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Martin Kramer says: Israel has capitulated over the metal detectors (and surveillance cameras) that it installed last week at the entrances to the Temple Mount/Haram ash-Sharif. As anyone familiar with the long history of the "status quo" in Jerusalem knows, the "crisis" is wholly manufactured, and is but the latest chapter in a fifty-year Israeli-Palestinian struggle over sovereign authority. The Palestinian aim has been to expand the autonomous administration of the Haram ash-Sharif, permitted them in 1967, and turn the esplanade into an extra-territorial enclave by leveraging Israeli and international fears of a wider conflagration. In this long-term campaign, they have had much success, and the latest "crisis" has produced yet another Palestinian "victory."
Martin Kramer says: The episode has raised the question of just what constitutes legitimate security measures at Islamic holy shrines and iconic mosques. We live in a time when the primary threat to the security of these sites arises from Muslims themselves—notably, extremists bent on using them as launching pads for violent acts designed to destabilize and terrorize. Across the Muslim world, governments are acutely aware of the vulnerabilities of these sites, and have taken measures to secure them. In particular, they have resorted to a commonplace technology: metal detectors. Below, I provide some prime examples, from Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates. How do these states differ from Israel? They are effective and sole sovereigns over the holy shrines and major mosques in their territory. Israel apparently is not. Off we go on quick trip to Islam's bucket list of top sites. Please place your keys and camera in the basket.
Martin Kramer says: Mashhad, Iran: "Metal detectors and a baggage search greeted me at the entrance to the [Imam Reza] shrine in Mashhad. Not long ago this noble sanctuary was defiled by violence and the splatter of blood. The security at the gate was a reminder of the grim day in 1994 when a five-kilogram bomb exploded in the women's section of the Imam Reza mosque." (Marcello di Cintio, Poets and Pahlevans: A Journey into the Heart of Iran, 2006.)
Martin Kramer says: Damascus, Syria: “Journeying to Sayyida Zainab [the most important Shiite shrine in Syria], about nine miles from the city centre, means running the gauntlet of kidnapping, roadside bombs, sniper fire and mortars. The route cuts through rebel-held suburbs, travelling along the road to the main airport, which is attacked almost daily…. Entering through a side gate, visitors are required to file through metal detectors.” (Ruth Sherlock, "Syria: death and prayers in Damascus," Telegraph, May 17, 2013.)
Martin Kramer says: Tehran, Iran: At Ayatollah Khomeini’s mega-mausoleum: "The rest of us pass through metal detectors and are quickly pulled aside by a posse of black-chadored women who hustle us behind private curtains for a very thorough once-over." (Holly Morris, Adventure Divas, 2005.) And: “The bus stopped first at the Khomeini shrine, on Tehran's outskirts. The passengers passed through metal detectors to peek inside the mosque—though most didn't go up and kiss the grille around Khomeini's grave the way some Iranians did.” (Anne Barnard, “Iran is hot destination for Iraqis seeking calm,” Boston Globe, May 13, 2007).
Martin Kramer says: Karbala, Iraq: “Amid tight security, millions of Shiite pilgrims flocked yesterday to the Iraqi shrine city of Karbala for Arbaeen, one of the holiest ceremonies in the Shiite calendar…. A string of attacks [had] kept many away. Today pilgrims must go through a series of checkpoints that include metal detectors and a full-body frisk before they can enter the city.” (Mehdi Lebouachera and Hassan Abdul Zahra, "Shiite Pilgrims Flock to Iraq Shrine City," Agence France-Presse, Feb. 28, 2008.)
Martin Kramer says: Cairo, Egypt: The security at the entrance to the Ibn Tulun Mosque, the oldest and largest in Cairo, in 2010: “Ahmad Ibn Tulun Street was barricaded from all sides... A policeman would be sitting holding a machine gun. He would ask you to open your bags for security measures.... You had to go through an electric X-ray machine, similar to those found in hotels, airports, and high-end restaurants in Egypt. The X-ray machine seemed totally out of place." (Tarek Swelim, Ibn Tulun: His Lost City and Great Mosque, 2015.)
Martin Kramer says: Tehran, Iran: The main Friday prayer in Tehran: “The next day, I attended Friday prayers in a large, open-sided structure on the grounds of Tehran University… Security was tight. We were frisked, and bags were put through metal detectors.” (Jon Lee Anderson, “Dreaming of Baghdad,” The New Yorker, Feb. 2003.) And: “Security was very tight around the stadium of Tehran University where the faithful assemble for Namaze Jumeh or Friday Prayers. We surrendered all metallic objects after going through a series of metal detectors. I was subjected to an upper body search.” (Sean Penn, “Iran: Actor's dispatches," San Francisco Chronicle, Aug. 22, 2005.)
Martin Kramer says: Mecca, Saudi Arabia: Metal detectors at the Grand Mosque in Mecca? Given the huge numbers, it wouldn’t be easy, but the Saudis have considered it, as recently as 2011: “Explosives detectors are to be installed at the entrances to the Holy Mosque in Mecca as the Saudi authorities boost security around the city's holy sites…. Lieutenant Colonel Fawaz al-Sahafi, who heads the security team at the mosque, told the Saudi Gazette plans to fit ‘sophisticated metal and explosive detectors’ at the multiple gates were under way.” (Riazet Butt, "Explosives detectors to be installed at gates of Mecca's Holy Mosque," Guardian, Aug. 15, 2011.)
Martin Kramer says: Although the metal detectors have been removed, it remains to be seen precisely what sort of arrangement will terminate the present “crisis” in Jerusalem. But there is no doubt that the German artist Gustav Bauernfeind splendidly captured the Palestinian Muslim ideal, in his 1886 painting “At the Entrance to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.” “I am not flattering myself when I say that the conception is very good indeed,” wrote Bauernfeind to a friend. “A group of Jews stand at the gate, their heads thrust slightly forward as they peer into the paradisiacal sun-drenched precinct within, with its gleaming domes and colored tiles and marbled walls, which once had formed their most sacred national shrine; whereas now, seated before that very portal, sword in hand, the gatekeeper (I nearly called him the Temple watchman) bars their way. Within, Mohammedans dressed in vivid costumes stroll, sit, loll about, and the like. A fine contrast, don't you think?"
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