Monday, January 29, 2007

Mahdi Cults and Najaf End-Times

It's easy to roll our eyes and make fun of the "Soldiers of Heaven" cult in Najaf, that tried to eradicate Shia religious leaders, sparking a U.S. assault Sunday afternoon in which more than 250 eventually were killed. Shia killing Shia? Mehdis looking for the twelfth imam? What is this shit?

We forget that, wedged between the Iranian hostage-taking and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, was a very eerie event that took place on November 20 of that year. An internationalist Islamic army of 1500 tried to take over the Qaaba, the holy black stone of Mecca, sparking violent reactions by Saudi and international forces. The leader of that particular revolt also claimed to be a mahdi who would change the face of Islam's future, just as in the Jan. 28 Najaf event. The 1979 revolt may have been a sardonic footnote to everything else that went on that bleak fall, but it set the tone for a new kind of Western consciousness, one that turned Jimmy Carter into a de facto conservative, willing to listen to Zbig Brzezinski on CIA funding, and willing to bring back the draft.

We should not underestimate the ability of crazy end-times Islamic cults to set a new scary consciousness tone to the already wretched situation in Iraq. End-times thinking begets end-times thinking. The Evangelicals will be ready to goad the Zionists into attacks on Iran. Turkey will be ready to play turkey over the status of Iraqi Kurdistan (and with the way we've been treating Kurds in Irbil lately, we shouldn't think the U.S. has friends on either side of that divide). The Democrats have been thinking that Bush's surge will be a slow, inexorable push to a bigger meatgrinder. That might be the optimistic scenario. If Nov. 20, 1979 is any guide, multiple calamities could begin to erupt much, much faster than that. Allah Aqbar.

ALTERNATIVE EXPLANATION: Patrick Cockburn of the Independent in the UK cites several Islamic Web sites and Shia sources to suggest that the "Soldiers of Heaven" was really a pilgrimage of Iranians for Ashura, and that the story was made up to justify U.S. attacks on Iran. Perhaps. The U.S. is certainly involved in a lot of covert efforts to prod Iran into a fight. But plow deeper into Cockburn's story, and you'll see admissions that Ahmad al-Hassani (Abu Kabar) was indeed involved in the Najaf incident, and that this group of pilgrims, from the Hawatim tribe, was "heavily armed." Maybe there was no cult attempt to attack Shia holy sites in Najaf. Maybe the U.S. and Iraqi governments both over-reacted. But somehow I'm inclined to show even more skepticism for Cockburn's take on this than I do the Iraqi government's.

1 comment:

Brian said...

The Soldiers of Heaven no doubt could not have cared less what's going on in U.S./Iraq politics, but they sure picked an odd time to die -- at the precise moment that the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government needed to demonstrate it could move against Shiite groups.

To quote The Philosopher: "none dare call it coincidence."