A War Uncalled For in Dammaj

Analysis, posted 11.18.2013, from Yemen, in:
A War Uncalled For in Dammaj

With civilians being gassed to death while sleeping in Syria and turmoil all throughout the Middle East, it is little wonder that turmoil in a small village in Northern Yemen can be overlooked. But what makes this situation different is the siege on Dammaj is being waged on a group who take no part in politics or the criticism of leading rulers. They are outspoken against violence except in the case of self-defense, and they justify this relying strictly on authentic texts from three primary sources, the Quran, the Sunnah and the understanding of the earliest generations also known in Arabic as the Salaf.  The ones who attribute themselves to the Salaf call themselves Salafi. The center in Dammaj, known as Dar al Hadeeth was founded over 20 years ago by a man known as Sheikh Muqbil al Wadieem who established one of the leading centers of Salafi thought in what was then known as the Zaydee Shia capital of Yemen. This has led to an ongoing number of attacks and sieges on a center whose students are far from equipped to deal with anti aircraft missiles and other heavy duty weaponry.

The Houthi siege on Dammaj affects all, including the animals. The cats, normally buff with shiny coats on a diet of chicken intestines, chicken feet and the student’s leftovers are now tempted to go hunting. One family who had pet rabbits told of us of how a cat dragged off one rabbit and how their son, less than four picked it up while it was having a seizure pleading to it in Arabic, “ Wake up, wake up, Please don’t die.”  One rabbit was still left but died a day later from shock at the intensity of the rockets. The family has yet to tell the little boy of the loss of his dear family pet. A bit of humor was mixed with sadness as his grandmother said that the sheikh had been able to get a hold of chickens to distribute to the students he held onto one so tightly, squeezing its neck, “almost killing the poor chicken.” His mother gave him a choice of the chicken or the rabbit and he let go of the chicken.

But while one child may think of the loss of a pet, others are thinking of the loss of a parent. In respecting the privacy of students there is a desire to remove the names but it doesn’t take a name to relate to the level of loss one experiences when their loved one never returns home. One woman, whose husband was killed very close to Houthi enemy territory spoke with such a calm and presence about the levels of tests that she and others were experiencing. But where she is, the sisters are constantly encouraging each other to be patient, praying together, working on texts and Quran they have memorized and still continuing to study in the direst of situations.

As of last night there have been more deaths. Two Algerians, two Russians were reported as being killed on the frontlines. But not all deaths have happened from bombs or missiles sent from across the way. A spy was caught yesterday who confessed to having led two groups of students to a particular area and killing them himself. He had been reported of having an altercation some weeks before in which he head butted another student with such force that the other young boy was walking around in a daze. Suspicious arose when on more than one occasion his group members were all killed and he came back unscathed.

Dammaj is nestled in a desert valley part of which is cultivated by its native people. The Dammajis grow all forms of fresh vegetables, construct wooden frameworks for winding vineyards that catch the sun’s strong rays and harvest red juicy pomegranates for which all of Sadah is known. Countries such as neighboring Saudi and the Khaleej vie for the best pomegranates and produce that Dammaj has to offer.

But today the land of Dammaj, known for bringing forth life is now harboring death. Areas plentiful with leafy clusters of grapes can hardly bring the same sweet delight when their shade is now cast over land where bombs explode, wounds have bled and bodies of martyred students lay in rigor mortis.

Ahmed is a 16 year old American man. He may be young but it would be strange to call him a boy when he has known what it’s like to see the scattering of dead bodies after an explosion and has carried injured men with severed limbs. Past Tuesday, the Houthi faction began an intense assault which included the main mosque in the Maktabah where Sheikh Yahya al-Hujooree dedicates his time to teaching thousands of students daily and the mosque in the Mazraah . The attack began at Dhur, the time of the noonday prayer.

Ahmed’s mother , who lost her husband in the war almost 2 years ago  said that they had thought the attacks before were difficult until  this war, but the present intensity causes those in the past to fade in comparison. The live only a few houses away from the Mazraah masjid and  felt the impact of the bomb causing Ahmed  to see what had occurred. He said, “Everyone was hit and a lot were injured…they hit the brothers. Right away six brothers died straight. And maybe 50, 60 people were hit with shrapnel… some were hit in the head… some the hands…others the stomach. Some people were thrown from one side of the masjid to the other side of the masjid.”

He explained that people were afraid that the Houthis would hit the masjid again so they rushed to evacuate the injured. Ahmed had helped with this and explained, “One of the brothers that I took out, his fingers were gone off of his right hand and something was wrong with his head…Another he couldn’t walk and it looked like someone took a knife and just gashed and  stabbed big holes in his leg… this was from the shrapnel.” Ahmed’s brother in law was recently in the understaffed hospital presently recovering from an injury in which shrapnel described as “the size of a nokia phone and just as thick” was embedded deep into his flesh.

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By Andrea Christoph

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