New Column: What Happened in Basra?
So I finally got around to writing a new column. My editors are indeed saints for the patience they've shown after an absense of six months. I guess my only excuse is that I've been stuck doing new strategic math, such as the import of Russia's aggressive engagement all over the Middle East, including finding channels to the jihadists. I've also been spending a lot of time learning about and traveling around Turkey and the Ottoman imperial legacy.
I should also update my profile since I am now a 'contributing editor' rather than a columnist for the New York Sun, and I'm done writing for the Prospect. The Prospect gave me a column for a year, and it was a great opportunity to get exposure to a European audience through a prestigious magazine, but I believed that as Iraq stabilized the Iraq story would become too boring to warrant a monthly column. I look forward to writing longer pieces for them in the future. I will also post my Prospect columns on Talisman Gate when I get around to it.
My new column is: What Happened in Basra?
Regarding the unique corporate identity of 'original' Basrans, one should consider the case of the Bani Tamim tribe: Basra was founded as both a military base, and a social one for Islam in a land infested with Jews, Christians and Manichean peasants, all of various Semitic extractions, as well as the human flotsam of whatever ancient empire has raped and raided through Mesopotamia. It is debatable whether founding a garrison town was a conscious effort towards preserving ethnic homogeneity, but what is clear is that Basra pivoted Arab troops towards future campaign to sweep up Persia. One of the tribes that were settled in the new metropolis were the Bani Tamim, today they constitute the second largest tribe in Basra Province, after those initial settlers played host to subsequent migrations of their kinsmen out of arid Arabia into greener pastures.
Those first Tamimis eventually absorbed countless natives and bestowed their tribal affiliation, and protection, upon them. They even absorbed a large number of Persian mercenaries, brought in and paid for as cavalrymen in the service of the new, martial faith bent on imperial expansion. Some Tamimis moved on as the borderlands shifted north and east, forgotten in some geographical recess in Central Asia or the Caucases, forgetting who they are as they themselves were absorbed into native affiliations.
Throughout most of these 1400 years, the Tamimis of Basra remained Sunni—or whatever counted as the ruling state’s orthodoxy—as did most of the town proper and the hinterland around them. But they must have been swayed by the various heresies and rebellions that were sparked in their midst, or erupted all around them, led by gypsies, slaves and mystics. And within the mishmash of Portuguese and Philippino ancestry, and Hindu worship, and pagan deities refashioned as Muslim saints, and the chaos left as central authority receded, the pure-bred Arabs of the Bani Tamim and the other tribes that settled south of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers confluence, were infected with dissent, and turned Shiite in larger numbers in the last two centuries or so.
'Basrawi' identity was centuries in the making.
It is therefore interesting that the Tamimis were the first to respond to Maliki's call to arms. These 'original' Basrans rallied to the government's side against the newly arrived 'squatters' who form the bulk of Sadrist support in Basra and elsewhere; new in the sense that they've only been around for less than a century.
One of my column's un-PC points is that whereas civic pride and sense of self among native Basrans was solid, these transplants from Amara into the slums of Basra and Sadr City suffered from a muddled identity. Therefore, when the Iranians relied on the Sadrists they were placing their bets on ghetto thugs rather than ideologues in the cut of Hezbollah; being a Sadrist was more akin to joining the Crips or the Bloods rather than marching in the civil rights movement. That’s why the presence of so unconvincing a leader as Mr. al-Sadr at the helm didn’t really matter: he himself was irrelevant since this wasn’t a revolution, but his last name gave the progeny of those ‘shroogis’ their gang colors.
On Abu Hamza al-Muhajir: I'm still waiting for word from Mosul, but I just want to re-iterate: Abu Hamza al-Muhajir is not necessarily one and the same as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, since this association is basely solely on the conjecture of US intelligence agencies. It may be correct, but there's still a large margin for surprises. This is what I wrote back in February 2007:
BTW: I ready to acknowlegde this now: al-Muhajir, although speaking in classical Arabic, pronounces some words with a muted Egyptian accent. I have been reluctant to belief that he's actually Abu Ayyub al-Masri, as claimed by US intelligence, and that for a variety of reasons; I'm warming up to the idea at this point, or at least the idea that he's originally from Egypt.