I also understand how easy it is for angry or resentful individuals to fall under the sway of a demagogue who promises to provide a means to vent out their frustrations on the people or nations responsible for them. This is one of the main reasons why I think that so much support for bin Laden exists within the Arab world, as I've noted before, he has what I call "Magneto appeal."
In the fictional universe of Marvel Comics, mutants are feared, persecuted, repressed, and in various alternate realities finally exterminated by robotic Sentinels. Magneto takes those mutants have suffered oppression or seen those who have and after explaining that they are involved in a zero-sum situation, offers to help them vent out their anger on those responsible for their plight: humanity. This is one of the reasons why I hold that the war on terror is and always was more about power than it ever was about religion.
Instantly added to my vocabulary.
I find the rest of his argument compelling. He has shifted the center of mass of my thinking on Sadr, for the moment I just intend to see what happens next.
UPDATE: Dan provides some more detail on the analogy, and make an important corollary point:
That is the greatest weakness of the war on terror to date, as Rohan Gunaratna notes in his book: the failure to create the necessary counter-ideology among Muslims to those of such individuals as bin Laden or al-Zawahiri. In Marvel terms, we don't have a Charles Xavier to counter bin Laden's Magneto as far as international appeal among Muslims goes.
That counter-ideology is key to the war on terror - and this is partly the argument of the neocons, that a free Iraq would generate such a counter-idoelogy out of thin air. However, the problem with how the Iraq project was pursued was that there was not enough planning, which means that the democratic Iraq is not necessarily the most probable outcome anymore (case in point: Sadr).
The more I think about where we are headed - even if Bush is defeated in 2004 - I think that its highly unlikely that Iraq can avoid a theocratic fate. Even if democracy is imposed by a sovereign Council, the mistakes made by the occupation forces have already created the Magneto appeal. Dan's suggestion that Sadr has "hijacked" the Shi'a is not the right word - a better one is "coup". Sadr's support is real and the people who support him do so willingly. They will have the power to leave their mark upon Iraq regardless.
I posed the question well before the war, just how free do we want Iraq? What if the Iraqis elect a theocratic government?
In the end, the path to peace might well lie along Iran's path. That's scary, because Iran hasnt traveled that path completely yet either...
There was an indepth profile of Sadr, maybe in the CSM, but I am not exactly sure. Someone fwded me the link and I've lost it. It was a journalist interview who actually went to Iraq and observed Sadr holding court, and was superbly detailed as well as maintaining a tone of skepticism throughout. I remember one part where Sadr admonishes someone who had been a looter, saying that the spoils of looting are haram (forbidden) ... If someone out there can help me find it, please let me know.