Why have nearly 1,500 American soldiers died in Iraq? To what purpose have 20,000 been wounded and otherwise put out of commission? Why are we spending billions to put police on the streets of Iraq’s cities, and cutting back by 95 percent on funds that put 100,000 cops on the streets of our own cities?
To bring “freedom” to Iraq, as George W. Bush insists?
Heck no. It’s so Abdul the Iraqi can have six wives. It’s so women can be forced to wear the abaya, alcohol can be banned, and sharia law – Muslim religious beliefs as interpreted by a council of mullahs and “grand ayatollahs” – can become the law of the land. As one of the Shi’ite clerics’ representatives put it the other day:
“We don’t want to see equality between men and women because according to Islamic law, men should have double of women. This is written in the Quran and according to God.”
The Shi’ite slate of candidates for the National Assembly, fresh from their apparently overwhelming victory at the polls, are demanding that the strictures of Islamic law be encoded in the new Iraqi constitution. According to a recent statement issued by the Ayatollah Mohammad Ishaq al-Fayad, a powerful Shi’ite cleric:
“All of the ulema [clergy] and marja, and the majority of the Iraqi people, want the national assembly to make Islam the source of legislation in the permanent constitution and to reject any law that is contrary to Islam.”
A source reportedly “close to the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani,” spiritual leader of Iraq’s 60 percent Muslim majority, appeared to endorse his fellow ayatollah’s sentiments, stating:
“The marja has priorities concerning the formation of the government and the constitution. It wants the source of legislation to be Islam.”
Sistani’s office later appeared to backtrack, but the Financial Times put it more accurately when they headlined that the mullahs had merely “downplayed” the matter of enforcing sharia. Juan Cole cleared up the matter by citing al-Hayat:
“A Sistani representative in Beirut has clarified comments made Monday. He said that no Sistani representative was at the press conference at which the spokesman for Grand Ayatollah al-Fayyad denounced any attempt to separate religion and state in Iraq. The statement attributed to Sistani was therefore not his. On the other hand, the source denied that there was any difference of opinion among the grand ayatollahs on this matter, and said that all were agreed that Islam should be the principle source of legislation, and that no laws should be passed that contravened Islam.”
Remember when Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh were “agrarian reformers”? We’re at that stage with the ayatollahs. Only this time the incipient tyrants have been installed in power by American force of arms, at a cost of American lives and treasure, and the whole procedure is being hailed by our leaders as a big victory for “democracy.” Which it is – except that democracy, in Iraq, isn’t leading to freedom.
Recall Algeria’s 1992 elections – nullified by the military, with American approval. The reason was because the Islamic fundamentalists scored a landslide victory, similar to the one enjoyed by the United Islamic Alliance slate in Iraq. While the Algerians belong to the Sunni sect of Islam, and the Iraqis are 60 percent Shi’ite, Algeria’s Islamic Salvation Front and Iraq’s United Islamic Alliance bear a striking political resemblance to each other: like the Alliance, the Front was initially a heterogeneous grouping, consisting of moderates in the leadership – with a disturbing undercurrent of radicalism.
The principal leader of the Front, Abbas Madani, professed support for a democratic and secular order, denied any aspiration to impose a theocracy, and made all the right noises about “freedom” and “pluralism.” But there was another wing of the Front that openly agitated for the creation of an Islamic state in which sharia would constitute the basis of the legal code. Ali Belhaj, the radical leader, disdained democracy as a subversion of the divine umma. A secular society, in his view, would necessarily be a blasphemous society. As Ray Takeyh points out in his study of the Front and the Algerian elections of 1991-92:
“The main constituents of the [Islamic Salvation Front] were small merchants, civil servants and first-generation college graduates. All these groups struggled with diminishing economic fortunes, loss of cultural identity and rampant corruption. These elders of the [Front] sought an accountable government and greater representation in the context of cultural continuity. However, this element of the [Front] always had an uneasy relationship with the other wing of the party, which was primarily composed of desperate young men suffering from escalating unemployment. The claims of these disillusioned youth were more immediate and their patience was always more limited.”
If any of this sounds familiar, that’s because an identical dynamic is now shaping the politics of Iraq’s emerging government and the various Islamic parties that make up the United Islamic Alliance.
On the one hand we have the moderates, influenced by the “quietist” Sistani and the Americans, who are now advancing, as a minimum demand, the imposition of sharia in matters of family law and other “social” issues. According to them, Islam must be “a source of legislation” and the ensuing political order – precisely the formulation encoded in the American-authored “interim constitution.”
On the other hand we have the radicals, such as Moqtada al-Sadr, and the more militant mullahs and grand ayatollahs, who want the Koran and sharia to overshadow every aspect of life in Iraq. Islam will be the source of legislation, enshrined as the state religion and a guide to policy in all matters, both domestic and foreign.
In addition, the cadre and mass base of the supposedly “mainstream” Shi’ite parties, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the Da’wa party, have always supported sharia as the basis of their envisioned Islamic order. Both groups were armed, financed, and harbored by Iran in the years of Saddam’s rule, and while the official line is that the clerics will not directly rule, this only means they will not hold any political office themselves, but will leave that to their devoted and obedient followers. The real political power will be wielded behind the scenes, at the various conclaves of the mullahs who will then issue their “theological” pronouncements on matters great and small.
In Algeria, the entire process was cut short when the military stepped in, deprived the Front of their overwhelming victory at the polls, and began a civil war that continues to this day. In Iraq, however, we have an entirely different scenario: it wasn’t a liberalizing secular socialist regime, like the ruling Algerian National Liberation Front, that provided a democratic opening in Iraq. American military force smashed the secular socialist state presided over by the Ba’athist party, “liberating” its people – and eventually gave in to the rising demand among the majority Shi’ites for direct elections held sooner rather than later. Now the question is how far the Americans will let the advocates of an Islamic Republic of Iraq go before they put a stop to it. For the moment, the Americans have to “step back,” as Dick Cheney put it on Fox News the other day:
“The bottom line for everybody to remember here is, this is not going to be, you know, an Iraqi version of America. This is going to be Iraqi.”
But how long can this last? As Americans continue dying and our tax dollars are eaten up in the endless maw of Iraqi “reconstruction,” on the home front people are bound to wonder why, in the name of all that’s holy, are we sacrificing so much to recreate Iraq in the image of Iran? Cheney strenuously denies the mullahs of Iraq will take the Iranian road, but in Basra, in the south of Iraq, we’re already beginning to see what this very odd “liberation” entails. As the Chicago Tribune reports:
“The bars and clubs that used to draw weekend crowds of gulf Arabs escaping the restrictions of their own countries have closed. A firebombing campaign has shuttered the liquor stores. No women dare walk in the streets with their heads uncovered, and most wear the abaya, a black head-to-toe cloak. Stores selling Western videos have been attacked, and music and parties are frowned upon.”
And that was before the election. What the mullahs have in store for Iraq now that they have triumphed at the polls – with reportedly more than two-thirds of the vote outside Kurdistan – isn’t too hard to imagine. And the moment the U.S. tries to interfere, the Shi’ites will turn on us in their overwhelming majority: the Sunni insurgency will seem like a summer squall compared to the Shi’ite storm they will unleash.
Former American viceroy Paul Bremer got a taste of that when he vetoed early elections and Sistani called his followers out into the streets: the Americans, wisely, backed down. The same kind of relentless pressure is being brought to bear on the occupation authorities as the elected government takes up the task of writing a new constitution and establishing the legal framework of the emerging Iraqi state.
In the name of the Bush Doctrine, which lately proclaims “the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in the world,” an Islamic theocracy is being installed in Iraq and built up with U.S. tax dollars. The right of women to own property and enjoy full legal personhood, long recognized in the West – and in Saddam’s Iraq – will not exist in “liberated” Iraq. America’s daughters are fighting and dying in Iraq so that Iraqi women can be enslaved by a medieval religious and legal dogma that reduces them to subhuman status.
That is not going to go over very well on the home front, where support for this war is waning fast. But for now, the administration is sticking with its hands-off approach. As Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld put it on CNN’s Late Edition:
“But look, Iraq is for the Iraqis. It’s not for Americans. We’re not going to decide what kind of a country they’re going to have.”
We will if Christopher Hitchens and some of the more inflamed neocons have their way. Michael Totten, the pro-war liberal blogger, relates a fascinating account of a confrontation between Hitchens and the “pro-democracy” Iraqis being promoted by “Spirit of America,” a pro-war group, that coordinated coverage of election day in Iraq by the “Friends of Democracy” – bloggers in Iraq and elsewhere reporting the turnout. Also giving instant analysis was Hitchens, the Trotskyite-turned-laptop bombardier; Andrew Apostolou, director of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies; Ghassan Atiyyah, director of the Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy; Entifadh Qanbar, special envoy from the Iraqi National Alliance; Hassan Mneimneh, director of the Iraq Memory Foundation; and Ahman al-Rikaby, former director of Radio Free Iraq and current director of Iraq’s Radio Dijla.
The event was broadcast live by C-SPAN and was meant to celebrate the great victory of “democracy” in Iraq and serve as war propaganda for the interventionist crowd, but it seems the after-program festivities almost turned into a brawl. As Totten relates:
“Christopher Hitchens said to Ghassan Atiyyah: ‘If the Iraqis were to elect either a Sunni or Shia Taliban, we would not let them take power.’ And of course he was right. We didn’t invade Iraq so we could midwife the birth of yet another despicable tyranny. ‘One man, one vote, one time’ isn’t anything remotely like a democracy.
“But Atiyyah would have none of that. He exploded in furious rage. ‘So you’re my colonial master now, eh?!’… Suddenly, Atiyyah did have defenders at the table. I could see that coming in the shocked expressions on the faces of the other Iraqis when they heard what Hitchens said. Ahman al Rikaby, intriguingly, was an exception. He just looked at Atiyyah with a cold and sober stoicism. But Hitchens had a defender, too. He had me.”
The completely clueless Totten – clueless, that is, to the reality of his own colossal arrogance – proceeded to lecture the Iraqis, who he “knew damn well” were all “staunch opponents of religious fascism,” that it didn’t matter what the Iraqis wanted, because “people like that murdered thousands in our country,” and besides that:
“I can assure you that Christopher and I would do everything we possibly could to prevent any Taliban-like force from taking power in our own country, as well as in yours. This has nothing to do with us telling you what to do and everything to do with fighting fascism wherever in the world it exists.”
Your country is our country: that’s what these leftist “internationalists” are all about. America’s push for what the neocons call “benevolent world hegemony” is part of the worldwide “antifascist” struggle, only this time Washington is footing the bill, not the Kremlin, and Iraq is their Spain. Like the Bolsheviks of days gone by, today’s Busheviks exude so much hubris that even their fellow travelers and potential allies are alienated and often repulsed. Here’s more of this internecine brawl, largely between Atiyyah and Hitchens, as chronicled by the insufferable Totten:
“‘Who the hell are you?’ as if I weren’t the last one to speak. ‘Some Brit who lives in New York!’
“‘I beg your pardon, sir, but it wasn’t up to me where I was born,’ Hitchens said.
“‘What do you mean when you say “we”?’ Hassan Mneimneh said to me.
“‘I mean the US and Britain,’ I said, ‘along with – hopefully – everyone here at this table.’
“‘Who are you to tell us what to do!?’
“I didn’t like this one bit. It wasn’t an argument. Hell, I love an argument. This was a fight. And it was a fight between Americans and Iraqis who were all supposed to be on the same side. The merest slip and/or misunderstanding instantly fractured our happy alliance.”
This last phrase aptly describes the delicacy of the American position in Iraq, and the Bushies are treading lightly, even if the Hitchen-Totten Coalition of the Clueless lacks the sense to follow suit. But this administration is caught between its domestic supporters and the realities on the ground. They have to sell this war at home even as they prosecute it – and perhaps even expand it. But if the “freedom” we have secured for Iraqis turns out to be unrecognizable as such to Americans, then the lesson learned from our Iraqi adventure will be the same one liberals were served up with in the aftermath of World War I.
That catastrophe, too, was launched in the name of a crusade to “make the world safe for democracy.” When this turned out not to be the case – when, instead, the stage was merely set for the second act of a prolonged tragedy – enlightened liberals turned away from the idea of war as a form of social uplift, and focused, instead, on the grisly deglamorized reality of mass murder and state terrorism.
Not that Hitchens was ever a liberal, either enlightened or otherwise: he went from Trotskyism to trendy leftism and straight into the arms of U.S. imperialism. People like Hitchens and Totten are hopeless: they are Busheviks, plain and simple, militant ideologues who don’t care how much blood they have to spill in order to impose their vision of an American-ordained world order.
But the lesson most of the rest of us are learning, if we didn’t already know it, is that the social engineering project this administration proposes for the Middle East – and much of the rest of the world – is doomed to failure. And not only that, but it is going to have other, potentially very unpleasant albeit unintended consequences, not only for the Iraqis but for us. Here, again, the Algerian example is instructive: the terrorist splinter groups spun off of the Islamic Salvation Front, after the crackdown, went on to form important components of what later became the al-Qaeda network. Just as our war of “liberation” in Afghanistan against the Soviets consolidated the core of the terrorist group that would one day strike out at us, so we are creating a similar Frankenstein monster in Iraq.
If you want a glimpse into the future of the “new” improved “democratic” Iraq, then get a load of this interview published in La Repubblica [Feb. 8, 2005] with Sayid Nasr al-Yasari, aged 52, the imam of the al-Aim’a mosque in Baghdad’s al-Sha’b neighborhood, and also Sistani’s spokesman. Throughout most of the interview, the imam is trying to convince us that the version of Islamic law that will be enforced in Iraq is going to be thoroughly modern. “While we will indeed be referring to the shari’a,” says al-Yasari, “we will be doing so in a vein closer to the times in which we live.”
La Repubblica: “Putting it in a nutshell, there will be no more stoning of adulterous women, is that it?”
Al-Yasari: “Well, it depends. In the case of married women whom eye witnesses can accuse of betraying their husbands, the punishment can only be that. But in any event there will be very few exemplary sentences, and they will always be issued after a fair trial.”
Welcome to “liberated” Iraq – that’s what our troops are dying for, and that’s what you’re paying for. It’s medievalism with a “democratic” face.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
I have not been well lately: I had to cancel my appearance before the Yale Political Union (it’s been re-scheduled for April), which I was really looking forward to, on account of a back out of whack – too many hours spent sitting in a chair writing – and yet I must emerge from my sickbed to rail at you – yes, I mean you – and relate the dire consequences that are about to be visited upon us if our fundraising effort, now in full swing, fails to achieve its goal. Yes, I know we’ve been around for a solid decade, and we’ve always managed to make it through various financial crises, but this time – this time I fear for the worst, I really do. Here we are two days into our week-long effort, and we’ve raised what looks to be barely $10,000 so far – we’re way, waaaay behind where we should be at this point.
If this keeps up, we’re going to have to start thinking about making radical cutbacks – like getting rid of most of our staff, no longer paying any of our writers, and cutting back on our updates. We could even go under completely. That’s the God’s-honest-truth.
I appeal to each and every one of my readers – look, you know we’ve been giving you the very best coverage, and on a shoestring budget. We’re up against a very well-funded War Lobby: they have billions. We have a pittance. But we desperately need that pittance – $60,000 – to keep going. The War Party spends that every year on lunch. So stop being so g*dd*mn stingy and cough up the dough: we’ve earned it many times over by providing an invaluable service, one you’ve come to depend on. Always on the job, beholden to no political party or outside agenda, totally dedicated to serving you and your information needs: always principled and unyielding in our clear and consistent explication of the noninterventionist foreign policy credo: Antiwar.com deserves your support.
In short: you can depend on us. But can we depend on you? We’ve done our part, and more: now, it’s your turn. Okay, so you know what you have to do – now go do it.
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