Monday, January 29, 2007

Cleaning up after Dr Cole

Historian Reidar Visser says in a report that if some press reports are correct, the group involved in fighting near Basra on Sunday (with causalties up to 300 at last report) were followers of messianic leader Ahmad al-Hasan, also known as "al-Basri" and "al-Yemeni", and he says this group represents what he calls "full-blown Mahdism", the leader being considered the representative of the Hidden Mahdi. Their ideology includes rejection not only of the persons who represent official Shiite authority in Najaf, but also rejection of the whole idea of learned interpretation of the law, the sole authority being Ahman al-Hasan himself as representative of the Mahdi. And their involvement in large-scale fighting would mark "a dramatic new development" in the Iraqi situation.

This is in contrast to another version of events, according to which these were followers of a completely different individual, Mahmoud al-Hasani al-Sarkhi, whom Visser describes as follows: "Ultimately, Mahmud al-Hasani represents a variation of the Sadrist phenomenon also seen in Muqtada al-Sadr and Muhammad al-Yaqubi – i.e. he claims to be the true custodian of the legacy of the late Muhammad al-Sadr (Sadr II), and he pays lip service to the orthodox view of the Shiite hierarchy in that he claims to be a mujtahid (a cleric who has the authority to interpret Islamic law)."

Visser's point is that if in fact the millenarian group following "Ahmad al-Hasan from Basra" were the protagonists, then this represents an important new departure in Iraqi conflict.
If it is indeed his followers that are currently fighting in such large numbers outside Najaf, this would mean that Mahdism has now entered Iraqi politics on a larger scale – with the inevitable evocation of past schismatic movements in Shiism similarly inspired at least to some extent by Mahdism, like Shaykhism and Babism, which for long periods during the nineteenth century created civil-war like conditions in Persia and the Ottoman provinces of Iraq.
Here in America, the widely-read Shia expert Juan Cole for some reason writes as if these two individuals are one and the same. He writes:
The group follows Ayatollah Ahmad al-Hasani al-Sarkhi, called al-Yamani, who is said by his followers to be in direct touch with the Hidden Imam or promised one.
Which would completely confuse anyone trying to make sense of the reports.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Absolutely it's confusing!

It is unsettling to contend with the growing number of articles containing -- albeit in differing degrees -- contradicting information. It is one thing to find additional pieces of information that fills in details or adds context, but the last few years readers are forced to ascertain the truth or some facsimile thereof among several different reports -- including those containing misleading, distorted statements. For those with the time, searching for the "real" story necessitates reading numerous pieces on the same subject. Needless to say it is time-consuming, frustrating and tiresome. Some days it seems next to impossible to discern what is closest to the truth.

There are those whom intentionally, willingly and knowingly mislead the public while others do so unintentionally. That is the tricky part.

MSN and individuals have a responsibility to their public. To maintain credibility requires being reliable. Yet MSN became unreliable even lazy checking facts. It was once unheard of for news sources to report or print incorrect facts, when they did a retraction or correction was always immediately acknowledged. Today the media shows no compunction about omitting key points, quoting a source without verifying the authenticity of their statements or information.

Insofar as people like Professor Cole, whom I consider reputable -- not having seen anything to the contrary that is not until I read "Cleaning up after Dr. Cole" -- deserves the benefit of the doubt. Not to say he gets a free pass, but everyone is fallible. Unless this something he is prone to doing -- if a "mistake" that's one thing, if not that's quite another.

The administration proved itself time and again untrustworthy. The lack of public trust can be attributed to the numerous times they've been caught distorting, manipulating, twisting, fabricating facts to forward an agenda and/or inoculate themselves from having taken measures thought illegal, ill-advised or inappropriate.

Even after revelations of manipulating intelligence to fit policy they continue to repeat those same fabrications in one form or another while the press meekly follows suit. The newest NIE report stated terrorists and al-qaeda are not the cause for most of the violence. Nonetheless, the US military and Bush refer to those involved in fighting against the US occupation as insurgents, terrorists or al-qaeda members. To describe them as anything other than the aforementioned would give legitimacy to the opposition.

Their MO is an easily recognizable pattern. For instance, one can generally assume when an "incident" occurs involving a high number of deaths, the US military claiming having fought and killed large numbers of insurgents, al-qaeda, and/or terrorists as another attempt to conceal facts. However, more often than not, reports later show those deaths were innocent civilians, instead.

One is hard-pressed to hear or read much about it in MSN though.

Something else troubling, but little mentioned, while still Secretary of Defense, Rummy announced it was legally permissible to plant stories in the media outside the US intentionally meant to misinform the audience. He admittedly stated even though they would be picked up by the US press and/or bloggers it was still legal.

With the administration's official stories more-often-than-not in dispute, MSN journalists fast and free with facts, dubious foreign news reports and once considered reliable individuals whose credibility is now in question ... is it any wonder public trust waned.


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