He probably doesn’t see it that way, but he is. Why do I say such things? Because I saw this headline at CNN today:
As soon as I saw the headline, I said “Sounds like al-Sadr. There speaks a man who’s desperate to be liked.”
First, some background. Moqtada al-Sadr is the son of Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq Al-Sadr, who was murdered by the Iraqi Mukhabarat secret police about 4 years ago, which caused some fuss by his supporters in Saddam City back then. Saddam City (now Al-Sadr City) is a large poor neighbourhood in northeastern Baghdad inhabited by 2.5-3 million Shi’ites, where the residents are suspected for being responsible for up to 80% of the looting that took place in Baghdad immediately after the war.
Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq Al-Sadr was the most powerful Shiite cleric in Iraq in the late 1990s. His uncle, Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Sadr, was a leading Shiite activist before his execution by Saddam Hussein’s forces in 1980. Muqtada al-Sadr went underground in February 1999 after a spray of gunfire—from Saddam’s agents, according to most accounts—killed his father and two brothers. He inherited a network of schools and charities built by his father, along with the allegiance of many of his followers. Only 30, Sadr lacks the decades-long religious training required of high ranking Shiite authorities. As a result, he bases his claim to authority on his lineage.
Moqtada al-Sadr, in short, is not an ayatollah. Not even close. What he is is a pretender and thug sent from Iran in the aftermath of the Iraq war to make trouble for the Americans and (hopefully, from the Iranian perspective) cause the Shiites in Iraq to flock to al-Sadr, who wants to set up an Iranian-style Islamic theocracy, and away from Grand Ayatollah Sistani, who is based in the Shiite holy city of Najaf. Sistani, for all the migranes he’s caused the Coalition Provisional Authority recently, at least believes that the way to go for Iraq is some form of democracy where the mosque and state stay as separated as they ever get in the Middle East. Since Sistani is the heavyweight in terms of political and religious influence among Iraq’s Shias, al-Sadr resorts to inflammatory anti-American rhetoric to get attention and power. Probably the perspective that gets lost is that al-Sadr controls, at best, one large neighborhood in Baghdad. He’s a gangbanger, complete with a gang: an armed militia called ‘Jaish Al-Mahdi’ or Al-Mahdi’s Army. (This militia, along with others, has been outlawed by the provisional Iraqi constitution.) They dress in black,wear bands on their foreheads, and, to many Iraqis, have a creepy resemblance to Saddam’s Fedayeen. He even engages in turf wars, as many moderate Shi’ites accuse him of being responsible for Abdul Majid Al-Khui’s assasination in Najaf during the war and another instance where a fight broke out in Najaf between al-Sadr’s militia and Al-Sistani’s followers. Al-Sadr militants were trying to take over the two holy shrines in the city, so they could use their profits in financing Al-Mahdi’s Army. But they were surrounded in a mosque and other parties and clerics from the city intervened to cease the fighting. Meanwhile, for all of his rhetoric, he’s done precisely squat except for producing hot air and it shows in the lack of support he’s been getting outside of Al-Sadr City. Most Iraqi Shias distrust the fact that he hasn’t put in the time or training to support his pretensions to be the successor to his father’s authority, and that he gets instructions and funding from parties in Iran. The Sunnis and Kurds distrust him because of his goal of setting up a Shiite theocracy inside Iraq. Frankly, most expected the Americans to behave like Saddam at first and shoot al-Sadr. The fact that we haven’t has amazed many. Basically, the reason why is that the United States is using him as an object lesson in Freedom of Speech as well as an exercise in not borrowing trouble. As long as he just spouts his hot air, no matter how inflammatory, we’re not going to touch him. We’ve squashed plenty of his supporters when they’ve tried to move beyond mere words, as happened on October 16, 2003 when Sadr’s faction—whose challenges to U.S. authority were increasingly brazen—attempted to take over the building that housed the offices of the U.S.-appointed Sadr City neighborhood council and install its own leaders. U.S. forces moved in and kicked out Sadr’s men, arresting 12.
So there you have it: Moqtada al-Sadr. He’s a small man trying to whip up support for himself any way he can, as well as trying to grab as much power as he can, for the benefit of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Moqtada al-Sadr. He’ll say anything, do nothing, and generally try to make himself seem like much more than the petty gang leader that he is. It’s no wonder he’d say something like “”I seek the spread of freedom and democracy in the way that satisfies God. They have planned and paved the ways for a long time, but it is God who is the real planner — and the proof of this is the fall of the American Twin Towers,” then refer to the September 11 attacks as “a miracle from God.” The only thing that surprised me was that he’s trying to co-opt the language of his opponents by referring to his support for the spread of freedom and democracy, which gives an indication of how entrenched the concept has become in even the most loathsome contributers to Iraqi political discourse. The rest of the drivel was pretty predictable. Next prediction, he’ll make a pronouncement on how Iraq’s interim government is corrupt and illegitimate, that he hates the Jews, and that the Americans are the local equivalent of the Antichrist, followed by exhortations to throw the Americans out of Iraq.
The BBC’s comments section this morning had a fun thing. Commentators are writing a short story, line-by-line, using only English cliches. Here it is:
Giles flew in on the red eye from the Big Apple, knowing he was caught between a rock and a hard place.
(BBC starting off)
He’d been drinking like a fish the night before; still, in for a penny…
Drew Jagger, UK
..in for a pound, so he thought he’d better wet his whistle.
Dave Brannon, England
He left the airport to find it was raining cats and dogs. Unimpressed he spotted a well-known pub chain – not his favourite, but “better the devil you know” he thought.
Lucy Feather, England
The Aussie barmaid didn’t beat about the bush. “You look dog-tired, mate. Been burning the candle at both ends?”
“Is the Pope Catholic? Basically I’ve been working 24/7″, Giles said. “Well there is no rest for the wicked,” replied the barmaid. A high-flying salesman entered the bar.
Mike Taylor, UK
He paused by the entrance, speaking into his mobile phone: “Have your people call my people and they’ll get it together. Gotta run now, cheers.” Flipping his phone shut he looked at Giles and smiled.
Andy Tickner, UK
Well, look what the cat’s dragged in, thought Giles.
“Long time, no see,” smirked Roger. “How’s life in the slow lane?”
Peter Snow, UK
“Well, at this moment in time, to be perfectly honest…” Giles is cut short as his mobile phone rings. He flipped it open. “Yes, that should be okay, just make sure we are all singing from the same hymn sheet!” “Who was that?” asked Roger.
“The old ball and chain,” Giles replied, rushing out of the bar. “Needless to say, I’ve got to get home PDQ, or there’s trouble in store.”
Alan Barford, UK
When Giles got home his wife was fuming. “I wish you’d touch base more often,” she complained. “What I gain with you on the swings I lose on the roundabouts and I don’t want anymore of it.”
Adam Hewitt, UK
She stood before him, eyes blazing. “Listen up, buddy, you’re way out of line, quite frankly, and you’re dead meat. I’ve met someone who really rings my chimes. Know what I mean? And he’s no stranger to love.” The doorbell rang.
Kerry Dignan, UK
“And here he is now. C’est la vie, basically we’re on a learning curve, so this is the end of the line.”
Marion Samson, UK
“I hear what you’re saying,” Giles shot back as he marched into the hallway, “but the bottom line is you’ve never been one to think outside the box.” He opened the door. It was Roger. Well, Giles thought, knitting his brows, it wasn’t rocket science.
Margaret Storey, UK
He let Roger into the house. “I see you know about us,” Roger said. “Cheer up, it’s not the end of the world. It’s better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.”
Simon Corkhill, UK
“Oh and I suppose you will tell me next that there are plenty more fish in the sea,” yelled Giles.
Victoria Chambers, UK
“Now don’t blow your top!” said Roger. “Just keep your chin up and I’m sure we can make this all work out fine in the end.”
Roddy Fraser, UK
“Besides, you’ve still got your health and you’re too young to be tied down. Lets say, me and you go and paint the town red?” laughed jolly Roger.
Graham West, UK
“Even if I keep a stiff upper-lip I shall be crying on the inside,” said Giles. “But I suppose the show must go on.”
Pamela, Twycross-Kent, USA
And so Roger and Giles skipped off into the sunset…
Andy Nathan, England
Moment of Zen
It’s officially six months plus one today. Here’s to the rest of forever.
Warning: It’s a rant. I’ve been thinking about this particular subject for a while and I figured I’d let the rest of you know what my thoughts are.
I have a bone to pick with those who have gone before. I don’t have a bone to pick with my parents, mind. They are wonderful, upstanding people who put both me and my sister through college, expected my sibling and I to succeed in life because of the God-given gifts we have, and generally did a good job raising Good Kids who later turned into Good Adults Who Vote. The Storybook Mom occasionally forgets that we have actually made that jump from Good Kids to Good Adults and was more than slightly disturbed to realize that she had raised at least one kid who is an Independent who occasionally votes Democratic, but at this date (considering that one of the Storybook Children is actually thinking seriously about Marriage and Kids In My Future) seems to be coming around. Mom and Dad, in general, were in tune with their parents’ values and transmitted those values on to their kids, to the general benefit of all concerned.
Herein lies my beef: The preceding generation — the Boomers — has to be the most self-involved, self-referential, most irresponsible generation this country has ever produced. For a lot of the boomers, the Me Generation has never changed. They hold onto the Vietnam War and the anti-war movement as a touchstone from which they draw their power, and are seemingly oblivious to the fact that both have been over for thirty years and the resultant massacres in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos proved them terribly wrong. The idiocy spawned by that time period reverberates into the 21st Century, with Boomer-fed groups such as International ANSWER creating anti-war protests with tired, retreaded slogans from the 1960s complete with the music of the day.
What’s worse, to my mind, is those Boomers’ insistence on regarding the 60′s, and specifically their contribution to it, as a Golden Era where right-thinking Americans were united and good in their march towards….well, whatever the current cause was. Gen X and Y should be informed that the 60s were an amazingly awful time. Carnage on TV. Body bags. Spitting on American soldiers and calling them murderers when they came home from a horrible war that left many of them scarred both mentally and physically. Assassinations and riots on a regular basis. The real threat of nuclear annihilation. The nation deeply divided. That boomers like Howard Dean would be nostalgic for that era says a lot about the world view of young liberal and left-wing boomers in those days. They were insufferably arrogant then towards the “silent majority” who disagreed with them, and largely remain so to this day. One of the reasons that the “silent majority” was silent was because mainstream liberals (or whatever label you prefer) who had sympathy for the “idealistic” youth in the streets had a monopoly grip on the media. America did speak publicly with one voice because others weren’t allowed on the air. Think about the anger you hear when people sometimes talk about Fox News. Fox is doing the same things that the rest of the national media (with the exception of C-SPAN) have been doing for decades, but from the opposite side of the political spectrum. Thanks to talk radio, the internet, and now FoxNews, there is a genuine contest for the hearts and minds of America. I’m not saying that I believe that Fox News is holy writ, but I’m glad that there’s more than three channels bringing me news these days, in addition to blogs and the ability to read newspapers’ websites from halfway around the world.
The final indignity, to my mind, is their greedy, ever-increasing grasp on public resources in the form of expanding retirement entitlements at a time when all know that there will be a problem paying for them after the Boomers retire. They know it, but figure that their kids and grandkids will figure out some way to keep their parents and grandparents’ Social Security solvent. I have no doubt that my generation and my kids’ generation will figure out a way to keep Social Security a going concern for us too: they’ll cut benefits, to the howls of geriatric boomers.
Looking back over this post, I think I’ve maligned the innocent by lumping them with the guilty by generalization. Quite a few boomers got smacked by the School of Hard Knocks at some point in their lives and wound up OK. Many were OK to begin with. The Boomers I disagree with and consider a blot upon this country are the ones that yell about freedom of speech for themselves, but seek to deny to others, the ones who came up with the idiocy of “Zero Tolerance”, think that somehow you can stop evil if you file a brief with the World Court and who think that the United States of America is the most evil of nations. Some problems, you can only outlive. Hopefully, my generation will.
I came up with a pretty good definition of a megalomanic today, quite by accident.
Megalomanic – someone who believes they are always right, and wants to exercise the power to keep people from saying they are wrong.
Moment of Zen
Just say it with me. Devil Duckie Drive. His beady red eyes light up when you access the data stored on him. He looks so cute and evil plugged into your keyboard. He’s good stuff.