I have the utmost respect for Juan Cole and his blog. Today, he had a post that I wanted to make a small comment on, because I don’t think it gives either Sistani or Gandhi the credit each one deserves. The relevant paragraph, to be found at the end of his post, is as follows:
If Sistani does lead a popular march of the sort the press is describing, it might be the most significant act of civil disobedience by an Asian religious leader since Gandhi’s salt march in British India. And it might kick off the beginning of the end of American Iraq, just as the salt march knelled the end of the British Indian empire.
I think one has to make a distinction between nationalist and anti-colonialist leaders. Gandhi started life as an anti-colonialist, but became a nationalist. Sistani is a nationalist I believe, and has clear vision of what Iraq should look like. However, the march on Najaf is not primarily a nationalist one, so much as it is to reassert his authority and to put as-Sadr in his place. As-Sadr is ostensibly an anti-colonialist – although the occupation is not colonial in nature so much as it is mercantile – and has no vision for Iraq. I think this difference between Sistani’s march and Gandhi’s march is important to note. However, Sistani is clearly exercising his power for multiple audiences.