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20 January, 2020 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 19 January, 2020 10:34:11 PM
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Was Qassem Soleimani a martyr?

Peter Isackson
Was Qassem Soleimani a martyr?

When people live (and die) with a binary vision of the world, the same object may end up with two opposite meanings. This tends to be the norm in wartime, but the trend toward reducing everything to a binary opposition has increased radically in recent years, even in times of peace. The instinct to label things, precisely so as to avoid examining their components, has aggravated the trend. The Trump administration and nearly all US politicians have called Iranian General Qassem Soleimani a “bad guy” if not an “evil” man, even those who criticized the wisdom and legality of launching the attack that killed him on January 3 at Baghdad airport. On the other side of the world, immense crowds showed up for the funeral of a man they revered as a patriot and hero. In the immediate aftermath of the assassination, former British diplomat Ian McCredie noted, in an article on Fair Observer, not just a simple psychological truth but also its likely consequences that US President Donald Trump apparently didn’t bother to consider: “Soleimani’s death on Iraqi soil will likely strengthen popular support for the Iranian government, which will portray the general as a Shia martyr and US President Donald Trump as a murderer.”

The Trump administration and most political commentators in the US have repeated endlessly that Soleimani, who was the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, was “evil” because he killed hundreds of Americans. This is a highly misleading statement from at least two points of view. First, Soleimani didn’t kill many or possibly any Americans. Rather, he led campaigns that resulted in hundreds of US casualties. Second, if killing hundreds of people of any nationality in a situation of declared combat makes a person evil, most heads of states and many of their subordinates should be deemed evil.  r further information.

Few who know his history would deny that Soleimani was violent, brutal, pitiless and sectarian, qualities that we correctly associate with evil. He was also vain, self-obsessed and ambitious, not unlike numerous other people in the world of politics. According to Murtaza Hussain of The Intercept, Soleimani was capable of “generalized slaughter of locals” after the end of a victorious battle in which he drove away Islamic State (IS) forces. In other words, had he been an American soldier who most likely would have been court-martialed for his excessive conduct, President Donald Trump would have honored him as a hero and pardoned his crimes, just as he did for Navy platoon leader Eddie Gallagher, who was branded as “freaking evil” by his buddies in the Navy SEALs.

Iranians admired Soleimani on the same grounds that Americans admire people like Trump: because he was wildly successful at what he did. The general created for himself the image of a winner against what Iranian and Iraqi Shias perceive as two clearly evil forces: US power and the Islamic State group (Sunni extremists). Two of the rather contradictory things he did — and at which he achieved with brilliant success — were to resist American domination of Iraq and to aid the Americans and others in fighting and eventually neutralizing IS after its quasi-conquest of much of Iraq and Syria in 2014. That he should ultimately die for his efforts at the hands of the imperialist Americans makes him a double martyr.

Well before his assassination, Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, referred to Soleimani as “a living martyr of the revolution.” According to MarketWatch, back in March 2019, with no inkling of his martyrdom to come, Khamenei “expressed hope that he would die as one.” Martyrdom has long been a recognized political marketing tool, though it tends to be undervalued in the US, whose culture famously denies death and cultivates the idea of eternal youth.

Perhaps it’s the denial of death itself that prevents leaders in the US from recognizing the powerful force that martyrdom can wield in the rest of the world. Not many political decision-makers in the US reflect these days on the power of Marc Antony’s funeral oration in Act III of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”. While showing his respect for the honorable intentions of Caesar’s assassins, Antony convinces the people that just thinking about the murdered Caesar “will inflame you, it will make you mad.” That’s what martyrdom does. And the final acts of Shakespeare’s play recount the civil war that, after the demise of the “honorable” assassins, eventually transformed Rome from a republic to an empire.

We appear to be witnessing the end of an era and something akin to a historical sea-change, though it’s hard to believe it could happen so suddenly. Interviewed by The Nation in November 2017, less than a year into Donald Trump’s presidency, the historian Alfred McCoy observed that “Almost as if driven by some malign design, Trump is systematically toppling the pillars that have sustained US global power for the past 70 years.” McCoy demonstrated his gift for prophecy when he predicted that “Trump’s bluster could soon become blunder, either sparking a military firestorm on the tinder-dry Korean peninsula or launching some abortive anti-missile strike that exposes the limits of American power.”

Richard N. Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former American diplomat, summed up the current situation on Twitter: “One sure result of the U.S. strike is that the era of U.S.-Iraq cooperation is over. The U.S. diplomatic & mil presence will end b/c Iraq asks us to depart or our presence is just a target or both. The result will be greater Iranian influence, terrorism and Iraqi infighting.”

Fair Observer

At least in terms of the American goal of seducing “hearts and minds,” the entire Middle East, with the exception of Israel, may be lost. Arab governments in the Gulf, led by Mohammed bin Salman’s Saudi Arabia, will continue to “play ball” with the US. But the basic belief that it is in any people’s interest to be close to the US and to identify with its interests and values (again, aside from Israel) may no longer be tenable. Other choices and orientations are emerging.

 

 

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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