Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Shia Street-Blogging

Here is the kind of thing I like to hear about (from the Financial Times):

A black-turbaned Shia cleric drove through the streets of the southern Baghdad district of al-Amel on Saturday, carrying a loudspeaker and mocking the insurgents who scrawled anti-election slogans on the neighbourhood's walls.

"Let those who wrote this show their faces, if they are men," residents quoted him as saying, as two dozen armed supporters followed his motorcade on foot, painting over graffiti that threatened to "cut off the heads" of voters.

"Come and vote," the cleric said to passersby. "We will protect you."

It was a rare display of militancy by one of the pro-establishment Shia clerics, who have so far strongly discouraged any action by their followers against predominantly Sunni insurgents, lest it trigger a civil war.
Belmont Club has an analysis from a military perspective which is, as usual, worth reading.

I wanted to comment that this is an easily missed example of the extent to which freedom has already arrived in Iraq. Two years ago, a Shiite driving down the street blaring insults at Sunnis would have had his tongue cut out. Now he is doing on the streets of Iraq what bloggers like Salam Pax had to do in secret before the war.

For all the problems that Operation Iraqi freedom may have produced, one undeniable benefit has been the beginnings of freedom of speech which is the foundation of a free society. This freedom is fragile and it may well be lost in the future course of Iraqi politics. Who can tell? But we ought to recognize that this nameless cleric is exemplifying more than mere courage by publicly challenging the totalitarian/terrorist insurgency. He is also displaying for all the world, if they will only see it, that human beings, if given an opportunity, may choose freedom over short-term security.

One final note: Despite the fact that this is an Islamic cleric, Christians ought to be celebrating this example of freedom of speech. In a culture where discourse is not conditioned at gun-point, I fail to see how Christianity can not thrive. (To be sure, it can thrive under oppressive conditions as well, but that takes a bit more courage and commitment.) If we are allowed a public hearing, I am convinced that we will eventually win every argument. I am not sure if that is what my friend over at CUANAS is getting at with this post, but I can agree with his celebration of freedom because I am confident that we will win in such an environment.

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