What Dreams Are Made Of
A Real Blueprint for Peace in Iraq?
Ali Allawi, a former minister in Iraq’s first government after the American invasion (2003-2004), wrote a long piece for the UK Independent last week that identifies how and why Iraq is in the mire it’s in, and suggests some ways out. A valid proposal? Let’s see. “What was supposed to be a straightforward process of overthrowing a dictatorship and replacing it with a liberal-leaning and secular democracy under the benign tutelage of the United States,” Allawi writes, “has instead turned into an existential battle for identity, power and legitimacy that is affecting not only Iraq, but the entire tottering state system in the Middle East.” The supposedly “straight-foward process” was an invention of neo-con idealism that would have never passed muster with anyone who even marginally understands how the Middle East works. To assume that the United States (or any western power) could dictate a replacement at the helm is to forget the very lessons of twentieth-century history in the region, which nevertheless Allawi draws on:
What we are witnessing in Iraq is the beginning of the unraveling of the unjust and unstable system that was carved out of the wreckage of the Ottoman Empire. It had held for nearly 100 years by a mixture of foreign occupation, outside meddling, brutal dictatorships and minority rule. At the same time, it signally failed in providing a permanent sense of legitimacy to its power, engaged its citizens in their governance, or provided a modicum of well-being and a decent standard of existence for its people.
How then could things have possibly been different with a repeat performance of the same meddling under a different flag? The change was not organic. It was imposed. That founding flaw in Allawi’s argument makes it difficult to put credence in the proscriptions that follow, even if his observations are accurate. He points out some of the obvious: The invasion “tipped the scales in favour of the Shia, who are now determined to emerge as the governing majority after decades, if not centuries, of perceived disempowerment and oppression. The consequences of this historic shift inside Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East are incalculable.” Second, the Kurds to the north now essentially have a country of their own, but Allawi doesn’t acknowledge the extent to which any legitimization of that state, let alone its expansion, will be viciously opposed by Turkey, Syria and Iran, all of whom have long traditions of hunting Kurds for sport. Third, he gives too much credit to the “messy introduction in Iraq of democratic norms for elections, constitution-writing and governance structures” as—despite all the fooleries that have accompanied them—reliable mechanisms for the future: How so, when the mechanism itself has been little more than a facade? Democracy isn’t in its mechanisms, but in its institutions. Iraq has none. Lastly, he writes, Iran is poised to be the regional superpower. Yes, but with what aims? Iraq’s Sunnis aren’t panic-stricken because of Iran’s Shiites, but because Iraq’s. Just as the rest of the Sunni-dominated Arab world is panic-stricken about a Shiite Iraq. But why so? A Shiite Iraq isn’t automatically a belligerent Iraq—unless this turns into what, fundamentally, the war in Iraqdoes represent: the Reformation-like clash within Islam between its two major branches. This is not a battle for statehood, democracy, freedom, but for Islam’s identity. Would Indonesia be making relatively smooth, often secular moves toward stability if it was splintered between Shiites and Sunnis, instead of being overwhelmingly Sunni? So Allawi seems on target when he suggests that “the most serious issue that is emerging is the exacerbation of sectarian differences between Shia and Sunni. That is a profoundly dangerous issue for it affects not only Iraq but also Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon and the Gulf countries. […] This may drag the entire area into war or even the forced movement of people as fearful countries seek to “quarantine” or expel their Shia population.” His solution? “Statesmanship” as an “alternative to the politics of fear, bigotry and hatred.” Fine words, but with little chance of success in today’s climate. Allawi does occasionally makes the kind of sense neocons didn’t want to hear:
The first step must be the recognition that the solution to the Iraq crisis must be generated first internally, and then, importantly, at the regional level. The two are linked and the successful resolution of one would lead to the other. No foreign power, no matter how benevolent, should be allowed to dictate the terms of a possible historic and stable settlement in the Middle East. No other region of the world would tolerate such a wanton interference in its affairs.
But to then revert back to saying that “a mechanism must be found to allow the Sunni Arabs to monitor and regulate and, if need be, correct, any signs of discrimination that may emerge in the new Iraqi state” is, again, to punt: what that mechanism should be is the heart of the problem: What it should be is secular democracy of the sort where religions, no matter how numerous or contradictory, can live in peace. But that supposes that Islam can accommodate such pluralism. Further contradictions: to say that Iran and Turkey should enter “into a new security structure for the Middle East that would take into account their legitimate concerns, fears and interests” means that their hatred for the Kurds should be accommodated. What then? But he’s right: “It is far better that these countries are seen to be part of a stable order for the area rather than as outsiders who need to be confronted and challenged.” In other words, someone has to be the sacrificial lamb. The Kurds will be that lamb, as they always have been. Allawi then goes on to describe, essentially, a federal Iraq on the German model and a communal Middle East on the European Union model. Great ideas, eminently endorsable, eminently unrealistic.
From Dahr Jamail's Middle East Dispatches: “Here is the text and photos I just received from a doctor friend in Baghdad: “This is 20 month-old Iraqi baby girl, who was severely injured and mutilated, in a blast by a car bomb in Al-Sadr City 21 days ago,she lost her two eyes. “Her name is Shams-means sun in Arabic-... well not anymore, her mother was killed during the accident. Shams lies now in a surgical specialty hospital in Baghdad, and as we live in these terrible conditions in Baghdad she has not much chance to get any proper medical care... “She is an innocent element amid this turmoil. I have a kid almost the same age and I feel aching pain inside for her. Shams was sent for my consulatation for her but I could do nothing. If she could make it she would live with a broken soul forever. Who could bring back her cherubic childish smile again? I hope that the criminal who did this sees part of his accomplishment.”
This goes back a few months, but it's as relevant as ever, Friedman being the agenda-setter of the foreign-policy set and Sunday morning chat-shows. From FAIR: "New York Times foreign affairs columnist Tom Friedman is considered by many of his media colleagues to be one of the wisest observers of international affairs. "You have a global brain, my friend," MSNBC host Chris Matthews once told Friedman ( 4/21/05). "You're amazing. You amaze me every time you write a book." Such praise is not uncommon. Friedman's appeal seems to rest on his ability to discuss complex issues in the simplest possible terms. On a recent episode of MSNBC's Hardball (5/11/06), for example, Friedman boiled down the intricacies of the Iraq situation into a make-or-break deadline: "Well, I think that we're going to find out, Chris, in the next year to six months—probably sooner—whether a decent outcome is possible there, and I think we're going to have to just let this play out." That confident prediction would seem a lot more insightful, however, if Friedman hadn't been making essentially the same forecast almost since the beginning of the Iraq War. A review of Friedman's punditry reveals a long series of similar do-or-die dates that never seem to get any closer.
"The next six months in Iraq—which will determine the prospects for democracy-building there—are the most important six months in U.S. foreign policy in a long, long time." ( New York Times, 11/30/03)
"What I absolutely don't understand is just at the moment when we finally have a UN-approved Iraqi-caretaker government made up of—I know a lot of these guys—reasonably decent people and more than reasonably decent people, everyone wants to declare it's over. I don't get it. It might be over in a week, it might be over in a month, it might be over in six months, but what's the rush? Can we let this play out, please?" (NPR's Fresh Air, 6/3/04)
"What we're gonna find out, Bob, in the next six to nine months is whether we have liberated a country or uncorked a civil war." (CBS's Face the Nation, 10/3/04)
"Improv time is over. This is crunch time. Iraq will be won or lost in the next few months. But it won't be won with high rhetoric. It will be won on the ground in a war over the last mile." ( New York Times, 11/28/04)
"I think we're in the end game now…. I think we're in a six-month window here where it's going to become very clear and this is all going to pre-empt I think the next congressional election—that's my own feeling— let alone the presidential one." ( NBC 's Meet the Press , 9/25/05 )
"Maybe the cynical Europeans were right. Maybe this neighborhood is just beyond transformation. That will become clear in the next few months as we see just what kind of minority the Sunnis in Iraq intend to be. If they come around, a decent outcome in Iraq is still possible, and we should stay to help build it. If they won't, then we are wasting our time." ( New York Times , 9/28/05 )
"We've teed up this situation for Iraqis, and I think the next six months really are going to determine whether this country is going to collapse into three parts or more or whether it's going to come together." ( CBS 's Face the Nation , 12/18/05 )
Want more? The list runs through the first half of 2006, and is sure to be updated. See here…
L’Infâme: Morocco Free-Press Sunset in the Maghreb
From Reporters Without Borders on Jan. 8: "Reporters Without Borders voiced dismay at the sentences of three to five years in prison and bans on working as journalists that the state prosecutor requested today in Casablanca at the start of the trial of Driss Ksikes, editor of the Arabic-language weekly Nichane, and one of his journalists, Sanaa Elaji, on charges of “damaging Islam” and “publishing and distributing writings contrary to morals and customs.” The prosecutor also requested the newspaper’s indefinite closure and fines for the two journalists that could be as much as 100,000 dirhams (8,950 euros). The trial was adjourned until 15 January. “We are shocked by this insane indictment and we hope the court will not follow the archaic and ultra-repressive position being adopted by the prosecutor,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The Moroccan courts already took a medieval decision by banning journalist Ali Lmrabet from writing for 10 years and we dare not believe this will be repeated with Nichane.” [...] The prosecution has been brought over a feature in the newspaper’s 9-15 December issue entitled “Jokes: How Moroccans laugh at religion, sex and politics.” It prompted Prime Minister Driss Jettou to issue an order on 21 December withdrawing the issue from news stands and banning further distribution."
Blogger Marcel Côté at eatbees has been doing a great job following the story. The "offending" jokes are in English translation here. A sampler:
Upon the death of Abu Hourayra [a Companion of the Prophet], he went before the angel who is responsible for tallying up the sins of men. The angel looked at his computer and said to Abu Hourayra, “You’re going to Hell.” Abu Hourayra protested and insisted that the Prophet Mohammed come to straighten things out. The Prophet in turn consulted the computer and said, “I can’t do anything for you. You’re going to Hell.” Abu Hourayra began to cry out, so God came in person to settle the conflict. God tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Look, this is just a joke. You’re on Candid Camera.”
At the beginning of the school year, the teacher asked his students to introduce themselves. The first: “I am the Prophet David, peace be upon him.” “Silence,” said the teacher, “that’s blasphemy.” The second student: “I am the Prophet Abass, peace be upon him.” “Silence, you sorry fool,” the teacher told him. And so on until a student said, “I am the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him.” The teacher replied, “Silence, aren’t you afraid of God’s punishment?” “No, I won’t punish him,” said a student from the back row.
Question: “Who was the first prophet to speak with animals?” Student’s answer: “The Prophet Mowgli, peace be upon him.”
An Islamist is cuddling his little girl: “My little bombshell….”
An Islamist discovered he was gay, so he put on the veil.
As Marcel wrote me in an email just after Christmas, the harassment of Nichane in Morocco is only one of the two major censorship issues in play. The blocking of
certain blogs in Tunisia is the other, “apparently,” Marcel wrote, “because certain posts within
those blogs were linked by Tunisian political figures living in exile
(see my latest post). Tunisia censors the internet more than nearly
any other nation in the world, and this isn't likely to change
anytime soon because their president is the former head of state
security. The situation in Morocco is more volatile, because the
context is that the Islamic political party is expected to win a
governing majority in next year's parliamentary elections. No one
really knows what to expect after that.”