Saturday, September 26, 2015

Fearsome Ineptitude Extraordinaire

"What happened was more than they were ready for."
"People were climbing over one another just to breathe. It was like a wave. You go forward and suddenly you go back."
Abdullah Lotfy, survivor, Egyptian pilgrim, Mina, Saudi Arabia

"The reputation of the kingdom is on the line."
"The fact is, despite everything Saudi Arabia has done, accidents and tragedies continue to happen."
Fawaz Gerges, Middle East expert, London School of Economics

"You can't count how many bodies there were. They were stacked high."
Sudanese pilgrim Mohammed Awad, 36
Saudi emergency personnel surround bodies of Hajj pilgrims at the site of a stampede Thursday, September 24, in Mecca, Islam's holiest city. Thursday morning's stampede killed hundreds during one of the last rituals of the<a href=""> Hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage</a>.
Crowded streets turned into a nightmare as hundreds were killed and hundreds more injured in a stampede Thursday in the city of Mina, on the edge of the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia : AFP/Getty Images
Saudi Arabia, with its vast oil wealth, has invested in advanced technology and complex engineering to minimize the likelihood of just such disasters occurring. From building new approaches to the Islamic sites of sacred heritage to employing greater numbers of security personnel, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has assured the ummah that it is once again prepared for the annual hajj, enjoining pious Muslims to place their trust in the House of Saud as custodians of Islam's most sacred sites.

But the catastrophe, the latest in a breathtaking series of misadventures killing hundreds of people and injuring many hundreds more, is once again the fallout of false security. An unsecured giant crane, one among many circling the great mosque in Mecca fell earlier in the month, crushing 111 people and injuring almost 400, as Saudi Arabia goes about modernizing the heritage sites which no longer resemble their original configurations.

In this latest tragedy the simple expedient of being aware of and adequately directing traffic so that two disparate giant groupings of pilgrims did not confront one another with nowhere to turn and inspiring to panic, should never have happened. It represents the most basic of simple enough safety measures; ensuring that horde number one which had completed its devil-bashing mission could exit, allowing horde number two to enter for the same purpose.

Instead, the two masses of people were allowed to use the same thoroughfare, while each was travelling in a direction that guaranteed the human tide travelling in opposite directions would collide with catastrophic results. An episode of fearsome ineptitude. So much for the assurances and self-satisfaction that Saudi Arabia exudes in being custodian and exalted caretaker of Islam's honour and pride.

Muslim pilgrims and rescuers gather around the victims.
AFP/Getty Images
For a religion of peace and human compassion, Islam is proving itself repeatedly to be a religion of war-mongering lack of human compassion. The first horde of pilgrims had completed their stone-throwing ritual to wound the devil and were departing  while the second crowd was in the process of arriving for the very same purpose. The devil obviously refused to be put in its place and decided it would take affront and perform its own deadly act of rejection.

And compassionate Saudi Arabia whose government refused a suggestion that the 160,000 air-conditioned tents set up for the hajj be diverted for use by Syrian refugees fleeing ongoing attacks by the Shiite Alawite government of Bashar al-Assad on Syrian Sunnis, refusing to become involved, though Saudi Arabia is a Sunni stronghold, demonstrated aptly just how supportive they are of human rights.

The Saudi King, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques in Medina and Mecca, oversees an annual event that brings millions of devout Muslims to the hajj, as the Koran enjoins them to do at least once in their lifetimes. His administration has continued to expand the Grand Mosque housing the Kaaba, circled by the faithful. Sophisticated face-recognition technology counts the numbers present and five thousand CCTV cameras are sprinkled throughout the holy cities.

But adequate numbers of security personnel and the most obvious crowd control methods to be undertaken whereby two massive marches would not confront each other to ensue in panic and death was neglected. At least 771 and likely more people were trampled and crushed to death, making this year the second most deadly such event in the recent history of the hajj.

But rest assured, an investigation is underway.

Saudi ambulances arrive on the scene.
AFP/Getty Images

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