While Barack Obama's vacation continues to top the news, Moqtada al-Sadr in a less reported move has decided to follow suit. The former uncrowned king of Iraq has decided it's time to take a break, or at least appear to lie low for a while. The WSJ writes:
"Now this: Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr plans to announce Friday that he will disarm his Mahdi Army, which was raining mortars on Baghdad's Green Zone as recently as April. ... In many respects, the story of the Mahdi Army's decline follows the same pattern as al Qaeda's: Not only was it routed militarily, it also made itself noxious to the very Shiite population it purported to represent and defend. It enforced its heavy-handed religious edicts, coupled with mob-like extortion tactics, wherever it assumed effective control. ... It is also an indication that Iraqi politics is developing in a healthy way."
There's a moral in there somewhere, and maybe Moqtada could teach Western activists a thing or two about what not to do. Even where formal democracies have not been established, the softer idea of freedom from coercion seems to have received wider acceptance. The aspirational effect of information products may have been a factor. All those images of horsemen herding cats (YouTube link) across an open range or sailboats heading for the horizon have left their mark on the subconscious of the world. People have learned to dream; and they rarely like to dream of themselves in chains. Michael Totten, reporting from Kosovo, says that what the native Muslims find most repellant about the Wahabists is their presumptive authority to regulate private behavior. How widespread the broader of idea of personal freedom has become, even within enclaves, can be inferred from the circumstance that many "honor killings" arise, not from theological disputes, but over arranged marriages, forbidden sweethearts and the like.
The modern equivalent of religious edicts in the West is political incorrectness. And it is being enforced to a surprising degree. I listened to an academic describe how his publisher told him to refrain from using the words "civilization" in manuscripts lest it imply there were uncivilized societies. And yet didacticism is almost endemic to activist organizations. I long ago discovered that it was possible for a Marxist to remain in good standing despite a total ignorance of Karl Marx, so long as he observed the social manners of Left; knew when to snigger, when to be moved, what attitudes to take. If he knew how to dispose of his garbage in a politically correct way, he didn't have to know the 18th Brumaire from a broom. Activism is about belonging; and activists who joined because they wanted to be told what to do mistakenly think everyone wants the same thing. An article from The Times Online suggests that the environmental "movement" may already be more about compulsory style than science.
"Julie Burchill can't stand them. According to her new book, Not in my Name: A Compendium of Modern Hypocrisy, she thinks all environmentalists are po-faced, unsexy, public school alumni who drivel on about the end of the world because they don't want the working classes to have any fun, go on foreign holidays or buy cheap clothes. Michael O'Leary, the chief executive of Ryanair, agrees. In an interview with Rachel Sylvester and me, he told us that the 'nutbag ecologists' are the overindulged rich who have nothing better to do with their lives than talk about hot air and beans."
And speaking of air, I think the reason why the tire gauge remark provoked such a backlash is that people don't want to be lectured to. All of those who are running around looking for studies proving that Obama was right after all about the beneficial effects of tire inflation are to some extent missing the point. The last temptation of the Great Man is to speak from the mountain top. Sadr may have learned that Great Men can also be measured by their ability to help people find themselves so that when they raise their eyes to the peaks they see not another man but a chance to touch the sky. Or at least a good view.