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Editorial: Disastrous Indiscipline

Written By JOM JALAN on 13/01/06 | Jumaat, Januari 13, 2006

Yet again, hundreds have been trampled to death on the Jamrat Bridge during the ceremonial stoning of Satan even though the authorities have spent millions on improvements to the stoning area to prevent such an accident occurring. People will ask why this happened. There will be many who will be fatalistic about it, pointing out that it is not the first time that pilgrims have been crushed to death during the stoning, and, given the massive numbers involved, it will not be the last, no matter what the authorities try to do to prevent it.

Certainly, following the 2004 stampede, in which 251 pilgrims died, the authorities have done a great deal to ease congestion on the bridge and make the stoning safer, spending millions in the process. The three pillars have been replaced by ones that are wider and taller that enable more pilgrims to perform the rite at the same time. New footbridges have been built. Thousands of more stewards, security personnel and medical staff were deployed to keep order and ensure an incident-free Haj.

That such detailed measures did not prevent this even greater disaster will be enough make anyone fatalistic — but for the fact that it is already clear that things happened yesterday that should not have happened.

It is not at the authorities, however, that the finger of blame has to be pointed; it is at some of the pilgrims themselves. Although there will have to be an inquiry to find out exactly what happened, there are disturbing reports that many pilgrims completely ignored rules and instead of leaving their luggage back at the camp at Mina and retrieving it after the stoning, had broken camp and taken their belongings with them to the crowded Jamrat Bridge, thereby causing a blockage and the resultant tragedy.

Investigations will show whether there were any unforeseen faults with the new system and how it can be improved. But even at this early stage, there is one obvious lesson to be learned: Such disastrous indiscipline must not happen again. Specifically, pilgrims must be prevented from taking luggage with them to the stoning. It can be done by a system of checks and controls. Anyone caught carrying baggage with them in the future should either have it confiscated or they should be forced to take it back to where they were staying. Such punitive measures are more than justified. Pilgrims who take their belongings with them onto the Jamrat are being thoroughly selfish. Lives have been lost as a result. Pilgrims have every right not to have their lives put in danger by the selfishness and thoughtlessness of others. Any indiscipline where such massive numbers are involved is potentially deadly.

But at the end of the day, no amount of extra stewards or soldiers on duty will prevent a disaster if a handful of pilgrims insist on doing something foolish. Pilgrims themselves have to be more disciplined. They have to be more responsible. In many countries those going on Haj have to attend courses so that they know what to expect and what to do. This must be made compulsory for all as a condition for getting Haj visas. [Arab News]