Events in Iraq often seem confusing, but if set into the broader context of an end-times story, they make a lot of sense. Everyone knows Israel is getting ready for the second coming, and the Bible speaks of the importance of that great river Euphrates. Armageddon is just around the corner. Everything is right on track.
Considered from this angle, the political problems in the Middle East seem pretty puny. It may be true that by pumping up the Shia we will see a tightening coalition between Iraq and Iran—an eventuality we always sought to prevent. And once the Shia elsewhere see what’s going on in Iraq, they may stage a serious revolt in, say, Saudi Arabia, our base for so many years. So what? From the biblical perspective these events don’t amount to much.
As we ourselves embrace the scriptures we must realize Iraq also is moving toward theocracy, but of a Muslim sort.
Most importantly, since the victor in this recent election is not Allawi but the Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the future lies not so much in any evocation of a Western-style democracy grafted onto Iraq, but on the Ayatollah’s interpretation of events and his vision of the way forward. He may keep Islam in the background for the moment, but there is little doubt he will push for an Islamic republic of some sort.
Even when Sistani rejects Khomeini’s religious model for governing, “he is not proposing the kind of secularism that U.S. or any other Western politicians have in mind,” Ehsan Ahrari noted in Asia Online earlier this week. “Under the Sistani model of separation of religion and politics, representatives of the grand ayatollahs . . . would play a highly visible and crucial role in framing the constitution, especially regarding the maintenance of Islamic identity. In fact, it can be argued that the entire involvement of Sistani since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq has been a perfect example of how the power of the marjaiah [the ayatollah’s representatives] has been imposed on the mandarins of the secular superpower. It was Sistani who demanded speedy elections. He knew what the outcome of that election was going to be. When Bush balked about holding elections, Sistani demonstrated his power by calling on his followers to fill the Iraqi streets in protest. It was he who insisted that the United Nations should be brought back to conduct or to oversee the conducting of elections in Iraq. It was Sistani’s refusal to condemn the U.S. presence in Iraq that kept the Shiite protest a minor problem for the Western occupying forces. Sistani’s role in calming the firebrand rhetoric and activities of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr should not be underestimated. It was Sistani, once again, who issued a religious decree exhorting the Shiites to vote as a religious obligation.”
Additional reporting: Nicole Duarte and David Botti
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 1, 2005