Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The idea of a secular resistance

Iraqi academic Kamal Al-Majeed, writing in AlQuds alArabi, sets out the argument for re-assessing and re-planning the Iraqi resistance, taking into account the pitfalls that he hopes have become apparent. His main point is that there are common, negative, features of "sectarianism" (Sunni/Shia for instance); "chauvinism" of the type that is promulgated by the two big Kurdish parties; including "Arabism", which is a counter-productive ideology that drives a wedge between Arabs and Kurds rather than uniting them; and finally, for reference, there is the extreme case in the family of sectarian mentalities, "Zionism".

With respect to current Iraqi affairs, he says the resistance should take advantage of the growing Kurdish awareness of the corruption of party-leaders Talabani and Barzani to develop a program of cooperation on a popular level, rather than continuing to answer artificial Kurdish chauvinism with an Arab chauvinism of their own.

What has the preaching of Arabism accomplished, he asks, for instance in the case of Palestine? All it has done is to help plunge the Arab world into the disunity of sectarian and chauvinistic infighting, leaving the Palestinians at the mercy of the Zionists. What he saying is that the problems of disunity and the inability to overcome official corruption and collaboration are not merely particular problems coming in an endless stream. Rather they are the result of a failure to reflect on the lessons of history--lessons that should tell us that resistance isn't or shouldn't be limited or defined in any religious or tribal or racial way, but rather is something common to all groups in the region.

And he says in any event the resistance should recognize once and for all the futility of trying to fight a war on two fronts, against the Americans on the one side, and against the so-called "safavid" or "farsi enemy" on the other. The aim that should be kept in mind, he says, is the idea--tragically unrealized at the time of the overthrow of the Shah--of an anti-colonial and anti-Zionist resistance movement throughout the region, stretching from Afghanistan, through Iran, Iraq and Syria, to Lebanon and Palestine.

This is another way of saying that the thinking and the mentality behind the resistance, to be effective, needs to be "secular".


This comes at a time when Americans are being treated to a new Iraq-narrative of their own. (See this NYT review of Tom Ricks' new book for an authoritative rendition of the new story). The old story was one of unrelieved incompetence and irresponsibility on the part of the occupation authorities (Bush and his people); the new story adds in an episode of "extraordinary achievement" and "competence and professionalism" (General Odierno and his people). It is a story of American redemption. And while the old story included the idea of inevitable and long-lasting civil war (your Shiites versus your Sunnis, not to mention your Kurds), the new story tells us that the heroic military leadership of the Odierno group have brought about a period of remission, with overtones of liberal democracy.

Which however, we are warned, will not last. From the NYT review of Ricks' book:
This book went to press before the recent elections in Iraq, which took place peacefully and which appear to have strengthened the country’s more secular and centrist parties, and Mr. Ricks warns that the United States goal of achieving “sustainable security” there (a far cry from former President George W. Bush's goal of a stable, democratic, pro-West Iraq) may still prove elusive — or at the very least require a long-term American presence. Although Mr. Ricks writes that he is saddened by the war’s “obvious costs to Iraqis and Americans” and by “the incompetence and profligacy with which the Bush administration conducted much of it,” he adds that he has come to the conclusion that “we can’t leave.” As Mr. Ricks sees it, the regional and global repercussions of failure in Iraq would be far more dire than those incurred by the United States’ withdrawal from Vietnam — ranging, in this case, from a full-blown civil war to “a spreading war in the Middle East,” from a stronger Iran presiding over a Finlandized Iraq to the rise of a brutal new Iraq led by “younger, tougher versions” of Saddam Hussein...
The expression that I italicized tells how the coming phase of the "Iraq war" will be told in the NYT and elsewhere: More sectarianism, more dangerous even than before.

Probably nobody knows the strength and make-up of the remaining and potential elements of the armed resistance. Just as in Act I, so in the coming Act II, the Western narrative will be that there isn't any bona fide nationalist resistance, it is all sectarianism.

Kamal Majeed says: Let's come to grips with that issue, once and for all.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're right. This rubbish fits into that manufactured narrative as well.

10:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It looks to me like Ricks is just replaying an Odierno narrative. That Iraq is on the point of breaking up (if, of course, the US military doesn't stay to prevent it!).

I took that to be what you meant. And the quote from Macaratu's link is good: The big winner was fragmentation.

I can see what Odierno's need is: to persuade Obama that it is too dangerous to withdraw US troops from Iraq.

It is a foolish move. It's the exact opposite of the truth, and ignoring the Iraqi position will simply lead to further errors (for the US govt interest) such as signing the withdrawal agreement.

1:17 PM  
Blogger badger said...

Yes, that was what I meant.

But I don't think it's just Odierno. Because as Maracatu's link shows, the big set-piece already today on this theme is from Zelikow.

Remember a few years ago when the yahoos were saying: "That idiot Bush didn't realize there would be civil war?" I think it's possible the Republicans will just recycle that: Cut-and-run Democrats, don't they realize there will be civil war? Such a great theme.

2:13 PM  

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