- Ḥizb ad-Da͑wa al-islāmīya. Selbstverständnis, Strategien und Ziele einer irakisch-islamistischen Partei zwischen Kontinuität und Wandel (1957–2003) by Florian Bernhardt
In February 2014, Muqtada al-Sadr, the controversial scholar-cum-politician of post-Saddam Iraq, announced his withdrawal from politics, adding that ‘no party represents us from now on in Parliament or in any position inside or outside the government’ (New York Times, 16 February 2014, A4). While it remains to be seen whether Sadr’s statement will be followed by practical consequences – it is not the first time that he heralded such a step only to retract the announcement later – it once again revealed the complex relationship between party politics and religious scholarly circles that has been characteristic of Iraq since the establishment of the state in the 1920s.
An organisation whose history over the past six decades serves as an apt illustration of this fact is the ‘Party of the Islamic Call’ (Hizb al-Da‘wah al-Islamiyyah). The book under review – which is based on the author’s PhD thesis submitted in 2011 to the Humboldt University in Berlin – is not the first scholarly discussion of the party. A previous approach was taken by Faleh A. Jabar in his book The Shi‘ite Movement in Iraq (London 2003), but contrary to him, Bernhardt is not only interested in the party’s history, but also its changing ideological evolution. He is careful enough to limit the scope of his inquiry to the period before the upheavals in 2003 which mark a watershed in Iraqi history comparable to that of the 1979 revolution in Iran; the later developments are only summarized in a brief concluding chapter.
The book consists of a detailed and comprehensive chronological section about the historical development of the party between 1957 and 2003 (45–130) as well as chapters about the party’s self-image (131–58), structure (159–64), constituency (165–72), strategy (203–20) and political goals (221–305), and finally a discussion about the role of the clerical [End Page 235] establishment and the legitimacy of party politics in Shi‘a islamism (173–202). While he manages to present a succinct outline of the various phases of the party’s history – from its foundation in the late 1950 via the ‘golden era’ in the 1960s, the increasing persecution by the Ba‘th regime in the 70s, its destruction and the subsequent exile in Iran and Europe in the 80s, to the ideological re-orientation after 1988/89 – several of the other chapters are not equally convincing. Thus, it quickly becomes clear that due to an apparent dearth of adequate sources, neither the social composition of its followers and protagonists nor the inner structure and decision making of the party can be elucidated sufficiently. Transferring data from the (Sunni) Egyptian context to Iraq because there is simply not enough information available for the party’s social composition (168) is, at any rate, unsatisfactory. One may in this context also question the author’s somewhat over-simplified understanding of the concept of ‘democracy’ that is more or less reduced to the purely formalistic notion of filling positions by way of elections (101, 164) – which is even accomplished by totalitarian regimes of all sort. What is more, the sections on the party’s self-image, its strategy and political goals as well as on the role of the ulema are also largely structured according to chronology, which makes numerous redundancies inevitable. Khomeini’s political theory of wilayat al-faqih for instance, which at certain times was also advocated by the Hizb al-Da‘wah, is discussed in multiple places (99ff., 194ff., 245ff.); so is Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr’s counter-theory of the wilayat al-ummah (255 & 279), al-Sadr’s enigmatic withdrawal from the party around 1960 (67 & 179), his at times tense...