..same difference, right?
From Baghdad Burning, just another day in the life of the exciting new democracy:
A day later, G. had a visit at noon. A young black-clad cleric walked into the shop, and had a brief look around. G. tried to interest him in some lovely headscarves and abbayas, but he was not to be deterred from his apparent mission. He claimed to be a ‘representative’ from the Sadr press bureau which was a few streets away and he had a message for G.: the people at the abovementioned bureau were not happy with G.’s display. Where was his sense of national pride? Where was his sense of religion? Instead of the face of a heathen [soccer] player, there were pictures of the first Sadr, or better yet, Muqtada! Why did he have a foreign flag plastered obscenely on his display window? Should he feel the need for a flag, there was the Iraqi flag to put up. Should he feel the necessity for a green flag, like the one in the display, there was the green flag of “Al il Bayt”… Democracy, after all, is all about having options.
G. wasn’t happy at all. He told the young cleric he would find a ‘solution’ and made a peace offering of some inexpensive men’s slippers and some cotton undershirts he sometimes sold. That evening, he conferred with various relatives and friends and although nearly everyone advised him to take down the flag, he insisted it should remain on display as a matter of principle. His wife even offered to turn it into a curtain or bed sheets for him to enjoy until the games were over. He was adamant about keeping it up.
Two days later, he found a rather dramatic warning letter slipped under the large aluminum outer door. In a nutshell, it declared G. and people like him ‘heathens’ and demanded he take down the flag or he would be exposing himself to danger. It takes quite a bit to shake up a guy like G., but the same day he had the flag down and the display was back to normal.
As it turns out, Muqtada has a fatwa against football (soccer). I downloaded it and this is a translation of what he says when someone asks him for a fatwa on football and the World Cup:
“In reality, my father's position on this topic isn't deficient... Not only my father but Sharia also prohibits such activities which keep the followers too occupied for worshiping, keep people from remembering [to worship]. Habeebi, the West created things that keep us from completing ourselves (perfection). What did they make us do? Run after a ball, habeebi… What does that mean? A man, this large and this tall, Muslim- running after a ball? Habeebi, this ‘goal’ as it is called… if you want to run, run for a noble goal. Follow the noble goals which complete you and not the ones that demean you. Run after a goal, put it in your mind and everyone follows their own path to the goal to satisfy God. That is one thing. The second thing, which is more important, we find that the West and especially Israel, habeebi the Jews, did you see them playing soccer? Did you see them playing games like Arabs play? They let us keep busy with soccer and other things and they've left it. Have you heard that the Israeli team, curse them, got the World Cup? Or even America? Only other games... They've kept us occuppied with them- singing, and soccer, and smoking, stuff like that, satellites used for things which are blasphemous while they occuppy themselves with science etc. Why habeebi? Are they better than us- no we're better than them.”
Important note: Islamic Sharia does not prohibit soccer/football or sports- it’s only prohibited by the version of Sharia in Muqtada’s dark little head. I wonder what he thinks of tennis, swimming and yoga…
I listened to the fatwa, with him getting emotional about playing football, and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Foreign occupation and being a part of a puppet government- those things are ok. Football, however, will be the end of civilization as we know it, according to Muqtada. It’s amusing- they look nothing alike- yet he reminds me so much of Bush. He can barely string two sentences together properly and yet, millions of people consider his word law. So when Bush raves about the new ‘fledgling Iraqi government’ ‘freely elected’ into power, you can take a look at Muqtada and see one of the fledglings. He is currently one of the most powerful men in the country for his followers.
So this is democracy. This is one of the great minds of Bush’s democratic Iraq.
Sadr’s militia control parts of Iraq now. Just a couple of days ago, his militia, with the help of Badr, were keeping women from visiting the market in the southern city of Karbala. Women weren’t allowed in the marketplace and shop owners were complaining that their businesses were suffering. Welcome to the new Iraq.
It’s darkly funny to see what we’ve turned into, and it is also anguishing. Muqtada Al-Sadr is a measure of how much we’ve regressed these last three years. Even during the Iran-Iraq war and the sanctions, people turned to sports to keep their mind off of day-to-day living. After the occupation, we won a football match against someone or another and we’d console ourselves with “Well we lose wars- but we win football!” From a country that once celebrated sports- football (soccer) especially- to a country that worries if the male football players are wearing long enough shorts or whether all sports fans will face eternal damnation… That’s what we’ve become.