Friday, October 29, 2004
Horror and Humiliation in Falluja

Asian Times 27 April 2004

This stands alone :

Analysts unfriendly to the Muslim world speak of a "pride-and-honor culture", in which the prickliness of the Arab street regarding the Palestine issue and so-called honor killings are supposed manifestations of the same social traits. There is another way to look at the matter. Among the world's religions Christianity and Islam alone have the capacity for mass absorption of converts from different races and ethnic groups. It is hard to tell which of the two is growing faster. One of them will be the world's dominant religion in the 21st century. There is a radical difference between Islamic and Christian conversion. Both seek to supercede Judaism, but in different ways. Christianity offers a New Israel, called out from among the nations by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Because God's love for mankind is the premise of the New Israel, there is a limit to Christian tolerance for bloodshed. To propose open genocide, the Nazis had to repudiate Christianity and embrace paganism only.

The Christian's participation in the vicarious sacrifice of the Cross offers salvation at the end of the soul's journey. Christian practice puts enormous effort into sustaining the conviction of the promise of the Kingdom of Heaven: prayers, hymns, cathedrals, paintings, and so forth. No such concept of individual spiritual transformation exists in mainstream Islam. The individual submits wholly to Allah, who controls all things without qualification. That is Islam's enormous strength; the individual believer can leave behind the carping self-doubt of the Christians. For the same reason, however, setbacks to the Ummah are a challenge to the faith of every believer, for all events are in the hands of Allah, not those who have submitted to His will. Success therefore is a theological necessity for Islam. Humiliation for Jews and Christians is a chastisement from God; did not Christ accept His humiliation on the cross? For Islam, humiliation is a refutation of the faith itself.
The areligious are the worst for spending their time reading about religion! I am no exception. Wanting to understand how people tick and knowing so many people are religious in one form or another.....

It may seem an impediment to have an idee fixe about the in-group drive, butstill it is a useful base from which to try to work out why people stick to what they believe, why they only go so far outside their known world, why people suddenly become like the three monkeys when confronted with ideas that are too far from their immediate experience.

Emery Reves in The Anatomy of Peace, written in the dying days of The second World War, chapter 4, Failure of Religion goes over this ground. He was a journalist and it is not a complicated, academic tome with footnotes. However, the simple writing highlights the obvious truths he asserts. Some of his better quotes later.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

New York Times

The Strategy to Secure Iraq Did Not Foresee a 2nd War

By Michael R. Gordon October 19, 2004

In a nutshell
Its been said over and over by commentators and experts: no one took account of the political sensibilities of the various groups. Or, rather, they thought they might if conditions allowed, but then defaulted to Mediaeval " let's siege a castle" mode once they realised they couldn't.

The insurgency may reflect various discontents ( Ba'ath, ex-Army,ethnic, tribal, religious, the poor) but what it really means is that the Sunni fear they will be displaced by the Shii when and if democracy operates. Numbers. They can count. Sixty percent Shite. Put aside the minor infighting. True, the fact that the Sunni ruled, that certain sub-tribes achieved acendency within the ruling Ba'ath Party, makes what is happening now more complicated. But when the votes are counted, the Shia Parties will be in a majority. Since there is no Army as such to take over in a Coup when the Shia parties have formed a government with an Islamic bias - which will of course be semi-inclusive of the secular ans Sunni elements - rather like Algeria in the 90s, it is necessary to build up a force ("The Insurgency") that can do the job. The Americans are having to quell the insurgents because they claim they want democracy for Iraq. If they had left the Army in place, they could have left it to the Iraqis to remove a quasi-Islamic government.

Even if an Islamic goverment takes over in Iraq, this does not mean things will settle down. What's ahpening now will continue only worse. And the Americans will ring their hands wondering whether they should stay or leave.

Being wise after the event and having just read this article it is easy to see how the U.S. by allowing the DOD rather than SD run the show, totally neglected the politics. What do you do when a country distintegrates like Iraq did in the weeks after April 9th. ? Well, get out there. Talk to people. Develop relationships. Do some reassurancing. If you were in a country taken over by another which claimed to be doing it for your own good, would you want them to do a bit more than send out military patrols?

It is clear that the establishment of the Provisional Authority and the Provisional Government were not looked on kindly by most Iraqis. Lack of respect. You don't talk to people about freedom and democracy then start imposing things on them. Not a recipe for any relations let alone good relations.

Spending money, repairing the infrastructure, has been going on apace. But still utilites are not up to full strength. Many people have been provided with work, but essentially there is mass unemployment. If one is being cynical, this might be the ideal set-up - hours and hours of sitting around - for Iraqis to talk amongst themselves and develop the politics needed to re-create Iraq. However, such is the nature of human beings, when they are short of the necessary things of life that everyone expects to have, then that is what their minds will be focused on, rather how to proceed forwards to a bright new dawn..

It was said that the USSR was kept hungry and in food cues to keep their minds off their political discontents. In Iraq, the same is happening, except by a combination of lack of foresight, poor planning and inefficiency. That does not mean to say that Iraqis are not organising themselves politically. They are. But the remnants of the old power structures are still there and they are surely behind the what is now a well-organised rebellion.

Brent Scowcroff - whi I think was a military man before becoming a SD official - in an 1996 interview aired on BBC TV last night said there was no way for an early exit from Iraq if the US had gone all the way in 1992. He mentioned 5 years. What changed in 2003 ? Why did everyone think the troops would be back home in 6 months? Wel of course, the truth is another country...They know and knew all along that the troops couldn't be brought home in a hurry. But politically it is necessary to endlesslessly say they will reduce the garrison.

if Bush wins, talk of bringing the boys home will evaporate... I like the image of words evaporating..remember those silly programmes that would pick text to bits pixel by pixel in a random fashion till the screen was blank, making you thing you had a virus...

The necessity then will be not to draw attention to the promises they made earlier. What do they say, a week in politics is a long time. Wel, for politicians, yes, but the public have much longer memories. Blair ill never be forgiven for trying to deceive the British public. This, titled
Dictator of Downing St written by Robert Service in the Newstatesman is quite amusing.

Monday, October 25, 2004
Three new links today.

Two from AINA, a site I have not seen before. There is a connection, if one were wanted, in that I have recently contacted by using the internet - I would not have been able to do it otherwise - someone who happens to be Assyrian who links to my parents' life in Iraq. More later.

In a post that is way back I said that the "buried money" would be the thing that kept things on the boil. It has proved to be true according to this account in AINA. (side-linked for future easy reference). Of course a lot of the bank accounts have been frozen. But this is literally money buried in the ground or easily accessible places like Jordan or Syria.. Plus, one might add, money that is coming in afresh from people who wish to keep Iraq in chaos.

Clever Dick part II
The second AINA article side-linked in APPOSITE is about what is going on in Iraq's university campuses. My argument (somewhere down there, mnany posts ago) was that following Allawi's rule, an Islamic government might take over, democratically, then after a bit of a ruckus, a modern secular state would evolve once a new political class grew up.

The time scale on this must be about 5-10 years. The old article about Lebanon by Paul Johnson I transcribed about a month ago is relevant in this context.

The elections are going to take place in January. They will not be anything like representative

(a) because half the voters won't be able to vote

(b) because a significant minority will be afraid to vote the way they want.

And finally....

I linked this article to my norfolkskies site because that seemed to be the place to put it. On reflection it seemed right, too, to put it here. See APPOSITE

This is just an essay that appeared out of Googling. I was not searching for it in particular. Hoewever, it seems by some magic to be relevant to the very things I have been listening, thinking and reading about in recent days.

There was a BBC radio talk which included mentionof a new book about the corporation as a entity and concept, which suddenly made me think that the U.S. government is different because it acts as if it were a corporation rather than a governing body based on democratic election. This is not difficult to understand/accept since the links between big business and elected representatives, and between big business and government, is a fact of life in the U.S.
I read around this a bit and came up with the fact that the U.S. Constiution as set up in 1771, deliberately restricted what the corporation could do. Progressively these legal restraints have been lifted. A throwback discussion to the days of William H Whyte' s, The Corporation Man (1956)? Maybe a good idea.

There was an book review about Pol Pot The Sunday Times. You always feel if you once understand one amoral, psychopathic, murdering tyrant it will be possible to understand them all. More importantly, you will have at your finger tips a means of detecting another rising star.

The nearest personal experiences
we get with Pol Pot that might have made him a tyrant are
(1) came from prosperous peasant family
(2) briefly a novice Buddhist monk ["...experienced the certainties of faith"]
(3)sister was part of the King's harem and he witnessed and experienced the delights or otherwise to him) of its pleasures as a 14 year old boy boy
(4) cruelty was ingrained in Cambodian society

Jump to the Tikrit...1930s

(1) cruel ignorant relative
(2) a unstable and violent society/state
(2) suffered humiliation at school [ shoeless, etc]
(3) was encouraged to take a gun to school
(4) joined a amoral political movement that relied on violence to achieve power

Give me some help here...

The other two, Stalin and Hiltler had the same sort of thing. Stalin, a Georgian. Russians looked down on them. Hitler, a violent father. A weak, loving mother. A traumatic war. A traumatising experience of flauted unstable and violent society (Wiemar Republic).

In the end, despite difficultiues and set backs, they all had
(1) brains
(2) madness (sociopathic or psychopathic?)
(3) lack of sympathy or empathy (But maybe they were empathetic but simply put their ability to read others to bad rather than good use.)

You look at a Bush or a Bliar, now, wondering whether they could led us into similar disasters, trying to imagine a hypothetical person in either of those societies who might have been wondering the same thing about Stalin or Hitler (or Pol Pol or Saddam Hussein). The Left did do this wondering. But I am talking about an ordinary guy, not especially politically focused or knowledgeable, who has the normal "antennae", who sees people and events in his own time reasonably clearly. Does he get the alarm signal because the same group of conditions apply. Of course we know that many who ended up following Hitler and getting on his payroll, had that bad feeling. They just subsumed it to the stronger immediate desire to get an job and status.

The answer must be a level, degree, of moral, civic and political education that prevents people from turning a blind eye to bad things happening around them. In Britain in 2003 there was a deep feeling that our leader pulled the wool over our eyes. Looking back we puzzle why he bothered. He could just have easily been totally frank with us and got a concensus for war rather than bamboozling us into it because of his fear that we would prevent him from doing what he personally decided. What is the point?

Perhaps there are too many lawyers in politics. Granted they are necessary for law framing. And to stetch the idea, politics, like law, is adversorial and does not depend greatly on the search for objective truth. I have always puzzled why courts are not places where the truth is established. I am quite ignorant of how the law works in practice except from TV drama. . I once asked a retired high-court judge why the jury system was so good. He insisted there was nothing better. But why? The poor jurers are making decisions, sometimes of life and death, without the full pack. Wouldn't it be better to have a legal process where everyone had access to all the information that was going to be used, rather than presenting selective extracts of it, so to speak. And,indeed, wouldn't that be true of politics and governance?

memories of a childhood in Iraq in the 1950s * thoughts on events in the Middle East

Location: United Kingdom

expatriot in Middle East as child, retired teacher.

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