Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Ali al-Wardi, the man who introduced Iraq to sociology, made a lot of enemies by virtue of his academic work. When writing about Iraq's history, culture and faith he made sure to take off his Shia cap and analyse even the most sensitive Shia doctrine through objective lenses. Naturally, because he himself came from a Shia family, many of those intellectual enemies came from the Shia ranks that saw him as a traitor to their faith. Even today, when I mention his name in front of hawza students or Shia clerics I can see them flinch. It works almost every other time.
Many of them cannot disagree that he was one of the best scholars Iraq produced in the 20th century but their praise is withheld because his religious beliefs were 'messed up' and he was 'confused' and/or had really bad experiences with men of religion in the past and that his work was his special way of getting back at them. On his hit-list was not just religion, but communism and pan-Arabism too, the three strongest movements during his era. He was a rebel.
One thing for certain is that he did have bad experiences as a result of his work and the following incident is just one example narrated to me by an eyewitness. It is also a testament to the good manners and strong character of Wardi.
It was a hot summer's day in the early 1970's and Sheikh al-Waeli had just given a lecture on Imam al-Mehdi, the 12th Shia Imam, in the Hashimi mosque in Kadhimiya, Baghdad. A group of men sat down in the courtyard of the mosque after the lecture had finished discussing religion and politics, and probably also complaining about the weather like they do today.
At the head of the group was Hussain al-Sadr and Ali al-Wardi. During their discussion a young Sheikh had just walked in and sat down at the back of the group. The Sheikh was known for his die-hard Shia identity and some jokers in the group decided to have some fun with him. They told him all about Wardi and his blasphemous beliefs.
The Sheikh was already filled to the brim with love for all things Shia, which can also mean hatred for all things anti-Shia. He was especially in love with the Mehdi, and his friends would constantly tease him when ever they saw him and ask "So, any news from the Mehdi?"
However the Sheikh had no idea who Ali al-Wardi was let alone what he looked like so after the men in the group had finished winding him up one of them pointed to the man sitting next to Sadr and said "That's Ali al-Wardi!"
Sadr and Wardi meanwhile have no idea what is going on and while Sadr was in the middle of a sentence the angry Sheikh stood up, walked to the front, and shouted "Are you Ali al-Wardi?". Wardi, whose fingers are interlocked over his walking stick and who is resting his chin on his fingers, ignores the question and gestures to Sadr to continue. Before Sadr could speak the fuming Sheikh went on a rant. "How dare you speak against Imam al-Mehdi? How dare you deny his existence?"
Arabs are very particular and delicate when it comes to hospitality and guests. In this instance, for example, Wardi is a guest of Sadr and if a guest is insulted by a third party in the presence of the host, it is the host who is responsible. Sadr is therefore embarrassed but before he can do anything to stop it the young Sheikh gathers saliva in his mouth and spits extremely hard on Wardi's face. A grave insult by any standards.
Sadr jumped up and began to apologise to Wardi for the outrageous behaviour and everyone in the courtyard was shocked at what they had just witnessed. Even the men who had just wanted to have some fun by telling the Sheikh about Wardi stopped smiling. The joke was over.
Wardi calmly took out his handkerchief, wiped the spit off his face and said to Sadr "Sayyid continue" as if nothing had happened. Sadr was still shocked and again apologised several times but Wardi cut him off and said "It's okay, he is a simple man, please Sayyid continue"
Sunday, July 12, 2009
A recent video has emerged showing Moqtada al-Sadr speaking to members of the Sadr Movement and Mehdi Army in what appears to be Iraq. There are many 'special' moments in this video.
He admits that many of his militia have no prior experience with handling weapons and that they have caused unnecessary damage because of their lack of training. He admits his militia was infiltrated and that corrupt forces have stained the image of his movement. He admits there are factions within his own party that are at war with each other. He admits, inadvertently, that he had no real control of the Mehdi Army and that they have not always been following his direct orders.
He starts by telling his followers that he has "missed them" and wants to take this opportunity to "chat" with them. Followers can be heard crying because it has been a long time since they have seen their leader in person. He smiles and says "come on, finish [crying]"
On more than one occasion he commends the Mehdi Army for the "brave stances" they have taken in trying to "liberate Iraq". He says that his militia has "sacrificed a lot, and their stance will not be forgotten by God, history and society". He explains that if it wasn't for the corrupt forces everyone would have supported the resistance, and that they would have liberated Iraq.
In one part of the video he tries to unite his followers, he says "the enemy has tried to destroy the resistance from the outside, this is expected, but I don't want you to fight between yourselves and destroy the Mehdi Army from within. The infighting stains the image of the Mehdi Army and it is not acceptable... Ali ibn Abi Talib allied with Mu'awiya to fight against the foreigners, so how can you not even unite between yourselves?"
Moqtada in this video says these tactics are "wrong" and "haram" (forbidden). To fire mortars into populated areas, not knowing whether the bomb would land on innocent civilians or the enemy, is also haram. He relates a story of having his own house in the Hanana district of Najaf being under fire from mortars fired by the Mehdi Army.
He also vaguely refers to the Shari'a Courts set up by his men. "People who use their position in the Mehdi Army to appoint themselves as judges and then punish civilians... is haram"
Members of his movement would place innocent civilians on trial and often execute their victims, leaving their bodies in underground basements to rot. Many people in Iraq would live in terror in areas where the Mehdi Army had a strong hold because anyone could be taken to one of these so-called "Islamic Courts" on a mere whim.
He illustrates the dangers posed by untrained forces when he mentions an incident that occurred when a Spanish contingent passed his brother's house. Bodyguards were positioned on the opposite side of the house and when the Spanish convoy passed the guards opened fire. Many of the bullets ended up being fired directly at the house they were supposed to be protecting.
Another interesting incident he reports is when members of the Mehdi Army attacked members of the Iraqi police. He says "they called [my aide] and explained they had just attacked an Iraqi police convoy. They seemed very excited about it. I told him [my aide] to tell them [militia] it is haram and they replied "what? are you an agent?"... They made me an agent!"
He is angry at the people who act unilaterally and says "Whoever does wrong, [the blame] will reach me, and then [my father] Mohammed al-Sadr, and I will spit on the face of whoever wrongs him"
Mehdi Army militiaman takes position in a street in Basra, 27 March 2008.
The most shocking statement, which reveals his control (or lack thereof) over his own militia, came after he thanked the Mehdi Army for the first and second uprisings in April and August 2004. He praises them but then shockingly adds "on the souls of your fathers, why the third?"
The third uprising, in March 2008, only ceased when the Iranian's intervened. It led many to believe that the clashes were fueled by elements in the Iranian regime.
Moqtada could be trying to disavow himself from the crimes committed by his followers and attempting to cleanse his hands from the blood that has been shed, but as Abraham Lincoln once said, "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time"
The obscure and unpredictable Moqtada just became a lot more enigmatic.
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
Mousawi did more than just insinuate. When he gave the correct answer of "yes" Ghulam shot back with "lies". Mousawi is so bewildered at the naiveté, mental incapacity and obtuseness of his opponent the look on his face is priceless.