July 17, 2005
Everyone's an Apostate
...When you’re Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Al Qaeda's leader in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi said his group had formed a new armed wing to fight the Shi'ite militia Badr Brigade, according to an audio tape attributed to him and posted on the Internet on Tuesday.
"We in al Qaeda Organisation for Holy War in Iraq announce the formation of a military brigade named Omar Brigade, to cut off the symbols and factions of the treacherous Badr Brigade," said the voice on the audio tape which sounded similar to previous recordings attributed to Zarqawi.
Badr Brigade is the military wing of the Shi’a SCIRI (Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq) party. It claims to have transformed into a purely political organization, but most Iraqi Sunnis remain unconvinced.
In usual form, Zarqawi attempts to justify the recent spate of attacks against Iraqi army and police outposts using the convenient charge of apostasy. His recent online announcement declares that "the Iraqi army is an apostate, agent army allied to the crusaders and came to destroy Islam and Muslims”. Similarly, he judged Egyptian envoy Ihab al-Sharif, stationed in Baghdad, to be an “enemy of God” just prior to executing him on July 7. While this explanation may still resonate in some quarters, it wears a little thin when children are killed (apostates for accepting candy from US soldiers, I suppose).
Calling it the Omar (or ‘Umar) brigade is an interesting choice, certainly. It might be a reference to one of the Rashidun, or Rightly-Guided Caliphs (not surprising considering the fixation fundamentalists have on the early Islamic period). ‘Umar was the second Caliph, remembered for his personal austerity, incorruptibility and uncompromising nature, though I don’t recall any references to specific actions against the emergent Shi’a. ‘Umar’s reign (634-44) witnessed massive expansion of the Islamic empire, to include Damascus, Jerusalem, Edessa, Ctesiphon and nearly all of Egypt. Not a bad choice as stern Caliphs go, and would probably piss off the Shi’a, who feel that the Caliphate belonged to the relatives of Mohammed and ‘Ali.
Then again, it may be some other Omar (can’t help it, I like these “guess the fundie reference” games). Nothing wrong with a bit of history though, especially when the Wikipedia entries are all full of “Neutrality of this Article is Disputed” warnings.
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Was 'Umar the one who was murdered by some of 'Ali's friends? (Ostensibly without Ali's knowledge).
Posted by: Tom Scudder at July 17, 2005 06:36 AM
Nope nope. That was Uthman. (thanks, wikipedia)
Posted by: Tom Scudder at July 17, 2005 06:40 AM
Well, if you're referring to Wikipedia, then you're only taking into account one view of the turn of events. As mentioned on the site, Aisha, (daughter of Abu Bakr) also cursed him.
"Abu Bakr's daughter Aisha, Muhammad's widow, was particularly vehement in her denunciations of Uthman."
I don't think there's any implication that 'Ali or his "friends" were involved in Uthman's murder. Though I don't know much about the subject, I think using statements such as these could result in a nasty argument. No hard feelings.
Posted by: Anonymous at July 17, 2005 06:55 AM
'Umar was killed by a Persian slave with no discernible political motivation.
Regarding 'Uthman's murder, one source says he was killed by 500 Arabs from Fustat [a town in Egypt], another is more vague and describes a number of disgruntled factions (Kufa, Egypt and Medina). 'Uthman heavily favoured his own clan and Meccan families, alienating the Medinan elite. He also attempted assume control over provincial revenues, alienating the early conquerors who had no interest in losing their privileged positions.
As the story goes, a group from Fustat marched to Medina to file a protest with the Caliph over his policies. 'Uthman persuaded them to go home, but forwarded a message to the Egyptian governor ordering that they be punished. The message was intercepted and the petitioners returned to Medina, furious. He was killed shortly after.
One of the Prophet's relatives was passed over in favour of 'Uthman, which is one reason why the Shi'a view him poorly. Unfortunately, Mohammed established no method of succession and did not clearly designate a ruler after his death (i.e. the Shi'a strongly believe he did, but the Sunnis have a different, strongly held opinion). Even the position and powers of the Caliph (wrt the Islamic community) were unclear at this time.
Posted by: eerie at July 17, 2005 11:13 AM
Apologies for careless shorthand, which is mine and not wikipedia's.
Posted by: Tom Scudder at July 17, 2005 12:54 PM
"though I don’t recall any references to specific actions against the emergent Shi’a."
emergent Shi’a seems like an unfortunate phrase? Of corse Ali was around and getting passed over, and had his supporters. But isn't misleading to talk about about emergent Shia at that date?
Posted by: David Weman at July 17, 2005 05:19 PM
David: Well, since most people aren't familar with the term 'Alid (more of an academic distinction used to describe 'Ali's followers before they became a sect), I used "emergent Shi'a" instead. Shi'a is short for Shiat 'Ali (Partisans/Party of 'Ali), so I don't think it's that misleading to describe them this way, as long as a caveat is used (emergent). Doctrinal differences weren't really apparent yet, but this group was certainly recognized as a faction based on their support for Prophet's family.
I am writing a primer on Shi'a vs. Sunni, to clarify these finer distinctions. Going over them repeatedly in different entries tends to cause clutter and confusion.
Posted by: eerie at July 17, 2005 05:52 PM
The situation in Iraq seems to be developing into a low-level civil war. Though it's hard to tell from a casual reading of media reports, given that most incidents aren't reported because they take place "out of view". Obviously Zarqawi's fueling the fire with his statement; I'm sure he's thinking of Lebanon and Vietnam, and the US troop pullouts there in the midst of a civil war. And Afghanistan with the Soviets. Maybe the Badr Brigade even was becoming political, but will step up their militia action now, at least against Al Qaeda. Zarqawi's statement may also be aimed at Sunni Iraqis, to try to convince them he's fighting for them.
I wonder exactly how many private militias are operating in Iraq, and how many different political objectives. I believe in Lebanon the number reached 50 at one point.
Posted by: zurn at July 18, 2005 01:49 PM
On the subject of Iraq and the coming/maybe-already-here civil war, Asad AbuKhalil had an interesting post the other day recounting a conversation with "a well-known Arab nationalist leader who has close ties to people and groups in Iraq", basically asserting that the Ba'ath are using Zarqawi's group as a cut-out to hide behind, and that the new 'Umar group are just a reflagged version of a particular Iraqi army squadron or whatever.
Posted by: Tom Scudder at July 19, 2005 06:30 AM
Actually, in the strange world of Wahhabism, Shi'as ARE apostate and idolators. And if they didn't get so much flack for it, they'd even ride on non-Wahhabi sunnis. You really don't want to live in aworld where they get their way.
Posted by: Desert Island Boy at July 19, 2005 10:04 AM