Class, Generation and Neo-Khomeinism
Khaled Yacoub Oweis of Reuters has an excellent piece today in which he points out that even if the U.S. can force Muqtada al-Sadr and his men out of the shrine of Ali, they won’t have made a dent in his movement. (Muqtada’s followers are not from Najaf in the main, and did not control the shrine there until early April).
Oweis also underlines the generational and class divide among Iraqi Shiites that underpins the dispute between Muqtada and the senior clerical establishment. Shiite shopkeepers, entrepreneurs and professionals deeply dislike him and his movement. He is supported especially by the young and the poor.
There is also a strong element of Iraqi nationalism in his movement, such that the grand ayatollahs in Najaf, 3 of whom are not Iraqis, are coded as foreigners. Oweis writes,
‘ “Sayyed Moqtada (al-Sadr): don’t pay attention to the elderly clerics, they are spies,” shouted an unemployed youth carrying a rocket-propelled grenade launcher in Sadr City as he celebrated an attack that destroyed a U.S. Humvee on Friday. ‘
As for the main point of Oweis’s piece, he quotes another follower (ominously, a Baghdad policeman!):
‘ “We will remain behind Moqtada. He is still a holy warrior even if he leaves the shrine and becomes less visible,” said Bassem Huleili, a policeman from Baghdad’s Sadr City shantytown. ‘
The debates about Iraqi Shiism seem to me to occur often in a sort of historical vacuum in which everyone ignores the elephant in the living room. That is Ayatollah Khomeini and his movement, the central tenets of which were rejected by Najaf but accepted by the Sadr movement.
That American neo-imperialists like Richard Perle, William Kristol, Douglas Feith, and Paul Wolfowitz thought they could remove Saddam and step in to reshape Iraq without having to grapple with Khomeini’s legacy is an index of their ignorance and arrogance. Perle and Feith and David Wurmser even wanted to try to bring back the Hashimite monarchy in Iraq, seeming to think that it might still have influence with Iraq’s Shiites. But the central idea of Khomeinism was that Shiite Islam is incompatible with monarchy, and the Sadrists would have made endless trouble about this. (Perle, Feith and Wurmser even thought a revived Hashimite monarchy could be used to “moderate” Hizbullah in Lebanon, which is ridiculous on the face of it, and you wonder in what world do these people live?)
It is true that Khomeinism seemed to have run its course in Iran, where it is now only a governmental ideology but lacks much popular support. But US actions like repeatedly bombing Najaf’s sacred cemetery (where a lot of Iranians’ loved ones are buried) and generally reducing much of this pilgrimage site to rubble, is strengthening Iran’s hardliners and the Bush administration is succeeding in breathing new life into Khomeinism in Iran, as well. Khomeinism was ultimately about trying to construct a nativist cultural and political barricade against American-led globalization. As the chaos in Iraq gives the latter a black eye, it encourages the former.