I only know what I read in the papers, and I’m nervous about speaking up for someone who is, for the moment at least, being demonized by the Bush administration, especially someone who is currently shooting back at American forces, albeit in self-defense. But I must raise the question of whether Moqtada al-Sadr might not be one of the “good guys,” a strong, spiritual leader whom world opinion should now be ecumenically supporting.
Al-Sadr is apparently a wildly popular leader of the Shiite poor, who, time and again, has demonstrated his commitment to peacefully resisting the overwhelmingly-superior military forces bent upon murdering him. Aside from his courageous refusal to relinquish the ancient homelands of his followers to invaders who would steal and exploit them, and his stubborn unwillingness to be assassinated, what has he done to deserve universal media condemnation and abandonment in the west?
Because al-Sadr’s charismatic leadership is seen by the west’s most powerful leaders as a major barrier to their hegemony in the Middle East, few journalists seem willing to raise this question. Yet several times throughout this conflict, when it has seemed temporarily expedient for the U.S. to leave al-Sadr in peace, he has urged patience and forbearance among his followers even as the wide-scale destruction of his country by foreign occupiers has continued.
Currently, American forces are attacking al-Sadr’s Mahdi army in oil-rich Basra, which is right across the border from Iran. Perhaps Mr. Cheney hopes to provoke just enough Iranian retaliation for this particular aggression to finally justify his own longed-for invasion of Iran’s oil fields? Patriots in Basra and Iran share far more in common with one another than with their American attackers; surely the Iranian government cannot be expected to indefinitely contain the passions of their red-blooded youth, currently standing passively by, watching while their brother-Shiites in Basra are being slaughtered.
Isn’t it time we reconsidered the unquestioned place we have given al-Sadr in our western pantheon of demonized enemies? He is a leader to whom the majority of Shiites in Iraq currently pledge their allegiance, one who has often turned the other cheek even while his beloved followers were being killed. Despite being repeatedly stalked, discredited, attacked, betrayed, and occasionally befriended by President Bush, his millions of followers trust him unreservedly to make their decisions for them. Shouldn’t journalists be speaking out loudly and clearly against the attacks upon him? Who are the bad guys here, and who are the good guys?
How can we expect al-Sadr’s forces to passively turn in their guns when our own country feels free to unilaterally initiate pre-emptive wars, invade, occupy and shoot up foreign country sides and villages and cities, interfere with sovereign nations’ internal affairs, drop nuclear and conventional bombs on civilian populations, disrupt livelihoods and lives, kill innocents, and stockpile armaments enough to end life on earth many times over? Al-Sadr has not invaded America. The reverse has happened.
The Bible does not say “the lamb shall lie down with the lion,” but “the lion shall lie down with the lamb.” In other words, powerful countries must first let their weaker neighbors live in peace. Our own interests, even as citizens of the mega-powerful United States, are served only when our leaders humble themselves to offer good will to all other nations, and treat all our neighbors as we would wish to be treated. It is the traditional moral duty of the military to protect the weak from those who would hurt them, not to push the weak around in order to get whatever a highly unpopular, unresponsive and unrepresentative administration wants when they want it.
The willingness to turn to violence to resolve conflicts, whether through state (military) terrorism or through civilian terrorism, turns out to be the problem itself, and not, as many have tried to persuade us, any particular ideology, ethnicity or religion. The burning question too often overlooked in every conflict is: which side is committed to accommodation, compromise and non-violent resolution of this conflict, and which side isn’t?
In the past, partisans loyally embraced only their own leaders as the “good guys,” regardless of their personal records of using violence or keeping the peace–whether Bush or bin Laden, Saddam or Arafat, Hirohito or Mao or Stalin or Cheney or Eisenhower or Hitler. In the future, we will realize that the “good guys” are those real leaders, found in homes, businesses, communities, nations, and throughout the world, who are committed to resolving difficult conflicts—which are perfectly natural and human—harmoniously and peacefully. On the other hand, those violent soldiers and suicide bombers representing belligerent aggressors and extremist zealots will in the future clearly be identified as “the bad guys” of our time.
All-out war makes sense to me only when people are cornered in their own homes, fighting for survival against overwhelming odds, as al-Sadr’s followers currently seem to be.
More and more people today are recognizing man’s inhumanity to man—whether seen in bulldozed homes, in the shattered bodies of innocent children, or in the maimed and traumatized minds and bodies of young soldiers from every land—exactly for what it is, regardless of context, and despite all the attractive ideological, ethnic, religious, and national colors and flavors violence always comes wrapped in.
Around the world, journalists, activists and average citizens are turning away from the angry diatribes of opportunistic demagogues and ideologues bent upon stirring their fellow-citizens to torture and murder, and instead, embracing the world’s highest universal values: the oneness of all mankind and the sanctity of human life.
Shouldn't we all be supporting those who are upholding these important values, and resisting the use violent solutions in the present conflict in Iraq?
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