Posted by: Tony Carson | 19 July, 2007

Iraq, al-Sadr and the tactic of charity

Much is made about the tactic of Hezbollah, Hamas and now Moktada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army in helping the poor, the hungry and the dispossessed. Their actions are viewed as clever, manipulative, even diabolical, mainly because the tactic has been so successful for them: the people in Lebanon, Gaza and Sadr City have flocked to them, elected them, praised them.

And why not? What they have been doing is the very thing governments are created to do. Further, aren’t these charitable actions one of the principle reasons for the creation of religions? Christianity only took off after the adherents helped the down and out in Rome; Islam has, as a fundamental tenet, the helping of the needy.

But these actions are often viewed cynically by the western media. Take, for instance, this article in the New York Times entitled Cleric Switches Tactics to Meet Changes in Iraq. It leads off this way:

After months of lying low, the anti-American Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr has re-emerged with a shrewd strategy that reaches out to Iraqis on the street while distancing himself from the increasingly unpopular government.

Let’s just parse that lead paragraph a little:

lying low? al-Sadr and his father before him have been helping the people in this horrific slum for decades, that’s why this impoverished region of Baghdad is called Sadr City.

anti-American Shiite cleric? What cleric in what country wouldn’t be against the occupation of his country by a military force?

re-emerged? There had been speculation that al-Sadr had escaped to Iran but that has been debunked.

shrewd strategy? A cleric ministering to the people is an act of profession, not a strategy.

reaches out to Iraqis? He and his father before him have been reaching out to Iraqis for decades.

on the street? Where else in this ruined country?

distancing himself? As he has from the beginning, and, as it turns out, wisely so.

increasingly unpopular government? Reason enough for the distancing.

The West may have forgotten that religions and governments are created to help people but, apparently, others haven’t.

The New York Times should look for another angle for its story, one a little more objective and sympathetic.


  1. Yeah. Agreed. Shrewd tactic of looking after people? Is this like Chavez being “populist” because he wins elections? (without assistance of the supreme court) Or is it the difference between a freedom fighter, an insurgent, a terrorist and liberator? Silly newspaper of… record…

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