Until Thursday morning, an ominously huge event had barely been reported, and its significance very little reported on in the American press, which was preoccupied with other matters. During the Muslim holy day last Friday, the golden dome of the Ali al-Hadi Mosque in Samarra gleamed in the sun, the pride of Shia Iraq – indeed, of the Shia world.
As of early this week, that dome is no more. It was blown up in a huge blast and is now represented only by strips of hanging metal and broken stone, amid the rubble of treasures centuries old. Splendid mosaics below the dome and on the Mosque walls have been savagely torn apart by the power of the string of bombs set off inside.
This Mosque is one of the holiest in Shia Islam, certainly so in Iraq, the shrine special to the 12th Imam, Al-Mahdi. According to Shia traditions, this Mahdi was taken up into a supernatural realm (much as Christians hold that Jesus was taken up into heaven at his Ascension), and will return one day to complete his work.
There are many Shia around the world, such as the infamously fickle and dangerous Al-Sadr of Baghdad, and President Ahmadinejad of Iran, who have been saying publicly that the Mahdi’s Second Coming will happen soon.
After this horrific blast in this most holy temple, there is turmoil in the Muslim world, extending as far away as Pakistan.
Reports of reprisals against Sunni Muslims and Sunni Mosques in Iraq are far too frequent, and at times too ghastly to contemplate with serenity.
The point of blowing up the Mosque in Samarra was clearly political. The sacrilegious blast was meant to destroy any chance of a new democratic government from forming in Iraq. It was meant to precipitate immense passionate reactions, and counter reactions—in short, civil war. A huge, bloody civil war. In Iraq.
Almost immediately—did you notice?—the government of Iran announced that this horrible blast was an act of foreign intelligence: Israeli and American. The speed of Iran’s governmental campaign to spread this message suggested that some in Iran had advance warning, perhaps only to the extent that this sort of dramatic terror was coming any day. The next day, people were burning American and Israeli flags in the streets.
Who knows? Events might necessitate the intervention of Shia Iran into Iraq – that is, even more overt intervention that is already under way every day.
I myself connect this deed to the hard work by politicized imams from Denmark and all through the Middle East since early last autumn to awaken violent outbursts, almost on cue, all around the Muslim world against four-month old cartoons published in an obscure paper in Denmark. I am absolutely no expert in these matters. But I cannot help noticing what my eyes see.
The original cartoons from Denmark were not judged by the organizers to be shocking enough, and so they manufactured another three truly vulgar and disgusting cartoons to add to the published dozen. The long-planned and vigorously stoked demonstrations that eventually followed, months later, were manifestly political, highly approved of, where not positively organized by such governments as those of Syria and Iran, backed by a surrounding chorus among their neighbors.
But what exactly is the political aim of the ruthless apostles of terrorism, cruelty, violence, and destruction? To be as sophisticated by every means of terror to capture the fascination of the mass media, to inflame hordes of unemployed youths throughout the Muslim world, to intimidate the vast decent majority of Muslims by fear for their own children and grandparents, and to cause the old and new “crusader” nations to lose heart. These political dreamers and schemers really do intend to topple western governments, cow entire populations, and establish a vast empire of power and terror reaching from Asia to the Atlantic—and across the Atlantic.
If you do not believe me, and I am no expert, just read their own documents. Listen to what their seemingly crazed leaders say on their own seemingly semi-crazed smuggled tapes. One of these times, don’t just shrug and say, “He’s nuts!” One of these times, stop and think: “He means it. He really means it.” And note what they are doing. And where, month by month, year by year. And how it all hangs together. There has been a record now, for some twenty years and more.
These cynical political operatives are working from a position of great weakness. But since so very few outside their little conspiracies take them seriously, or pay attention to their moves and the sequences of those moves, they have advanced to the point where they are willing to provoke open civil war by blasting off the dome of one of the most sacred shrines of Shia Islam—while at the same time feigning outrage that a poor but brave editor in Denmark would publish a dozen cartoons, which even the conspiring imams found insufficiently shocking to stir up all the hostility they desired.
And the murderous operatives carried out their latest deed, only after the earlier cartoon offensive had done its immense damage to Western morale and self-confidence.
Naturally, the West is feeling guilty about the cartoons, and chillingly intimidated by the “Muslim reaction”—more exactly, by the contrived, heavily stimulated, long-contained, and deliberately timed demonstrations of focused political outrage against them—while failing to pay serious attention to the truly huge event that started off this week with a great boom.
That event, I have a hunch, might well be followed by another shocker fairly soon.
For the stakes for Iran—its nuclear future—and for Syria—its safety from within—and for the future of Hamas in Palestine, could scarcely be higher than they are just now. The most organized radical forces are poised to act in great concert. The moment is crucial for their future prospects.
Published in First Things February 23, 2006