Love and the Law: An exerpt from Bulleh Shah (Required reading if you have studied the law)

Bulleh Shah (1680 – 1757) was a Punjabi Sufi poet, a humanist and philosopher from what is now considered Pakistan. As one of the leading figures in social thought and spiritualism, Bulleh Shah continually challenged the norms of society, be it materialism or hate for one’s fellow man.

While his work is expansive, the following passage was picked for a personal reason.  Throughout my career as a law school student I have felt an internal stuggle between what I would call my “Universal Self” (or innate sensibility of “fairness”) and the technical nature of the law as embraced by practioners and academics. Several justices over the years, the worst of which is Justice Scalia, have treated the cases that come before the US Supreme Court as a time to showcase thier talent of rationally explaing a inhuman or heartless decision by the court.

Most law school students in the first year, before they have been indoctrinated to accept the notion that injustice can/must be done in order to maintain the court’s precedent, always raise questions of a court not deciding the “right way” even though the Justices were maintained a high level of technical legal analysis. That is because we come into law school believing in our own internal moral compass, again what I would call a relationship to the Universal Self, and the process of learning the law forces one to take actions that may violate one’s own moral code becuase it is the “technically” correct thing to do.  

So I present Bulleh Shah’s verse which I will label as Love and Law. Though he presents teh argument as lambasting the laws created around religions by organizations and priests, but it easily translates to the abject focus on technical rationality in the modern legal forum.  This has been a more significant and epiphany inducing peice than anything I have read in law school- so for all the young lawyers, PLEASE READ THIS!

Love and Law are struggling in the human heart.
The doubt of the heart will I settle by relating questions of Law
And the answers of Love I will describe, holy Sir;

Law says go to the Mullah (priest) and learn the rules and regulations.
Love answers, “One letter is enough, shut up and put away other books.”
Law says: Perform the five baths and worship alone in the temple (reffering to the 5x daily prayer of Muslims) 
Love says: Your worship is false if you consider yourself seperate from the Universal Self.

Law says: Have shame and hide the enlightenment
Love says: What is this veil for? Let the vision be open
Law says: Go inside the mosque and perform the duty of prayer
Love says: Go to the wine-house and drinking the wine, read a prayer

Law says: Let us go to heaven; we will eat the fruits of heaven
Love says: There, we are custodians or rulers, and we ourselves will distribute the fruits of heaven
Law says: O faithful one, come perform the hajj (pilgrimage), you have to cross the bridge
Love says: The door of the Beloved (God/Allah) is in ka’baa; from there I will not stir 

Law says:  We placed Shah Mansur (a contraversial Sufi Saint) on the stake
Love says: You did well, you made him enter the door of the Beloved (God/Allah)
THE RANK OF LOVE IS THE HIGHEST HEAVEN, THE CROWN OF CREATION.
OUT OF LOVE, HE (Allah/ God) has created Bulleh, humble, and from dust.   

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Charles Kenny- Dont Mess With Taxes

Published in Foreign Policy

Every spring, the Tax Foundation, a Washington-based advocacy group, announces Tax Freedom Day: the date by which the average employed American will have earned enough income to pay off his or her taxes for the year. This year, that day will be April 12. The Adam Smith Institute, a London-based, free-market think tank that makes a similar calculation for Britain, suggests that British taxpayers will have to work until around May 30 to pay off their own dues.

Tax Freedom Day is a clever-enough gimmick if your aim is to stir up ire over the government stealing income that rightfully belongs to the good people who have earned it through the toil of their labors. In an environment where Joe “the Plumber” Wurzelbacher is considered an expert on fiscal policy, it might even work. But it is worth remembering that, from a global perspective, how much we earn is actually 95 percent luck and maybe 5 percent toil. And it isn’t heavy-taxing big government that affects your income — it’s bad government.

The idea that anyone who works hard enough can become rich is a powerful one; for Americans, it’s not just appealing but central to national identity. The problem is that this vision of social mobility doesn’t hold true within the United States — and on a global scale, it’s just plain silly. The reason you earned as much as you did last year has far less to do with how hard you worked than with where and to whom you were born. In the United States, of those children born to parents in the bottom 10 percent of incomes, around one-third remain at the bottom as adults, and over half remain in the bottom 20 percent. Only one out of 77 children born into the bottom 10 percent of incomes reaches the top 10 percent as an adult, according to Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis writing in the Journal of Economic Perspectives.

But the advantages of being born rich rather than poor in America — large though they are — pale in comparison with the advantages of being born in a wealthy country rather than a developing one. The average rural Zambian will enjoy a lifetime income of about $10,000, compared with a lifetime income of around $4.5 million for the average resident of New York City. That’s not because Zambians are all soulless and corrupt. It’s because a Zambian with the same skills, intelligence, and drive earns a lot less in Zambia than she would in the United States — as is made abundantly clear every time a Zambian moves to the United States and starts earning a lot. The same people doing exactly the same job earn much, much more if they move from a poor to a rich country to do that job. In 1995, a construction carpenter’s wage in India was $42 a month. In Mexico, it was $125 a month. A South Korean carpenter, by contrast, made almost 10 times what his Mexican counterpart did; an American one made almost 20 times more.

For those of us lucky enough to be living in a rich country, are taxes really holding us back from a life of ease? In a word, no. Over the (not very) long term, it isn’t tax rates that decide how much money you take home — it is rates of economic growth. If a British person in 1984 paid no taxes at all, receiving as manna from heaven infrastructure, health care, education, policing, pensions, welfare benefits, and all the other services that the state provides, his or her take-home income (adjusted for inflation) would still be below that of post-tax Britons today. The same would be true of an American in 1988. People in the West are lucky enough to have been born in — or nearly as lucky to have moved to — countries that have seen a lot of economic growth over the past two centuries. That’s the reason they’re rich.

 Of course, an anti-tax advocate would respond that low taxes and a correspondingly small government are the secret to a country’s riches — an idea that is appealing, widespread, and very wrong. The last 100 years or so have seen the fastest rates of global economic growth in history; they’ve also seen the biggest governments of all time. From William Easterly and Sergio Rebelo writing for the National Bureau of Economic Research to Ross Levine and David Renelt in the American Economic Review (as well as numerous other analyses), economists have consistently failed to find robust cross-country evidence that a government’s size — measured by tax take or spending as a percentage of GDP — has any bearing, positive or negative, on its economic growth. Want further proof? Many developing countries see personal income tax receipts that would make a Tea Partier tip his tri-cornered hat in admiration, amounting to less than 2 percent of GDP. If a small income tax burden really was the determining factor in driving growth, those countries would all be richer than Luxembourg.

But while there isn’t a proven link between government size and economic growth, there is an important relationship between the quality of government and growth. If a government can’t ensure a basic level of security, stability, fair dealing, and public goods like infrastructure and education, whether it’s large or small is irrelevant — that country will be poor. If the government is providing those basic requirements, it doesn’t matter if it’s also blowing 10 percent of its GDP on bridges to nowhere, high-tech bombers for the last war, or corporate subsidies for ethanol production — that country will be rich. Better government equals richer people — it is as simple as that.

So why do rich people think it is all about effort rather than the luck of the draw? For one thing, there’s the oft-repeated finding from social psychology that people blame their own failures on circumstances beyond their control (“I was fired because the boss never liked me”) and the failures of others on personal flaws (“He was fired because he never did any work”). The reverse also holds: People take far more credit than they should for successful performance as part of a group, particularly if they do not know other group members personally. All of us — not only the rich — are just incredibly narcissistic by nature.

The second factor is that when we make comparisons it is usually to our peers, not the world as a whole. And our peers tend to have gone to the same type of school, work in the same field, and live in the same part of the world. Within these narrow groups, income differences — however small on a national or global scale — are more likely to be about ability and hard work. The fact that you earn more than your colleague who joined the firm at the same time as you did probably does have something to do with your different personal characteristics. The fact that you earn more than a peasant farmer in Lesotho doesn’t. At the same time, you rarely stop to care about how much a peasant farmer in Lesotho earns — despite the fact that the income gap between you and the farmer is many multiples larger than the gap between you and your colleague. However powerful our psychological foibles and narrow frames of reference may be, though, they are beside the point when it comes to public policy.

There are lots of reasons to hate current tax codes — not least because they are ridiculously complex and stuffed with loopholes for groups that can afford the best lobbyists. And governments the world over remain wasteful and spendthrift — including America’s, of course. Especially in poor countries, people ought to be focused on making government more efficient, equitable, and transparent — an effort that will entail lower government revenues in some cases and less government regulation in lots of cases. But the focus should be on better government, not smaller government. And the idea that taxation takes money that is rightfully ours alone, or that if only we managed to reduce the tax burden by a few percentage points we’d all be rich, is laughable. If you are in a wealthy country and it is tax time, be thankful you live somewhere where government works — and pay up.

RIP Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Christian Minorities Minister slain by terrorists


Self-described Taliban gunmen have shot dead Pakistan’s minorities minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, an advocate of reform of the country’s blasphemy laws, as he left his Islamabad home. Two assassins sprayed the Christian minister’s car with gunfire, striking him at least eight times, before scattering pamphlets that described him as a “Christian infidel”. The leaflets were signed “Taliban al-Qaida Punjab”.

Bhatti’s 22-year-old niece Mariam was first on the scene. “I rushed out to find his body covered with blood. I said “uncle, uncle” and tried to take his pulse. But he was already dead,” she said at Bhatti’s house, extending a bloodstained palm. The sound of wailing women rose from the next room. Bhatti’s assassination was the second killing of a politician in Islamabad over blasphemy in as many months, following the assassination of the Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer outside a cafe a few miles away on 4 January.

Dismayed human rights activists said it was another sign of rising intolerance at hands of violent extremists. “I am sad and upset but not surprised,” said the veteran campaigner Tahira Abdullah outside Bhatti’s house. “These people have a long list of targets, and we are all on it. It’s not a matter of if, but when.” The only Christian in Pakistan’s cabinet, Bhatti had predicted his own death. In a farewell statement recorded four months ago, to be broadcast in the event of his death, he spoke of threats from the Taliban and al-Qaida.

But he vowed not to stop speaking for marginalised Christians and other minorities. “I will die to defend their rights,” he said on the tape released to the BBC and al-Jazeera. “These threats and these warnings cannot change my opinions and principles.” Lax security did not help. Witnesses and police said Bhatti was travelling with just his driver when he came under attack less than 50 metres from the Islamabad home he shares with his mother.

A small white car carrying gunmen blocked his way. After an initial burst of fire they dragged Bhatti’s driver from the vehicle, then continued firing through a side window. “It lasted about twenty seconds,” said a neighbour, Naseem Javed. “When I rushed out I saw the minister’s driver standing by the car, shivering, and his niece weeping and shouting.”  “They fired 25 bullets,” said a police officer beside a bullet-pocked pavement, holding a handful of brass Kalashnikov bullet cases.

As they left the gunmen flung pamphlets on to the road that blamed President Asif Ali Zardari’s government for putting an “infidel Christian” in charge of a committee to review the blasphemy laws. The government insists no such committee exists. “With the blessing of Allah, the mujahideen will send each of you to hell,” said the note.

Last November Bhatti joined Salmaan Taseer in championing the case of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman who was sentenced to death last November for allegedly committing blasphemy against the prophet Muhammad. “This law is being misused,” Bhatti told Open magazine at the time. “Many people are facing death threats and problems. They’re in prison and are being killed extra-judicially.”

The government later distanced itself from the blasphemy reformists, repeatedly stressing that it had no intention of amending the law, leaving Bhatti and Taseer politically isolated. Now that both men are dead, angry supporters say the government bears some responsibility for not protecting them politically, if not physically. “The government distanced itself from anyone who took a stand on blasphemy. I blame them for being such chickens,” said Abdullah.

Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch said Bhatti’s death represented “the bitter fruit of appeasement of extremist and militant groups both prior to and after the killing of Salmaan Taseer”. The embattled Christian community also voiced concerns about its safety. “We feel very insecure,” said Bhatti’s brother in law, Yousaf Nishan. “In this society you can’t open your mouth, even if you want to say something good, because you’re afraid who you might offend.”

The assassination raised fresh questions about the safety of Sherry Rehman, a parliamentarian who also championed reform of the blasphemy laws, and who has been in semi-hiding since January. She was not available for comment. Friends said she may have gone into hiding again, fearing for her safety.

BBC: Jim Muir- Lebanon heads for lengthy political deadlock

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, left and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah (l) and Saad Hariri face a political power struggle

 

Announcing the group resignation by the Hezbollah-led opposition’s 10 cabinet members, Christian minister Gibran Bassil said they hoped President Michel Suleiman would take the necessary steps towards the rapid formation of a new government. That is about the last thing that is likely to happen, and everybody knows it.

Assuming the situation cannot be retrieved – and it has gone so far that it is hard to see that happening – Lebanon is clearly in for a lengthy period of political deadlock and tension. Forming a new government on the debris of Saad Hariri’s collapsed national unity cabinet, which lasted barely 14 months and never functioned properly, is going to be anything but rapid.

President Suleiman will no doubt hold the ritual round of consultations with parliamentary blocs to see if they can agree on a replacement to try to form a new administration. Mr Hariri and his allies, who won a narrow majority in the 2009 elections, will clearly continue to nominate him, and will not endorse anyone else in the absence of a broad entente.

 It will not be possible to form a new government without their support. Hezbollah and its allies could bring the old government down, but they cannot simply replace it on their own. So there is bound to be a prolonged period of gruelling, angry politicking as a way forward is sought.

Outside influences

As the internal balance of power is fought over, outside players are also bound to pitch in, knowing as they do that the balance in Lebanon reflects wider regional and international currents. A great deal will depend on how far Syria and Iran, which support Hezbollah and its allies, want to push their advantage. Up until recently they appeared content to keep the Lebanese situation unresolved but on hold, contained.

Syria was working closely with Saudi Arabia, the regional patron of Mr Hariri and his Sunni community, to find a formula to defuse tensions in advance of indictments which the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) is expected to issue within a matter of days, naming some Hezbollah members in connection with the murder of Lebanese former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005.

Both the basic sides in Lebanon were supporting what they called the “S-S” (Saudi-Syrian) initiative, which had reportedly been crystallised into a concrete though highly secret accord. But on the ground, a dispute appeared to arise over who should take the first steps to implement their obligations. Each was waiting on the other. There was meanwhile a growing number of reports that the Americans did not want to see a settlement reached which would let Hezbollah off the hook in advance of the STL indictments.

But for Hezbollah, not coming to terms before the indictments constituted a red line.

It has never concealed the strength of its hostility towards the expected indictments, which it sees as an existential slur on its status and appeal as a heroic liberation movement. As the indictments grew more imminent and inevitable, neither side budged, and Hezbollah and its friends made their move.  But the consequence for Lebanon is clear.

As Hezbollah intended, the indictments will come out with no empowered prime minister able to give them any kind of credence, even if only tacit. Hezbollah had demanded that Mr Hariri and his allies renounce the STL and denounce its indictments in advance of their appearance, something he proved unable to do. Fears have been expressed that the indictments could trigger the kind of sectarian Sunni-Shia tensions which exploded in 2008, when Hezbollah fighters took over West Beirut and crushed pro-Hariri elements.

While friction on the ground cannot be excluded, it is not inevitable. If Hezbollah is worried about its image, using its arms – supposedly to be employed exclusively against Israel – to bully and punish fellow-Lebanese would compound any damage the indictments might do to its reputation. It appears to be sensitive to that issue. It has been careful to avoid the impression of a militant Shia takeover. Most announcements from the opposition side in the current crisis have been made not by Hezbollah itself but by Christian figures such as Mr Bassil, from the movement headed by the Christian former General Michel Aoun, who is allied to Hezbollah.

The impact may not be immediate and may in any case be mitigated.  Unless there are leaks – not an unlikely eventuality – the identity of the potential accused should not be made known until six to eight weeks later, when the STL’s pre-trial judge may endorse the draft indictments and issue warrants.  Hezbollah has also done much to prepare the ground and denigrate the STL’s case, which is reportedly based largely on evidence gleaned from telephone records.

The opposition has spent much energy documenting the degree to which Lebanese telecommunications have been penetrated by Israeli intelligence, and numerous alleged Israeli spies have been arrested.  The latest developments mean that any arrest warrants issued by the STL will be even more of a dead letter than they would have been anyway.

The idea of Hezbollah members being dragged off by Lebanese gendarmes to face trial in The Hague has always been far-fetched.  While the STL may be a professional international judicial body, it was conceived in highly politicised conditions at a time when the balance of power in the Middle East had been heavily tilted by the US invasion of Iraq and implied threats to Syria, Iran and other “hostile” powers. The balance has now shifted in the opposite direction, but the STL is still there, to the discomfiture of some. These include the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who pushed for it at the time but now finds himself threatened by its time-lagged consequences.

Balance of power

The question now is whether Syria and Iran want to see the kind of subservient government installed in Beirut that existed at times in the past, or whether they would entertain a more balanced accommodation. Either possibility is going to take a long time to reach, as conditions are not yet ripe.

Nor is the regional balance of power – as reflected also in Iraq – yet clearly established and stabilised, especially in terms of the US-Iranian contest.  So the best the Lebanese can hope for is that there will be an implicit understanding to continue keeping the streets quiet for an indefinite period, however acute political differences and invective may become. It is not going to be an easy time.

And as if all that were not enough, there is Israel on the southern border, ever ready for another attempt to deal a death-blow to a resurgent Hezbollah which declares itself stronger than ever.

 

Scene on 2005 attack on Lebanese former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri

Lebanese former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri died in a bomb attack in 2005.

Noel Isama Editorial: Religion and Reality

For many the killing of Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s most populous and prosperous province, by his own bodyguard was another bad omen for Pakistan. According to guard, he murdered the Governor because he dared to defend a woman that was sentenced to death after being accused of ‘speaking against Islam’. He believed, rightly so, that killing someone for a such an accusation was a wrong that went beyond religion, but violated our basic concept of humanity. His death is not a good sign as Pakistan lost another rational voice in a sea of insanity.

An even more menacing omen could be seen on the bodyguard’s face. With chaos surrounding him,  the assassin had a smile of inner satisfaction as he sat cuffed in the back of the police van.  The expression was most grotesque. There was no expression of distress at not getting away. No expression of remorse at the thought of killing another man.  No expression of disdain for those who arrested him.  No expression of worry for impending consequences that may await him (i.e. beatings and torture).  

 What force could suppress the most natural human reactions? What could inspire humans to  devalue life, such that it can wantonly snatch away? Radicalism.  But that is only a trait. In order for one to be a fanatic or radical there must be a source. This source is a belief in something so great that it is worth killing, note not dying, but killing for. In Pakistan and many other countries it is religion, plain and simple. For these countries religion is a destructive force.

 Religion need not come in the form of the divine (i.e. the North Korean state and it surrounding mythology could be considered religious). But one common trait is creation of system of action based on a belief.

When one “believes”, they’re ascribing truth to something that they cannot completely substantiate themselves. Often times this indicates a disconnect at some point with the reality or the world around them. It is in this space or disconnect that the seeds of religion is sowed. It deals with the inner workings the human being that are so mysterious, yet so powerful.

What drives us? What motivates us? What we need that can’t be provided by the “real” material world.  Religion is there to account that which we don’t know. This is often a good thing because it helps identify the feelings in humans that compel is us to act in ways that aren’t obviously beneficial in a personal sense. It keeps us pushing in the face of adversity. It helps us locate compassion and assist our fellow man. It helps us cope with death and despair. No religion is not a bad thing, it is in fact very good. It becomes negative when it leaves this mysterious realm and falls into the hands of those who want to use it to shape their world view.

The point at which religion becomes a destructive force is when you take something which is supposed to account for uncertainty and act as if it is certain. On the basis of this supposed certainty you then try to force the world to conform to your belief. This implies the use of religion as  the motivation in coercive actions against the outside world. Because religion occupies the space of uncertainty, that disconnect with reality, it can ignore it and serve as unextinguishable fire that burns all.

 Religion stands apart from other forms of radicalism, political or otherwise, which can be challenged by reality. However, the most radical believers in religion can choose to ignore realities that would otherwise require them to reconsider thier beliefs.  To illustrate one could look to the rise of communism in Russia, whose most ardent followers passionatly believed in the concepts of equality and fairness in thier society. However, to accomplish the ends of changing societies, the Communists utilized acts of brutal violence that violated all respect for humanity.  The fall of the Soviet empire was a time when reality challanged the communist fanatics because thier governments failed and thier economies couldn’t sustain thier people. The reality for many of these governments and systems could not be ignored, and it was reality that was the impetus for change.

 It is hard to see what role reality plays in fanatic interpertations of religion.  The abject focus on God becomes a tool to blind people to the truth that may exist arround them, to realize the suffering of thier fellow man here on earth. It is the most convenient of masks because unlike politics, the masked figure purporting to act on a higher power’s behest is not held accountable for his actions whereas the politican must face elections or public dissidence. In the fanatics mind, everything is for God to take care of at some point, and man is forever never responsible because  it is not the individual who is acting, but allegedly God acting through him. (A presumption to say the least, unless the individual has a direct line to heaven)

It is difficult to carry on a discourse with a fanatic because they utilize mysterious divine concepts rather than looking to the world around them and rationally explaining a belief. As a result  religion thrives in circumstances where there is a deprivation of knowledge, where mystery rules all things. It is no surprise that the destructive religious force has found its base in one of the poorest regions in the world. It is no surprise that some of the most oppressive countries are religious in nature.

 What the death Salamaan Taseer and sadly the positive reaction of many Pakistanis to it, illustrate is a dissociation from reality caused by religion. This may be our greatest threat as humans. Taken to extremes it has given people the “strength” to engage in needless war (i.e. George Bush) and is surely a path to sure destruction. Look at the threat of nuclear Iran or the possibility of a American president completely entrapped in the armagedon mindset. But the greatest tragedy is the satisfaction people will gain from such actions. In the past reality served as that which brought us down to earth from heaven. Can it save us from the gates of hell and wipe that smirk of the face of the monster who took an innocent man’s life?

Rest In Peace: Salmaan Taseer, Governor of Pakistan Assasinated


Published in the Gaurdian.

The governor of Pakistan‘s largest province has been killed in an attack in central Islamabad this afternoon, television stations and government officials said. Punjab governor Salman Taseer was shot nine times by his bodyguard after arriving at Kohsar market, an upmarket shopping area less than a mile from the presidential palace.

Taseer, who was close to President Asif Ali Zardari and an outspoken critic of militant groups, was pronounced dead at the nearby Poly Clinic hospital. The suspected assailant was taken into custody.

Five other people were wounded as security personnel responded to the attack.

Witnesses told the police that as Taseer was leaving his vehicle, a man from his security squad fired two shots at him. The governor fell, while other police officials shot at the attacker. Early television pictures showed police officers swarming around a bloodstained street littered with bullet casings, with a lightly damaged vehicle parked nearby.

Taseer was a key political figure in Pakistan, who had recently courted the anger of Islamist extremists by defending a Christian woman condemned to death under the country’s controversial blasphemy law.

His death is likely to heighten the political instability triggered when one of the government’s main allies pulled out of the ruling coalition at the weekend. Taseer lived in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, but had a large official residence in Islamabad and was a frequent visitor.

The Gaurdian: Saddam Hussein’s Blood Koran

It was etched in the blood of a dictator in a ghoulish bid for piety. Over the course of two painstaking years in the late 1990s, Saddam Hussein had sat regularly with a nurse and an Islamic calligrapher; the former drawing 27 litres of his blood and the latter using it as a macabre ink to transcribe a Qur’an. But since the fall of Baghdad, almost eight years ago, it has stayed largely out of sight – locked away behind three vaulted doors. It is the one part of the ousted tyrant’s legacy that Iraq has simply not known what to do with.

The vault in the vast mosque in Baghdad has remained locked for the past three years, keeping the 114 chapters of the Muslim holy book out of sight – and mind – while those who run Iraq have painstakingly processed the other cultural remnants of 30 years of Saddam and the Ba’ath party.

“What is in here is priceless, worth absolutely millions of dollars,” said Sheikh Ahmed al-Samarrai, head of Iraq’s Sunni Endowment fund, standing near the towering minarets of the west Baghdad mosque that Saddam named “the Mother of All Battles”. Behind him is the infamous Blood Qur’an, written in Saddam’s own blood.

Even to get to this point – the last step before entering the forbidden vault – has been a tortuous process. On one flank had been the government, doing all it could to prevent access. The Shia-led regime is highly sensitive to the re-emergence of any symbols that might lionise the remnants of the Ba’athist rank and file, which still orchestrates bombings and assassinations every few days.

And then there are the Sunnis themselves, who are fearful of government retribution if they open the doors and of divine disapproval if they treat this particularly gruesome volume of the Qur’an with the reverence of a holy book. “It was wrong to do what he did, to write it in blood,” says Sheikh Samarrai. “It is haraam [forbidden].”

Despite this, Sammarie says he acted as the document’s protector during the mayhem that followed the US-led invasion in 2003, hiding pages in his house and moving others among the homes of his relatives. “I knew this would be much sought after and we made the decision to protect it. But to see this now is not easy. There are three keys and none of them are held in the one place. I have one, the police chief in the area has another and there is a third in another part of Baghdad. There has to be a decision of a committee to let you in.”

Other relics have been much easier for the government to deal with, such as the Saddam statue that was toppled by US marines in April 2003, and copper busts of Ba’athist leaders that were erected all over the country. Their removal was straightforward, like lancing boils, say the men who run the country now.

As Iraq slowly assembles its fourth government since the fall of Baghdad in 2003, attention is now turning to the more difficult issues – what to do with the landmarks and relics that are unique to the Saddam regime but which have also become synonymous with Iraq. Some, like the crossed swords that bookend Saddam’s former military parade ground in central Baghdad, are as identifiable to the capital as the Hagia Sophia Mosque is to Istanbul, or the Old City to Damascus.

Several prominent politicians, such as Ahmed Chalabi, one of the key opposition figures to Saddam, are adamant that anything connected to the executed dictator must go.

“The best talent in Iraq was ordered to produce monuments which are designed to suppress the people,” says Chalabi, who headed the National Deba’athification Commission in the early years after Saddam’s removal. “This is very destructive for the psyche of the Iraqi population. This is a clear reminder of the consequences of totalitarianism and idealising a person that embodies evil. They have brought nothing to Iraq. They are not worth celebrating. They have nothing aesthetic to offer. I am for removing them.”

Other men who also played a key role, first in Saddam’s removal, then his trial and execution, are more sanguine. “He was there and he ruled and he impacted on the world,” said Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the former national security adviser who escorted Saddam to the gallows. “But he was a part of our history. He was a bad part of our history, but he made a huge difference, whether we like it or not. We need not bury the legacy of that period. We need to remember it, all what is bad and what is good and learn lessons. And the most important lesson is that dictatorship should not return to Iraq.”

In 2005, the government formed a committee to oversee the removal of symbols linked to Saddam. Ali al-Moussawi, a spokesman for the prime minister, Nour al-Maliki, underscored the dilemna. “Not everything built during this regime we should remove,” he said from his office, which overlooks the crossed swords. “There were some sculptures however that were solely about dictatorship and control over Iraq. Some spoke to dictators and battles and they should be removed. They have ethnic and sectarian meanings.

“The statues of Saddam have no place on the streets. It is not his privilege to keep them there. If they remain in the community they will provoke the people.” But Moussawi was more open to compromise over the Blood Qur’an: “We should keep this as a document for the brutality of Saddam, because he should not have done this. “It says a lot about him. It should never be put in a museum though, because no Iraqi wants to see it. Maybe in the future it could be sent to a private museum, like memorabilia from the Hitler and Stalin regimes.”

In time, the legacy of Saddam Hussein and his 30 years of brutality is likely to become part of a more detached debate in Iraq’s national consciousness, much like the discussions that took place in Germany in the late 1940s after the ousting of the Nazis.For now, though, the soul searching is being left to those who made the disputed works, and those entrusted as their temporary caretakers.

Abbas Shakir Joody al-Baghdadi was the calligrapher commissioned to work on the Qur’an. He sat with Saddam for two years after receiving a phone call from the tyrant himself. Saddam, at that point, had decided to re-embrace with his religion after his elder son, Uday, had survived an assassination attempt. The result of Baghdadi’s work was an exquisitely crafted book that would take its place in any art exhibition – if it wasn’t for the fact that it was written in blood.

“I don’t like to talk about this now,” says Baghdadi, speaking by telephone from the US state of Virginia, where he now lives. “It was painful part of my life that I want to forget about.” Back at the mosque, Sheikh Samarrai is nervous. He fears the wrath that will descend on him – from the government definitely, and possibly from a much higher power – if he swings open the final door.

“Even if I let you in, you would need to stand 10 feet away from the pages and they are all behind glass cases,” he said. Then he makes his decision. “It is just not worth it for anyone. They will stir up too much trouble.” Some things in Iraq will take many more years to confront.