Bloggers on Muqtada Sadr's cease-fire.

The latest chatter in cyberspace.
March 31 2008 6:09 PM

Sadr Says

Bloggers are parsing the significance of Muqtada Sadr's cease-fire in Basra and pondering the rise of abstinence clubs in the Ivy League.

Sadr says: Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr ordered his Mahdi Army fighters to stand down Sunday after six days of bloody clashes in Basra. This agreement came as a surprise to some, as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had said previously that Iraqi army troops would see the Basra campaign through to victory. Many bloggers point out that Sadr called off his troops after a peace agreement was reached in the Iranian city of Qom.

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At the Carpetbagger Report, liberal Steve Benen finds Maliki and Bush the losers here. "The humiliation for Maliki — and, by extension, the Bush administration policy — is rather breathtaking. He launched this offensive, he oversaw the 'crackdown' on Shiite militias, he vowed to see this through to 'victory,' and he was backed up by U.S. forces, despite his apparent reluctance to tell U.S. officials about his plans before he attacked. And now look at the landscape." At 1 Boring Old Man, liberal Mickey opines that, despite the glaring defeat, the Bush administration will find a way to spin it favorably: "There's been enough bloodshed in Iraq for several wars. Bush and Cheney will be spinning like Rumpelstiltskin, about al-Malaki's flexing his muscles. Meanwhile, Moqtada al-Sadr comes out of it still holding Basra, Sadr City, and probably most of Southern Iraq. He emerges from it as a proven Military and Political force. And he is likely headed to the winner's circle in the elections due in October."

"Any illusion that Iraq is near political reconciliation has also been shattered. The Western media division of Iraqis into merely three sects—Shiite, Sunni, and Kurd—is obviously wrong, as there is substantial discord within those groups," observes James Joyner at Outside the Beltway. "It's difficult to imagine that six days of killing one another is going to lessen that in the near term."

At the Seminal, Washingtonian Jason Rosenbaum suggests integrating Sadr into the official power structure: "The way forward, as it has always been, is to bring Al-Sadr into the government. Declaring offensives on his followers - thugs and criminals though they may be - isn't going to work, and going back on our agreements is only going to breed more distrust. Given our history, I wouldn't hold out too much hope for this truce, but perhaps those ruling Iraq will finally prove me wrong."

Many bloggers gravitate toward the fact Iran brokered the peace, citing a McClatchy piece by Leila Fadel. Conservative Jules Crittenden takes the trip to Qom as final proof the Iranians are deeply involved in Iraq's internal affairs. "Persians, magnanimous, agree to call off their Shiite militias. I guess this means we don't have to use 'alleged' or 'U.S. accuses Iran of involvement' or any other qualifiers anymore. Apparently the mullahs are calling the shots."

Declaring that Bush's influence in Iraq is waning, at Informed Comment, University of Michigan history prof Juan Cole sees an ascendant Iran. "The entire episode underlines how powerful Iran has become in Iraq. The Iranian government had called on Saturday for the fighting to stop. And by Sunday evening it had negotiated at least a similar call from Sadr."

Read more about Sadr and Basra.

Ivy abstinence: A New York Times Magazine article on Ivy League chastity clubs profiles Harvard junior Janie Fredell, who was fed up with her school's "all encompassing hook-up culture." Fredell is a member of True Love Revolution, a secular group that uses science and philosophy to promote abstinence. In the article, Fredell dubs herself an "unconventional feminist," as, she says, "conventional feminists" believe in "the freedom to have sex without consequences."

"The problem for these privileged kids is that they succeed in investing way too much focus and power on sex by making it a platform to display the perceived sanctity of their moral compass and personal virtue. Being a virgin doesn't mean you're a good person, it only means that you're not a person who has sex," snaps Canadian feminist Medbh at Dante and the Lobster. Liberal Kim takes issue with Janie Fredell's conception of feminism at Don't You Evah. "You don't have to be asexual to be a strong woman. Abstaining from sex does NOT mean 'Women Reclaim Self-Respect.' That logic is just off. What, any woman who has sex doesn't hold herself in high regard? Another issue is how having any sex at all suddenly means you are promiscuous. Guess what? It is possible to satisfy your desires without being an egomaniac or self-hating doormat," she writes.

At What Would Phoebe Do, Phoebe Maltz is unimpressed with Fredell's commitment because of her youth. "Too much is made of the 'choice' to be virgins made by people who aren't even that old, and probably haven't met someone they wanted to have sex with yet. We all had that freshman-year dorm-mate who 'didn't drink,' who went on to spend the whole of spring term hungover. Or the avowedly chaste who meet someone they like senior year and, what the hell."

Religious conservatives are pleased to see such clubs popping up at elite liberal institutions. At Christian Reformed Campus Ministries at UWO, University of Western Ontario blogger Mike Wagenman applauds the existence of True Love Revolution. The article "seems to lay out the case for abstinence before marriage. It's weak people who are promiscuous. Strong people respect themselves, others, and God with their bodies."

While Savannah-based Christian writer Harrison Scott Key, at Worldmagblog,  supports the abstinence message, he thinks the group's secular nature will hurt it. "Her group's arguments are powerful with the university audience, but if her propositions are founded on secular ideologies, they will ultimately fail.  Here's to hoping there's more to these groups than the cracked and weary discourse of the body, of oppression, of feminism.  If so, kudos."

Slate's Melinda Henneberger, writing at XX Factor tweaks the New York Times: "It was in many ways right off-the-rack," she critiques. "Not all young people who are virgins on purpose are dum-dum religious nuts. Some of them—brace yourselves—have even infiltrated Harvard. And have complicated philosophical reasons for this lifestyle choice. Too complicated, in fact, even to take a stab at explaining. But don't sweat it, because underneath—who would have guessed?—they're religious nuts, too!" And moderate law professor Ann Althouse scolds the New York Times for its Ivy tunnel vision. "Does celibacy require a social club? Does a celibacy club deserve a lengthy NYT Magazine article? Don't be silly! It's a celibacy club at Harvard. That's what makes it newsworthy in NYTworld. 'Harvard' is named 22 times in this article."

Read more about True Love Revolution.

Sonia Smith is an associate editor at Texas Monthly.