Monday, May 05, 2008

The In T View: Hayder Al-Khoei: I Believe Muqtada al-Sadr Ordered My Father's Murder

The Creation by Michael Parkes

Hayder Al-Khoei (Eye Raki) is not your average Iraqi blogger. As a scion of the powerful and prestigious Al-Khoei family, he stands out as one of the great hopes for Iraq and one of the few Iraqi bloggers who can truly make a difference.

MG: Hayder Al-Khoei welcome to The In T View. As Neil once said on The Young Ones, "Boom Shanka: May the seed of your loin be fruitful in the belly of your woman."

First question, What's your favorite flavor of ice cream and where can you find a decent ice cream cone in Najaf?

Hayder Al-Khoei: I don't eat ice cream because we don't get much sun in London and I doubt you can find a decent cone in Najaf.

MG: Second question, Will there ever be a Doctor Who convention in Najaf?

Hayder Al-Khoei: Yes, after a beauty pageant is held in the Vatican.

MG: Well Hayder, I think it's safe to say, you are not the average Iraqi blogger. Although it's difficult to define exactly, whom the average Iraqi blogger is, generally the average Iraqi blogger does not have profiles of their father and grandfather in Wikipedia.

Being the son of Sayyid Abdul Majid Al-Khoei and the grandson of Grand Ayatollah Abdul-Qasim Al-Khoei, has there been pressure on you to follow in the footsteps of your family members? Why aren't you in Qom right now gaining your Ayatollahness?

Hayder Al-Khoei: There has always been more pressure from outside my family than in. My father always taught me to think for myself and make my own decisions.

His father like-wise never pressured his own sons to become clerics,and he was the marja'. I still haven't decided what to do after I finish my Politics degree here in the UK, but if I do study in the 'hawza' its not going to be in Qum.

MG: Your grandfather passed away in Iraq in 1992, while under a Saddam-imposed house arrest; your Uncle, Sayyed Mohamed Taghi Al Khoei died in a mysterious car accident in Iraq in 1994; and your father was assassinated in Najaf on April 10 2003... and here you are away from your home in London, back in Najaf. Do you ever say to yourself, "Hayder, what the hell are you doing here?" Why exactly have you returned to Najaf and is it a dangerous place for you?

Camel Spider, Najaf Area, C/O of bound4glory1884.

Hayder Al-Khoei: Najaf was and will always remain my real home. London is my home away from home. So no I've never felt out of place in Najaf. I personally don't think Najaf is a dangerous place for me. I travel without protection around the city. When we get stopped at police checkpoints, some Taxi drivers who would find out my identity would refuse to take the fare or invite me to their homes. I never once felt I was in danger.

MG: Who do you believe murdered your father and why do you think he was killed?

Hayder's father, Sayyid Abdul Majid Al-Khoei

Hayder Al-Khoei: I believe it was Moqtada al-Sadr who ordered the murder. My grandfather did not accept Moqtada's father as a Grand Ayatollah and was attacked (verbally) many times by the senior al-Sadr and his followers. Ever since my father left Iraq he was seen as a traitor by them who left the Iraqis to suffer while living a life of luxury in London. My father was older and had more religious credentials than Moqtada and was a natural rival.

The theory that my father was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, i.e., he simply got in the way of the real target, Hayder al-Rufai'i, is nonsense because the first thing members of Moqtada's office did was look for my father. It was a perfect opportunity to take out two of Sadr's enemies with one stone.

MG: In 2004, there was an arrest warrant issued by Judge Raed Juhi against Muqtada al-Sadr and his followers in the death of your father, but it was never enforced. As to why the warrant was never served, some say it was buried by the CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority), but others claim the Iraqi Government under Prime Minister Ibrahim al Jaafari squelched the warrant, because he needed the support of Muqtada al-Sadr to become Prime Minister. Why was the arrest warrant never served and can you update us on its current status?

Hayder Al-Khoei: The arrest warrant is still standing, but it was not enforced by the CPA or following governments, not just Ja'fari's. A time and date had been set by the CPA to arrest Moqtada for murder charges and it was supposed to be an Iraqi led-operation with US forces on stand-by just in case things went wrong. In the very last minute the Americans pulled out and the Iraqi forces refused to go ahead with the operation.

Until this day, the case has been at the mercy of politics, and politics has no mercy.

MG: Iraq is the land of conspiracy theories and rumors, so it's not surprising there is a lot of conjecture related to your father's death. One rumor I'd like to ask you about, that has been prominently mentioned, is your father was given $3 million dollars by the American CIA/Defense Department to purchase influence among the Iraqi Shia. Is there any veracity to this rumor?

Hayder Al-Khoei: Is it $3m or $13m? Which one is used more in the press? My father did not need money to purchase influence in Iraq. His name alone could influence a lot more Iraqis than US dollars can buy. Like Moqtada, it is simply his name that makes him such a popular figure. But let us speak about the $3m or $13m. That money could not have been wired in an account because its not like my father could have used his credit card to buy kebabs in Najaf. That money would have had to be hard cash. Cash would have to be carried by someone and the people with him would have seen it or at least known about it. Why is it then that only an "anonymous source" knows about this money?

I went with him to Washington DC before the war and in the meetings he had with various officials, money was never mentioned.

MG: Before your father returned to Iraq in 2003 from exile in England, he must have discussed the post-Saddam future of Iraq with his family. Can you tell us about your father's vision for Iraq?

Hayder Al-Khoei: My father would spend a lot of time traveling and working so when he did spend time with us it would be devoted to his family, not his work. So naturally Iraq was not discussed much. I however had interest in politics ever since I was a kid, and had the privilege of traveling a lot with him. His vision for Iraq, which he would repeat over and over again, was to start a new page in Iraq's history. He wanted to forget everything associated with the past and look to building a new forward-thinking democratic Iraq that respects all walks of life.

MG: And what is your vision for Iraq? What type of society would you like to see Iraq evolve in to?

Hayder Al-Khoei: I hope to see an Iraq where "wasta" no longer works. An Iraq where individuals are elected and appointed based on merit and qualifications, not name and connections. Iraq has a very traditional and conservative society. I don't think it will change but I want it to be a society that is tolerant and understanding of other cultures/beliefs. I wish to see a secular Iraq where religion plays little or no role in government.

Iraqi's sometimes look to places like Dubai with amazement and awe, I want the entire Arab and Muslim world to look at Iraq and say "wow". I am optimistic but a realist at the same time, I know we are decades away from that but I hope to see that Iraq within my lifetime.

MG: Your grandfather, Grand Ayatollah Abdul-Qasim Al-Khoei, seems to have been a larger than life figure. Born in Iran, before he moved to Najaf at age 13, he wrote 37 books and treatises, established numerous Islamic charities, foundations, and institutions around the world, and was the Marja (Islamic scholar) who instructed everyone from Ayatollah Sistani to Mohammad Baqir As-Sadr to Abdolkarim Mousavi Ardebili, former Chief Justice of Iran to Mahdi Al-Hakim.

Did you have a chance to spend any time with your grandfather before he was arrested by the Iraqi government, and what are your memories of him?

Young Hayder with Grampa Grand Ayatollah Al-Khoei
Photo courtesy of Hayder al-Khoei

Hayder Al-Khoei: I remember a few things about my grandfather. I think its safe to say I wasn't his favourite grandchild. He used to tie my legs with rope to stop me moving around because I would constantly flip over the fruit or sugar bowl in front of important guests. The thing he hated most was when I was around his office. Although he deals with millions of dollars, my grandfather was well-known for his strict oversight so when I would rip (or eat) a receipt for a few dinars he would become extremely angry and blame my mother for letting me near his papers.

MG: Would it be accurate to say that your grandfather as senior Shia cleric/Marja was the closest thing to a Shia concept of a Pope?

Hayder Al-Khoei: The Pope is the undisputed leader of Catholics, but there is usually more than one Grand Ayatollah. But yes, it is the closest thing we have to a Pope.

MG: And, there was an ideological battle between your grandfather and Ayatollah Khomeini. Can you describe to us, why they were in disagreement?

The Evil One Himself, Ayatollah Khomeini

Hayder Al-Khoei: His differences with Khomeini were on the role Islam should play in the state. My grandfather believed politics should be left for the politicians and religion to the clerics and saw no place for Islam in the government. He saw the religion as something pure that is a matter between the created and the creator and that should not be mixed with

Khomeini on the other hand believed that it is the cleric himself who should be the head of state and that Islam should play a fundamental role in government. Khomeini went further by stating that the head of state should be obeyed by the Muslim world in the same way the Prophet and Imams were obeyed. The Prophets and Imams in the Shia faith are divine figures, so when Khomeini gave these lectures in Najaf, people began to accuse him of being a self-proclaimed semi-divine figure.

Khomeini and my grandfather rarely bumped into each other in Najaf, but when they did they both respected each other and greeted each other warmly. When Khomeini landed in Baghdad, his son Mustafa called my uncle to let him know they were on their way to Najaf. It was their students who would argue with each other and have heated debates regarding which idea is more 'Islamic'.

Revolutionary fanatics hated my grandfather for not supporting Khomeini's take over in Tehran. They would publicly chant "Farah don't worry, when the Shah dies Khoei will marry you" in reference to the Iranian Empress who visited my grandfather.

MG: Because you are part of the al-Khoei family, there has been a lot of emphasis placed on the deeds of the male members in your family, but what about your mother? Can you tell us about your mother and what type of influence she has had on your life and the lives of your

Happy Mother's Day to Hayder's Mom

Hayder Al-Khoei: My mother is my role model. She lost her husband and father within a month of each other but still stood strong. What ever life has thrown at her has bounced straight back. She is a wonderful person with a great heart whose family mean everything to her and who means everything to her family. I look up to her with respect and admiration, as does everyone who knows her.

MG: And what is your favorite dish, dessert, or meal that your mother makes?

Hayder Al-Khoei: Everything she makes is my favourite.

MG: Hayder, you live in Najaf, one of the most conservative places in Iraq, where women are forced to wear Abbayas and are harangued by the clergy and other men, if they are not properly attired in their view. Myself, I am very much anti-Hijab and if I were in power, I would ban the Hijab in the West, because it subjugates women, and I would certainly outlaw the Abbaya or Burqa, which renders women invisible. What are your thoughts on the Abbaya and other forms of Hijab? Should Muslim women be forced to wear them or should it be a personal choice in clothing?

Raquel Welch in Najaf, Iraq - 1,000,000 Years BC.
Today, she would be wearing an Abbaya.

Hayder Al-Khoei: Hijab has a cultural as well as religious aspect to it. My wife for example does not wear the same hijab in London as she does in Najaf because of the cultural 'norms' of a certain society or place but at the end of the day women should be free to wear what they want. I am against banning the hijab as passionately as I am against forcing the hijab. It is a personal choice that should be made by the individual, not big brother.

MG: Hayder, what's the best book that you've read in the last six months and why?

Hayder Al-Khoei: The Shia Revival by Vali Nasr because he explores the political and religious trends across the Middle-East and gives explains the Shia way of life (or ways of life). It also gives the reader an insight into the 1400 year old battle between Shia Islam and Sunni Islam and why they are at each others throats again.

MG: Hayder, it seems a natural thing for you to run for political office in Iraq, say the Prime Minister's spot, since you are the scion of a powerful, influential, and well respected family that carries a lot of Wasta, you are Western-trained, have a liberal education, speak fluent English and Arabic, and seem moderate and tolerant in your positions. Do you have any interest in Iraqi politics and could you use an American campaign manager?

Hayder Al-Khoei: I think if he you had told Maliki he would become Prime Minister of Iraq 6 years ago he would have laughed in your face. So who knows what could happen in 20 years time? Yes of course I have an interest in Iraqi politics but hopefully by then, my name will not be enough to run for office.

I hope to see Iraqi experts reach a standard that a US Presidential candidate would be looking for an Iraqi campaign manager, not the other way around. Thanks for the offer.

MG: You recently met with liberal Shia cleric Iyad Jamal Al-Deen, whose views about the United States, Israel, and the need for secularism in Iraq society are of great appeal to the West, but have alarmed his fellow Shia and Sunni clerics, who label him as a heretic.

Being cognizant of the fact of what happens to those who are labeled heretics in the Islamic world, do you think the political alliance of IIyad Allawi and Jamal Al-Deen will have an impact in the next Iraqi election, or will the Iraqi voters once again reject Secularism, and see the Shia voting for Shia parties, the Kurds choosing Kurds, and the Sunni electing members from the Sunni lists?

Hayder Al-Khoei: I was surprised that over 35,000 Iraqi's voted for secularism in Najaf, whose community is extremely religious. I cannot predict how good/bad Allawi will do next time but I think the overwhelming majority of voters will still vote along sectarian lines. Obviously the Shia voter believes the Shia politician will benefit him more than a Sunni politician, and vice versa. Maybe 15% of Iraqi's will not vote along sectarian lines, but I hope that number will rise with every election.

MG: Hayder, thanks very much for a nice In T View, and you have to promise me, if you ever become an Ayatollah, you'll begin one of your sermons with, "I am the ayatullah of rock-and-rollah..."

The Ayatullah of Rock-and-Rollah

Hayder Al-Khoei: Your welcome. Fat chance.

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