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Attacks on Shia Muslims demand we re-evaluate the fight for human rights

Written By | Jul 5, 2021
Shia Muslims

African schoolchildren in Nigeria. Photo by Doug Linstedt via Unsplash. Royalty free. See link below.

WASHINGTON July 5th 2021 — In recent years, the Middle East has witnessed that most inhumane actions are carried out against Shia Muslims, Christians and Ezidis.


  • In October 2014, many people with different backgrounds were attacked by terrorist groups; we have witnessed the kidnapping of more than 200 girls by Boko Haram in the town of Chibok in northeastern Nigeria and the destruction of schools, churches, and mosques.
  • In July 5th 2021, Boko Haram gunmen kidnapped 140 students from Bethel Baptist High School. Their aim? To take leverage over minorities and the Nigerian government even though many of Boko Haram activities monitored and permitted by Nigerian authorities.

Hammers and Nails

“There’s two kinds of people in this world,” says Will Smith in the movie trailer for “Focus.” “There’s hammers and nails. You decide which one you want to be.” That is certainly an interesting way to categorize humanity. But we could add another kind of individual to the list: someone who watches the “hammer and nails.”

Hammers are those who oppress others to gain and stay in control. Nails are the people who are victimized by them, people who often wish only for equality and freedom. Hammers — terrorist groups like ISIS and governments that of Bahrain — pound on the innocent inhabitants of their states as though they are nails in a workshop.

A clear line exists between oppressors and the oppressed. But is also includes that third party of people — the watchers— and does not remain static. If you are a watcher, your inaction takes away your ability to choose who you want to be. At some point, you had to choose between becoming or supporting a “hammer” or a “nail.” But if your support became that of a passive watcher, your inaction following your choice effectively forces you into the category of the oppressor.

Attacks on Shia Muslims and Christians in Iraq and Pakistan and brutal killings of Shia Muslims in Saudi Arabia and Nigeria show that most of us fall under the third person category. That category includes those who watch the crimes and chose to not actively take one side over another. Unfortunately, it is this approach that encourages more terror.

Also Read: Are Shia religious freedoms caught up in U.S. seizure of Iranian media?

Shia Rights Watch uncovers the bitter truth

In Iraq, Shia Rights Watch reported the kidnapping, torture, and killing of more than 500 Shia Muslims by ISIS. In addition, the organization reports on the terrible fate of  Ezidi women and children. Subsequently, the ISIS leadership sold their victims to ISIS fighters for 50,000 to 150,000 Iraqi Dinars ($42-$130) depending on their age and beauty.

In Bahrain, Shia Rights Watch released a 5-minute video showing Shia women and children storming out of a worship center after Bahraini security’s brutal use of tear gas against Shia Muslims.

Government and religious organizations’ lack of response to these atrocities has simply encouraged the violence. Inaction has allowed mass murder and rights violations to spread across the world.

Increasing anti-Shiism in the Middle East has spread to other countries. As Shia Muslims prepared to commemorated the death of the “third Imam” — Imam Hussein, the grandson of the prophet Mohammad who was beheaded with 72 members of his family by terrorists in 680 AD — terrorists attacked Shia worship centers in several countries. A series of attacks on Shia Muslims were carried out in different countries. These include Australia, where an attack injured a Shia leader in front of a mosque. They also include Nigeria, where more than 20 Shia were killed during commemorations, and Saudi Arabia, where eight Shia Muslims were killed while attending the ritual.

The pattern of intolerant terrorists

There is consistency in the work of terrorist groups. The initial attack is on one’s faiths or ethnicity to scrutinize the reaction of others. In Syria, terrorists began by targeted killings of Shia Muslims in Damascus, Aleppo and other cities. When the world chose silence, they proceeded to attack other minority groups, like Christians. They now knew no one would help their chosen victims or show any opposition.

We seem to forget that we are one human family living together. We look at our situation thinking that terrorists will never reach us. But it is clearly time we re-evaluate our status in the world around us. Have we become the victims (nails). Or are we the ones (hammers) violating people’s rights, whether actively or passively — by just standing by?

Preventing terrorism and further terrorist attacks upon the innocent

Humanity in any religion is the same. It includes caring about others without asking for their religion and faith. At this point, we must determine the steps we can take to prevent the atrocities happening around us from visiting us as well. We and all Shia Muslims must consider these questions and try to come up with reasonable answers to relay to our children.

World Wars I and II left us with many questions. We still look to find answers for the lives in these wars. And we build museums for those either killed or dehumanized based on their religion and beliefs.

Douglas Horton rightly stated, “Action cures fear. Inaction creates terror.” Clearly, we must learn today to “cure our fears” and re-evaluate our fight against human rights violations.

— Headline image details: Photo by Doug Linstedt via Unsplash. Royalty free.

Mustafa Ahkwand

Mustafa Akhwand is founder of minority rights organization Shia Rights Watch. His peace advocacy efforts span from West to East as he facilitates non-violence on the ground in war-ridden nations such as Iraq. He founded the Shia Rights Watch, which focuses on the humanitarian rights of Shia Muslims. Mustafa Hold BCS (Bachelor of Computer Science) and BBA (Bachelor of Business Administration) and MS in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University focusing on Dynamic of Violence. Mustafa has also led facilitation, mediation, and peace-building programs in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan.