Posted by: sean | January 8, 2007

"Kill me in Iraq."

This segment on Al Jazeera (translated and edited by MEMRI), is more than a little disconcerting. The segment pits Sadeq al-Musawi, a Shia journalist, against Mishan al-Jabouri, the Sunni owner of the Iraqi satellite network, Al Zawraa. I’m not really exaggerating when I use the word “pit,” because it’s almost as though two cocks had been set in a hole to kill each other.

Jabouri tells Musawi that he “should choose your words carefully, or else I will do things to you that you will not imagine, you Persian liar … you are an Iranian shoe!”

Musawi responds with, “Your father killed Kurds!”

Finally, Jabouri advises Musawi against speaking ill of Saddam Hussein, to which Musawi tells him not to advise anything, but rather, “kill me in Iraq, send your militia to kill me.”

I’ve been reading Vali Nasr’s The Shia Revival, and he writes a lot about how the Sunni regard the Shia as not being proper Arabs, because Shiism has had much influence from Iran and since some Shia in Lebanon and Iraq are the descendants of Persians who migrated centuries ago. Jabouri literally calls Musawi and Iranian (he says both Ajami and Irani), and brings some paperwork (which he proceeds to throw at his interlocutor) out to support his claims. And in the end, who knows whether Musawi is Iranian or not. Maybe he is, or maybe his family fled Iraq and he was born in Iran to Iraqi parents.

But that’s not really important. The important point is the internecine venom. Jabouri tells the Jazeera moderator, “The people who executed Saddam Hussein are the same people who killed Umar, the same people who killed Abu Bakr.” Are these Iraqi militants? western viewers might ask. No, Umar and Abu Bakr are the first and second Caliphs, those who succeeded Mohammad in the 7th century. Umar ibn al-Khattab was poisoned by a Persian slave, and Abu Bakr either died of a cold or from being poisoned a year earlier, depending on your source. (The partisans of Ali, the Shi’at ‘Ali, believed that Ali should have been Caliph instead of Abu Bakr and Umar.)

I find it disconcerting that the Iraqi political discourse still hinges on the desert politics of Medina and Mecca nearly 1400 years ago. And seeing the historical complexities of the situation in Iraq, I find it even more disconcerting that most of the people who are paid to understand these historico-religious contexts don’t even know the difference between the Sunni and the Shia.

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