BAGHDAD—In schools and coffeehouses, parlors and public squares, Iraqis are discussing and debating the revolutionary teachings of activist Iyad al-Naqib, who is being hailed by some as the "Iraqi Mahatma Gandhi" for his commitment to practicing "a bit less severe" forms of violence against infidels and crusaders.
Known for sayings such as "An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind, so extract a pinky for an eye," al-Naqib, 46, is both praised and vilified throughout the Muslim world for his radical, slightly less violent teachings.
Al-Naqib's followers are instructed to bomb discos on weeknights, when they are less crowded, and to equip suicide bombers with hand grenades rather than multiple sticks of TNT.
Such views earned al-Naqib this year's Mideast Peace Prize, an award administered by the Yemeni government and presented to individuals credited with encouraging what its literature characterizes as "anything remotely close to a rough approximation of peace in the region."
"In a time when East and West seem to be hurtling toward mutual ruin, it is refreshing to hear a somewhat reasonable voice of semi-moderation from within the chaos," said Basra-based scholar Ahmed Sha'lan, who was jailed for publishing pamphlets by al-Naqib. "His followers are fighting a revolution through non-all-out violence."
A former lawyer, al-Naqib developed his less-violence views after spending several years working for the Iraqi Embassy in Istanbul, where, during a fire-bombing, he was able to resolve an ongoing conflict with an American ambassador through a fistfight. The semiviolent means—which left his victim with severe brain hemorrhaging and forced him to return to the U.S. for medical care—awakened al-Naqib to the potential of somewhat-less-extreme violent resistance.
"Violence is not the solution," al-Naqib wrote in his breakthrough 1998 treatise Practicing Semiviolence. "It is only approximately 19/20ths of the solution. We should not work toward the total annihilation of all who oppose us—just some of them. And perhaps it is best we practice occasional mercy for the innocent, such as the young, who can easily recuperate."
In a 2003 interview with British newspaper The Guardian, al-Naqib said that the "decadent immorality of Western civilization must be almost, but not quite, wiped off the face of the earth."
"Al-Naqib truly is a great, influential teacher," Sha'lan said. "His doctrine of 'slightly less violence' and 'passive involvement in the violence of others' has resonated throughout the Muslim world and is well on its way to becoming a full-fledged mass movement."
Sha'lan added: "As babu says, 'I denounce those who kill vast numbers, for the death of a few—the death of even one, if that one is well-chosen—spreads my message far and wide."
As with many political dissidents who dare to speak out, al-Naqib has paid for his beliefs. He was imprisoned for two days for criticizing the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, saying that it would have sufficed to bring down just one of the towers.
"You should be the change that you want to see in the world," al-Naqib said. "I am prepared to die for my life of slightly less violence, but there is no cause for which I am prepared to kill thousands of people when it will suffice to simply blow their legs off."