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April 9, 2004 by AK

Great Friday in the East and the West

The weather in Moscow fits the days: it grew dark and cold towards last night, the Gethsemani night, and it was dreary and raining this morning. I was scanning National Review‘s front page a few hours ago: the same boring headings (it must be their editorial policy to keep them dull), but not quite: Steven Vincent says Sadr follows a martyrdom script. Unfortunately, I know little about Islam, so to me, Vincent’s piece was illuminating, although I cannot agree with some of his assessments. A few quotes:

[S]omething that is not specific to Sadr’s intifada, but which in fact runs through the entire religious sect: a deep attachment to lost causes, alienation, failure, and death. <...>This last aspect particularly startled me: severed heads, amputated hands, Arabic letters dripping blood — and that’s what found in mosques.<...> Meanwhile, cadres of male worshipers marched through the throng, chanting and beating their breasts or flogging themselves with metal chains.

Unless you have the instincts of a pre-Reformation Catholic peasant-or Mel Gibson — it is nearly impossible to grasp this appreciation of suffering and death.

I’m afraid I’m with Mel rather than Steve on this. It all reminds me of medieval images of Christian saints and processions of flagellants in the streets of European cities. An appreciation of suffering is inherent in Catholic and Orthodox tradition. But it is not a cult of suffering; before we draw easy parallels, let us ask ouselves, what is the place and meaning of suffering in a particular worldview or doctrine. Whether Shiites are given to death-worship, I am far too ignorant to judge. “Shiites need martyrdom to define their piety, their identity, their very selves.” Early Christians? Revolutionaries? How well would they fit into this statement? If well enough, Vincent’s characterization of the Shiites is too general; it’s the “compare” part without the “contrast” half.

An interesting Shia poster depicts the slain cleric along with over 60 extended family members — all of whom were executed by Saddam Hussein — superimposed over a bleeding map of Iraq. <...> [A] legacy of martyrdom that gives the 31-year-old cleric a spiritual authority his youth would not otherwise warrant among the age-revering Shiites.

I don’t think one has to be Mel Gibson to understand this; especially if one realizes that the extended family may be to Iraqi society what the nuclear family is to the West.

I spotted one typo (“overthrown” instead of “overthrow” in “the Coalition’s overthrow of Shia-hating Saddam Hussein”) in the text; plus, it has “[Imam] Hussein’s own decapitated head,” and I don’t think the beheaded head got in for a humorous purpose. I make plenty of typos and errors on this blog, but one thing I know for sure, I only have myself for an editor.

I hope to either see The Passion or listen to Haydn’s Seven Last Words of Christ this evening.


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