Thursday, March 16, 2006

Bad Shiites

As a commenter noted, it would not be unexpected for someone to believe that We are rooting for and favorably disposed to Shiites, particularly in Iraq. To a degree this is true: of Muslim groups, We prefer the Shiites. Yet We also recognize that certain strains of Shiism can be as much a threat to the West (and to stability and tranquility, and to other Muslims) as Salafi/fundmentalist/militant Sunni Islam. Muqtada as-Sadr, a large "mover and shaker" among the Shiites in Iraq, is one such threatening aspect of Shiism.

There is an interesting contrast between how Shiites in Iraq, in general, and Shiites in Iran, in general, behave. This has to do with the prevailing interpretation of Shiism in each country. Khomeyni advocated activism, and he used the surging wave of popular activism against the Shah (and foreigners) to install himself and his pernicious Velayat-e Faqeh into power in Iran. Under the Shah, the Shiite clerics were among the forefront (along with socialists and communists) in protesting against the Shah. In Iraq, when the Shiites were being massacred by Saddam, the reaction was more subdued. This is because unlike Iran, the clerics in Iraq were mainly quietist. They saw such political agitation, protest, or action to be useless, in the end, in the absence of the Imam. At some point, they would fail.

Not everyone in Iraq, obviously, agreed with the quietists. Like Eastern Orthodox Christian leaders, Iraqi Shiite leaders could be said to have cooperated with Saddam regime, keeping the people loyal in exchange for the regime softening its hand over the Shiites. Likewise, Eastern Orthodox Christian leaders cooperated with (and accepted the manipulation by) Communist powers (particularly Russia). After liberation, the faithful expressed their displeasure at their leaders' complicity, as it were, with the regime's oppression. However, this criticism is quite ridiculous. These leaders, whether Shiite or Eastern Orthodox Christian, had to cooperate or face death or, even worse, even more oppression against the faithful. Better to strike a deal with the Devil and survive and continue God's work than to become extinguished and have God's work fail.

Muqtada as-Sadr, and others like him, obviously do not like the quietist attitude of past and present Shiite leaders. Yet, they cannot see how disastrous, inhuman, and destructive their activist tendencies have been and will be for the Shiites.

There is another major difference between quietists and activists, and for the community it is, in a way, more significant than the differences with regard to its relation with political forces. This difference lies with internal discipline. Activists are not actively engaged in liberating the faithful, asserting the faith, and securing the faithful's uncompromised and uncompromising dominance, but also are engaged in ensuring that the faithful are faithful to the faith. They are wont to enforce faithfulness, often using violence. This is what Khomeini's activists have done and still do (mainly through the Basiji, who were, incidently, instrumental in Ahmadinezhad's victory), and so it is no surprise that this is what Muqtada as-Sadr's followers have been doing as well. When a force is willing to torture, violate, and kill its own people, all in the name of supporting the faith and ensuring its dominance, how can it be expected to act with any predictable morality or humanity with those outside its community? (This ought to be kept in mind regarding Iran, Iraq's activist militias, and Salafi militias.) In contrast, quietists are more wont to enforce faithfulness by preaching, teaching, and personal example than through force. Quietists are often more concerned with one's own piety rather than that of others, whereas activists are concerned about communal piety. (This may have to do with the fact that, like quietists, activists expect the imminent condescension (literally) and subsequent assistance from the Imam or forces of God; unlike the quietists, they believe this will only come about when the community is faithful to the faith: that is, when the community is ready. This is also why Chabad Lubavitch Orthodox Jews, for example, heavily promote the performance of mitzvot and the return of non-observant, less-observant, and "incorrectly observant" Jews to what they consider to be orthopraxy and perhaps even orthodoxy.)

Activists live in an eternally apocalyptic environment, where the reappearance of the Imam is imminent, if only the faithful were truly faithful. Setting aside even this point about apocalypticism, they are motivated by piety (and desire for control, power, glory, and self-esteem) in their actions to enforce piety. They are less patient than the quietists. Whereas quietists rely heavily on the constant judgment of God ("We should not worry: God will judge and, in His own way and time, punish the evil and reward the good"), activists believe it is the community's duty to enforce faithfulness ("We are God's judgment: we are His judge, jury, and executioner when it comes to those who have failed to live up to God's commands. It is our duty to ensure all obey, and to remove those who insist on disobeying"). Indeed, such actions can be seen as ways to make firm and to expand God's recognized sovereignty (that is, recognizing God's sovereignty by obeying Him) among those who are obligated to recognize His sovereignty. Whereas the infidels - those who are not faithful - are in sin already, and will be punished accordingly and are to be treated accordingly - the faithful should not tolerate wanton sinners in their midst as they should know better.

Whatever their reasons and rationalization, the result is a regime of violence and constant struggle, whether actual or potential. Humans are freedom-loving and freedom-seeking beings. They will not live so passively under such oppressive conditions (proof of which is the gradual softening of Khomeini's oppressive regime, which was seen by Khomeini as essential if it were to survive). Even quietists can be roused to take up arms against oppressive and unjustified oppressors, particularly if they are of their own.

What makes this worrisome is that, for obvious reasons, Iran heavily supports Muqtada as-Sadr and other activists. Who will support the quietists? How will the quietists prevail? The activists can prevail in many conditions by the sheer use or display of force. They can intimidate rivals into joining them, and they can intimidate officials to back down on cracking down on the activist militias. What can the quietists do? By their very nature, they are less assertive or intimidating.

If inter-communal violence (among Sunnis, Kurds, and Shiites) is so scary, can one dare even imagine how disastrous and cataclysmic inter-Shiite violence can be? We hope it does not reach that point, and We believe it may not (unless the activists try to seize influence by killing influential quietist ayatollahs after as-Sistani dies, like what happened immediately after Iraq's liberation). But the distinction between good and bad Shiites must be recognized, and the former must be supported while the latter must be made inconsequential. If force is needed to disband the activist militias, so be it. As it is, such militias have no role whatsoever in a democratic state or in a pluralist state - which is what Iraq must be if it is to survive its divisions.

inna naHnu-l-a'lam.


At 12:08 PM, Blogger Christine said...

Thank you Muslihoon.

At 8:09 PM, Anonymous black_flag said...

hola, muslihuun. how's life?


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