyond the shores of the Mediterranean rim in what can only be described as a sort of ancient centricity, similar in its attributes to the theory of Western centricity and hegemony often regurgitated by the likes of Edward Said and Abdelwahab ElMessiri.

The organizers of this campaign [to select the new Seven Wonders of the World] even ensured the selection of an equally wondrous date to announce the new list; 07-07-2007. And although the idea was both interesting and amusing, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was not involved in Swiss trailblazer Bernard Weber’s project [the filmmaker and museum curator who launched the campaign in 1999]. Egyptian Culture Minister, Farouk Hosni expressed his resentment for the contest, and even Zahi Hawass, the secretary-general of Egypt Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), stated that the decision should have been delegated to 300 experts.

This delightful account inspired me to select seven wonders of a different kind; they will be exclusively Arab and Islamic. Foreigners and outsiders have no say in this set  just us. However, the criterion for selection is not dictated by constructional rarities; it does not depend on architectural ingenuity or a historical tale such as that of the Taj Mahal, or Petra, or the Great Wall of China.

Instead, as per my humble efforts, the criterion will be one that fulfills the political ‘wonder’ aspect. Location does not matter, unless there is a wondrous political situation looming over it, extending its magic downward. Needless to say, political wonders are not limited to those that will be listed here; I am but humbly highlighting the obvious ones. Readers have the liberty to add to them as they please, especially seeing as I have yet to consider the institution or committee entitled with sponsoring this contest. And especially seeing as I failed to even realize the wondrous date on which it was held 07-07-2007. Perhaps I can make up for this next year on 08-08-2008. That is, if eight has any magical value.

However; moving along, the new and exclusively Arab and Islamic Seven Wonders are as follows:

One: Islamabad’s Red Mosque in Pakistan, which started out as both a mosque and a religious seminary. Later on, it included a section for females that went by the name ‘Hafsa’ school. The Red Mosque then transformed into an out-of-control sanctuary for fugitives on the run from the government  some of whom were responsible for various assassination attempts on President Musharraf. Examples include Maulana Masood Azhar, the leader of the militant Islamic group Jaish-e-Muhammad, while Shehzad Tanweer, one of the four men responsible for the July 7 London attacks, is said to have been educated in this mosque.

Interestingly enough, the mosque’s imam has openly declared his demands. One is the strict implementation of Shariah law, applying the Taliban formula, starting from the areas surrounding the mosque where the noble boys and girls go out on raids and return bearing the loot. One instance of said loot was a woman accused of prostitution. She was arrested by the Hafsa girls, and subsequently forced to repent. Maulana Abdul Aziz [the radical leader of the mosque who has since been arrested while trying to escape last Wednesday] had vowed he would not stop until Musharraf implemented Shariaa law and until he completely eradicated all music and video shops.

Two: The Tribal Territories of the Pakistani-Afghan border, also known as the Waziristan Region. Osama Bin Laden and his chief wingman, Ayman al Zawahiri are believed to be hiding there, as well as others from the al Qaeda leadership. Mullah Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the brother of the Red Mosque imam Maulana Abdul Aziz, stated in a recent interview that Waziristan is supportive of al Qaeda, adding that whatever is carried out against the school shall be met with the “appropriate retaliation”. [He has since been found dead in the basement of the Red Mosque last Tuesday].

The Pakistani army has repeatedly attacked this region in hope of finding al Qaeda leaders, but efforts have been to no avail. The region is both Pakistani and not Pakistani, Afghani and not Afghani, tribal and not tribal, fundamentalist and not fundamentalist  all at once. It is an odd piece of land that does not heed space or time.

Three: The fringes of Southern Lebanon; an area fully governed by the fundamentalist Shia group, Hezbollah, thereby rendering it: ‘The Nation of Hezbollah’. This name was referred to by Wazzah Shararah’s renowned book, which bears the same name. This is an area that is practically owned by Hezbollah and its followers. Upon entering it, it is almost as if you had just stepped into the home of ‘Abu Hadi’; al Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah himself. And why ever not? Is it not the land of God? Albeit a “narrow” land; as acknowledged by one of its residents, Hadi Tawfiq in his book that goes by the same name.

Four: Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, the area in which elements of the infant government reside under the watchful eye of the US. It is where the Iraqi parliament is and where the top government officials’ offices are located. The area is so strictly guarded that it is akin to a heavily shielded island in the midst of the tempestuous Iraqi sea. Notwithstanding, it is not safeguarded from the waves of tsunami-like proportions that come rolling in from the raging seas.

Baghdad’s Green Zone is a live manifestation of the abnormal situation in Iraq. The abnormality lies in the fact that Sunni and Shia politicians simultaneously partake in the political process, and resist it, by supporting those against it. These men, who disagree regarding Iraq’s future whilst simultaneously partaking in its political present, could only seek refuge from the flood of violence incoming from both sides (especially by al Qaeda) by climbing atop this ‘wondrous’ green island of theirs.

Five: Hamas’s Emirate of Gaza, the mother of all wonders. The situation in Palestine, as a whole, is no less a ‘wonder’. Gaza is a long miserable strip along the Mediterranean Sea whose populace is frustrated and angry, and a place in which Hamas’s idealist Islamic slogans find a niche and manage to flow. Standing on the other side in the West Bank is Fatah’s ‘less rigid’ movement, Fatah of the “realistic, quasi-secular” choices.

As a nation, Palestine is without governance, it lacks a decisive and effective vision. Hamas with its famous slogans, such as “From the sea to the river” [Palestine, from the Jordanian river to the Mediterranean Sea] and “Palestine is an Islamic endowment”, has managed to wield authority  an authority that is consequential of the previously rejected Oslo Accords.

Thus, Hamas wishes to maintain its famed rhetoric and yet wield power originating from an accord that contradicts these very slogans. It is a situation that is “so contradictory that one cannot come to acknowledge it.” One can only watch, as the new Emirate of Hamas grows into the latest remedy to a Caliphate-hungry movement  even if it only manages to reign supreme on a miserable, sad strip of land.

Six: Kurdistan in Iraq. This may be the most flamboyant of wonders, as it is the only region in Iraq that has managed to preserve some of the country’s original features. It was never transformed into a deadly scene of violence, assassinations and carnage, despite having been exposed to the same deadly black rain that the rest of the nation has endured. It is both part of Iraq and yet not a part of it, while being both in Iraq and outside of it. Kurdistan has become something of an attraction to those who wish to visit Iraq but do not want the last sight they witness before death to be that of their bodies torn to pieces on Baghdad’s ‘renowned taxi cabs’  that is, if any pieces of their bodies remain at all.

It is truly wondrous. Who could have imagined that the land of the Kurds, which has consistently remained defiant towards Baghdad’s rule for almost a century, now represents Iraq in all its glory?

Seven: Western Sahara, or the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), or even the Polisario Front, call it what you will; it is a land of wonders. When describing its complex political status, you can almost feel the mutations occur, so much in fact that I would compare it to a genetic mutation that develops as a result of harmful rays, such as Chernobyl, for example.

It is a land that cannot decide whether it is an Arab Democratic Republic, or simply a part of Morocco. Today, Morocco’s jurisdiction covers most of Western Sahara. It has repeatedly declared it imperative to its historical heritage. Meanwhile, SADR declared its independence in 1956, according to Wikipedia, and is recognized by 61 countries around the world. It is also a member of the African Union. In the same year 1956, Morocco officially declared its independence. Since then, Morocco has continually called for the unity of its national soil, the issue an ongoing cause of unprecedented tensions between the various nations of Northern Africa, particularly Morocco and Algeria.

We can only genuinely wonder if these Arab and Islamic wonders can ever succeeded in losing their ‘wondrous’ touch so that they may land back into the realm of normality. Perhaps the situation could but persist until the whole Arab and Islamic world becomes a wonderland, just like “The Nation of Hezbollah” and Hamas’s Gaza.

And who knows, when that day arrives, perhaps we could stop our search for wonders and start compiling a list of regularities.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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