Saturday, June 28, 2008

Muqtada - not my first choice

Continuing from yesterday's thought flow regarding the limited selection of reading material at arm's length in one's loo..... - Muqtada* Book Review as featured in "The Week" - June 20, 2008 edition - is an enlightening, if not frightening selection for a short spurt of reading - maybe specifically designed for the brevity or efficiency of a bathroom visit. The author, British Journalist, Patrick Cockburn, outlines the following about the Shia leader - (I will paraphrase here a bit)

"35 years old, seemingly capable of starting or stopping violence in Iraq with the flip of a switch. March's bloody clash in Basra went quiet as soon as M ordered his brutal and tenacious Mahdi Army to stand down. M stands today as "the most important and surprising figure to emerge in Iraq since the US invasion. Unfortunately, most Western observers know little about him - except that he is not the lightweight thug that some American officials once proclaimed him to be."

Cockburn - "M's father and father-in-law were "enormously courageous men," fighters for Iraq's impoverished Shiite majority who both eventually died at the hands of Saddam Hussein. When Saddam fell, M moved rapidly to resuscitate his father's organization."

Cockburn continuing says "killing M would probably never work. The movement he leads represents too many pent-up grievances."

Critics claim that Cockburn never offers a detailed character portait of al-Sadr. Despite the author's risks to win interviews with M soldiers and political rivals, his book never penetrates the cleric's abrupt demeanor and secretive ways. It also devolves toward the end into an unenlightening review of all the mistakes made by US and British officials. But James Glanz of The New York Times, summarizes his review by saying "that the Muqtada biography, although important, joins a small handful of books that qualify as "required" reading for anyone who wants to unravel the meaning of events in Iraq five years into the war."

So, why did I or would I even bother to give my "second" choice of short reading to Muqtada al-Sadr....intellectual enlightenment, curiosity, insight into a society of which I know nothing, insight into a person's driven life to protect himself and those he loves from harm?

Isn't that protection factor what many a person's motivation may be in their seemingly cruel and "different from us" behavior. Granted there are leaders, even among us Amurricans, who may disguise their prejudice, fear, and inadequacy in leadership, in the mask of protecting us beloved family and citizenry from harm and even death, who may be motivated by pressures even they may be unable to name, but isn't it possible that the love of life and home (even when masked in power plays) the stuff seemingly violent persons and not-so-violent persons are made of? Naive, you say - some leaders are just evil and there's no other explanation.....naive, you say - how do you know?

Oh my goodness, I've been hanging around you liberal types, not naming any of you publicly, of course, so as to not let anyone know that you consort with the likes of me.....

More on selection of readings in the bathroom tomorrow - I know, you can't wait!!

*Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival and the Struggle for Iraq by Patrick Cockburn - Scribner Books


  1. Maybe I'll stick with my "scooter" books.

    I did read "The Kite Runner" and "A Thousand Splendid Suns." These fictional stories written by Khaled Hossieni, who is of Afghan heritage, present one view into life in Afghanistan. I found the books to be "good reads." They don't tell a story about the current actors in the region, but they built in my mind some images of recent Afghan history and life.

  2. Hi Geezer - thanks for your comments. I agree re "The Kite Runner" - it brought the humanity of the Aghanistan people w/o any political persuasion.

    Although I have not read "A Thousand Splendid Suns" I've also heard that the fiction was excellent. I shied away from it as I felt the anguish so deeply in The KR that I wasn't ready to face that connection again with Hossieni.

    The James Michener books I've read always gave me a deep sense of the people, land, history - for example Hawaii - I believe much of my love of HI now is owed to knowing the history that Michener so beautifully portrayed in that book. I think I won't read that one again though because, once more, I was so deeply moved, saddened by the history that it makes it painful to think about reliving it even in the fictional portrayal.

    THanks again for your comments.


  3. I found "Thousand Splendid Suns" to be more disturbing than "Kite Runner." The introspection and search for redemption were missing. It was a sad tale of the plight of women in a society dominated by men and complicated by war. You are wise to consider your emotions in deciding whether to read it.

    It has been a long time since I read any Michener. I actually read "The Source" in 1970. There wasn't much to do on the combat base in Dong Ha. With determination I spent a while each day sitting in a lawn chair and reading. My recollection is that it was one of his epic fictional accounts based on history. "The Drifters" might be an interesting book to revisit. It was set in a time that we can remember. It is also not of the epic proportions of many of his works.

  4. Geezer,
    OK, that's what's on your night stand. Now, what's in your reading room?