February 22, 2006

Iraq's 9/11

Yesterday, Sunni terrorists blew up one of the holiest sites for Shi'ite Muslims in Samarra, Iraq. To the right is a picture of the Golden Mosque before the destruction. The Golden Mosque housed the tombs of two of the founders of the Shi'a sect of Islam, descendents of Mohammed himself, and is reputed to be the site of the disappearance of the Imam Mahdi, who is prophecied, Messiah-like, to return to the Earth shortly before the Muslim equivalent of the Apocalypse to cleanse the world of evil. So this is kind of like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or St. Peter's Basilica to a Shi'ite.

To the right is the BBC's picture of what the famous golden dome atop the mosque looks like now. The shell of the building is still sort of standing. For those amongst the Loyal Readership who are people of faith -- imagine if this were your church. You'd be just a little bit upset, so you can understand how the Shi'ites feel.

President Bush has pledged aid to rebuild the mosque. (CNN, the previous link, has a good picture of the destruction, too.) So has Tony Blair, on behalf of Britain. These seem like appropriate gestures to make, but it occurs to me that perhaps the Iraqis might not want Western help to do this. I can see, with no difficulty, the fledgling government of Iraq saying to the US and the UK, "Salaam and thank you, but we will take care of this ourselves." If they did, a part of me would say, "Good for you." Iraq is, or has the potential to be, a rich nation and it has cause to want to control this rather sensitive cultural and religious task free from the appearance of Western involvement.

My man Michael Reynolds has a few thoughts on the continued restraint of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in the face of continued attacks on majority Shi'ites by minority Sunnis in Iraq. It's worth reading, but kind of moot, because it appears that despite Sistani's call for restraint and calm, Shi'ites are taking retribution on Sunnis -- three Sunni imams and several other clerics have been killed as Shi'ite gunmen have stormed nearly thirty Sunni mosques. Again to put this in American parlance, imagine if Baptists blew up a St. Patrick's cathedral in New York, and Catholics across America responded by raiding every Baptist church and shooting any Baptist minister in sight.

One thought that I had was that if everyone were atheists, none of this would be happening. Atheists don't kill each other because of differences in religious doctrine. But upon further consideration, I realize that atheism is not the real solution -- if we humans didn't have religion to get worked up enough to do things like this to each other, we'd find something else, like politics or race or age, to justify this kind of barbarism.

What's more interesting -- and quite unsettling -- is to see how Iraq reacts to this. Yesterday, Iraq was a newly-reborn nation still struggling to assume a coherent identity and teetering on the brink of fragmenting into three countries at war with one another. Today, it looks like Iraq has begun to slide into that pit rather than rallying around the response to this. There is not the same sense in Iraq that blowing up the Golden Mosque was an attack on all Iraqis -- only the sense that it was an attack on Shi'ites. Kurds and Sunnis do not feel the loss very keenly; for the Kurds, this is a major inconvenience and for the Sunnis, this is a victory.

On 9/11, there was no sense that "New York" was the victim of an attack. All of the U.S. was. We reacted to the attack not as New Yorkers or Pennsylvanians or D.C.'ers or Californians (remember, the planes were all headed to California destinations) but as Americans. Iraq lacks the same cohesive nationalism that the U.S. enjoys. That kind of nationalism probably didn't exist even under Saddam, although he sometimes forced his subjects to present a nationalistic fa├žade to the world.

So the result of this will not be a rallying cry to form a new nation, like the Boston Massacre was for the United Stations or the storming of the Bastille was for France. After Boston and the Bastille, the Americans and French had heroes and leaders who turned the energies unleashed by these acts of violence into forces that built a nation. There's no one like that in Iraq. So, contrary to Mike Reynolds, I predict this will mark the point when Ayatollah Sistani, the only man capable of restraining the Shi'ite majority from slaughtering its Sunni enemies, began to lose control over his congregation and sectarian violence turned Iraq into a basket case of a region. Unless something unexpected happens, Iraq will cease to be a nation in any sense of the word but the West's insistence that it is one despite all evidence to the contrary.

There was an area of the world that we used to call "Yugoslavia." Now, we have to call various portions of it "Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Croatia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Slovenia, Kosovo, and Vojvodina." In a few years, if things keep going the way they are, we'll be able to say that there was also an area of the world once called "Iraq" but now variously called "Kurdistan, Najaf, Samarra, Basra, Anbar, Diyala, Karbala, Babel, and Maysan." Kurdistan will split oil proceeds with the Sunni states, and scheme against the Shi'ite states that are the pawns of a nuclear-armed Iran.


les said...

Nice analysis; scary.

Anonymous said...

Politics, race, age, or toilet paper. Don't forget toilet paper.