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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.

October 27, 2003

it's going to be messy either way.

Dan Darling has posted a response to my comments about the seeming disinformation campaign against Al-Sadr. Also, Afghan Voice briefly mentioned that I've taken a "rose colored" view of the man, who he calls a street thug. Let me make an explicit statement here to clarify, I don't think that al-Sadr is the saviour of Iraq or the Shi'a, I think that distrust of his motives is healthy and wise, and that he may indeed be a street thug. But my point is only that he may not be. And that regardless of who he really is, he has given voice to a legitimate undercurrent in the new Iraq, that the religion must play a role, and that separation of Mosque and State is a non-starter if we are to succeed there.

Dan's post is long and detailed, and does not lend itself to piecwise excerpting, so it's better that it be read in its entirety. I don't have a formal response, but just a few comments in general:

Sheikh Abdel Mahdi Darraji's rhetoric is a good example of leveraging standard-issue Arab memes to try and garner support for your cause of the week. But certainly, our behavior in Iraq at the fine-grained level of troops interacting with Iraqis has not been inconsistent with Darraji's perspective. It's not a stretch for the average Iraqi to listen to Darraji and think "hmm. that does make sense" given the filtered and anecdotal nature of news (and bad news travels more efficiently). On the whole, I think that Iraqi resentment to the occupation is a legitimate emotional response, and can't be explained away by invoking endemic antisemitism or some other "Shame of the Arabs" argument that is very popular (though NOT, I should add, with Dan).

My eyebrows raised at the Preservation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice mention as well. I'm not trying to downplay the threat of theocracy here. The record of such institutions in the Arab world is Not Promising. Of course, the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 also decrees "laws for the encouragement of virtue, and prevention of vice and immorality, shall be made and constantly kept in force, and provision shall be made for their due execution.” Al-Sadr might just be the Iraqi Dennis Kucinich, whose calls for a Department of Peace are about as likely as a Vice and Virtue ministry in the US (well, unless President Ashcroft wins re-election in 2012...). NO I AM NOT saying that Islamic theocrats are freedom-loving Bejamin Franklins at heart, but pointing out rather that Sadr's government is 99% rhetoric at this point, and given that he doesn't have anywhere near the popular support he pretends to have (Juan Cole mentioned that his calls for massive public rallies in support were not exactly rousing), it's mostly just recruitment-oriented.

There's a legitimate fear that Sadr might be an Iranian puppet, but if we treat him like one, then we make a tactical error. Because even if he really is a Hezbollah goon (and I guess my instinct difers from Dan on this score), it doesn't make his point invalid - that the new Iraq must represent not just the ethnicity but also the faith of the people. If the CPA treats that point as irrelevant (and all signs point to exactly this attitude), then we just might have a self-fulfilling prophecy on our hands.

And one last point about the Mahdi Army - we can't expect a vaccuum not to be filled. Even if Sadr disbanded it, it would re-form, since the US forces are unable to provide comprehensive security. As a result - even if the Mahdi Army doesn't even do any security policing at all - the perception of the need for an Iraqi militia is strong enough to guarantee it exists. This is the reality of our lack of resources. As Dan points out, security was the main (ONLY) selling point of the Taliban - but that was enough to make the sale. Don't misunderstimate the desire of a frightened people to trade liberty for security- it's happenning in a (comparatively) benign way right here in the US.

I'm fairly pessimistic. And I agree with Dan that a large well-armed group of thugs is a bad sign. Don't mistake my comments for wishful thinking - I don't care about Sadr, I care about the attitudes of the CPA, which will directly influence the end result.

Actually I do have to quote Dan for one comment:

I agree that the Iranian Revolution was a grassroots phenomenon and that the end-result is going to be a far more democratic fusion of Islam and democracy, with or without any possibility of future US or Israeli intervention. Unfortunately, it sure sucks for all of the people who have to live under the Islamic Republic during the interim period and I see no real reason why the same process should be allowed to repeat itself in Iraq.

yes it does indeed suck. But the tree of liberty is a thirsty bugger... I've referred to this as "the means influence the ends" - and a rigorous and honest fusion of democracy with Islam is going to take at least as much blood as the synthesis of Christianity and democracy did. There are no short cuts. Bechtel can't build the Liberty Tree overnight. The process by which a people achieve liberty is the foundation of that liberty itself - and the way we are proceeding in Iraq, we are pretending that liberty is clean and sterile and can be outsourced to Asian laborers.

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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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