Red Herring Fatwas
So what happens if the western media can’t spin or sensationalize events in Iraq when not much is happening? Why, they make it up!
The Associated Press put out a wire report yesterday hinting that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani is about to declare jihad against the Americans. Whhhhhaaaaaat???
Check out the story’s two lead paragraphs:
Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric has been quietly issuing religious edicts declaring that armed resistance against U.S.-led foreign troops is permissible — a potentially significant shift by a key supporter of the Washington-backed government in Baghdad.The AP report then speculates on what Sistani’s reaction to a violent Martian invasion may look like. Okay, so they didn’t, but they might as well have.
The edicts, or fatwas, by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani suggest he seeks to sharpen his long-held opposition to American troops and counter the populist appeal of his main rivals, firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia.
I guess this is what happened: Muqtada al-Sadr declares that he will “demobilize” the Mahdi Army if instructed to do so by the top Shia religious leaders of Qum and Najaf, at the top of whom sits Sistani. He does this as a face-saving ruse, one that is enthusiastically eaten up by the western reporters rooting for him. The top leaders, who don’t like to be dragged into the muck of al-Sadr’s childish antics and hoodlumism, responded very quietly through their traditional backchannels, that since al-Sadr didn’t seek their opinion when he established the Mahdi Army then they are under no compunction to state an opinion on its dissolution.
Not content with this answer, al-Sadr and probably Iran’s PSY-OPS teams tried a different track: they began to ask Sistani questions along the lines of “Do you support motherhood?”
If America’s founding fathers had been asked instead, or even if one peruses the United Nations charter, then the generic question of whether or not it is proper for a nation to resist foreign occupation would have be answered in the affirmative.
That is what Sistani did, saying it so verbally to the individual questioner without publishing it as a written fatwa, which would have made it more binding for the general public. He also didn’t mention the Americans. The AP story itself tells us all this:
It is also unknown whether al-Sistani intended the fatwas to inspire violence or simply as theological opinions on foreign occupiers.But the next step in this PSY-OPS is to find the news outlet that would be more than willing to exaggerate the significance of all of this; a new outlet such as the AP that would have the gall to cite Juan Cole as “a U.S. expert on Shiites in the Middle East” without telling the unsuspecting public that Cole is a very controversial opponent of progress in Iraq, and that even within the left-leaning community of Iraq-watchers he’s considered a discredited kook.
…Al-Sistani's new edicts — which did not specifically mention Americans but refer to foreign occupiers — were in response to the question of whether it's permitted to "wage armed resistance," according to the two Shiites who received them.
The report reaches the pinnacle of duplicity when it casually adds that:
In perhaps another sign of al-Sistani's hardened position, he has opposed disarming the Mahdi Army as demanded by al-Maliki, according to Shiite officials close to the cleric.To my eyes, this is Sadrist and Iranian disinformation.
So let me pull rank here and tell you all that I’ve met Sistani. In fact, I sat in on an hours-long conversation between Sistani, his eldest son who runs his father’s daily affairs, Adil Abdul-Mahdi (Iraq’s current Vice-President) and Ahmad Chalabi. This happened in the early spring of 2004. It was an illuminating discussion that delved into law-making, the role of Islam, history, international relations and of course, gossip.
I wasn’t supposed to be in there, but I was. I walked in behind Abdul-Mahdi and Chalabi, both of whom went through the motions of trying to kiss Sistani’s hand, and he yanking it away. I was raised with specific instructions against kissing anyone’s hands, except romantically. So I just shook the Grand Ayatollah’s slender fingers, but in a knee-jerk reaction he pulled it away. That made for an uncomfortable moment of awkwardness as he searchingly looked into my face as to why I behaved differently.
Immediately as we were seated—cross-legged on cushions—Sistani points to me and asks his two other guests, “Who’s this?”
I was later told by the bodyguards that stayed outside the house that a minor commotion had whirled up as a result of hushed questions raised by Sistani’s staff: “who was that young dude that walked in with the politicos?”
When we got up to leave, Abdul-Mahdi and Chalabi again went through the theatrics of customary hand-kissing. When it was my turn, I was face-to-face with the marji’ with my hand out-stretched for a shake, but he wouldn’t take it and instead hugged me and kissed me on both cheeks and said something to me in private that I will cherish and keep to myself.
Dilettantes and the professional tea-readers who pass themselves off as Iraq ‘experts’ have a habit of misreading and exaggerating gestures such as Sistani’s alleged fatwas.
If we’ve learned anything from the recent events in Basra, Sadr City and Mosul—by the way, these are Iraq’s three largest population reservoirs—it should be that the reporters and commentators who are tasked to describe Iraq to American and western audiences are at worst dishonest and duplicious, at best some string puller’s chorus of useful idiots.
It is in this vein that this AP story is released; to distract from other things that could be reported in Iraq, such as how things are dramatically improving and how this war has been decisively won.
Here are two other developments to mull over: al-Sadr is not a rival, not even by a long-shot, to Sistani as the AP supposes. And Sistani is no longer that relevant to politics in Iraq. So many things have changed since 2005, and many observers are still way behind the curve.
Here’s column I wrote about Sistani back in December 2004: Tea, Sympathy and Sistani.
UPDATE: A source close to Sistani denied today (Arabic link) that the Grand Ayotallah's about to announce jihad, saying that Sistani believes that occupation (...in a general sense) must be resisted by peaceful, not military, means under a given set of circumstances.
Don't expect AP to release a retraction, though. Plus, don't expect the punditeers who feverishly linked to the AP fairytale to update their posts either.