Every tyrannical regime tries their very best to control the narrative of events. In today’s world that may mean flooding social media with fake news generated by bots, whereas in the twentieth century, it meant taking control of television and radio broadcasts, either directly, through state-sponsored broadcasting, or indirectly, by closing down alternative channels and stations till the only voice remaining was an echo of whatever the regime of the time wanted.

Perhaps the most famous example of state propaganda was Nazi Germany’s. Hitler spent three chapters of his book Mein Kampf discussing propaganda, reflecting his belief that one of the reasons Germany lost WW1 was hugely superior British propaganda. In opposition, the Nazis established newspapers and magazines, but once in power, the Third Reich established a formal Ministry of Propaganda, with Joseph Goebbels at the helm.

Hitler’s ideas were nothing new. Even in the days before technology allowed radio and television broadcasts, autocratic rulers tried to silence political opponents and those who were considered a threat. The Ummayads were no different. Why was Hussain’s camp rerouted and forced towards the desert of Karbala and killed there? Yazid, the tyrannical ruler of his time, had no wish for the battle to take place in or near a major city, where more people would become aware of the situation. He wanted Hussain’s message to die with him, in the isolated and sparsely populated desert.

And this may well have been the case, had it not been for Hussain’s sister Zainab. After the battle, the women and children of Hussain’s camp were taken as captives, and led on the long route between Karbala (present day Iraq) and the Caliph’s capital in Shaam (present day Damascus).

When they reached there, they were presented in front of the Caliph, Yazid, who was surrounded by his viziers, ambassadors and army generals. He mocked the prisoners and revelled in his superiority. A man present in Yazid’s court asked the Caliph if he could take one of the women prisoners as his wife. At this point, Zainab objected in fury, and took her opportunity to speak truth to power. She berated the Caliph for all his wrongdoing, reminded him of his family’s humble beginnings, and condemned his actions in Karbala.

She lit a fire in the hearts of the people, and in the years that followed, there were many uprisings against the Ummayid caliphs, culminating in their overthrow a few decades later. Many of these uprisings evoked the memory of Hussain and cited his struggle as the inspiration for their uprising against the same tyrannical and oppressive dynasty. Till today, uprisings and revolutions against tyranny the world over, cite Hussain as their inspiration.

Had it not been for the struggle of Zainab in the court of Yazid and the years afterwards, these people may have never had known of the revolution of Hussain. His message may have, as Yazid had intended, died with him in the desolate plains of Karbala. Zainab was the bridge between that sacrifice on the day of Ashura, and those who are inspired by Hussain till today. This is even more impressive when you consider the environment in which she lived: a backwards, patriarchal, male-dominated society, where women were concubines and slaves. In the face of this systemic oppression, for a woman to stand up and speak the truth to power, to defy the most powerful man in the empire, and to spread the message her brother gave his life for, shows Zainab’s bravery and courage.


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