When modern political parties started being established in the Arab world, traditionalists drew the sword of morality in their faces because members of political parties are immoral, as demonstrated by the intermingling of men and women within them.
The insult predictably continued: in those mixed parties, heinous things happen, including incest.
Moqtada al-Sadr, nearly two thirds of a century later, has brought this critique, which the old world that lacked strong arguments used to rebuke the ideas, organizations and institutions of the new world, back to the fore. However, instead of directing his attacks on political parties, he is targeting the protests and sit-ins of the Iraqi revolution. He says, along with a few of his friends through their tweets, that gender intermingling contradicts morality, religion and national values, and that it is necessarily accompanied by taking drugs and drinking alcohol. He warns of Iraq’s transformation… into Chicago!
Of course, Moqtada lacks the intellectual tools of theorists, like Leo Strauss, who put forward a radical criticism of modernity in which he relied on a wide range of philosophers that begin with Plato and does not end with Maimonides.
Moqtada’s thoughts, on the other hand, can be identified by referring to two – and there are many others – stunning examples: once, he attacked youths for playing football and chasing a ball instead of fencing or riding horses. He didn’t stop there, going on to say that the west, “especially Israel and the Jews”, left these games to us in order to distract us as they focused on science and progress.
Another time, he issued a fatwa – one of the “decisive” fatwas that were meant to prepare for the battle with the Americans – sanctioning theft and looting provided that one-fifth of the money is given to him and his institutions.
However, Sadr’s thought can only be dealt with when examined over a long period. With regard to the ongoing revolution, he called on people to take part in it, withdrew from it and then returned to participate in it before proceeding to suppress it more violently than any of those who had supressed it before him. The same applies to his relationship with Iran, which he supported, then criticized and attacked and now praises. He currently resides in Iran until further notice.
As for his relationship with Sunnis, he was heavily involved in the 2006 civil war and the “death squads” loyal to him would leave Sadr City to go on killing and kidnapping sprees. However, he later showed solidarity with Sunnis protesting in Anbar against Nuri al-Maliki’s government. He then went much further than that, recognizing the legitimacy of the Rashidun, or Rightly-Guided, Caliphs’ mandate and denying that Yazid bin Muawiyah had murdered Hussein bin Ali.
The same could be said about the many organizations he established, the most recent of which is the “Blue Caps”. He goes on to disband and even defame some of them. He does the same with some of his advisors, expelling and insulting them, then bringing them back to his side.
Still, Moqtada cannot be understood from his thoughts, his turbulent neurological and psychological make-up or even his love of tumult. The entry point to understanding him, especially after the outbreak of the Iraqi revolution, is two-sided:
On the one hand, he is no longer able to maintain the unity of his impoverished supporters whom the economic crisis impacts more than others. Since the Sunni and Kurdish “enemy” is almost absent on the political scene, it is impossible to incite and mobilize against it in order to preserve the cohesion of his popular base. The moral question is now being used to perform this function.
Women, in the sayyed’s eyes, are weak opponents whom he aspires to rally his conservative and traditional base against.
On the other hand, the blind loyalty that traditionally linked his base to him does not apply to Iraq’s youth, especially women. Their sentiments and tastes have become globalized, and they are demanding rights, equality and transparency. This heightens his anger and apprehension, especially given the revolution’s persistence despite his recent withdrawal from it just as it had persisted following the killing of Soleimani before that.
The bottom line is that, in contrast to the image of the neutral actor he is trying to project about himself, Sadr sits at the heart of the regime that he wants to preserve. Without him, neither would Adel Abdel Mahdi have been able to form his government nor would Mohammed Toufiq Allawi have been appointed to form a new government. As for Sairoon’s (Moqtada’s parliamentary bloc) alliance with the Fateh bloc, it keeps the reins of power in assured sectarian hands.
What he wants, at the end of the day, is to ensure that he maintains a share of the booty from a strong position, while preserving his “right” to seem like a whiny member of the opposition who loves to play the victim.
The women of Iraq, however, will not be the bridge that he crosses to arrive at that goal. They are no longer the weak opponent that Sadr imagines them to be. Some of the bravest of Iraq’s women and girls were killed during the protests. Some have been assaulted, even stabbed, and, they turned out in large numbers to protest in Baghdad and provinces in the center and south of the country like Babel and Dhi Qar. Sadr should be a little cautious when speaking about Iraqi women.