The Long View 2004-04-05: Mullah John Belushi

Muqtada al-Sadr

Muqtada al-Sadr

I don't know enough about Muqtada al-Sadr to have a real opinion, other than to say he is still influential twelve years later. I do know that Shia clerics like al-Sadr often study Aristotle and Plato, and that gives us something in common.

I also picked the first reasonable looking picture that came up on Google image search. The poor guy isn't always angry.


Mullah John Belushi

Moqtada al-Sadr is the sort of fellow who gives mad mullahs a bad name. He's pudgy; he glares at cameras from under a beetling brow; he reminds everyone of these characteristics by encouraging his followers to carry oversize pictures of him. He also seems to be fatally stupid. He's holed up in a major mosque, surround by an army of fanatics sworn to defend him to the death. Doesn't this guy know that extracting people like him from situations like that is what Special Forces were created to do?

I am sure you can follow the news as well as I can, so I won't clutter this comment with links. No doubt you have seen this note from the Iraqi blogger, Zeyad, which mentions, among other things, that Sunni hardliners are resisting al-Sadr's Army of the Mahdi. One hopes that this incident will concentrate the Sunnis' minds about what would actually happen to then if the US leaves prematurely. Dan Rather just looked earnestly into my eyes from the television screen and repeated unconfirmed reports that the uprising is being aided from Iran. If that's true, and the US makes a fuss about it, it could could backfire on the Persian reactionaries. There is also this bit of encouraging news: Dan Schorr on NPR's "All Things Considered" this evening used the term "quagmire." He has a history with that word, but maybe he has become so venerable that his editors hesitate to remind him of it.

The thing to keep in mind is that the uprising is happening at more or less a time of the Coalition's choosing. Al-Sadr would have done more to prevent a democratic transition than could the Sunni-based insurgency. Despite the fact the Shia establishment wants him gone, it would have been too much to ask of a transitional government to arrest him or to control his cult. It's never good when a situation arises in which hundreds of people could he killed. Still, what is happening now is by no means the worst that could have happened.

* * *

As we see from the Spanish experiment, surrender doesn't help. Despite having just elected a Quisling (or dhimmi?) government, the country is now met with fresh demands from the terrorists. An offensive planned for Holy Week-Easter Week by the terrorists may have been blunted by the explosion of a bomb factory; it's a shame that a Spanish policemen was killed in the incident.

Nonetheless, I see that anti-terrorism demonstrations in Spain still often have a "No Blood for Oil" theme. It still hasn't sunk in: the blood will flow whether the oil does or not.

* * *

Let no one be in any doubt about the superiority of American stupidity, however. Consider these excerpts from an Op Ed in USA Today: U.N. record in Iraq is strong:

There has been much discussion lately about the "scandal" of the U.N.-run oil-for-food program. The Iraqi Governing Council charges that hundreds of Iraqi officials, foreign companies and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein skimmed 10% or so from the humanitarian contracts...But let's be realistic. Iraq's economy plummeted from $60 billion a year in output to $13 billion. That's what brought about the terrible impoverishment...Though the U.N. is not yet involved in rebuilding Iraq, the U.S. is. But is its track record so much better? Have we forgotten that massive no-bid contracts were handed out to U.S. corporations such as Bechtel and Halliburton?...The U.N. is the better choice for nation-building with integrity and competence.

For some people, the UN is becoming what socialism used to be: not an institution, but a desire. Like the desire for ice cream, there is no argument against it. In fact, it's worse than ice cream, since there is no international equivalent of frozen yoghurt.

* * *

Does anyone keep track of the exotic weapons that may be headed for Iraq? There's the laser-armed humvee, for instance. That's for engineers to explode mines from a distance; it's not artillery. It sounds like a good idea, but it seems stuck in development.

Closer to being used is a horrible screaming-banshee machine called the Long Range Acoustic Device. It is supposed to be nonlethal. That's an improvement, I suppose, but I would not want to be in the first crowd on which it is used. I would say the same of the pain-inducing directed energy weapon, which is known to be in the works. I can't find links to it, oddly enough.

* * *

Much nonsense has been written about the role of religion in the current Bush Administration. George W. is more religious than his own father, perhaps, but not more than Bill Clinton, who goes through life with the manipulative, but real, piety of an Elmer Gantry. Be that as it may, some hostile critics say that Bush is motivated by the Armageddon scenario of the Left Behind series; others accuse him of aiming to legislate Biblical law, after the manner of the Reconstructionist movement.

Such gossip has enlivened many a wine-and-cheese party. However, as Alan Jacobs of Wheaton College recently noted, these imaginary horribles are mutually exclusive:

But there are major disagreements between [the Left Behind series and Reconstructionism], especially about eschatology -- that is, what the Bible teaches about the way human history will end. And those differences lead to very different ideas about how politics works and what it is for.

[Premillennialist] eschatology is, generally speaking, the default position for those who occupy the fundamentalist corner of the evangelical world. To be sure, many readers of the "Left Behind" books may enjoy the story without believing that LaHaye and Jenkins have rightly calculated every detail. But they will probably share the premillennialist view that human societies will not exhibit moral progress, but will deteriorate until the only option for redemption is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ in power and glory, which will usher in the Millennium, the "thousand-year reign" of God. (What happens after that is disputed and complicated. Let's just say that eventually God wins.)

Reconstructionists...by contrast, generally don't believe in a Millennium in LaHaye's sense, and are pretty confident that Jesus isn't going to show up any time soon to rescue us. In fact, it is precisely because they don't believe in an imminent Second Coming that Reconstructionists are so determined to use Biblical law as the foundation for civilization. They'd like to build a world that Jesus would want to return to.

These comments are correct, but I would add something. Apocalyptic eschatologies often do describe history as a tale of degeneration, but there is a history of them adding brief periods of hope before the final crisis comes. That happened in the Middle Ages with the evolution of the legend of the Emperor of the Last Days. The Mahdi doctrine, found in some schools of Islam, is remarkably similar. Structurally, the Pretribulation Rapture itself fits in just this place on the timeline.

There is zero evidence of any of this in the Bush Administration. However, some such thought does seem to have occurred to Pat Robertson. The classification of eschatological ideas is necessary, but misleading. The end of the world is a felt necessity, like the the return to the tonic in music; but the music is jazz.   

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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