Thursday, October 19, 2006

Tale of two so-called "nations"

Yassir abu Hilala, writing today Thursday Oct 19 in the Jordanian newspaper Al-Ghad, says yesterday's AlQaeda parade in Ramadi didn't have any practical significance, being merely part of the ongoing "public relations war." He backs up to tell us a little of the history of the group that has functioned in Iraq, starting after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, initially as a more or less nameless group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, then as "Unity and Jihad", until eventually Zarqawi pledged allegiance to Bin Laden, and the group became known as "AlQaeda in the land of the two rivers".

What follows is interesting. People talked about the fact that Zarqawi wasn't Iraqi, and neither were Bin Laden and his circle, and there were questions whether the leadership understood the ins and outs of the Iraqi situation. The result was the formation of the Mujahideen Shura (advisory) Council, nominally headed by an Iraqi, Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi by name, and supposedly open to Iraqis. But operations (including financing and "conceptual" issues) remained in the hands of AlQaeda, i.e., the foreigners. Here is where it might start to dawn on the astute reader what Hilala's point is: This problem of public-relations Iraqization is exactly the issue that the Americans have faced.

Resuming, when Zarqawi died there was a natural expectation that his successor as head of operations would be an Iraqi, but instead the successor was Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, who is Egyptian. So this issue of Iraqization continued, and the next move in that direction was the recent announcement about the Alliance of the Mutayyibin whose point was that AlQaeda was joining itself with tribal leaders. The writer explains that in pre-Islamic times, there was a ceremony of washing the hands in perfume (Tayib) before making important alliances, and there are aspects of the old stories that apply here, supposedly giving the name resonance and importance. (If I could follow the details I would offer them here, but I fear getting it wrong). (NOTE: A fellow blogger kindly posted an explanation with background of the "perfumed hands" reference here). In any event, the Mutayyibin Alliance was preparatory to this announcement about the Islamic Nation, supposedly, or in a public-relations sense, the culmination of the Iraqization of the movement. And naturally, the head of the Islamic Nation has a good Iraqi name: Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.

The parade yesterday didn't mean much in practical terms, and certainly the geographic scope of this is very narrow. But then so is the Green Zone, Hilala notes. They each have their Green Zone and their public relations apparatus, the "nation" in the Green Zone and AlQaeda's "nation". What is certain, says Hilala, is that what we don't have in Iraq is a real nation.


Blogger badger said...

He uses the same word, "dawla", with irony, to describe the dwarf entity in the Green Zone and and the dwarf entity in Ramadi, and also (without the irony) to describe what Iraq isn't. To him, the Green Zone is a pretend-nation-state, with alleged sovereignty and a fixed bureaucracy and so on, while The Ramadi thing is a pretend "nation" in the sense of something without full-blown sovereignty and bureaucracy, but with roots, like the Iroquois Nation. And he concludes, using the same word but without the irony this time, that what Iraq lacks is a real one of these. Words are bridges that we use to try and cross over to see what the other person is saying... (Of course, you can also use words in other less constructive ways...)

5:37 AM  
Blogger dubhaltach said...

You are correct that he is being ironic.

Interesting analogy to somebody (who like me) knows very little of American pre-revolution and revolutionary history. Would it be very clear to Americans? You sent me running off to scholar, clusty, and wiki, do some reading so that I could "get" the reference to Iroquois that you were making.

As my revenge for making me learn something new. I have written a little history lesson for you on Gorilla's Guides to help you "get" the reference to perfumed hands. It's a very powerful one and loaded with symbolism.

1:20 PM  
Blogger badger said...

I appreciate that. I can always tell when I'm missing something important. I thought, "maybe the answer will turn up in the comments box" and sure enough...

I probably picked a bad example with the Iroquois, its just that they're around here, NE North America, actually they're a federation of "nations". Mohawk is one of the big ones. Often they have limited self-government. I could have picked Inuit (formerly called Eskimo) where Canada actually recognizes a territorial government of theirs. When a group like that asserts itself, usually it calls itself a "nation". (In fact come to think of it, Quebec nationalists and even others describe Quebec as a separate "nation" within Canada. North Americans would be familiar with the idea that "nation" in these cases refers mainly to the group's roots, and also their connection to the land. But it doesn't include the claim to immediate full-fledged sovereignty, or a complete fixed bureaucracy. This was the connotation I was thinking of when I picked "nation" for the translation of the AlQaeda announcement, thinking everyone would get it. How often we forget, North American isn't the whole world...

2:55 PM  
Blogger Sophia said...

What the word 'Nation' refers to most of the time is to homogeneity of a group in history and culture. The connection to the land in the field of reference, if you look at it just semantically it has little connection to the land per se.

6:30 PM  
Blogger badger said...

I guess you're right. It's just in a lot of North American cases, the big issue is land, but you're right, I guess its still secondary to what the "nation" really is.

8:13 PM  
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