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On Our Regression to a Narcissistic Primordial Self

On Our Regression to a Narcissistic Primordial Self

Wednesday, 23 December, 2020 - 11:15

In Iraq’s 2006 Sunni-Shiite civil war, 268 armed organizations fought. Some were born out of it, and some had been established before it erupted. Some of those organizations’ include the Mahdi Army, the Mukhtar Army, the Islamic Virtue Party, the League of the Guide, the Soldiers of Heaven, League of the Righteous, Harakat Thaer Allah (God’s Vengeance Movement), Lajna al-Qasas al Adel (Just Punishment Committee), the Jerusalem Forces, the Earthquake Brigade, the 1920 Revolution Brigade, the Organization of Monotheism and Jihad, Al-Qaeda, the Muhammad Army, the Assembly of the Helpers of Sunnah, the Jaish al Fatihin (Army of Conquerors), Ansar al-Sharia (Supporters of Shariaa), Kataeb Al-Haq Al-Mobin (The Revealed Right Brigade), Ansar Ibn Taymiyyah, the Army of Honor and Dignity, the Islamic Anger Brigade, the Omar Ibn Al-Khattab Army ...

That war ended and Iraq witnessed many developments before the eventual rise of ISIS and its seizure of Mosul in 2014. The “Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF)” were then formed after a fatwa issued by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Tens of military brigades came together under the Popular Mobilization Forces’ (PMF) banner. The names of some of these factions: Al-Imam Muhammad al-Jawad Brigade, Imam Ali Combat Division, Kata’ib Jund al-Imam (Islamic Movement in Iraq), Ashura Companies, Karbala Brigade, Ali Akbar Brigade, the Movement of the Outstanding, the Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (Master of Martyrs Brigade), Imam Ali Brigade, League of the Righteous, Liwa Ansar al-Marja'iyya (Supporters of the Grand Ayatollah Brigade), Hezbollah Brigades, Al-Hussein Brigade…

Of course, the PMF was inevitably decorated with a few Sunni and minority-group militias. This was thought to set its Shiite nature aside and grant it a national cross-confessional character. But heck no! The PMF, which recently splintered, used to include 67 Shiite factions- 44 of them who follow (seen as a reference for matters of religion; following a marja’a, which literally translates to “reference,” is a Usuli Twelver Shiite convention. Sistani and Khamenei are the two most prominent marja’as) Khamenei and 17 follow Sistani. The former, who embrace Vilayet al-Faqih (Guardianship of the Jurist), have become known as “loyalist units”. The latter are known as “shrine units”, and they include the Abbas Combat Division, the Ali Akbar Brigade, the Imam Ali Combat Division, and the Supporters of the Marja’iya Brigade.

Iraq is not alone in this, though it is the most prominent example. Something similar can be seen in Syria: in the names of the thuggish pro-regime militias (known as Shabiha) who support the “courageous” Syrian army and those of the brigades which became of the Syrian army after it disintegrated and, of course, in the names of the extremist Sunni militias that flourished after the peaceful revolution had been annihilated, a process in which they had a hand.

From reading the factions’ names, one realizes, as a dominant feature, a return to the sect and confession in their most tightly regimented interpretations, and to an unreserved, narcissistic image of a primordial self that does not tolerate any contact with a different self, country or social organization. A different self is inevitably an enemy.

The abundance of these factions almost gives the impression that our imaginations no longer have room for other meanings and that our language itself no longer has room for different concepts. It gives the impression, one that reflects the reality of the situation, that we have only this puny “tradition;” constrained and contracting, it is nonetheless accompanied by lofty claims of liberation or changing the world that render it in need of imperial armies.

There will always be those who hold religion responsible for this. But the economic allotments these factions reap highlight the prioritization of sectarianism, in its mafia-like collective identities and actions, over religion and its message. The degree of division these factions reflect probably resembles the belief in multiple gods far more than it does monotheism and monotheistic religions.

There will also always be those whose heads are in the clouds and believe that all these phenomena stem from the dubious actions of the “blue-eyed.” Of course, the American occupation of Iraq, “the Zionists’ unwaning tricks” or “the Great Satan’s” activities top the list.

We always need these people in order to crystallize the regression into a primordial self. The fact is that this image is flourishing in various colors that have painted the entire region. Today, there are Lebanese and Egyptians, Arabs, and Kurds, who go back to the epoch preceding the Islamic conquests, thinking that they would thereby revive the histories and loyalties that that conquest wanted to eliminate. On the other hand, there are Islamists who are constraining and stifling history, such that it would suffocate its sons and the minds of its inheritors.

Meanwhile, the admirer of the imperial era, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is fighting some of his wars with ancient poetry that draws boundaries and objects to others. The increased prevalence of this embrace of a primordial self during times of war, tension, and conflict is not arbitrary. They rip communities apart and tear collectives and individuals’ minds apart with it.

The truth is that we, especially in the Arab Levant, are in the midst of an epoch that would be difficult to describe differently than one of degradation and atomization. Most of the reasons for this are of our making, either through political regimes we created or the social and cultural structures that we decided not to question. But it would not be an exaggeration to say that the significant external qualitative development reinforcing this inclination was the curse of the Khomeinist revolution of 1979. This revolution’s call, concerning all matters, was “backward, march.” The most important of these “steps backwards” was painting an image of the world as an arena for perpetual war and enmity, an arid place where only the wounds of a swelled-up, rocket-powered narcissism grows.

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