Wednesday, August 25, 2004

 

Muqtada’s Army


Who Are These People?

I have heard and read so much nonsense recently regarding Muqtada’s Mahdi army from Iraqis and from others. One notable exception is Professor Juan Cole’s down to earth account of Muqtada’s stand on a number of issues.

You would be surprised by how these people’s stand is admired by so many Iraqis. Yet, many despise them! There are even quite a number of jokes circulating in Baghdad at the moment about their generally obnoxious behavior. I have heard one of them saying that he couldn’t even buy food in Najaf with his own money.

Contradictory? Yes!

It is because these people are in fact the mob, the riff raff, the down-trodden, the dispossessed, the jobless and the hungry. This is what they are… and there are several millions of them.

They could find no common denominator to bring them together but their Shiism. But most are not religious! They have deep respect for their sect and their religion, but most are not devout Muslims. (I don’t know how confusing this may sound to an American, but it is true nevertheless). The roots of their misfortune are really economic and historic in nature, not religious or sect-related.

There was no one else to unify and lead them; Muqtada comes from a respected, mostly religious family. His father defied Saddam and conducted mass Friday prayers shrouded with the white piece of cloth used to wrap the dead in burial (hence Muqtada’s white cloth on Fridays). He was killed.

But Muqtada is not (strictly speaking) a religious authority. He is not old enough or high enough in the scholarly religious hierarchy.

Muqtada’s problem unfortunately stems from the incompetence, the mishandling and the mismanagement of the US administration and the occupying authority. When the Iraq Governing Council (IGC) was constructed, he was completely ignored. This was ironic because he had more supporters than any other member of that council. In fact, he had more supporters than the majority of IGC members combined!!

His newspaper was closed at a critical time of the Fallujah massacre and the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal. He was finally declared an enemy of the occupation. He took a nationalistic stand.

Muqtada’s people in Najaf will probably be dispersed. But keep an eye on developments in the Sadr City of Baghdad. That will prove to be a tougher nut to crack. It is their home-town and it is much larger than Fallujah.

When these people are dispersed, they will simply go home, but they will still be there. Most are now resentful… and they cannot be ignored indefinitely.

These are human beings! They deserve to be heard and fairly represented… and they do deserve a better life. There are situations where the dispossessed are powerful simply because they are dispossessed.


Comments:

"They deserve to be heard and fairly represented"

What do they actually want? How do you know they are not already represented in that national conference where 1000 people attended? Did Sistani send a delegation to the national conference? Did Sistani represent the poor Shia just as much as Al Sadr? Who is someone who can speak for the poor? I do not understand what the poor want, that Al Sadr represents more than say Allawi does. Do they want reconstruction? Allawi will provide that. So why don't they unite behind Allawi? Sadr is a problem in that he is militant. Democracies do not function with armed militias trying to seize power. When Sadr is shot, which is what I hope happens to him, who would they like as a representative of their political movement? What is their political movement? Why don't you answer these things? How can we have a dialogue when you never answer these things?
 
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Mr. Edwards,
If I understand Abu Khalil's post, these are the folks from the wrong side of the tracks. These are the people who aren't welcome in polite gatherings. Most urban societies (and many rural societies) have such an underclass. Their outlooks tend to be somewhat similar. Ultimately, they tend to want things to improve in their lives. They tend to be distrustful and resentful of the (even somewhat) wealthier, and tend to be impatient of change.
If you want to understand them, find the nearest neighborhood of the 'dirt-poor', and start listening to the inhabitants.
Once you've done that, ask yourself which politician in Australia really wants to represent these people, to listen to their needs, desires, hopes and dreams, and to battle for them against the better-washed, better-educated, more-polite.

Most politicians who pay any attention to this section of society tend to USE these 'unwashed masses', either as a support base (thus, Al Sadr), or as a picture of 'the enemies of progress and civilization'. I doubt that Iraq is much different from the rest of the world in that.

Be Well,
Bob Griffin
 
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"If you want to understand them, find the nearest neighborhood of the 'dirt-poor', and start listening to the inhabitants"

As far as I know, they want an increase in their standard of living. They have a short-term outlook on this and think that they can get an improvement by stealing money from the "rich". They thus vote for the left-wing major party, which steals as much as possible without losing control of the parliament. The right-wing party takes a more long-term outlook on this and seeks to increase the GDP of the entire country, with the expectation that this will cause an improvement of living standard in even the poorest of the poor. In Australia, the poorest someone can be is on the dole. When I first came to Sydney, I deliberately ensured that my living expenses did not exceed the dole, so that if I lost my job, I could remain in Sydney, on the dole, while looking for another job. It certainly wasn't high on the hog, but I had shelter, I could watch unlimited TV for free, I didn't even cook (too lazy), I was able to buy takeaway food. If I compare a dole bludger from back in those days to a dole bludger today, I see that today's dole bludger has much cheaper and more sophisicated TVs, much cheaper and more capable PC, cable TV, permanent internet connection. Of course, due to human nature they still complain and still want to steal from the rich. So now what? Al Sadr followers need to either follow the short-term immediate gratification via theft, or they need to follow the long-term plan of improvement of their standard of living. Either way, they are represented to the best of the politician's ability. In fact, the communists are probably represented too, where they ensure that rich people aren't even allowed to exist at all, everyone is instead dragged down to a level way below an Australia dole bludger. What more do they want? I still don't understand.
 
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Abu Khaleel:

IMHO, the best course of action is to bring Al Sadr into the political process. This will give the poor a political symbol that provides them with some hope for their long-term future. The Iraqi goverment must, in the mean time, make real progress in addressing the deplorable conditions they live in. As understand it, Sadr City has been so nelgected that it is almost unliveable. Improvements to government and social services there would probably go a long way to de-radicalizing the underclass that supports Al Sadr.

Paul:

I see nothing wrong in drawing Al Sadr's followers into the political process as long as they disarm. They can then form their own social democratic party. In my view, every country needs a balance between the political forces of the left and right to best approximate a just society. Do you agree?
 
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"In my view, every country needs a balance between the political forces of the left and right to best approximate a just society. Do you agree?"

I have not seen a better system than the 2-party system split on economic grounds, where both parties converge towards the centre in order to get 50% of the vote, so that both of them end up basically the same. However, I want assurances that the government will use science, not dogma (e.g. communism, fascism, Islam, Christianity) as the basis of setting policy. And also, the bulk of voters must have sufficient education such that they understand something about modern economics, so that we don't have voters in the Philippines voting for their favourite movie star. Or voters in Venezuela wanting to steal as much as they can now, regardless of the long-term consequences of their actions. And something should be done to stop hopeless situations like in Northern Ireland where people vote on lines of whether they want to be part of Irealand or the UK instead of economic lines. And I think Australia's preferential voting should be used to stop votes for minor parties disappearing. ie you don't just vote for one candidate, you number them in sequence. This allows a major party to be replaced. Basically, we can take a look around and we can see the problems. Guidelines should be drawn up to avoid them. e.g. Aristide was democratically elected, but somehow managed to run a thugocracy, blaming everything on the US in the process. These problems should be openly addressed and a solution found.
 
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From what I have learned of Iraqis, they are very hospitable people. What social assistance was in place under Saddam. What chance is there now for some of these poor, uneducated people to get job training, basic reading skills. If the shrine has so much treasure, what is the Shia clergy doing toward establishing some form of rehabilitation for these poor?
Churches in America, of all various religions, establish all kinds of centers for education, counseling and food pantries. What suggestions do you have to improve this situation instead of more violence?
 
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