Sunday, June 03, 2007

Ali al-Wardi: Social Glimpses of the History of Modern Iraq

Ali al-Wardi is often considered the 'Godfather' of Iraqi sociology, A secular-styled writer of Shiite lineage, al-Wardi has written what many considered to be the definitive books on the history of Iraq and the psychology of its unfortunate inhabitants. His neutrality, which rejected both Marxist communism and Pan-Arab nationalism (the two major sparring factions at the time) put him at great troubles. I have long searched for his books and by a stroke of luck managed to find them online. I have been reading in this book 'Glimpses' for quite a while, in the following series of posts I am going to translate what I felt is relevant and crucial for those who want to understand why is this going on in Iraq. This book was published in 1951, but it didn't take it long for me to be dumbfounded by how little we progressed, and how much we stepped back. Take a look and see for yourself. al-Wardi, like my least favorite bloggers Iraq The Model unfortunately agree with me, is a must-read for anyone who even thinks of breaking it into understanding Iraq. This is for all the people who think 'Iraq' is still related to those distant civillizations we like to trumpet every now and other: The Sumerians, Babylonians, Akkadains, even our own Islamic civillizations of Kufa, and Harun al-Rashid's Abbasid Baghdad, have nothing to do with the Ottoman-Saffavid foundations this bastard Iraq was built upon.



Ali al-Wardi,
Glimpes in the Social History of Modern Iraq
Published in 1951.

To study Iraqi society, an interest which I have become fascinated by for quite a substantial amount of time, I realized that I cannot understand society at present unless I understand the conditions by which it passed in its past decades, as each event must have left an impact, large or small, on the current behavior and thinking of people.

I would also like to point out a dilemma which always plagued me enormously in previous books, the question of neutrality and objectivity. Many delicate subjects will be discussed in this book regarding the viewpoints of many Iraqis, and those people are quite taken to view history the same way one would view a multi-faceted pyramid, as each group focuses on one side while omitting the others altogether.

Social Hypnosis

Iraqis are not different from other human beings, to be subjective is a natural human trait that could be weak or strong according to circumstances, a person undergoes in his social life a hypnosis that we could call ‘social hypnosis’, as society exerts on man since early childhood various impulses in values, morals, beliefs, and social considerations and by so puts man’s thinking in certain moulds that are hard to break. Thus, a person born in a certain environment is usually personified by the environment’s religious, political and emotional definitions. He believes that he took up those patterns by his own free will and choice while not realizing that he is merely the making of his own social environment.

Hypnosis can affect human beings to a degree that he could see white as black or to think that a particularly repulsive odor is quite pleasant.

Iran and Shiism

It is a common mistake to think that Shiism began in Iran, as all modern historical research shows us that it started in Iraq and then extended into Iran. Scholars agree that Iranians were Sunnis until the advent of the 16th century, with the emergence of the Saffavid state. Prior to that, Shiites were not few in numbers there, but were only in a few cities. At the Saffavid era, Asfahan became the capital of the state and the center of Shiite learning, after the collapse of the state that center moved into the Iraqi city Kerbala and remained there until the end of the 18th century, where it relocated into Najaf and settled there, apparently for good. (Konfused Kid- not really, Qom is now a rival center that is just as powerful as Najaf.)

What we wish to extract from all this is that Iran, after becoming Shiite, began affecting the Iraqi society considerably, as ties between the Iranians and Iraqi Shiites grew by the days. Therefore, a unique social condition was established in Iraq, The majority of Iraq’s population were Shiite Arab while their scholars were Iranians. Iranian students come into Iraq to take lessons in Najaf or Kerbala, some return home and some stay. It is only natural that those who stay remain connected to their homeland, bringing influence of any political and religious disputes back home, the disputes between clerics in Iran would spread in Iraq this way, going as far as affecting the general population, such examples are the cases of the Tinbak in 1890, and the Mashrootiya in 1906, and many others. This unique condition would have been unimportant had Iraq been a part of the Iranian state, but destiny had it that Iraq becomes part of the Ottoman state, so the Iraqi society had a very severe identity crisis, as its government was linked to Turkey while the majority of the population was linked to Iran.

Sectarain Escalations:


Ottoman State has appeared in Turkey since the 7th Hijri century, but it expanded Westward first towards Europe, and never headed East towards Iraq and other Arab states before the emergence of the Saffavid state in Iran, ever since then Iraq becomes the grounds for violent clashes between the Iranian and Ottoman states, something that will last for three centuries. From here the famous Iraqi saying: “be nil ajam wil room balwa ibtilayna” (Between the Ajam (Persians) and Room (Turks) we fell into tragedy), this ‘balwa’ in Iraq came because the Iranian State adopted Shiism as a slogan while the Ottoman picked up Sunnism, escalating sectarian tensions in Iraq unbearably. Sectarain tensions existed in Iraq since early Islam, as Abbasid-era Baghdad witnessed battles between Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods in which many were killed, houses were burned, and religious places violated. The clash reached its apex only when Iraq became between the rock of the Persians and the hard place of the Ottomans, as the talk of the town for Iraqis consisted merely of the news of the two states, with each sect beseeching God to grant victory to their compatriots. Iraqis knew nothing then of modern political ideas such as patriotism, nationalism or independences. All that filled their thinking was religious sentiments represented by sectarian extremism. By this, they did not consider Iranians or Turks as foreigners who sought to occupy the land and its wealth, but as a protector of the sect and a rescuer of the subjects. This view was widespread until very recent times, an example of this is the veneration given to a canon known as ‘Tob Abu Khuzama’, this canon was brought by Ottoman Sultan Murad the Fourth to liberate Baghdad, and then left it there. The population used to bless with the canon and its flag in spite of it just being a tool to ‘occupy’ Iraq and ‘colonize’ it according to modern-day standards.

Sectarain war, on its outward appearance, is based on the clash between those who adhere to the prophet’s household and those who adhere to his companions. As a matter of fact, both Ottoman and Iranian states were both similar in being as far as possible from the principles of both the Prophet’s household and companions. Both were in the vein of traditional imperialist countries which bore little resemblance to the Islamic State witnessed in the days of the Prophet and his Rashidun Caliphs. Ottoman-era Iraqis knew nothing of this, as all that was important to them as that the state be of their sect, so their Imams shrines are venerated and their religious practices and festivities are taken proper care of, the state then is free to do as it pleases as its affairs does not concern them and they believe it is of little concern to their religion.


Continued.

34 comments:

Zeyad said...

Al-Wardi was not Marxist. He was actually a strong, outspoken critic of both Marxism and Communism, and his theory was that it would never work in a society such as that of Iraq.

Konfused Kid said...

u'r right, I was thinking of Hadi al-Alawi at the time, i corrected my error.

Lynnette In Minnesota said...

Thanks for the translaction, Kid. :) When I read about Al-Wardi over at Iraqi Atheists I had forgotten he was the author mentioned by Omar at ITM(love those guys, *poke* *poke*). No English translation, which is probably why he wasn't in Borders computer.

Yes, indeed, he is absolutely right that environment plays a crucial role in forming people's values, beliefs, morals etc.

I'm looking forward to more translations. :)

Lynnette In Minnesota said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
exile - iraqi / gilgamesh X said...

This is for all the people who think 'Iraq' is still related to those distant civillizations we like to trumpet every now and other: The Sumerians, Babylonians, Akkadains, even our own Islamic civillizations of Kufa, and Harun al-Rashid's Abbasid Baghdad, have nothing to do with the Ottoman-Saffavid foundations this bastard Iraq was built upon.

Al-Wardi didn't write that. In fact, he also underlines the rough connections between this distant parts. You can read it where he talks about the tribes and their orign.

And before you doubt it, I read Ali al-Wardi in German translation. So either you quote this or don't try to put words in his books that doesn't exist.

And before you get angry about me, just re-read the passage about this stupid Iraqis who discuss too much, who are smart in literature and sciences and rhetorics and stupid about doing politics. Ali al-Wardi wrote rightly that an Islamic sect based on reason like the Mutaziltes could only grow in Iraq.

And why so much contempt on Ancient Middle East, on Sumer and Akkad ?

Anonymous said...

Oh no, it's exile Iraqi again. He thinks Iraqis are all descendants of the Sumerians and Babylonians.

Dave said...

Personally, I'm curious as to why you don't like ITM. I read both of you and find both your blogs quite illuminating.

Konfused Kid said...

i have no contempt for those guys, for all i care, I kinda liked Enkido & Gilgamish back when I was 10 or so, what I am sick of and contemptible to is all those Iraqis who keep on reminding us that those people who have absolutely nothing whatsoever do to with our customs, religion, culture, or behavior once lived on the land we live upon. This exercise of glorifiying past deeds and hiding behind as we produce nothing those days is what pisses me off. I don't exactly understand why should be proud of them as I don't. Culturally speaking, it'd be like modern-day White America being extremey proud of Native American culture. I mean, at least the guys who are proud of Umar, Khalid and Ali are relevant to them culturally.

Anyway, it's your opinion and here's mine, I don't know if al-Wardi wrote about this because I am still reading through this book, it's quite long.

Dave said...

I'm not sure if the analogy you made applies that well, because I think most Americans have a lot of respect for Native American culture... But not much personal pride.

But more importantly, I agree with you that as a general rule, it's not really helpful to live in the past - Doing that takes your focus off the present... Which is what your future is gonna be built on... So *stay focused*!

At any rate, the information coming out of blogs like yours, IQM and others is invaluable to those who want to get a sense of what's really going on.

Also, I really like the fact your a young metalhead, there's nothing like a fresh pair of honest eyes to report back the unvarnished truth.

Oh, and yeah... Motorhead rawks.

exile - iraqi / gilgamesh X said...

I just read it in a day and a night on a weekend (500 pages).

I agree with you that past deeds have been too often an excuse or cover for today's failures. But that does also imply a lot of "Arabic - Islamic heroes". I mean: find an Iraqi who refuses to be proud of "al-Qadisiya". And even Baathists like Saddam or religious extremists like al-Hakim who wanted to call the South "Sumeria" take pride in this cultural heritage.

On the other hand, we find a strong resentment in the ME against people living in Pre-Islamic times.

Do you remember the Buddha statues in Afghanistan or the everyday destruction of Iraq's cultural heritage ? You surely know better than me about this issue.

I agree with you too that in order to understand Iraq today, you have to care about Ali and Umar more than about Hammurabi and Gilgamesh BUT I ask you: why did ancient Iraqis (our direct ancestors!) managed to create a civilization, a culture and a state and we today fail so bitterly and poorly ?

In order to improve things, we should be allowed to compare ancient Iraq with modern Iraq, not by technology of course, but on the political organization.

Ali al-Wardi himself describes how a lot of these "sumerians, babylonians ..." covered themselves in Islamic times with the phrase of being a "mawali".

I refer to "sociology of nomadism" in Chapter 6 "The origin of tribes in the south of Iraq" and about the "smart Iraqis" in Chapter 13 "Between past and present".

It doesn't matter whether Sumerian or Islamic or South-American, if people don't want to improve themselves, no heritage can order them to do so.

Little Penguin said...

Kid,

I've long heard of Dr Ali Al Wardi and have asked many people about him. Most answers were disdainful and so I was more curious. In Kuwait, I saw that my uncle has a collection of all his books.. when I asked him he said "look, this guy was a genius.. and he spoke of things that many chose to not speak about.. if you want to understand why the Iraq you venerate so blindly will never advance, read his books and you'll see exactly why this is".. generous response, I thought..

sadly, he wasn't so generous so as to offer me any of the books so I have to save up and buy them off the internet.

Right, the passage you translated seems reasonable to me. Though I must object to the generalisation made.. I think he's being overly reducitionist.. the whole conflict between shias and sunnis wasn't entirely based on whose version of Islam you took (the household as opposed to the companions), it's far more complicated.. and the friction that grew between the two factions was not a tit-for-tat struggle as the book seems to suggest..

Furthermore, despite his accurate observations regarding Iranian clerics settling in Najaf, I disagree on the extent to which they influenced the political/social mentalities of those who followed their religious doctrines.. a prominent shia cleric (iraqi) called Sheikh Kashif Al Ghitaa spearheaded the southern region's resistance to British forces in the 20s.. similarly, the tinbaak example shows adherence to clerics within an Islamic framework.. as far as I know (and I'm relatively ill-informed of how things were back then) clerics, Iraqi and otherwise, didn't actively seek to mould the mentalities of the shia masses..

I'm very prone to being driven by my sentiments towards those clerics, so I do apologise for inaccurate observations..

On the whole, I'm eager to read Dr Wardi's books.. they're undoubtedly ifnormative..

Regards,

Konfused Kid said...

hey penguin...very nice comments indeed, i have heard accusations of al-Wardi 'generalising' but I have not seen exactly how, yes he may be a little off in explaining the sectarain struggle but you have to understand that he is aiming at the view of the 'masses', a view that should not be underestimated as in many cases it is the real mover and not the cleric, who has to balance between representing the religion convincingly and satisifying some external factor by which he thrives and becomes popular (the people in Shia case, the Sultan in Sunni cases), this is why Imam Ali was not successful - because he did not go at the will of the people, he chose a path of diffcult rightesouness, and I have no doubt in my mind that if Ali was resurrected hypothetically he will find the same, if not more, stubborn resistance from people.
To give you an example, the majority of Shiite clerics denounce Husseini convoys and latmiyas but no one has been able to even come close to diminish its power.

You don't have to buy al-Wardi's books online, you can download them online and read them for free (unless you like real books), I have personally uploaded them after they were gone.

Lynnette In Minnesota said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Konfused Kid said...

dave, to understand why I hate those sold-out ITM, you can view my October/November 2006 archives.

Iraqi Mojo said...

Very interesting. Thank you for translating - it's amazing that you can translate so well.

Anonymous said...

Referring to the "Glorious past" may prove to be sort of PR. However the detailed studies of the subject may be an excellent intellectual exercise proving your capacities and rescueing you automatically from the present day islamic jaihiliya. By accident (studying a lot of issues) you may rekindle something which has been only half lost and is still around here. It is difficult to claim so and is better not to. But the thing can be still a success, if we are humble enough and avoid trumpeting some great discoveries. It is enough to keep contemplating the issue for a considerable time span.

Czechmade

Don Cox said...

There is obviously a real need for a complete English translation of these books. Generally, there is not nearly enough translating from Arabic to English or vice versa. ____ Of course, it is no problem for those who speak both, but very few English or American people understand Arabic.

Don Cox said...

"his theory was that it would never work in a society such as that of Iraq."___Experience tells us that Marxism doesn't work in any society. It soon degenerates into a thuggish tyranny.

Anonymous said...

in sayyid qutb's "milestones" he prooves in his first chapter how different ideologies, e.g. marxism did NOT succeed, u can read/download his book from the internet.

btw, i read in ur post: "Quickie Reaffirmation Post : Ottham Abd El Hafid" that u said u were once highly connected with Allah and that u'd elaborate on that more, i didnt see any more on it though, mind telling us about it?
thanks

Lynnette In Minnesota said...

It soon degenerates into a thuggish tyranny. Don Cox

Hugo Chavez and Venezuela come to mind.

Classic_971 said...

Hi confused kid, hope every thing is ok, we miss you in beidipedia, I like your writings very much, wish you all the luck in your personal and professional life

Anonymous said...

Greetings konfused kid. Do you have any interest in writing an English wikipedia entry on Dr. Wardi? I am sure many people would be fascinated to learn more about him and read his writings. Thanks for educating us. Hope you are well.

Anonymous said...

hey everyone,
I didn't read all the comments so this maybe a repetiton. sorryy.
Anyhow, I just want to say that Alwardi in his glimpses did not consider the iraqi society today a result of what happened during the last 5 centuries only. He did mention how that dual life style of iraqis (tribal and urban) and the afterwards mixture of these different ways of life affected the personality of iraqis and how there are 2 personalities in each iraqi!! an assumption i tend to believe in from my life experience in iraq. I believe my fellow iraqis share the same views
Thanx for this nice topic,

Cheers,
Aws

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