A Mind That Suits What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

Monday, February 14, 2005 :::
The Things They Don't Want You To Know.

A suspicion has been lurking in the back of the mind for quite some time that the pro-war conservative press has been keeping things from us. The Shi'a are always "quietists" who "believe in the separation of mosque and state." Dreams of a pan-Shi'a government are the product of the Iranian Revolution and were introduced as a novelty by the Ayatollah Khomeini, of unhappy memory.

The planted axioms are rather close to the surface: "quietist" means apolitical, "separation of mosque and state" means freedom of religion, and somehow the longsuffering Shi'a of Iraq have never, in the course of 85 years of oppression, been influenced by political thought emanating from Qom, where no one before Khomeini ever had any troubling thoughts. Do any of those bear rigorous analysis?

Consider conservative commentary on the murky Iraqi election results.

This morning, on National Review Online, James Robbins, professor at the National Defense University and senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, offers his analysis, which you can find here .

It is hard not to miss how much is not being said. The substantive observations are that the two leading Shi'a parties were way ahead but will still need to form some kind of coalition, and that this was a good thing. Otherwise, he merely outlines the procedure that must be followed. Pretty slight stuff, which starts off with a jocular reference to "handicapping." Given Arab fondness for betting--actually, everyone is fond of betting, come to think of it--that is surely going on, but the use of that word makes it sound as if what is being handicapped is something rather ordinary, which it is not.

Prof. Robbins, who is made of stern stuff and did not wilt under pressure from A Mind That Suits, points out that the procedural stuff is in fact not well known, and so it is substantive. A point well taken.

As always with a certain brand of conservatives, there is that sneer towards anyone who doubts. He refers to the United Iraqi Alliance as the "so-called Shi'a list." You see, you are not supposed to worry that ethnic and religious differences will cause problems, never mind that Belgian political parties are still split along such lines. He somehow doesn't mention that the other name for the list, in Arabic, is The House of Shi'a.

Which, one has to assume, Dr. Robbins knows, or, if he doesn't, he should not make so bold as to write anything on Iraq.

But that jocular "handicapping" kind of crashes against the name of the leading party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). How pro-war boosters can write the name of that party and not realize they need to dig a little further is beyond a certain writer's understanding, as is so much else these days. Dr. Robbins also seems to think it unnecessary to point out that the second party, Islamic Dawah, is a religious party. Indeed, it took about 3.5 seconds to learn that "dawah" refers to instructing people in the way of Islam. Why that information has not been common currency among conservative commentators is beyond--well, you get the idea. Why Dr. Robbins does not mention it should, at this point, start to raise questions, but it should make clear why he thinks the coalition bit is a good thing, even if he doesn't spell it out.

Oh, and by the way, both parties were based in Iran when Saddam was on top instead of on the bottom. (That sounded worse than it was intended, but we will leave it as being accidentally apposite.)

Now, turn your attention to this account in this morning's edition of The Independent from Britain. You will find some first class writing. (The headline is inexcusable. Where are the words "Some leaders feel?") The woman who is a SCIRI candidate opposes bringing clerics into the government, making it clear that "separation of mosque and state" does not mean what certain writers want you to think it means. Certain Shi'a, it appears, have dedicated themselves to an Islamic Revolution where the teachers teach and governors govern--rather as in classic Islam, where the caliph was not a cleric.

But the caliph was supposed to be good at enforcing the law, which is what the teachers taught.

The man who states baldly that "80 percent of Iraqis have no problem with shari'a (holy law)" is a member of the government which was installed by the US, which could mean that he and the people who back him supported the transitional law only as a transitional law. And it is clear that at least some Shi'a are feeling their oats and are not content to follow the Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani's admonition not to gloat.

What all that means is anyone's guess, but it is so galling that one has to use Lexis to learn all this from a British leftwing rag rather than from the National Review, whose writers used to fall all over themselves trying to show off their erudition.

One hopes that all good conservative intellectuals did what the invaluable David Pryce-Jones hoped they would do when he republished Elie Kedourie's magisterial The Chatham House Version and Other Middle Eastern Studies. But they do not appear to have done their duty,or else they would know that dreams of a pan-Shi'a state are well-entrenched in Shi'a teaching.

Or maybe they know that, and are also, as suggested above, actively keeping things from us, hoping that we will be good boys and girls and just believe .

This writer is not a good boy, and doesn't believe.

Fishing around in the old brain reminded this writer that the vast majority of the Shi'a clergy agreed to let Mr. al-Sistani be their spokesman for the duration of US administration. We will have to see if they stand by that as the jockeying for power begins. One doubts it very seriously. Then it will be interesting to see how quickly anyone gets around to telling us the names and political beliefs of the other three Grand Ayatollahs. After they get around to telling us what Mr. al-Sistani actually believes.

This just in: a check of Lexis for the years preceding the war reveals precious little on Mr. al-Sistani. However, it appears that he is the only Grand Ayatollah actually living in Iraq, even though he himself is ethnically Iranian. The other three are in Qom, and are also presumably Iranian. There is, evidently, a top post, "marja," which was held by a 103-year-old leader briefly because no one could decide who it would be. There is no reference, after his death, to anyone actually succeeding to the title, so the disagreement continued. The Iranian government, not surprisingly, wanted the title reunited with job of head of state. All of the Grand Ayatollahs are listed as opposed to combining clerics and government, but, as discussed above, that does not mean they believe freedom of religion.

::: posted by A Mind That Suits at 3:00 PM



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