Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A couple of "moderate" writers in a time of crisis

For pan-Arab writers like Abdulbari Atwan of Al-Quds al-Arabi, there was never any doubt about the nature of Bush-administration policy in Iraq and the whole region. It is anti-Arab and anti-Muslim. But "moderate" Arab writers have traditionally kept open the defence of incompetence or other extenuating circumstances. For one moderate writer, it seems as if something in his way of thinking snapped as a result of the Saddam lynching. Here's Daoud Shiryan writing on the opinions page of the moderate newspaper Al-Hayat yesterday:
Today, after the boasts of Maliki about the execution of Saddam in this barbaric way, and the agreement of the American government to this hanging, in this grotesque way counter to all American and human values, we need to stop talking about the American policy mistakes in Iraq, because what they are doing in that country is in pursuance of an intentional and a filthy plan, [where] they dissolved the Iraqi army, and then it was up to us [Arabs] to find excuses for their policies, undertaken in deliberate ignorance of regional history and Iraqi social structure, and when they permitted the adoption of a constitution that ended the Arab nature of Iraq, we called that democracy, but then came the execution of Saddam, and [finally] it was made clear to us that Washington is acting according to a savagery that is unprecedented, and they are now supporting a gang of Shiites to take the place of the neo-cons in the project that they call the new Iraq...
In other words, says Shiryan, the days when you could argue that the Americans were making mistakes in the region are over. It is an ugly thing to have to admit, but they are clearly acting deliberately, and the days of excusing them for making "mistakes" are over.

Here's another "moderate" writer, the Egyptian Fahmy Howeydi, writing this time in Asharq al-Awsat. He criticizes the lack of meaningful action by moderate Islamic authorities to counter the sectarian violence in Iraq, referring to a statement last week by a group headed by the famous preacher Qaradawi, which called attention in a vague way to the need to do something. But Howeydi says if they aren't going to name names or assign responsibility or take specific actions, then this is an issue that should be taken up by broader regional or international groups like the Organization of the Islamic Conference, or the Arab League. That is his first point. His next points have to do with how Iraq got the way it is; and what needs to be done immediately.
First how the fitna originated. He says his personal orientation had always been that he was Muslim and any Muslim stood in the same relationship to him as any other, regardless of sect, but he continues:
This (non-sectarian) attitude of mine started to change gradually with the advent of sectarian activities in Iraq, and I cannot overlook the fact that the occupation planted the seeds of this fitna when it undertook the formation of the first interim governing council on a sectarian and racial basis, which had he effect of marginalizing Sunni Arabs, and also had the effect of stimulating an extravagant craving on the part of Shiite leaders for ever deeper and broader influence, and a striving for more control of land and wealth, and then they went a step further in proposing the idea of "federalism", which for them meant a 9-province district in the south, where most of the country's oil wealth is located. And in order to implement that, groups affiliated with the so-called death squads used threats to ensure the sectarian "purity" of the areas in question, using methods unprecedented in the history of Iraq, a country where clans and tribes and marraiges were always mixed Sunni and Shia...
In other words, the seeds of fitna were sown by the occupation, which assigned quotas in the initial governing council according to sect and race, and that was what started the process of sectarian competition for influence and power, and this mushroomed via policies like federalism (and de-Baathification, which he doesn't mention) with the result that we now have.

On the question of what needs to be done Howeidy says it appears the Mahdi Army already controls East Baghdad and is now attacking Sunnis in the western part of the city, and there are all the various rumors of their benefitting from American air cover, Iranian funding and arms, and so on. There hasn't been any condemnation of any of this by the Najaf Shiite authorities. And even more important, Iran should state clearly its position on "the current ethnic cleansing", for instance by setting up a commission of inquiry.

While Howeydi lays the blame for starting the cycle of sectarian violence clearly at the feet of the American occupation, he says the most urgent current need is for Iran (and the Shiite authorities in Iraq) to step in and clarify what their position is. Howeydi differentiates between what was first in the causal chain of events, and what is first in terms of immediate requirements for action.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Without in any way appreciating the horrific behavior of my country (USA), nevertheless from a purely academic social scientific/historical point of view, I just cannot accept the explanation of the often expressed contradiction, “the history of Iraq, a country where clans and tribes and marriages were always mixed Sunni and Shia...” on the one hand and the demonic behavior of Iraqi on Iraqi violence on the other, as the cause or fault of non-Iraqis (i.e. Iran and the US). Surely, there must have been a pent up animosity between the Iraqi people that has been unleashed by the US invasion and the Iraqis must accept a significant part of the responsibility for what is happening.

While the Iranians may be affecting Iraq today through the Shia, lets not forget that the Sunnis (Iraqis, Saudis, etc) have not been shy about allowing the US to affect Iraq in the past, and as Badger’s previous posting indicated, they are ready to accept it again. In short, it seems to me that virtually all Iraqis are willing to make a pact with the devil to achieve their sectarian (not national) objectives (albeit it couched in nationalist language).

The burden of proof is on all those who maintain that Iraqis are an historic harmonious national community. Platitudes and anecdotes will not suffice if the truths they posit are genuine.

The time is long past for the Iraqis to ‘look in the mirror’ and accept what they see as reality and decide what they want to be. They have to power to cast out the devils, Iran or Americans, if they have the will.

4:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous: Neither extreme view is correct in my view, but both have their place in this story. See my historical discussion in the following post:

"Sadrists and Sunni Insurgents United for Peace and Love?"

6:16 AM  
Blogger badger said...

I hate to harp on this, but my whole whole idea in summarizing what different people think and say is to show what the different views are, not to make definitive judgments about what is the case. I guess I'm being fussy, but it seems the comments often ignore that part of it in favor of the "my view of the big picture" type of comment. Which is good, but I'm just saying

7:50 AM  
Blogger Randal said...

"Surely, there must have been a pent up animosity between the Iraqi people that has been unleashed by the US invasion and the Iraqis must accept a significant part of the responsibility for what is happening"

Individuals always retain responsibility for their own acts. But if we are talking in the realms of national abstractions, and if it is correct that there was "pent up animosity" that was unleashed by the Americans, then it seems to me that responsibility remains fully with the Americans (and their British accomplices), for needlessly unleashing those hostilities at a time when they were contained.

Apologists for the US and UK regimes do inevitably argue that such animosities would certainly have been unleashed in due course anyway, but they are simply lying. They cannot possibly know what would have happened in the absence of the US attack. It is quite possible that a relatively peaceful transition to prosperity might have occurred following the natural death, assassination or deposition of Saddam. Indeed, had the west followed a policy of constructive engagement rather than of confrontation, then that would seem a not unlikely possibility.

Responsibility for what has happened in Iraq since March 2003 rests overwhelmingly with the US and UK regimes, and we should recognise attempts to dilute that responsibility by reference to criminal responses to the situation created by Washington and London for what they are: excuses and attempts to avoid the acceptance of moral culpability.

6:35 AM  
Anonymous Veronica said...

Randal is correct in recognizing that responsibility for what has happened in Iraq lies "overwhelmingly with the US and UK regimes".

We must not ignore the fact that through acts of USA and Britain, when law and order are dismantled, all societal fabric and branches that hold a country and people together are destroyed, all basic needs and infrastructure are eliminated, all criminals are let loose to roam the streets, nothing but chaos is expected in any country - not to mention the continued occupation and daily bombings.

1:26 PM  
Blogger annie said...

badger, thank you for restating your intentions. the posts perfectly represents the reality as most of the civilized world can clearly see as perfectly as anonymous represents the neocon propaganda we are being force fed.

12:03 AM  

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