05/22/2004: Deliberately radicalizing the Muslim world? (or, time for the tinfoil hat?)
Juan Cole has some disturbing musings concerning the effect of Bush's Iraqi adventure, and his mishandling of the Sadr situation, on the rest of the Shiite world:
There were big demonstrations Friday throughout the Shiite world, including Lebanon, Bahrain, Iran and Pakistan, against continued US fighting in Karbala, a key holy city for Shiite Muslims.By coincidence I happen right now to be reading Bart D. Ehrman's Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium. In his first chapter Prof. Ehrman reviews apocalyptic literature and movements, including some examples from the 20th century (such as Hal Lindsey's Late Great Planet Earth). In 20th century apocalyptic literature and thinking, the Soviet Union played a significant role.
Geo-strategically, this entire episode is a huge disaster. Some Americans may feel it is unfair of Shiites to blame only the US for the fighting, when it is Muqtada's militia that is firing from the shrines. But life is unfair. People always mind what foreigners do to the symbols of their native identity more than they mind what their own radicals do.
The demonstration in Islamabad, Pakistan, was small, but there were anti-American sermons in Shiite mosques throughout the country. Pakistan's population is 140 million or so, and I estimate Shiites at 15%. If I'm right, that's 21 million angry South Asians. Pakistani Shiites are afraid of al-Qaeda and its allies, like the radical Sunni group, Sipah-i Sahabah (Army of the Prophet's Companions), who assassinate Shiites for sport. They had been a support for Gen. Musharraf's policy of turning against the Taliban and allying with the US. Now Bush's attacks on Karbala and Najaf have begun deeply alienating them from the US. Someone give Bush a copy of "How to Make Friends and Influence People," quick!
I have commented on the demonstration, 5000-strong, in Manama, Bahrain, below. It produced a political casualty. The king fired the Interior Minister and declared his opposition to what the Americans are doing in Karbala and Najaf, as well as what the Israelis are doing in Gaza.... This is a formal, non-NATO American ally speaking! Bush is even pushing his closest friends into dissociating themselves from him, at least rhetorically.
The biggest demonstration was in Lebanon, called by the Hizbullah, perhaps numbering in the tens of thousands. Lebanon's population is only 3 or 4 million, about 40% Shiite. I figure ten percent of Lebanese Shiites may have come out for this rally!
The irony for me here is that I often give the Shiites of Lebanon as an example of how radical Shiites can evolve into democratic, moderate ones. The AMAL party was more or less a terrorist organization from an American point of view in the early 1980s, but in the 1990s it became a middle class parliamentary party and gave up its paramilitary. Its rival, Hizbullah, tended to appeal to poor Shiites in the slums or peasant villagers in the South, and it retained 5000 fighters in its paramilitary. It remained militant in order to get the Israelis back out of Lebanon, in which it finally succeeded in 2000 (once Israelis steal your land, they don't usually give it back). Hizbullah seemed on the way to evolving into a parliamentary party, as well (it hasn't been involved in international terrorism for many years to my knowledge).
There is some danger of joint US and Israeli policies re-radicalizing Lebanese Shiites, and making the more militant Hizbullah more popular than the sedate AMAL. All you have to do is fire helicopter gunship missiles into civilian crowds in Gaza and then bombard Karbala, and somehow it mysteriously angers a lot of Lebanese Shiites
I said the other day I thought Bush was pushing Europe to the left with his policies. I think he is at the same time pushing the Shiite world to the radical Right, and I fear my grandchildren will still be reaping the whirlwind that George W. Bush is sowing in the city of Imam Husain. I concluded in early April that Bush had lost Iraq. He has by now lost the entire Muslim world. [my emphasis --LRC]
It's become common knowledge that a number of modern apocalyptic believers have the ear of the Bush administration and influence the administration's foreign policy (particularly with respect to Israel). I'm beginning to wonder if the estrangement of the U.S. from the Muslim world that Prof. Cole notes here isn't a deliberate effort by the administration--perhaps to place the Muslim world in the position that late 20th century apocalyptic thinking assigned to the Soviet Union? When one hears the calls of the freepers and other wingnuts for total war against the "Islamo-fascists", one really has to wonder.
Len on 05.22.04 @ 08:35 PM CST