Steve Sachs Duke


Thursday, November 06, 2003


A Call for Violence. Another judge died on Tuesday. Ismail Yussef Saddek was gunned down at 7:30 a.m. in front of his house, and died before he could reach the hospital. He was killed because he was a member of a commission documenting human rights violations under the Ba'athist regime. The previous day, Judge Muhan Jabr al-Shuwaili, the head of a similar commission in Najaf, was kidnapped and executed by unknown assailants. He was shot twice in the head at point-blank range, after being told that "Saddam has ordered your prosecution."

For some, these brutal murders serve as a reason to bring the troops home. For others, they serve as reason to send more troops, or to build up the Iraqi police, or to bring in the U.N., or virtually any other change in policy. But what they cannot do, or at least cannot do morally, is serve as reason to rejoice.

Yet that seems to be the reaction encouraged by the outspoken and Oxford-educated writer Tariq Ali. On the same day as Al-Shuwaili's assassination, Ali published an op-ed in the Guardian praising the "resistance" as the "first step towards Iraqi independence." Rather than condemn the campaign of violence that has killed so many Coalition soldiers and innocent civilians, Ali says that Iraqis "can be proud" of their opposition to imperial occupiers.

Ali makes no secret of his hope that the Coalition will be driven out of Iraq by further violence. Nor does he limit this hope to attacks on military personnel. Not once in the Guardian op-ed does he express the slightest regret at the murder of so many humanitarian workers, whether at the U.N. or the Red Cross, whose only aim in Iraq was to help civilians rebuild their country (and many of whom were themselves Iraqi). Indeed, Ali specifically cautions against such judgmental behavior on the part of the West:

"Nor does it behove western commentators whose countries are occupying Iraq to lay down conditions for those opposing it. It is an ugly occupation, and this determines the response."

How ephemeral now seems all the concern about the conduct of a "just war." Would "no targeting humanitarian workers" not be an acceptable condition, Tariq? How about "no murdering human rights investigators," or just "no killing your own innocent countrymen"? Is the obscenity of loading an ambulance with explosives, specifically to kill medical volunteers, no longer beyond the bounds of conscience?

No, for Ali, there is nothing that cannot be done to the Iraqi "puppets," "quislings," and "jackals" who have cooperated with the occupation--not even murder. Back in May, in another Guardian op-ed, Ali hoped "that the invaders of Iraq will eventually be harried out of the country by a growing national reaction to the occupation regime they install, and that their collaborators may meet the fate of former Iraqi prime minister Nuri Said before them." (As Ian Buruma notes, "Nuri Said, lest people forget, was a pro-western leader, under whose rule Iraq was relatively calm and prosperous. He was murdered in a military coup in 1958.")

On September 20, Ali apparently got his wish, when one of the three women on the Iraqi Governing Council, Aquila al-Hashimi, was gunned down outside her Baghdad home. She died of her wounds five days later, and thousands attended her funeral. The presence of women on the Governing Council had been widely praised as a move towards progressive governance; yet one wonders whether in Ali's mind, as one of the leading "collaborators," al-Hashimi deserved her fate.

It is difficult to reconcile Ali's frequent protestations of liberal ideals with his fierce wish that they be won through blood and fire. In October 2002, he told Al-Ahram that "[w]hat people in the Arab world need is democracy"; on Monday, he repeated his hope that "[w]hen Iraq's people regain control of their own destiny" they will choose policies that "combine democracy and social justice." Yet who are these crusaders for equality, who seek freedom by killing volunteers for the Red Cross? According to Ali, they include Ba'athists, dissident communists, former members of the Iraqi army, and members of Sunni and Shia religious groups. Fascists, communists, fundamentalists, and the military--these are the idealists who, for Ali, will usher in a new age of democracy and social justice in Iraq. Only in Ali's fantasyland would these groups shed their authoritarian aspirations as soon as they achieve power, or would those who have used rape and torture as routine instruments of state policy take up the cause of the people. Would not a government formed under U.S. auspices, even one required to adopt a pro-Western tilt, be far, far more likely to bring democracy and social justice than this gang of would-be and have-been tyrants?

Ali's bizarre self-delusion would be merely annoying, rather than abhorrent, if only so many people weren't dying in the meantime. It is worth asking who benefits from the terrible violence Ali urges. The Iraqi people have suffered much during the occupation, but they have suffered most from the lack of security, a crisis brought on by nothing other than the very "resistance" whose cause Ali trumpets. The "mass unemployment" he decries, the lack of "basic amenities," the importation of foreign workers by occuping troops (who "can't even trust the Iraqis to clean their barracks")--these are all direct consequences of lawless violence by those who prefer the glory of destruction to the difficult work of rebuilding. Those sabotaging electric lines or oil pipes--or the foreign fighters who are, Ali assures us, merely "crossing the border to help"--are not the authentic voice of the Iraqi people, but their oppressors. As Thomas L. Friedman has written, they are not the Iraqi Viet Cong, but the Iraqi Khmer Rouge.

How could Ali have become so convinced of the opposite--that those working hardest to thwart Iraqi democracy are in fact its best hope? Perhaps he is in the grip of an outdated narrative. Perhaps he is frustrated that the easy, morally less-ambiguous decolonization of his student days is now over, and insists on replaying that formative drama even when the characters have worn thin. U.S.-occupied Iraq is not the Belgian Congo, and the thugs who killed Ms. al-Hashimi are neither Gandhi nor Nelson Mandela.

Ali, however, has apparently grown very good at selective blindness. In a fawning BBC profile, he stated that
"capitalist politics" had become "increasingly authoritarian, designed not to wipe out, perhaps, but completely to marginalise dissenting voices." Yet for the members of the glorious resistance who marginalize dissenters with two bullets to the head, Ali has nary a word of discouragement.

Luckliy, Ali's views are not shared by many respectable voices in world politics. Many of those who want to end the occupation, or at least revise it dramatically, still view it as a tragedy when each coalition soldier and each Iraqi is killed. Though they criticize the coalition and the new Iraqi leadership, they still recognize them as participants in a struggle for the future of Iraqi society--a struggle in which many brave men and women, like Aquila al-Hashimi and Judge Ismail Yussef Saddek, have died. But Tariq Ali doesn't find it necessary to pause for a moment and mourn their loss. Instead, he's calling for more.

(Original link courtesy of Andrew Sullivan.)




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