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Thursday, December 8, 2016

So how is it exactly that even the most conservative leaders among House Republicans, such as Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI), have become vilified as a bunch of sellouts by the Tea Party base and its faction in Congress, the Freedom Caucus?

The compromises of governance have truly infuriated the House GOP’s far-right wing — and now they want it all to stop. The participants in the current crisis over the speakership, with a minority fringe of House Republicans threatening to vote against the GOP leadership itself on the House floor, are now going way over the top in a variety of ways: comparing the leaders to dictators; calling for the rise of “Valley Forge Americans” in the spirit of the American Revolution; boasting that they’ve taken down their own party leaders; and issuing a set of demands for total purism that would trigger a government shutdown (plus the impeachment of the heads of the IRS).

But there might actually be a great basis of comparison for these wreckers, who prize the cause so much that the party itself has become their hostage: The Freedom Caucus mirror nothing else so much as the earliest Muslim extremists, known as the Kharijites — although the caucus members are probably the last people on Earth who would admit to the resemblance.

As is commonly known in the West, the seeds of the Muslim schism began after the death of Muhammad, with the question of succession creating rival camps around the Prophet’s father-in-law and partner Abu Bakr, whose faction became the majority Sunni; or his son-in-law Ali, whose followers are the minority Shia.

Ali did in fact become the caliph, after 26 years of deference to other men — but by the time this occurred, the Muslim empire itself was splitting in the first Islamic civil war, which erupted after an angry mob had assassinated the previous caliph Uthman.

After years of horrific bloodshed, resulting in the deaths of possibly many tens of thousands of people, Caliph Ali eventually entered into negotiations with his primary rival, the breakaway leader Muawiyah, to reach a settlement that ultimately granted huge concessions of autonomy (and even equality) to the latter.

And that’s when Ali’s most ardent followers got really angry — at Ali, for betraying God’s holy will that had animated the cause of… Ali.

From an excellent book on the history of Islam, Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes, by Tamim Ansary:

Compromising with the enemy disappointed a faction of Ali’s most committed followers, and these younger, more radical of his partisans split away. They came to be known as Kharijites, “ones who departed.” This splinter group reformulated the ideals of Ali’s followers into a revolutionary new doctrine: blood and genealogy meant nothing, they said. Even a slave had the right to lead the community. The only qualification was character. No one was born to leadership, and mere election could not transform someone into the khalifa. Whoever exhibited the greatest authentic devotion to Muslim values simply was the khalifa, no election needed. He was, however, accountable to the people. If he ever fell a hair short of complete moral excellence, he forfeited his right to high office and someone else became khalifa. Through what actual machinery all this demotion and promotion was to occur, the Kharijites didn’t say. Not their problem. They only knew that Ali had squandered his entitlement and needed to step down; and since he didn’t step down, one young Kharijite took matters into his own hands. In the year 40 AH [approx. 661 C.E.], this hothead assassinated Ali.

The lesson here: If the cause is made out to be holy and sacrosanct, then not even the most dedicated leaders are safe from the true believers.

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