This afternoon, I had the privilege of attending a talk by Sayyed Ayad Raouf Jamal al-Din at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). Jamal al-Din is an Iraqi – I think he would want me to state that first before listing all of the other attributes and qualifications, which include Shiite, religious scholar, Imam, and elected member of the Iraqi parliament. He is uncompromising in his insistence on separation of religion and state. As Jamal al-Din puts it, “my freedom as a Shi’ite and as a religious person will never be complete unless I preserve the freedom of the Sunni, the Christian, the Jew, the Sabai, or the Yazidi. We will not be able to preserve the freedom of the mosque unless we preserve the freedom of entertainment clubs.”
Indeed, the takeover of many mosques by the opponents of freedom is of grave concern to Jamal al-Din. He notes, for example, that Zarqawi did not “emerge from his mother’s womb as a terrorist.” Instead, he learned to be a terrorist in the mosques from the Imam. This occurred because “some people’s interpretation of Islam is murderous.” These interpretations flourish where there is tyranny, which, says Jamal al-Din, is the real mother of terrorism. Thus, the only answer to terrorism is to overthrow tyranny and then fight a “cultural war” to create a modern society in its place. In Iraq, the U.S. and its allies overthrew the tyranny. Now it is up to the Iraqis to fight the cultural war. But centuries of tyranny make this an extraordinarily difficult struggle, and Jamal al-Din emphasizes that Iraqis still need America’s help. Though politicians like John Kerry call on the U.S. to withdraw from Iraq, Jamal al-Din warns that Kerry’s approach would represent “a defeat for the modern and civilized world” and a “victory for bin Laden, Zarqawi, and terrorism all over the Middle East.” Terrorism would then once again “knock on the door” of the West.
Jamal al-Din ran for parliament on the slate headed by former prime minister Alawi. This was a national unity slate, and it fared poorly in the election. But Jamal al-Din remains as insistent about the need for a unified Iraq as he is about the related concept of separation of religion and state. He talked little about Sunni vs. Shiite vs. Kurd and much about truth vs. fear and democracy vs. tyranny. And when he spoke of terrorism, he spoke of Islamic terrorism, not terrorism by any particular faction.
During the question period, I asked Jamal al-Din to say who is winning in Iraq now, truth or fear; democracy or tyranny. He answered by saying that right now Iraq is “a kingdom of fear.” Diana West and I later agreed that this answer is more meaningful and perhpas more disheartening than Dr. Alawi’s claim (which has become a mantra of the left in this country) that Iraq is in the middle of a civil war. In a civil war, there’s an enemy army; in a kingdom of fear there are ghosts. An army can be easier to fight than ghosts.
But Jamal al-Din does not seem inordinately disheartened. He believes that the creation of a military and a police force with a national identity would enable the truth-fear, democracy-tyranny struggle to be played out in a clash between sectarian militias and the national army and police force. Though he did not say so, I felt that Jamal al-Din believes this struggle could go either way, and he clearly believes that much depends on the willingness of the U.S. to remain engaged.
To see Jamal al-Din speaking on Arab television (with translation), check out the MEMRI video feed at Power Line Video.