Moqtada al-Sadr bravely called for an uprising in Iraq today–and then called it off after one day of fighting. As an American observing the course of change in Iraq, I find it very frustrating that many Iraqis support this supposedly religious man. The fact that most of his supporters are poverty stricken might have some influence in the way they are so easily cajoled into supporting a war-monger who has no legitimate complaints against the USA or the new Iraqi government except for the very fact that the USA is the USA.
Al-Sadr is playing off of the old-school Arab anti-Americanism–the irrational kind that only works in uneducated circles and that blames America for everything wrong in the world simply because of its prosperity and power. That is, although there might indeed be legitimate concerns about America’s policy in the middle east, al-Sadr types are still clinging to the older, pre-Iraq invasion Islamicist view that America is just simply evil because it is perceived as Christian (i.e. infidel), powerful, imperialist, and secular (yes, an interesting inconsistency with the first perception).
The sad thing is that supporters of al-Sadr and other anti-American elements in the middle east have only a skewed view of what America is. They have no idea what it is really like here: that religious freedom is guaranteed to all and that Muslims in America enjoy unprecedented freedom to worship according to the dictates of their own conscience. Muslims in America are even freer than Muslims in the middle east (because Muslims in the USA are free to choose whether or not to wear the headscarf, for example), unless you consider the freedom to oppress others who don’t share your religious beliefs as a legitimate freedom. And Muslims enjoy a level of freedom in the United States that Christians or any person of any other religion cannot hope to attain in the middle east. Furthermore, Muslims actually enjoy greater freedom in the United States than they do in European countries (with the exception perhaps of the UK), as is evidenced by the radical laicité in France and the misplaced principle of neutrality that is evolving in Germany. Freedom is a touchy issue for the middle east. It is one of those places in the world where it is actually viewed as a negative thing.