01 March 2006

the 3Ps: polls, politicians, and partition

over at Emery's place, he's been discussing the extremely low polling numbers that Bush is getting these days, particularly riding on the aftermath of the bombing of the Shi'ite mosque in Samarra last week. I just read Juan Cole's short piece on the aftermath of that bombing in Iraq, now that ostensibly the reaction has died down, and I find it quite incisive, as usual for Cole. He knows the region, he knows its recent and not-so-recent history, and he can boil it down well for those of us who do not.
Cole details the various reactions of politicians and players in Iraq, specifically the three primary Shi'ite clerics. it's interesting to me because I'm just through lecturing (in my Colonialism & Nationalism in India module) on the political maneuvering during the decades just before India's independence, as they struggled to maintain the unity of India while acknowledging the voices of various minority groups, most prominently Muslims. Just as in India, the discourse has solidified around binary religious groupings (Shi'ite/Sunni, with the third term of the Kurds receding into the background it seems, just as the untouchables or the Sikhs in India were silenced by our search/need for two opposing sides) and the question of Iraq as a unified nation is also central. And so each of the clerics used the bombing to their own rhetorical and political ends, whether for Shi'ite power/autonomy or for national unity:
These three Iraqi clerics all employed their influence and authority among the Shiite rank and file to make the Samarra bombing work for them politically. Sistani expanded his militia and stayed at the forefront of the movement by encouraging peaceful rallies. Abdul Aziz al-Hakim used the explosion in Samarra to bolster his own authority. ... Muqtada al-Sadr used the incident to push for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, something he has wanted since the fall of Saddam. Abroad, Supreme Jurisprudent Khamenei [of Iran] blamed Bush and his Israeli allies, a monstrous charge but nevertheless one widely believed.
and what's interesting here is the unity against the US presence and the alliance of a West-Israel common enemy is clearly there in the discourse as well. The question is, just as it was in India, will that negative unifying discourse be enough to keep Iraq together? Or will inter-religious rhetoric win in the end? partitions work so well, or not: as millions of dead in South Asia and Israel-Palestine and the Balkans have learned the hard way. I hope that the Bush folks are reading their history (and their polls), and not the Raj nostalgia stuff they seem to be reading lately.

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