Actually, al-Mahdi is like Jesus in Christian eschatology, in that he is the one who will reorder the world in complete justice.
The events on the ground in Iraq are progressing as well as can be expected for that difficult enterprise. The long-expected Islamist attempts to foment civil war have occurred. The situation could change within hours, but it looks as if the Coalition has successfully called the bluff of the anti-democratic opposition. That does not mean that the anarchy will suddenly stop, but that the opposition to the Coalition program for Iraq will abandon it as their chief political tool.
The campaign that seems to be unraveling is the one to use foreign policy to undermine the Bush Administration. Consider this editorial in today's New York Times:
Happily, President Bush finally held a prime-time news conference last night. Unhappily, he failed to address either of the questions uppermost in Americans' minds: how to move Iraq from its current chaos, and what he has learned from the 9/11 investigations...But his rhetoric, including the repetition of the phrase "stay the course," did not seem to indicate any fresh or clear thinking about Iraq, despite the many disturbing events of recent weeks...The second issue that has overwhelmed the nation in recent days is the 9/11 investigating commission.
There is a serious disconnect from reality here. The nation was not "overwhelmed" in recent days by testimony before the 911 Commission. The press coverage was overwhelming, but the public took little note. Despite the generally anti-Administration reporting slant, the hearings seem to have helped Bush rather than otherwise. There are several reasons for this, but the upshot is that Richard Clarke is the most unsuccessful media creation since Ja Ja Binks.
As for the Times editorial complaint that the president merely declared that he would stay the course, you wonder whether the editorial editors read their paper's own news analysis in the same issue:
He could have simply talked Tuesday evening about the crimes of Saddam Hussein or the fear that chaos in Iraq would breed terror in one of the most volatile corners of the world.
But he did far more, reaching for the kind of language about America's moral mission in the world that seemed drawn from the era of Teddy Roosevelt, whose speeches he keeps on the coffee table of his ranch in Texas. He described an America chosen by God to spread freedom. He never used the word "crusade," which touched off a firestorm of criticism in the Muslim world when he uttered it soon after Sept. 11, 2001. But he described one.
Lyndon Johnson used to declare crusades, too. George Bush, however, is willing to actually conduct one. The political class should be giving thought to what would happen if the Bush plan for the Middle East succeeds.
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Meanwhile, my opinion of Democratic challenger John Kerry has gone up. He has scrupulously avoided giving aid and comfort to the surrender wing of the Democratic Party. No one, reading his prudently sparse comments about the current situation in Iraq, would gain the impression that he plans a withdrawal. Nonetheless, whether because of political necessity or conviction, much of what he does have to say about Iraq is manifest nonsense:
DURHAM, N.H. (Reuters) - Democratic challenger John Kerry said on Monday Washington needed to "de-Americanize" the transformation of Iraq by replacing U.S. administrator Paul Bremer with someone like top U.N. aide Lakhdar Brahimi...
"He's one of the most skilled and capable people with respect to Iraq and the Middle East," Kerry said. "He can talk to all the parties. He would be a perfect example of somebody whom you could ask to really take over what Paul Bremer's doing, de-Americanize the effort and begin to put it under the United Nations' umbrella."
President Bush, in last night's press conference, mentioned the role of the UN in Iraq, too, but only as an arbitrator. Kofi Anan has pointed out that the country is too violent for the UN to administer. In a situation like this, for the US to ask the UN to take a larger role would be like leaving a message for help on your own answering machine. To put it another way: the US and the UN are both international utilities. The US sometimes represents the world in a more realistic sense than the UN could.
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Also, the UN, or elements of the UN system, display symptoms of chronic delusions of grandeur beyond anything that emanates from Washington. God knows why anyone would want to know the religious opinions of the transnational class, but these people persist in organizing conferences to foment global religious unity. Maurice Strong and Ted Turner make a particular nuisance of themselves by funding and organizing these events.
I mention this because I recently reviewed a book, The Coming World Civilization, written by William Ernest Hocking about 50 years ago. The theological reasoning was all worked out, even then. I am still trying to figure out why I had not run across Hocking before.
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Speaking of the political appropriation of religion, one of the things to keep in mind about Moqtada al-Sadr is that he is leading an apocalyptic movement. Here's what a couple of Usual Suspects had to say about the matter on last night's PBS News Hour:
JUAN COLE: Muqtada al-Sadr leads a sectarian group within the Iraqi Shia who expect the end of the world, the coming of the promised one any moment...
REUEL GERECHT: I'm a little bit skeptical that you can buy out some of those folks. I think particularly with the Dawa Party and the Islamic -- and the Sadriyyun I'm not sure poverty is the driving force behind them. I do believe they in fact do have a millenarian impulse. Eventually we may have to deal with them in a fairly forceful way.
Al-Sadr's militia is called the Mahdi's Army, and of course the Mahdi is an endtime figure. The name means, "the divinely led one" or "the inspired one." The Mahdi is more a figure of Shia than of Sunni Islam. Being the Mahdi is not like being Jesus (Who, by the way, is expected in most Muslim eschatological scenarios to be the Judge of the Last Judgment). In more accounts, the Mahdi's career is interrupted by the eruption of ad-Dajjal, an Antichrist-like character. Ad-Dajjal is normally expected to be an apostate Muslim, but apocalyptic scenarios tend to accommodate themselves to events.
By the way: Najaf is repeatedly compared by commentators to the Vatican, at least as far as the Shia are concerned. May I point out that, back when the pope had armies, the Vatican was frequently attacked and occupied, generally by Catholics?
Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly