Of all places in Afghanistan for a UN compound to be turned into a human abattoir, we’re supposed to be shocked that it would be in the contented little metropolis of Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of the peaceful northern province of Balkh. We’re supposed to be astonished that the murderers of those seven UN workers arose from a frenzied mob at the head of a procession that started out at the city’s famous Blue Mosque.Read it all.
We should not be surprised at all.
For centuries, Mazar’s glorious Shrine of Hazrat Ali was the journey’s end for Shia pilgrims from afar and an everyday refuge of gardens and esplanades for the local Sunni majority. The Blue Mosque, where everyone prays together, is a fountainhead of Sufi cosmopolitanism. It is a marvel of classic Islamic architecture built in the grand Timurid style on deep Zoroastrian foundations. This is no grim, radical madrassa.
Mazar has survived as a rebuke to the Islamist orthodoxies that have stultified civilized life from Persepolis to Peshawar. It is the epicenter of everything that jihadists hold to be heretical. During the late 1990s, the city put up an especially fierce resistance to Taliban tyranny. Since 2004 the province’s bare-knuckle governor, Atta Mohammed Noor, has cleaved to a law-and-order ferocity that terrifies the Taliban-friendly Pashtuns who form Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s base of power.
It was not in spite of these things but precisely because of them that about three years ago, Shia Khomeinists and Sunni Wahhabists teamed up in their efforts at subversion in Mazar. During my visits in the city last June, the smartest young Afghans I spoke with were worried that it was just a matter of time before these efforts would spill out in blood.
More background on Terry Glavin’s blog, here, here, and here.
Dion Nissenbaum and Maria Abi-Habib at the Wall Street Journal reconstruct events of the massacre.
C Christine Fair at Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel on Karzai’s role.