Wednesday, April 29, 2009
The World Today, Volume 65, Number 5
Download article here
Lebanon is about to elect its fourteenth parliament since independence sixty-six years ago. But practice is notmaking perfect as the country's only militia, Hezbollah, has succeeded in undermining the political system and turning the state into an irrelevant and hollow institution.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
April 17, 2009
Now It’s Up to Us
By HUSSAIN ABDUL-HUSSAIN
My childhood friend Mohamed, a Sunni from Baghdad, watched henchmen from Saddam Hussein’s regime drag his father, a wealthy merchant, from their house. A few days later he was shot and buried for refusing to sign off his business to Saddam’s son Uday.
When Mohamed’s mother put a wreath on her husband’s grave, Uday’s men showed up at their doorstep and took his mother away. No one ever heard from her again.
“My family and whole life vanished in less than a week, and I became homeless and now stateless,” Mohamed told me when I saw him in 1991 in Beirut, where he was living as he applied for political asylum, which was granted five years later by the United States.
By 2003, Mohamed, an engineer, was living in Boston. He changed his name to Moe, named his two children Josh and Ned, and insisted on talking in English with his Arabic-speaking friends.
At the time, I was one of a few people in Beirut who, like many Iraqis, voiced support for America’s “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”
I contacted Moe several times to urge him to speak out, tell his story, and make the case against the horror under Saddam. But he repeatedly turned me down and expressed his opposition to the war. “There will be no sweets or petals thrown on American invaders, but stones and shoes,” he wrote me.
I visited Baghdad in May 2003, 21 years after my own exile, and I called Moe from his aunt’s house; he had not contacted her in 12 years. Optimism was in the air — the insurgency had not yet begun. I wanted him to talk to his aunt and to reconnect with our country. But Moe refused to talk to his relatives. He wanted nothing to do with Iraq.
Between March 2003 and March 2009, he e-mailed me almost daily about the bad news coming out of Iraq. He mocked my optimism and my support of the war and often asked: “How bad do you want it to go before you are convinced that toppling Saddam was like removing the lid off a trashcan?”
Then, last month, Moe told his sons that he was going on a work trip to Dubai. Instead, he went to Baghdad, his first visit in 12 years.
For the first time in years, Moe sent me an e-mail in Arabic. His first line was, “We once had a civilization that we shall revive even if it has been dead.” The quote was taken from an old patriotic song, “Arab Countries Are My Homeland,” which we learned at school in Baghdad when we were seven years old. Back then the words were gibberish to our ears. In singing the song, Mohamed often mispronounced the word “civilization” — something we often laughed about — until he started shutting whatever was Arabic out of his life.
“I am staying in Baghdad, and moving my family over here,” Mohamed wrote in his e-mail you should move back too.”
But this time I was skeptical. “The time for democracy is over, Moe,” I replied. “America is tired, and Washington is back in the business of dealing with tyrants. Iran might be given a role to spread its radicalism in Iraq, and Syria might evade international justice and regain influence over Lebanon.”
Moe and I exchanged so many e-mails that our string started taking time to download.
But this Iraqi-American, who opposed the war and made people like me swallow their tongues at times when the security situation worsened in Iraq, had completely flipped. “I am sorry, I was wrong and you were right,” he wrote the other day, to my surprise.
I responded, “But what makes you optimistic that democracy will come around in Iraq? America and the world have given up on democracy in Arab countries a long time now.”
He replied: “Democracy proponents in Washington might be gone, but our nation is staying and it is up to us to make it democratic.
“Now is the time, now is our time. Change does not come through arms, but through the will of people. Look at America.”
Mohamed concluded: “A civilization that we shall revive, remember?”
Hussain Abdul-Hussain is a correspondent for Al Rai and a visiting fellow at Chatham House.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Picture: Crooke (left) talking during the panel. Esfandiari is to the right.
WASHINGTON – WOODROW WILSON CENTER: Former British intelligence officer Alastair Crooke said “the West used Saudi Salafism to contain Nasserism, Marxism… to contain the Soviets… used it in Iraq against Iran and in Lebanon, all with the support of the United States and Europe.”
Crooke did not provide any evidence to support his hypothesis. Past statements, however, suggest that the former MI6 operative often bases his arguments on what he is often told. “I was told that … [radical Islamist groups] were being offered weapons and money by people presenting themselves as representatives of the Lebanese government's interests—presumably to take on Hezbollah,” Crooke was quoted in a Seymour Hersh article published in The New Yorker in March 2007.
Be it as it may, Crooke is not opposed to all forms of radical Islam for he praises the Iranian regime. “Islamic Revolution (of Iran) is about thinking… why does the West think of it as a confrontation with violent and dogmatic groups?” Crooke said at Woodrow Wilson.
Crooke’s description of Iran’s regime as moderate came while sitting next to moderator Haleh Esfandiari, an Iranian-American who was arrested in Tehran between May and August 2007 while on a trip to visit her 93-year old mother. The Iranian authorities accused Esfandiari, at the time, of espionage.
Crooke is a resident of Beirut where he has established strong ties with several senior operatives from Hezbollah, an Iranian-funded and inspired militant group.
Read full story in Arabic here
Monday, April 13, 2009
Picture: Iraqi looters in May 03. Archives - MENW
The war in Iraq has taught the United States the limitation of using its military superpower for social engineering around the world, a lesson clearly learnt by Barack Obama. Yet six years after the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Firdos Square, what has been learnt by the Iraqis and the Arabs? Little, if anything.
And who started the war anyway? Aside from September 11, some manipulative Iraqi leaders in exile and America’s appetite for controlling the world’s fourth-largest oil reservoir, an army of Arab intellectuals contributed to the American adventure.
Time and again since the end of the Second World War the proponents of pan-Arabism, nationalism, leftism and progressive ideologies peddled one main idea: western colonialism – French and British, then American – is responsible for Arab misery.
Unverifiable stories of Saddam Hussein’s connections to the CIA were plenty, and gave many Arabs little to worry about when Iraq’s strongman employed brutality against his own citizens, as long as they could easily blame it on America. Whenever a Palestinian militant blew himself up with a suicide bomb, many Arabs blamed the miserable socio-economic conditions in the Palestinian Territories under American-sponsored Israeli occupation.
For decades, with an increasing number of reports showing many Arab countries lagging behind in all aspects of development, intellectuals rarely blamed the dominant cultural trends in those countries. Instead they found it easier to pound America for supporting autocrats such as Saddam, and obstructing the natural tendency among Arab peoples towards development and self improvement.
Then, after nearly 60 years, America suddenly reversed its behaviour by sending its troops to topple Iraq’s dictator, an act that the US oddly judged to be in its own interests. Arabs took to the streets en masse to protest against the war, while intellectuals suddenly disregarded the links they often highlighted between Iraqi backwardness and the rule of an American-supported dictator.
Only a minority of Arabs – namely Kuwaitis who had felt Saddam’s wrath, and a majority of Iraqis – stood their ground in cheering for the toppling of the Iraqi autocrat. “Iraq is the country of one million engineers”, and “Cairo writes, Beirut publishes and Baghdad reads” were only a couple of the thoughts that many of us, supporters of the war, offered to argue that finally an opportunity had come to the Iraqi people.
I visited Iraq in 2003 shortly after the downfall of the Saddam Hussein regime, after 21 years in exile and for the first time as an adult. I was keen to take part in my country’s rebirth. But instead of the one million engineers we hoped for, we got two million thieves who looted their own nation.
Going to Iraq in 2003 was like going back decades in a time machine. At the time, Iraqis had not seen cell phones, and only a few knew about the internet. Satellite technology was alien too, and I vividly remember trying to explain to family and friends how an ATM machine works, the credit card system, GPS and many other technologies that were common knowledge in most other countries.
We proponents of change in Iraq were cheated: the state of Iraq was a mirage, and vacuum was inevitable. Saddam had missiles that he paraded along with what looked like a mighty army, but underneath that facade there were no institutions or civil society to keep anything running after him.
While many might argue that it was Saddam who destroyed Iraq, making it crumble in his absence, it is hard to believe that one man could kill one of the oldest civilisations in the world. Judging by other nations who saw their dictators collapse but still developed safely into relatively stable countries, such as in Eastern Europe after the Cold War and Japan after the Second Wold War, there is no reason to consider Iraq a classic case of transformation from autocracy to democracy.
Furthermore, there is no evidence indicating that a robust civil society ever existed in Iraq. The country never practised peaceful politics. Since its inception, Iraq’s history tells only stories of warring tribal alliances hiding under a fake garb called the state, and resulting in either brutal clashes or tyranny.
Saddam did not come from Mars. He came from the village of Awja. His character was shaped on the streets of Baghdad when, along with his clan, calling itself Baathist, he engaged in fist fights with other clans who called themselves communists, Nasserites and other unfitting titles borrowed from modern times.
In Iraq, Saddam was not the cause of Iraqi backwardness, but rather its product. And in his absence and the ensuing vacuum, intelligence operatives from neighbouring countries found an opportunity to settle scores with America on the one hand, and among themselves on the other. The result was five years of Iraqi bloodshed.
This is the sad story of Iraq and most of the Arab world, and the lesson should be clear: when looking at their misery, the Arabs should stop blaming the Mongols, the Persians, the Ottomans, the French, the British, the Russians, the Israelis or the Americans for their ills.
When feeling in distress over socioeconomic and political issues inside their countries, Arabs should start looking inward and keep in mind an Ancient Greek aphorism: Know Thyself.
Hussain Abdul Hussain is a Visiting Fellow with Chatham House, London
Link to story in The National