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Shi'a Pundit

Devoted to the viewpoint of Islam of Muhammad SAW and Amir ul-Mumineen, Ali ibn Abi Talib SA, in the Shi'a Fatimi Ismaili Dawoodi Bohra tradition.

June 11, 2003

Karbala revisited.

The Washington Post has an article describing how things are going (rather well) in Karbala. I'm certainly not surprised to see a co-incidence of stability and piety in one place. But I think the real reason for the success in Karbala of the American occupation is more due to strong and principled leadership rather than any actual policy decisions by the American side:

For many, Abdel-Mahdi Salami is the city's spiritual authority. He is the deputy of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the ranking cleric at the Shiite seminary in Najaf, 50 miles south of Karbala. In contrast to some more activist clerics, Sistani eschews a role in government for the clergy, a message welcomed by U.S. officials here. He has suggested in edicts that politics is beneath clerics' spiritual calling.

Salami -- with his thick-framed glasses and a beard streaked with gray -- has followed that injunction. By all accounts, he wields great authority and enjoys popularity from the hectic, even anarchic days after the fall of Hussein's government on April 9 when he and 25 other clerics stepped in to run the government. He refuses to meet with the Americans, conveying his wishes through the city council, and Belcher credits him as instrumental in enabling his forces to work with the council.

Outside the worn metal door of Salami's office, down a dirt path bisected by a trickle of sewage, Sistani's edicts are posted. One urges residents of Karbala to adhere only to clergy representing Sistani and three other senior ayatollahs in Najaf.

Another urges all residents to return any stolen property to the local government. "Keeping this property is forbidden," it reads. In past weeks, Sistani has urged clerics -- divided as they are -- to remain outside the government and has warned against revenge killings.

But in a hint of the ambivalence of the clergy toward the U.S. occupation -- a mix of cooperation and suspicion -- Salami said he worried about the corruption that he said he was witnessing in Karbala. Drugs are becoming more prevalent, some sold near the shines, "immoral" compact discs are for sale and U.S. troops are searching women and spreading pornography, he said. He was particularly angry that a U.S. detachment remained stationed at Karbala University, which both male and female students attend.

The voices of sanity, and moderation, are also often the voices of piety and sacrifice. But the question is whether such fledgling idealism can survive the coming onslaught from the gathering forces of tribalism and political intrigue on the geopolitical scale (Iran especially has much to gain). And the inherent cultural clash, with American soldiers spreading porn in the holy city, and insensitivity to gender sensitivities, is only added fuel for the fire. I still remain pessimistic, but I'm convinced that having taken the reins, we must see it through. The alternatives are worse.

UPDATE: It doesn't look good though. When both DailyKos and Steven Den Beste agree that the forces are stretched thin, you know the writing is on the wall. I doubt that this administration can make this commitment.

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Nahj-ul Balagha

About Shi'a Pundit

Shi'a Pundit was launched in 2002 during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. The blog focuses on issues pertaining to Shi'a Islam in the west and in the Islamic world. The author is a member of the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community. Bohras adhere to the Shi'a Fatimi tradition of Islam, headed by the 52nd Dai al-Mutlaq, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (TUS).

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