Monday, March 10, 2008

Interpreting Sadr

Here is the opening part of the text issued Sunday March 9 by Moqtada al-Sadr, in the form of answers to questions from followers. The first question was whether it's true that he intends to convert the Mahdi Army into a humanitarian and cultural institution. His answer:

There is no contradiction here between the army being a military army on the one hand and its being humanitarian and cultural on the other, in the sense that for every part [ or circumstance] there are duties and requirements: When we are attacked by the occupation, in the narrow sense, in a military war, we defend ourselves once we have fortified ourselves from that direction--resistance is something that even the enemy does not criticize. And when there is launched against us by the West generally, or by the secular trend in particular, a war of doctrine [or ideology] and culture that attacks humanity and Islam, and its concepts and its judgments, then we need to fortify ourselves with understanding and with culture and with religion and with belief, and socially, until we become able to stand against the barbaric, crusading, secular onslaught against Islam.
Sadr is saying there was a military attack, which was and will continue to be resisted militarily. But there has also been another type of attack, involving for instance the politics of GreenZone corruption ("secular" and "Western"), and leading to intra-Iraqi fighting ("barbaric"). You can't fight that kind of an attack with weapons. You need depth and understanding, belief and social cohesion and so on. In that, Sadr is saying, we came up short, and we need to fix that.

The second question asks about the name "Army of the Imam Mahdi", to which Moqtada answers first that the name was chosen to drive home the fact that members are to be models for others and faultless so as to be among the elect when the Mahdi appears. But these are not merely personal perfections; they are also necessary parts of the struggle to liberate the country and "our brothers". Sadr writes:
Free yourselves from the Devil and his filth, his associates, his parties and his tricks, his vanities, his promises and his frauds. Because he who has freed himself will be able to free others, and to free his country and his brothers, and the sacred things. Otherwise, all of our efforts will end in failure and defeat--from which God protect us and Islam. For everything closer to God and farther removed from the Devil strengthens one's faith, so as to become knowledgeable, and guiding, and aware, and consequently qualified for defence and liberation....
There is a lot I don't completely understand in the text that follows, some of it because you need a grounding in Shiite tradition which I don't have. But by the same token, there are a couple of points that are perfectly understandable for a Western reader, if given half a chance. In particular, there are two points in the above texts that can be put in non-religious language and still represent a good part of what he is saying:

(1) "Humanitarian and cultural" doesn't mean "the opposite of military". The same group, if it is composed of qualified people, is able to deal with circumstances as they change. (This shouldn't be so hard to understand in a culture where, for instance, the "citizen army" tradition is still taught in the history-books).

(2) Personal development and perfection isn't the opposite of political leadership. On the contrary, given the changing nature of the threats, leadership requires "cultural" and intellectual depth, both in order to understand the challenge, and in order to be able to guide and rally people. (This shouldn't be that hard to understand either, in a culture where Lincoln said: We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country).

(3) Early reports in English about the "freeze"-extension made it appear that Sadr was somehow "protesting" against the lack of loyalty among his followers, and seemingly even more petulantly, that he was protesting against the fact the occupation forces haven't left yet. On the contrary, what Sadr is saying is that the leadership, including his own leadership, wasn't up to the task--wasn't up to the standards that are and will be required by the Mahdi when he appears-- and so it isn't surprising that many of his followers also went off the rails. What Sadr is trying to get across is self-criticism and historical analysis at the same time. It's not as if there was an inner Lenin and an inner soft-socialist fighting one another. This is a different thing entirely.

(This is where Western cultural tradition lets us down, but that's another story).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd appreciate hearing your take on
this bit from the "ever reliable" MEMRI

For me it looks like artfully planted disinformation, but I have no competence, just paranoia.

Hannah K. O'Luthon

11:04 PM  
Blogger badger said...

It's excerpts from an interview that was printed in the new Qatari newspaper AlArab Feb 12, about a month ago, so first of all it's not really the "latest" news. AlArab seems to be pan-Arab resistance oriented somewhat along the lines of AlQuds alArabi (but with a lot of local Qatari news too)and I don't think the interview was made up, but the point is there's no telling how important or unimportant the guy is that they interviewed. And naturally the excerpting was designed to highlight whatever these Israeli intelligence people wanted to highlight. I haven't analyzed the whole thing, but for instance where the MEMRI summary quotes him re liquidating infiltrators who have harmed the group's reputation, they leave out the clause with which he prefaces that, where he says: Look brother, if it hadn't been for us, the Iraqi resistance would have been soft like what has happened in Palestine with Hamas, or words to that effect. Obviously the MEMRI ideology is to put Hamas in the same category with AQ so as to demonize them, consequently that remark differentiating Hamas from AQ was left out. So it goes. I don't know why Pat Lang posted that Memri thing, without bothering to even link to the month-old original interview, of mention the issue of excerpting or the obscurity of who this guy is, as if this was some kind of reliable "latest news". But all in all I assume it was mostly just laziness.

12:51 AM  

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