April 23, 2004


Victor Davis Hanson, feeling his oats:

"Any fool who names his troops "Mahdists" is sorely misinformed about the fate of the final resting place of the Great Mahdi, the couplets of Hilaire Beloc [sic], and what happened to thousands of Mahdist zealots at Omdurman."

1) "Mahdi" translates most closely as "Saviour" or "Messiah," or, I suppose, "Christ." You know, that's the great thing about Christianity... after we saw the way Jesus got strung up, all Christians everywhere decided from that point on never to use religious symbology in military contexts ever, ever again. Otherwise, we'd probably have done something crazy, like calling our military actions a "crusade" or give out medals shaped like crosses, or have unit padres, or something like that. Boy, would we have looked silly.

2) Shiite Muslims are more apocalyptic than their Sunni brethren; they're kind of like Christians that way. They believe their actual, physical Mahdi is coming back some day, whereas Sunnis use the word in a more abstract, "small-m" sense. If Hanson stopped to think for more than a second, surely he'd remember that the Mahdi he's referring to was Sunni. You can forgive the Shiites for not being too concerned how a self-proclaimed mahdi of the Sunnis met his end in Sudan a century or so ago, any more than current evangelical Protestants might lose a lot of sleep over the fact that a Catholic priest named Louis Riel thought he was the Second Coming around the same time. (He was apparently mistaken.)

Calling your men an "Army of the Saviour" (Salvation Army?) is certainly a presumptuous act, but in a devout religious leader, hardly unexpected. In this case, Hanson's constant need to talk down to his crowd by throwing in one more witty-obscure historical reference actually makes him look like a bit of a dolt. Isn't the first time.

PS: The Belloc couplet Hanson is referring to is, of course, "Whatever happens, we have got/The Maxim Gun and they [the Mahdists] have not." It's worth noting that, after shortly reclaiming Sudan from the British, the Sudanese Mahdi died peacefully (well, of typhus, anyway) as the ruler of a free country, which would remain so for another 13 years before the British reconquest. Hanson's "final resting place" crack refers to the British disinterment and desecration of his corpse after their return... it was hacked up and the pieces thrown in the Nile. No one's quite sure what became of the skull...

PPS: "Mahdist zealots?" (Think about it for a sec.)

Posted by BruceR at 05:26 PM