Free Iraqi

I was not living before the 9th of April and now I am, so let me speak!

Thursday, March 31, 2005

I apologize for the long hiatus. I didn't plan to stay away that long but things happened that forced me to. I want to start with something I was thinking about 2 days ago while following the latest developments in the food for oil program scandal.There's nothing surprising about the extent of corruption inside the UN to me and most Iraqis. We saw those shining names in Saddam's days dining with his thugs in his palaces. The same big hot shots that attacked Saddam's regime fiercely and then dramatically changing their attitude once they get to meet him and get a grip of the reality on the ground in Iraq. I was shocked at first when I saw Hans von Sponeck defend Saddam's regime after his resignation and attacking the US and the UK while in the beginning he was blaming both the allies and Saddam's regime on the poor performance of the food for oil program. Only money, and HUGE amount of money could explain such a change in such a short duration.However I was not that shocked after hearing that Koffi Anan was getting bribes from Saddam. Oh sorry, meant his son. But that's not what I want to talk about today. Instead I want to share an idea about how to fix this problem that will surely recur again and again.To try and find solutions for the UN problems is an important issue for all of us and although I'm not naive enough to think that it can be fixed that easily or that I can actually find part of a solution, but it won't hurt to discuss the issue, as in the end we, the people are just as concerned as politicians about it and also we, Iraqis were victims of such flaws in the UN.Before trying to answer any problem we have to consider the elements. The human greed is something we cannot control and we should never expect those at high positions to be saints. The UN internal system is something I don't know much about and I also think it's not even a major element although some reforms there would surely help. But the most important element that cause such corruption in my mind is the presence of exceptionally large amounts of money and other resources in the hands of individuals whom their fate depend on the UN inspection teams' reports i.e. dictators and tyrannical regimes in general.Regimes like Saddam's in the past, Kadaffi's, Asad's and the Iranian regime now and in the future have been and will always be capable of and willing to spend millions and millions of their people's money to gain the approval and support of the UN through bribing certain influential staff members who would be sent to seek the truth about a certain violation in their countries. How are we going to guarantee that honest respectable people who were chosen by the international committee for such missions won't weaken to the sight of a 6 digit check? There's no guarantee.Yet there might be a way to avoid such a problem. First I think we should re-identify the problem. It's not that the UN is a week or corrupt organization. It's that we are dealing with two entirely different sets of regimes using one standard. One set of laws to deal with democratic and authoritarian states. That doesn't sound right.So the answer may lie in finding two different set of rules, two different organizations to deal with those different states. But that might divide the world so we will have to decide which set of states is more reliable to depend on in solving common global problems. Who's "we" is not that important and it does not mean control of the strong over the weak. Lets think of something similar to the EU. The democratic free nations whether poor or rich, strong or weak should gather and form a mass governed by a set of rules that can get a consensus from all the involved parties. The tyrannical regimes should be kept outside, isolated until they meet a certain requirements set by the new organization.So when dealing with a problem in Japan for example, the organization can send a convoy to Japan to seek facts from there combined with talks with Japanese representatives in the organization. While when dealing with a problem in Libya for example, a dictatorship that actually refuses to join the global organization of democratic countries (by its actions) but might present a danger to one or all of its members, the organization do not send anyone, or it can send a convoy but once its job is hindered it should be withdrawn immediately with no possibility of a return. It asks the Libyan government to clarify the situation, prove its innocence in that particular problem and without offering it a seat inside the organization. If the Libyan government fails to do so then the organization would take actions based on its members interests and consensus and according to how serious the threat is.Such system should not be looked at as isolating poor or "developing countries" or that such an attitude means taking the side of the strong parties. First, because the organization would include all democratic countries, not just advanced countries. Besides, we should be more worried about the UN or similar organizations taking the wrong side than them taking the strong side. And also what's most important is that such system would only weaken the regimes not the people.Can anyone tell me what good the UN was for the Iraqi people? What did I gain from that seat that was given to one of Saddam's thugs to sit and babble like he's the equal of those sitting next to him; men and women who truly represented their nations? I'll tell you what I gained from that. More years for Saddam and his gang in power, more years of torture and fear, more years of death to my friends and relatives, more years of desperation and miserable life. All this while those elegant respectable figures in the UN were filling their stomachs with the Iraqi people's flesh and blood. Do we need to repeat that?People won't lose that seat but dictators will, as it was never a seat for the people. I'd say that on the contrary, people living in authoritarian states would gain from such a 'loss', as it would isolate their rulers politically, will take their legitimacy away and would weaken them with time until they find themselves either forced to make the reforms (as the free world is concerned and entitled to look after the human rights everywhere) that allows them to get the legitimacy or face the united free world. Just an idea.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Was that really a pro-Syrian rally?

According to Al-Ra'ai Il A'am Kuwaiti newspaper (Arabic link), students of "Omar Al Mukhtar" educational center in Helba city in Becca valley demonstrated yesterday in huge numbers against the Syrian presence in Lebanon. So far nothing unusual, but what makes this demonstration significant is not the numbers of demonstrators but rather the place and what the students had to say.Omar Al Mukhtar center was considered a stronghold for Abdul Haleem Murad, the Arab nationalist minister of defense in the resigned Lebanese government who directly supervise on the center, which made this center also a stronghold for Arab nationalists that by nature support Syrian presence but now they're demonstrating against Syria!Also the students said that their demonstration comes after a series of what they described as "oppressive procedures" carried out by the administration of the center with direct instructions from the minister.What's more is what one of the students said to the newspaper, "the minister forced us to take part in the pro-Syrian rally last week and used threats to prevent us from walking in Al Hariri funeral and promised to reward those who obey his orders"So who else was forced to attend that rally? I can say not the majority since Hizbullah has its own supporters. Also there are hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Lebanon whom their participation in that rally would be understandable and there are also hundreds of thousands of Syrian agents and workers who would have to be there or they would probably have to leave Lebanon soon, that's not assuming they got direct orders from their government and its intelligence there. Not to mention Syrians that were possibly brought from Syria on that day.There was something fishy about hundreds of thousands of 'Lebanese' holding signs that cheer Bashar Al Asad, his father and the Syrian government much more than their own government while clearly accusing the majority of Lebanese of being ungrateful traitors! Now we know at least part of the truth that can guide us to find out more.Anyway, it appears that there are no Arab nationalists/Syria supporters left in what's supposed to be a stronghold for them except the minister and the center administration, as the students showed clearly on which side they are and decided that their freedom worth more than their degrees that are surely on the line now, but I guess Mr. Murad has to more worry about than them.In another development in Lebanon, the Lebanese army removed two statues in Hilba city, one for Bashar Al Alsad and one for his father. According to the Lebanese police the decision was made after quarrels took place between pro and anti- Syrian demonstrators who were both celebrating the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon near the statues and after Lebanese toppled a statue for the late Syrian president Hafiz Al Asad twice and one for Basil Al Asad, Bashar's dead brother (sounds like "the mountain of Gods"). And yes the Syrian government and its supporters in Syria and Lebanon (well they're supporters since they're showing in their rallies!) do celebrate the Syrian withdrawal too, as it's a victory for Syria and her historic leadership. I know it sounds strange to most westerns but you're all just not smart enough to understand that, as your minds have been corrupted for a long time with this democracy thing that does not leave a decent place for legendary heroes. While we, Arabs understand perfectly that it's a victory for Asad just like the 1st Gulf war was a victory for Saddam and the 1967 war was a victory for Nasir.You see, the six days war was not part of the Israeli Arab conflict, nor the 1st Gulf War aimed to liberate Kuwait, otherwise both would've been victories for Israel and the international alliance respectively and therefore they would've been defeats for Nasir and Saddam as well as other Arab governments. The truth is that these wars aimed only to topple Nasir and Saddam and since that didn't happen then we can justifiably say that both historic, legendary leaders actually won in those wars, and since Nasir was the whole Egypt and Saddam was the whole Iraq then these were victories for Egypt and Iraq! Simple, isn't it?

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Winds of change from the south.

Thousands of students in Basra University demonstrated Yesterday against "terrorism". Al Basra University announced a general strike until the demands of the students are met. From Al Qabas Kuwaiti newspaper (Arabic). The rally was not against the terrorism carried by the Salafi/Jihadists but against the terrorist activities of the religious parties in Basra and mainly the Sadirsts.The Sadirists and representatives of some radical religious parties have appointed themselves as guardians on the people of Basra and many other southern governorates with She'at majority especially after their lists got the majority of the votes there in both local elections and national ones. Their armed followers appointed themselves as guards in all colleges, hospitals and government institute watching everyone and making sure no one violates their Shre'a. They filled these places with their leaders' pictures and their symbols, challenging anyone who objects to their actions saying that they represent the Marjiyia in Najaf and that they have the support of Sistani.The straw that broke the camel's back came last Tuesday when a bunch of thugs from Sadr office attacked a group of " Basra Engineering College" students, males and females, who were going on a picnic in a public park. The thugs started beating those young men and women without any discrimination which resulted in 15 male students getting seriously injured while the rest were taken to Sadr's office in Basra to force the rule of these terrorists' Shre'a on them, all under the eyes of the local police!Iraqi citizens in the south are generally conservative and they hold great respect for Sistani and that's why many of them voted for the Coalition List that includes many of these parties. But She'at Basraois as well as other She'at Iraqis are also civilized people who would never accept the rule of thugs and barbarians who want to take Iraq back to the dark ages. Thus while they tolerated them in the beginning probably out of fear and/or respect for Sistani, these brave students supported by their families and their teachers have said" Enough". They went on a strike demanding that the ING take over the mission of protecting colleges and hospitals, torn all these religious parties pictures and symbols that looked too holy to be touched for quite a time now and raised signs saying, "No to terrorism, No to Parties (meaning religious parties as they're the only ones in the scene there)" the students kicked the representatives of these parties out of their colleges.As Much as I'm distressed by the action of these thugs, I feel optimistic and proud of the bravery of the Students of Basra who stood against not only these radical thugs but also against a corrupt local government that supports or at least deliberately overlooks the actions of these terrorists. This is the change I was hoping to see, the change of heart s and minds against all sorts of fanaticism which without it all efforts whether by the government or America, with all the sacrifices of Iraqis and their bravery in standing against foreign terrorism, remains useless.Some western experts argue that since there is no democratic society in Iraq, the American liberation of Iraq did not and will not lead to democracy . The first part of this statement is true but the conclusion is flawed.Iraqi society, like most Arab/Muslim societies, is cursed with many problems that chain it and prevent the progress of democracy among its components. The worst of these chains and the hardest to break is dictatorship. By toppling Saddam, America offered Iraqis freedom from dictatorship but it couldn't and would never be able to liberate Iraqi from all other chains. Once Iraqis tasted this freedom the majority of them used it to back up their religious figures that were similarly oppressed at Saddam's hands and thus the religious parties won easily. This chain was not forced but was created by ignorance and the emotional bond between Iraqis and their religious symbols.However, once those religious parties started to use their power that is given to them by God (as they believe) and by the people (through the vote) Iraqis got shocked! This is not what they jeopardized their lives to vote for! They were not freed from Saddam only to face another tyranny, and therefore the same people who voted for the Coalition List have revolted against its fanatic religious components and they will continue their revolt until they win. This will be a peaceful struggle that takes its nature from the fact that American troops are on the ground to prevent any large scale oppression although it can't prevent smaller scattered violations of Iraqi citizens' rights.The anti-democracy forces are facing their worst enemies, a foe that is more formidable than American or Iraqi official troops. They're facing their own people from whom they got their legitimacy in the first place. They'll be fighting a lost battle without any weapon other than their viciousness while moderate Iraqis fight knowing they're the majority that even if it lost the government support it would still have some of it plus what's more important, the support of America, the power that provided the free environment and that will be there to maintain it if needed. Without Ameica's support such struggle would be bloody and most likely fanatics would win in the end but with that support fanatics get trapped between two mighty powers that leave them with a very small chance if ever.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Wahabism, and radical Islam in Iraq.

In my previous post I tried to explain why in my mind the Islamic brotherhood had transferred into a terrorist group. The reasons I gave does not apply to Al Qaeda and Wahabism in general as I noted in the beginning of that post, as although both trends contribute to terrorism they differ from each other so much in almost everything.While the Islamic brotherhood formation was a response -and an accumulative product of efforts- of many thinkers to the deteriorated social economic and political situation in Egypt with attempts to find a solution through Islam, Wahabism had no such background.Whabism was the product of mainly one man in response to what he considered (Shirk) i.e. worshiping other people or other things along with God. It was an attempt by Mohammed Abdul Wahab to purify Islamic belief from what various existing sects had introduced into it over centuries. It was not a political movement and although it was supposed to reform Islam, the idea was mainly going back to the roots in almost a copying manner with no place for science or philosophy. While books written by the Islamic Brotherhood's early leaders are still studied till now, Wahabies had no such thinkers and writers and depend mainly on books written my Muslim scholars who died more than a thousand years ago, mainly Ibn Taimyiah.Another difference is that economic difficulties and miserable situations played smaller role in people's decisions to join Wahabism unlike what happened with the Islamic Brotherhood. This is mainly because as I said earlier the Brotherhood promised a change to the better in living conditions while Wahabisim was only concerned with the spiritual side of Islam and the reward they were offering was only to be cashed in another life.Mohammed Abdul Wahab rejected the ceremonies both She'at and Sunni have introduced in form of glorifying humans (Imams), raising them to a very high rank where they served as God's successors and the only way to reach him and to gain his blessings. They built fancy shrines for them that were more sacred to some of them than the Ka'aba itself. She'at went further than Sunnis in this area and glorified Mohammed and Al Al Bait [means residents of Mohammed's house but always refer to only Fatima (Mohammed's eldest daughter), her husband (Imam Ali who was also Mohammed's cousin), two of their sons (Hussain and Hasan) and selected first sons of one of them down to the twelfth Imam, Al Mehdi] to the degree that many She'at believe that the whole universe was created for the sake of the five people whom I named.There's a joke here that says that two Iraqi She'at women went to the Hij in Mecca. One of them looked at the Ka'aba and asked her friend, "Pray sister, what is this big black building?" Her friend answered, "Don't you really know!? It's the Ka'aba, Allah's house" The first woman asked again," So Allah is buried here!?" her more informed friend replied, "Can you really be this ignorant!? If Allah were to die he would be buried in Najaf not here!"Anyway, after Wahabies controlled Saudi Arabia in the early decades of the 19th century they launched repeated raids against Iraq and destroyed all the Shrines they found in their way, Sunni and She'at but of course mainly She'at shrines. These wars are very different from the Islamic Brotherhood late attacks, sine the latter were mainly put to change the regime and to fight a corrupt government. It has a political nature while violence used by Wahabies was and still is based on pure religious issues. Followers of Islamic brotherhood think of Christianity and Judaism as imperfect beliefs but they do not see Jews and Christians as infidels, and their hatred to the west came mainly from political reasons since they believe it was responsible for their misery one way or another, while the Wahabies think of the followers of other religions as infidels and when they started fighting them this element was the main one, at least in their speeches to their followers although mixed with other political reasons sometimes.Unlike the Brotherhood that criticized most Caliphates and deemed them as corrupt tyrants that had no right in claiming authority since most Caliphates gained their positions by inheriting them and not through a consensus by Muslims, Wahabies respect all Caliphates and consider their authority as a sacred one given by God. So inside their own land, Wahabies never gave their Kings any problem until those kings started to attack them lately due to pressure from the US. In fact they were always a tool for the ruling family in Saudi Arabia.Saudi Arabia kings did not want a conflict with Israel, their best Ally's best ally and therefore this radical Muslim group never attacked Israel which is so strange given their supposed ideology is to fight the "infidels" and that they do see Jews as ones not to mention that they look at them as occupiers of holy Muslim lands.Hating or fighting the west or Israel was never the reason behind the rise of the Wahabism, as it was only concerned with purifying the Islamic belief in the area of worshiping and religious duties that has little to do with politics. Also one of the main principles in Wahabism is that it's illegitimate act to fight your Muslim ruler no matter how corrupt or unjust he was, and this is literally, exactly, what you would find in their books. And if you ask a Wahabi how does he thinks the world can be a better place with such negative attitude his answer would be, "the good people will inherit the earth" which is a verse from the Quran that they took to mean that all you have to do is to worship God and be a good person and God will take care of the rest!So the question is what turned this group to expand their activities and direct their violence everywhere and not just only towards She'ats or Sunnis?It was simply because the royal family in Saudi Arabia used their clerics to focus on the Jihad and convince them that helping their Muslim brothers in Afghanistan against the communist infidels is a religious duty and a gate to heaven. It was pure politics that made the US, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan use the religious card to combat the former Soviet Union. After Afghanistan came Bosnia, Chechnya and all places were Jihad would serve the Royal family and the Interests of the west and mainly the US.I'm not saying that the US encouraged terrorism but rather that the American administration at that time made a move that looked tactically right but it proved to be a strategic disaster, as it missed an important point. Jihadies do not retire!The Genii was out of the bottle and it became so difficult to get it back there.I think it's illogical to assume that the invasion of Afghanistan led to the rise of terrorism there, as there were many Muslim groups that resisted the Soviet invasion and none of these became a terrorist organization. Terrorism in Afghanistan came from outside, from an authoritarian country and then exported its violence back to spread in the whole region.Speaking of authoritarian countries and their role in spreading radical beliefs, in Iraq as one would expect, Wahabism was not very popular since it was founded. However, in the 90s and after the invasion of Kuwait, the terrible defeat and sanctions that followed, many Iraqis, mainly Sunnis, were converted to Wahabies. In my district many of my friends joined a Wahabi circle in our mosque and they were neither poor nor uneducated. I and some fewer friends, we were very close to join the Muslim Brotherhood, not in the form of being part of any organization but we embraced a lot of their ideals. I want to point here that Sayed Qutub and other early leaders of the Islamic brotherhood did not want to separate religion from politics because they saw Islam's message as an attempt to fix the world as a whole not just to determine the relationship between God and human beings but such belief carried a lot of dangers with it. However they did not call for the rule of clerics or Muslim scholars but rather to implement the basics of Islam in politics and life in general and thus they focused on some principles in Islam that were 'forgotten' and mainly "Doing the good and preventing the evil" as a duty and a responsibility of every Muslim, which is something most clerics did not give much attention to in their teachings and speeches because they knew it might lead to 'unfavorable' consequences when Muslims think that they're that responsible. Instead most sects (including Wahabism) left politics for the Sultan as both his right and duty that he's responsible for only in front of God and therefore no human had the right to question that authority.So we were just lost youth trying to find some answers for all these wars, unnecessary death, lack of freedom, torture and why we had no say in our life. Most of my friends were desperate to find any hope in this life and so they went to the mosque searching for answers from the only reliable source that was still available, God.However there was no God inside the mosque. There was a cleric who had just got two cars with the number (Iraq-Kuwait) on them, cars that were stolen from Kuwait that is. They also found two young Wahabies who were preaching a different version of Islam that looked more pure and who were getting booklets, recordings and video cassettes from Saudi Arabia and Yemen mainly for speeches of radical clerics. The two young men had no problem in exposing the hypocrisy of the cleric but their teachings while looking attractive on the first look, couldn't keep my friends in that circle for more than a year, as my friends were smarter than accepting these teachings without any questioning, something that the Wahabi preachers would never allow and called "devil's entrances", meaning you should not question the "principles" of the belief or you'd be risking losing your faith totally! Besides, my friends had a life to go on with despite the general difficult situation. They had their colleges, work; they got married and had families and a future to look for. And in the end Wahabism provided no answer to any of daily life problems.I couldn't but think that the majority of Iraqis were not as fortunate as my friends and that in poorer districts things may have gone differently and that a reward in another life without trying to change anything in current reality may have sounded enough for weak hopeless people, and indeed that was what happened as Wahabism spread in many districts of Baghdad, mainly poor ones.So while economic reasons did not contribute to Wahabism in many areas, it did drive others in other areas to embrace more radical versions of Islam and Wahabism was one of these.On the other hands, we who searched for a more revolutionary form of Islam and found some answers in the Islamic brotherhood that looked reasonable for some time, we did so because we wanted to confront the regime. We were very unhappy with our life and we felt a bit more responsible. But we were very scared of facing that horrible killing and torture machine alone and thus we asked for God's help. We did not search for a compassionate loving God who would ask us to be patient and reward us in the after life, but instead we were looking for an angry God that would stand with us in a very scary conflict. But we were also careful not to rush any decision on that fight, partly because of our fears and partly because we were not sure we were fighting for the right reasons. We thought that if we fought just out of anger we would be just committing suicide and suicide is prohibited in Islam and looked at as a crime.It was long after that that I started to think that there's no pure "God's cause" and that God's cause only exists when there's a human cause, while at that time and in the end we just stood there in the middle of the road not knowing what to do.Others were less careful (more courageous, it depends) and fought but most of those Muslims who fought needed the assistance and guidance of radical organizations and subsequently they took the struggle (or it took them) far away from their original goal.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

First there was Mohammed and then there was Napoleon and then...

What breeds terrorism in the Arab and Muslim world? Is it dictatorship or is it foreign occupation or are the seeds of terrorism buried deep in Islam and were bound to spread even without occupation or dictatorship?Certainly I don't claim to have the answer but I'll try to give my own perspective on this issue that has hundreds of political analysist and experts weighing on it, but I have a blog and I have a brain that might not be great but that's irrelevant, as the process of thinking was never monopolized by experts with all due respect to their knowledge.I'm not sure where I read this definition of terrorism but I tend to agree that "it's the use of violence by a group when it can achieve its just goals by peaceful measures"According to such definition the Palestinians military operations after 1967 would probably be considered "resistance" while after an agreement was made of establishing a Palestinian state, similar operations would be seen as terrorism. On the other hand, the violence in Iraq including the military operations against the American troops would be seen as terrorism because Iraqis can ask the Americans through their elected government to leave, and if that happens and Americans refuse to fulfill their promises then at that time fighting American troops would be a legitimate act of resistance.This distinction between various acts of violence is important as it helps us to note where a certain revolutionary group was transformed into a terror net and what situations at that specific time caused such transformation. For example many people look at what happened in Algeria since the early 90s as terrorism, but while this is true for most of these operations, it is not true to describe its start. The Algerian "National Salvation Front" actually tried peaceful measures and won the first round in a free election but then the army interfered and interrupted the election. The "National Salvation front" was denied its rightful place by force, its leaders were arrested and the front itself was banned.Back to our questions, there are two major components of terrorism with an Islamic background, the Islamic brotherhood and those originating from Wahabism. I'll try to deal in this post with the first group as it takes a long post on its own.The Arab and Muslim world were living rather idly before the French invasion of Egypt. Being isolated almost entirely from the rest of the world, Arabs and Muslims were still thinking they were on the top of the world until Napoleon landed with his vast Army on the shores of Egypt.Egypt was then ruled by the "Mamaleek" who are former European slaves that joined Islam and then conquered their conquerors. The Egyptians did not like the Mamaleek a lot and so they did not take active part in the battle between them and the French. Needless to say the Mamaleek army was crushed in a lightening speed. Despite their hatred for the Mamaleek, Egyptians were shocked and disappointed, "How could we, believers be defeated so easily by infidels? Didn't God say that he's always with the believers?" they wondered, and when Napoleon entered Cairo with all the recent scientific inventions of that time, Egyptians were even more shocked as they saw what they've never seen or even thought they would live to see. "Could this be the reason?" Some thought "yes" and others thought that it was the decay of Islam that allowed the "infidels" to defeat them and not advanced science.Later on, and after the French left, the new viceroy of Egypt, the Albanian Mohammed Ali known as "Mohammed Ali Pasha the great" made it his policy to send Egyptian students to study in Europe and mainly in France and Great Britain. The knowledge that these scholars brought back with them is one of the reasons why Egypt with all the miseries it went through is still the leading Arab country in many fields.But it was not just science that these scholars brought with them, as many of them went to the west seeking an answer to why the west is so advanced while Arabs and Muslims live in such a misery. They were divided in three main groups in respect to their conclusions. One group was very impressed with the western civilization and called for secularism and encouraging scientific research seeing that they're the main reasons to why the west was so advanced. Another group was impressed with the national governments in France and some European countries and called for the unity of the Arab world (Arab nationalists). The third group was impressed with the scientific achievements of the west but thought it's not necessary to accept the whole European culture to achieve similar results in a Muslim country as they didn't like the "moral decay" they saw in Europe and thought that the salvation of Muslims lie in the reform of Islam without abandoning its principles.It was the fact that most Arab/Muslims couldn't help but relate between Islam and their nation's glory (since it was Islam that put Arabs on the top of the world in many fields for many centuries) that made many of them think that they can only achieve progress if they give Islam back its place in the centre of their lives. Some thought they should revive it the way it was in the beginning (Salafis/Wahabies) while others thought they should reform it using knowledge obtained from the west to meet the challenges of the present time (Islamic brotherhood).The Islamic brotherhood rose in Egypt in the late 20s at the hands of Hasan Al Banna but earlier attempts to reform Islam and use it to reform the political syatem that in the end led to the formation of the Islamic Brotherhood started much earlier through the efforts of the Afghani Jamal Al Deeen Al Afgahni and the Egyptian Muhammed Abda and later on in what is now known as Pakistan through the writings of "Abu Al A'ala Al Maudoodi", a journalist and a Muslim activist. His writings though got more supporters in Egypt where the Islamic Brotherhood was formed, not by clerics or Shiekhs, but by scholars who studied in the west.Sayed Qutub, one of the most prominant early leaders of the Islamic brotherhood in Egypt for example got his master degree from an American university and most of the Brotherhood's leaders were doctors or lawyers. This was not a coincidence nor it was a phenomena limited to the Islamic Brotherhood in Egypt, as Abbas Madani the leader of the "National Salvation Front" in Algeria had a PhD in philosophy from the Sorbonne.Anyway, the Islamic brotherhood was a reaction to the miserable conditions and the corruption of the Egyptian government. It is interesting to see that such movements didn't achieve much in Iraq or Syria and most of the Arab states despite their situations were pretty similar! Egypt was also the stronghold and the main drive behind Arab nationalism wave in the 50s of the last century. It was the earlier cultural shock in Egypt that made her lead in this area.The struggle between these three groups was not only local since world events played a very important role in shaping it and in deciding which group would take the lead. Arab liberals had little support since the ideas they were promoting did not find much support in the Arab/Muslim culture that was already manipulated by the 'Sultans' and their preachers to close any window that allows a positive change or any change for that matters. Yet some of these Arabs affected by the western civilization were attracted to the Marxist theory and with the extreme poverty that made socialism looks a perfect answer for Arabs/Muslims problems and with the huge propaganda from the former Soviet Union they were able to get the attention and the support of a wide percentage of Arab Muslims, especially the poor who comprise the vast majority.In the late 40s of the past century revolutions against the corrupt useless regimes were looming in the air in most Arab countries. These revolutions were obviously going to be a communist-Islamist one in some and a solely communist in others like Iraq. Such thing was of course unacceptable by the west at a time when communism was gaining ground everywhere, and thus came the counter-revolutions in the 50s. Military coups by Arab nationalists that seized the power in most Arab countries overnight and drove hundreds of thousands of communists to prisons and torture rooms. The Islamists however joined the communists in their cells mainly because they were a threat to the new tyrants rather than the west.In Egypt the more radical Hassan Al Banna was assassinated while the more moderate more sophisticated Sayed Qutub was imprisoned several time before he was executed by Colonel Nassir who accused him of planning a coup. Most of the more intellectual leaders of the Islamic Brotherhood faced a similar fate. Sadat on the other hand kept those who used their brains and thus were more dangerous (to him not to the society) in prison and set lose the followers and even used them in combating communism that was still breathing. The same happened in Algeria where the leaders of the "Salvation Front" were all imprisoned and the front was banned.These Islamic groups were not terrorists. They were Islamic reformists with some fundamentalist elements who wanted to save their nations from tyranny, starting with peaceful measures. Their main weapon was "Da'awa" (preaching) not bombs or guns and in this they don't differ a lot from any Christian fundamentalist group in the west. The main difference between them and traditional Muslim clerics and preachers is that their enemy was not the west or Israel, but it was the 'Sultan' and his gang. They never called for a Jihad on the "infidel" and never attacked western interests in their early beginnings. They were fundamentalists in calling for the "rule of God" but they embraced western science, technology and literature and they were definitely not terrorists.The fierce campaigns of Arab governments against these early groups of Islamic reformists left no place for more moderate leaders, as what could've they surved for? Writing petitions to Nasir? Or maybe to the UN!The same reason pushed moderate followers away and attracted more radical ones to join more radical leaders.The younger generations were hopeless, enraged and equipped to fight for their destiny but they were left without any smart leadership and they knew they could never win against so many strong enemies who stand between them and even trying and take part in deciding their own future. Their new leaders had no real strategy or wisdom and they chose the path of the weak and desperate, they chose to fight and destroy a world they couldn't and were not allowed to change for the better and they chose to destroy themselves with it.When Khalid Al Islambouli, the young Egyptian lieutenant who planned and led the assassination of Anwar Al Sadat was asked by the judge, "When you decided to assassinate the president, did you consult any of your religious leaders? Did you get a fatwa from anyone that justify killing a Muslim and not any Muslim, your legitimate leader? Or was it a decision you made alone" Khalid's answer was, "Ask whom? They were all in prison".Terrorism in the Arab world is a multifactorial phenomena but it was never the result of hatred to the west or a reaction to an invasion. It was always an act of followers of revolutionary Islamic organizations that were looking in the beginning to reform Islam and save their people but being fought with extreme force, deprived of their thinkers, they drifted from their primary track to face their brutal dictators, their own society and the whole world with even more brutality than those of their oppressors. They lost faith in fixing their government peacefully, they lost faith in the world that always stood by their governments and they were blinded by desperation to lose faith in their own people. This is not a defense of these terrorists as I believe everyone is responsible for his acts but it's an attempt to show the factors that led these people to become the monsters they are now.In the Arab world, first there was Mohammed who led an insignificant group of the human race to dominate the world by giving them a flame of passion and belief that made this bunch of Bedwins defeat the Persian and Roman Empire together at the same time, and build a civilization that although was bloody and corrupt at many points but did contribute a lot to the human civilization.Then there was Napoleon who showed these people that their sun had set long time ago when they were still dreaming that they're the ones, and that Mohammed may not have the whole truth and that in order to make any progress they have to reconsider and use their minds.And then there was Nassir who showed them that Napoleon was wrong in that their land is still a place were you live by the sword and die by the sword. So which one of these was responsible for pushing this group of Arabs and Muslims to the edge?I think it's the indirect effect of the three elements together (and that does not mean they are all bad) plus the effect of global conflicts. The wave of terrorism we are wittnessing in our times would never have happened with only one element acting alone.In my mind, justice freedom and job opportunities are the only answers to terrorism and the only way to restore faith in life to desperate young people that have not yet joined this circle of terrorism. Yes Islam promises those who die for the sake of God to go to heaven but that's not special to Islam. It's the interpretation of God's cause or sake that has been modified by sick clerics to meet the uncontrolled and unrestrained passion inside the hearts of desperate Muslims and convince them to end their miserable lives and take as many "infidels" as possible with them but in the end only the weak who are living in hell would kill themselves to get a fast ticket to a promised paradise.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Dangerous games.

Was the Iraqi vote successful? I was asked by an Iraqi-American friend prior to the election whether I think the Iraqi vote would be successful or not. At that time I answered my friend saying that it will be successful in terms of participation and I estimated it to him to be more than 60% but I also thought that it won't be successful if we consider success to be a true democratic election that results in a stable democracy.The vote results confirmed my hopes and my fears as well. Iraqis voted in large numbers and I still think the percentage of voters compared to eligible voters was higher than 60% and I have explained why in a previous post.I also thought that it didn't matter if we chose wrongly and that we'd correct whatever mistakes we make in the future as voters' awareness of candidates and parties improves and as security and economy improves which is what's going to happen as I believe and signs of it are showing already.However this is not the major problem and terrorism is not the major problem either. The major problem in my mind is how divided the Iraqi society is as a result of the terrible policies of successive national governments. I thought that this division caused by fear and sectarian emotions would subside as each sect gets its deserved share in authority and when they see that a central government won't oppress them and that they would gain more by being united with their Iraqi brothers, but certain facts illustrated by the vote results showed me I was probably too optimistic and that the situation is more dangerous than I thought.I have to say that the majority of Iraqis did not say "yes to democracy" on January the 30th. No, sadly that's not true although I think that probably 20% of voters did say "yes to democracy". What did the rest say then? I think that they said yes to freedom, no to terrorism in general but they did not really endorse democracy but they endorsed their own understanding of democracy.For the majority of Kurds, mislead/encouraged by their leaders, democracy meant a chance for independence and that's what the majority of them voted for, not for a liberal democratic Iraq that they would become a part of. For many She'at again misled by their leaders democracy meant that they rule Iraq since they're the majority and that's what the majority (not all) voted for. This is why I think Sistani's involvement in politics is so dangerous although I was one of those who said he had done many good things for Iraq and I still think so but that does not mean I should agree with him on everything. He encouraged some She'at who respect him very much and who were not interested in voting to vote, but he did not encourage them to just vote, he encouraged them to vote for one specific list strengthening sectarian feelings among them instead of doing the opposite and politicians who benefited from that personally did not realize the serious long term disadvantages of such a win.The high percentage of voters made the voting day look great but was it really needed and good for Iraq to have more voters casting their ballot in support of their sectarian or ethnic identity rather than say 40 or 50% voting without anyone playing the role of their guardian? It was certainly good for our battle against terrorism and it was also a victory against dictatorship. It was a victory for the American administration and America as a whole which are all great things in my mind, but it was hardly a victory for democracy in Iraq on the long term.The small percentage of Sunnis who voted did that to oppose the She'at project represented by the "Unified Coalition List" and that's why the majority of them voted for Allawi. We have a Kurdish project, a She'at project and while there's no Sunni project for the time being it's been reflected as an anti-She'at project. On the other hand we have no Iraqi project. Most politicians on each sect told their people again and again what the elections mean for them and why it's important to preserve their rights but very few put an effort to explain to them why elections were important for Iraq as a nation. Thus they enhanced sectarian feelings instead of patriotic ones because it meant more votes for them.The Iraqi project however is not entirely absent but those who carried its slogans did not achieve much at all.The difficulties the "Unified Coalition" is facing to reach an agreement with the Kurds till now is a striking sign of such problems. The Kurdish Alliance will only agree with the Coalition List's project if it leaves them with an opportunity for independence and that's why they insist on Kirkuk being recognized as a part of Kurdistn. It's rich in oil and any independent Kurdish state needs an access to these oil fields in Kirkuk and parts of Mosul that they're also demanding to be included in Kurdistan's borders and without these the Kurdish state would not survive. But of course the Coalition List won't approve of that. Their project unlike the Kurdish one wants Iraq to remain united, but that's mainly so that they can rule it.Another important issue is that many of these politicians stood by and prevented the elimination of two very dangerous groups that represent far less people than what they claim; the Sunni Scholars and Muqtada Al Sadr followers. These two groups of fanatics represent an obstacle to any social or economic change that put Iraq on the right track. Anything that they see Iraq's interests in they claim that it's a western blasphemy that's not known in Islam so we must reject it. Not only that but they've burned liquor stores, movie theaters, harassed women who drive cars saying that all these things are against the rules of Islam. All that happened not only when Sadr revolted but even at times of 'peace'. As for the Sunni Scholars, their crimes cannot be even counted and just lately Harith Al Dhari said that they can "stop the violence if the Americans put a timetable to withdraw"!There's no real chance of any reform when crazy fanatics are left free to terrorize people and prevent any free expression of ideas unless it fits their own dictionary. And it's not true that it was done to preserve peace, as Sadr and the Sunni Scholars could rotten in jail or get killed without any significant number of Iraqis giving a sh*t about it.The Sunni politicians protect the Sunni scholars saying that they represent a high percentage of Sunnis, where in fact they're Ba'athists that have little respect among Sunnis if any, just because it's a card they play against other sects and so do the She'at politicians and some clerics with Sadr.What we need is a government made of politicians who understand the potential dangers and work hard to restore trust among Iraqis not take advantage of such divisions and even strengthen them. We need politicians who put the fanatic criminals where they belong, not using them to pressure their rivals! The whole picture looks truly disturbing yet there's hope. A civil war is not possible at all as long as the American troops are in Iraq and even if they leave, leaving few American military bases in Iraq would help a lot to prevent any attempt to stir up a civil war even long before it starts. Iraqis in general do not want to fight each other of course, but the interference of Iraq's neighbors who would support fanatics in each sect might well result in that if Iraq is left alone now or soon. Such interference does not come in support of terror or as a part of fighting America's efforts in Iraq only but it comes mainly as part of each country's attempt to protect its interests and take advantage of its neighbors' temporary weakness, as even democratic Turkey is interfering in Iraq's internal affairs supporting the Turkmen against the Kurds mainly because they have a large Kurdish population in their own borders.This problem is not just the fault of powerful clerics and current leading politicians, as it has more to do with Iraq's social frame and decades of oppression and foolish policies, but instead of trying to solve it, these people (clerics and politicians) are only aggravating it driven by personal and sectarian ambitions and fears.Our hopes lie in the economic changes that would re-form the relations in Iraq. They also lie in the possible democratic changes in the neighboring countries, but the main effort lie on our shoulders, Iraqis who believe in an Iraqi project that serves all Iraqi s without any discrimination. The task is huge given the apparent weakness of such groups, but I think an alliance of those democratic powers with the more secular and democratic politicians like Allawi -even though he included many ex-Bathists in his party but that can be solved if he gets more support from moderate liberal Iraqis- and later on with Talibani (if it can be achieved although seems a remote possibility now) and with the much needed support from America and the free world, all this can turn the tables and help make the necessary changes that makes Iraq a real model in the region.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Sistani in trouble.

Yesterday two She'at parties withdrew from the "Unified Coalition List" after stating that "the major powers in the Coalition List are only after positions in the government and not people's interests and that they have marginalized the role of the smaller parties inside the list". The two parties, "Hizbullah in Iraq" and "National Coalition" (which is an Arab nationalist She'at party) hold together about 10 seats of the Coalition List seats in the National Assembly(I'm not sure of the exact number of seats as I found no accurate reference but I know it's very close to 10 if it's not that). Spokesman of the Coalition List called the action "unjustified" and called on the two parties to reconsider.From Al Sharq Al Awsat newspaper (Arabic link)While such loss may not seriously affect the Coalition List's ambitions, it'll certainly harm it especially if these two parties allied with Allawi or the Kurdish Alliance which remains possible since their spokesmen said that their parties will remain "open to cooperation with other political parties"However, I see that the decision of these two parties will have a long term effect that's more significant than the immediate one.The Coalition List has made huge efforts to show Iraqi She'at that they're the choice of the "Marjyia" and that they have Sistani's full support. Sistani remained silent in the beginning which seemed to many people as a silent approval while She'at who ran for office outside the "Coalition List" denied strongly that Sistani would pick any side and give it his support, as they argued that Sistani is the spiritual leader of all She'at and would never give this up to be just a part of the competition. Sistani in the end did just that and that was a big strategic mistake that although made his favored list win more votes it did at the same time shake his image in the eyes of She'at who ran for office outside that list and now it will shake his image in the eyes of even some of those who voted for this list.One of my She'at friends told me after hearing this news that this will disapoint many She'at who voted for the Coalition List depending on Sistani's words, "I'm sure they'll start wondering why Sistani recommended such a list that its members couldn't keep it together at least until the 1st session of the National Assembly is held!" said my friend and he's right, as some people here think of Sistani and the Coalition List as one when it comes to politics and therefore any withdrawal from this list give the impression that he did not know where to put his trust.Another She'at friend of mine who voted for the Coalition List (and who insist that he did not vote because of what Sistani said but because he saw this list as the best alternative for Allawi, as "Allawi must go" as my friend said because he (Allawi) had accepted many ex-Ba'athists inside his party and gave them positions in the interim government which is actually true) told me that he thinks this is a good news! He seemed to be worried about the sizes of the radical religious representation inside the coalition list that he and most of his friends were not aware of. For example he did not know that Sadr has won seats within the Coalition List and I don't blame him for that, as the majority of the news was saying that Sadr was not going to take part in the elections according to repeated statements by his spokesmen. There were little information available for the voters about the competing lists and one had to put a lot of effort to find the truth about some of these lists.My friend, after realizing he had voted for a group that gave Sadr many seats became worried of this group's domination and therefore thought that it's good that it's losing some ground and that this would balance things more. He also told me that he had expected what happened because of all the conflicts inside the Coalition List. Of course there was some competition between the SCIRI and Al Da'awa party over the PM position but this is expected and accepted, but the main and more serious conflict seems to be between Chalabi and the religious parties.We hear every now and then about this religious party or that from inside the Coalition List visiting Sistani to ask for his guidance. Chalabi, according to people's talk here, seems to resent this arguing that they can't keep asking Sistani's guidance or approval for every step they make. My friend agreed with Chalabi, and so do I of course but I cannot but wonder why did Chalabi agreed to ask for Sistani's blessings in the first place! He should now deal with the consequences.Anyway Al Sistani lost a lot by putting himself in the middle of an arena where religious stuff means little when put against personal and partisan interests that affects even the most honest politicians and make them forget their principal duties whether this means to them their religious duties dictated by their beliefs or their duties to their country. It's not about the number of seats, although it's an important issue, but it's that the next time Sistani interferes in elections or any serious political issues the number of people that would depend on his judgment would most likely be much less than the 1st time, and this of course is good for the She'at and Iraq.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Al Jazeera has a good effect on the Arab street.

This might look strange especially that it comes from someone who repeatedly had criticized Al Jazeera harshly and even accused it of being the terrorists' mouthpiece but it's still true as I believe, despite I would never withdraw my accusations that are more than well founded and that so many people share. Al Jazeera is still a pillar for terrorists and fanatics and it still serve the agenda of dictatorships in the region but they do have some good effect too.To understand that one must have some background on the official Arab media. They and Al Jazeera have very close agendas but they differ in the way they present it and they differ in where they get their finance from. While official Arab media is usually totally dependent on the state, Al Jazeera and its likes are actually profit institutions which makes them depend on pleasing as many audience as possible. Al Jazeera of course gets finance from Arab dictators and this was exposed after the liberation of Iraq through several documents that prove they received "gifts" and rearwards plus a regular payment that was said to be 50 000 US$/month. It's not a large amount of money but it seems it was a considerable regular payment and when put in mind what they might be receiving from Syria, KSA...Etc would make it clearer why Al Jazeera was and still is a mouthpiece for tyranny.But Al Jazeera and Al Arabyia served another role whether they wanted or not. Of course Al Arabyia has changed its attitude and now it's considered a pro-west channel by some Arab regimes and lately their crew in Lebanon even received threats from the Syrian intelligence as the channel officials stated. However, even before that both channels offered a great service to democracy and freedom in the ME even when they wanted exactly the opposite! For example, Al Jazzera focused, as part of its coverage for the "deteriorated situations in Iraq" on every single demonstration against the interim government or the American presence in Iraq even if it was 10 people that are demonstrating! But this coverage, that was missed in the official Arab media most of the times, showed the Arab street an unusual scene. 'Arab' citizens demonstrating freely against their government and the supposed brutal occupiers under the eyes of police!These days we hear every now and then about demonstrations almost everywhere in the Arab world. Excuse me, but this is far from usual! I haven't seen *any* demonstration against Saddam all my life and similarly I haven't heard of any in Syria or Saudi Arabia prior to the 9th of April. Most of us think it's what happened in Iraq that encouraged Arabs to demand more rights, but how could Arab citizens know the details of what's happening in Iraq if it wasn't for Al Jazeera and Al Arabyia? They don't watch western media, and the official TVs and newspapers give you only one point of view, that of the government, while Al Jazeera with all its bias host Iraqi officials and receive phone calls from Iraqi citizens on their talk shows. They twist facts, favor conspiracy theorists but in the end the audience gets more than one point of view and that's a crucial difference.Al Jazeera was the first Arab channel that host Israeli officials. Before that it seemed like you would go to hell if you talk to an Israeli citizen, not official! We heard all kind of sh*t about Israel before that but non from an Israeli source and Al Jazeera opened a door that most people thought you can't knock on.The Iraqi elections were covered fully by these two channels while official media gave it little attention and in some countries they were even ignored!I'm NOT defending Al Jazeera but I'm stating what I think a fact. That Arabs need Al Jazeera and Al Arabyia and any independent source of news even if its independency was very partial. Having such media have, and will open many eyes and minds to see reality in a different light, and those who are smart and honest enough in seeking the truth will recognize it when they see it.Before the liberation we had to dig so deep to find other sources for the news. The official Arab TVs are horrible to the degree that made Al Jazeera when it started broadcasting mean for us what probably Fox News means for Republicans! All we could hear on official media was "The historical leader" said this and the "genius" leader did that. Al Jazeera is still disgusting yes, but it offered other points of view and that was all we wanted and all what some of us needed to start looking further behind established facts.Let us not blame Arabs if the majority of them can't see other than what their dictators think, as this was all what the majority got for such a long time. You hear the same talk on TV, radio, newspapers, the school, the mosque and in the streets simply because they're all run by the tyrants or strictly watched by his intelligence.I have criticized the media a lot before but that does not mean I wish it to stop functioning. I just wish them to be more honest. We need the CNN, the BBC and even Al Jazeera but we should push them to do their job in a better way if and when we can. I don't know what changed Al Arabyia'a attitude but I'm sure Al Jazeera is not totally immune to such a change, but even without that change, they've done a great service most likely without wishing to.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

I found this great story of heroism through a link in my comments section and thought of posting the link here so that more people can read it.(Hat tip Brian H)