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In Iraq, Tyranny By Another Name

In the old days of Iraq’s Ba’athist dictatorship, Saddam Hussein’s government terrorized religious minorities under the banner of secularism. For years, Kurds and Shiites were brutally subjugated in the name of Iraqi secular nationalism.

Today, the banner of repression is a different color, but its message is quite the same. In the name of Islam, divergent minorities are repressed or marginalized by the state as governing power is once again consolidated in Baghdad. Government committees urge men and women to “dress modestly.” New laws being considered by Parliament would proscribe prison sentences for online disrespect of “the independence of the state or its unity, integrity, safety,” as well as “religious, moral, family, or social values.” The democratic process has placed political power in the hands of new groups, many of which have religious priorities. As one women’s rights activist told the Washington Post, “At least with Saddam, we had one red line. Now everyone is Saddam. We have 300 Saddams, each with his bloc and his party.”

This could be the future of Iraq (and Syria too, for that matter). The tyranny of the majority by the central government in Baghdad—no longer in the name of Ba’athist secularism but instead under the banner of Islam.

Iraq ironically remains the most fertile ground in the Middle East, other than Lebanon, for democracy, but that very potential—its diversity—also makes it, like Lebanon, a strong candidate for endless civil war.

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  • Kenny

    This could be the future of Iraq (and Syria too, for that matter). The tyranny of the majority by the central government in Baghdad—no longer in the name of Ba’athist secularism but instead under the banner of Islam.”

    Who ever expected otherwise?????

  • Anthony

    “Western democracy is based on versions of majority rule, but this presupposes that the majority can fluctuate and the minority of the moment has a prospect of becoming a majority in due course. When the divisions are along tribal, ethnic, or religious lines, however, this equation does not hold.” So, what’s the equation model for Iraq…

  • John

    Myself, I certainly hope they would pass”[n]ew laws being considered by Parliament [that] would proscribe prison sentences for online disrespect of ‘the independence of the state or its unity, integrity, safety,’ as well as ‘religious, moral, family, or social values.'”

    I do wonder if the author of this particular entry meant “prescribe”, however. 🙂

    BTW, government committees urging people to dress modestly? Not sure mere urging is a major concern right now.

  • Allen Mitchum

    The Saudi Arabianization of the Muslim World continues…

  • Lorenz Gude

    @Kenny I know it is a rhetorical question, but I for one expected better in Iraq and am not ashamed to admit it and supported Bush wholeheartedly in Iraq. Nor am I ashamed to admit that America’s experience there has forced me to modify my views on the advisability of liberal interventionism. I also supported Clinton in the Balkans and despite the Iraq experience was not against Obama going after Khadafy although I was sore tempted to run around Berkeley with a ‘No Blood for Oil” sign to see how long it would take to be called a racist. 😉

    However, I was not so insensible to the cultural dangers of empowering the Shiite majority in Iraq that I failed to understand why Papa Bush backed off before Saddam was overthrown in ’91. Today, to a large degree, the danger of Shiite tyranny has now come about because of his son’s war. But as yet it is nothing compared to Saddam’s tyranny during which he murdered an average of about 20,000 for 23 years in addition to to the people that got killed in his wars. That’s nearly 1% of the population disappeared per annum. The only time since 2003 that death rates reached these levels was during the civil war around 2006. At the time I remember thinking that our intervention had not changed the rate at which Iraqis kill each other, just who got to kill who. I have been forced to recognize that democracy doesn’t work in the Middle East the same as it does in the West where there is the possibility of negotiating a win win with one’s rivals. It is much more win lose – dominate or be dominated.

    I am not shocked by Maliki’s consolidation of power. It was pretty apparent how he felt when in a meeting in his office with Petraeus with Bush on a big screen he was shouting at Bush to fire Petraeus for arming the Sunnis against al Qaida. Will all this end in a Shiite tyranny like Iran? I think not so long as traditional Shia Islam led by Grand Ayatollah Sistani remains the dominant Shiite view in Iraq. Is there any hope for a more democratic Iraq? I still think so because there are many Iraqis who want it, but I think Islamism will have to run its course in the Muslim world first and that the forms of democracy that may eventually develop can only succeed by coming to terms with the powerful dominate or be dominated ethos of the region. I think Iraq has a better chance of not getting stuck in the reactionary phase of Islamism (like Pakistan and Iran) because of the sectarian tensions that stand at the centre of Iraqi politics.

  • La Marque

    Kenny is right. The worse thing about it all is that Christians and other minorities will all be driven out or severely repressed in all of the countries of the “Arab Spring”.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    “Cultures evolve at Glacial Speeds” Jacksonian Libertarian

    Islamic Culture is very backward, and it is unreasonable to expect them to evolve overnight into a superior western culture. In Saudi Arabia they recently executed a woman for Witchcraft; western cultures stopped such madness over 300 years ago. Why anyone would believe that the Arab Spring was going to result in the immediate adoption of Capitalism, Democracy, and the Rule of Law is just wishful and lazy thinking.
    At the same time I do believe that the Arab Spring was a step forward in the cultural evolution of the Islamic Cultures. This is why:
    “Example is the school of mankind, and they will learn at no other.” Edmund Burke
    Cultural evolution is a journey, there are no short cuts, a culture must take each step on the road, even when the road has been well paved by those before them. At least now they are taking steps, they aren’t frozen in place any more, and it’s all because the US placed a seed of American Culture in Iraq. Will Iraq be able keep the seed alive? Not a chance. But all of the Islamic Cultures had the map of the road ahead shoved in their faces, and had it explained to them that “See this is a Map, and if you follow this road, you can be successful.”

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