THE POLITICS OF CRUELTY AND SILENCE

“I just hope Iraq does not end being the price paid for bringing democracy to the rest of the Middle East. We thought we were going to be the beachhead of democracy but we may turn out to be the people who paid the biggest price of all for it. In any case, it is all up to us now, not the Americans.”
~ Kanan Makiya.

I have been reading an excellent two-part interview with Kanan Makiya at Democratiya, and if anyone wants to get an idea of what is thought inside South Kurdistan and Iraq, I consider the interview to be required reading, especially with all of the propagandized nonsense in the Western media and by that part of the Left that has totally delegitimized itself by its support of Saddam.

The interview should whet one’s appetite to read Makiya’s Cruelty and Silence. The book is relevant today, perhaps more so for the wider Arab world and the delegitimized Left, because it was the first salvo of what Makiya hoped would be a debate within the Arab world as to why a chasm exists between the fact of horrible cruelty, carried out against human populations that are not Western but are nonetheless human, and the vacuous rhetoric of the Arab intelligentsia, a vacuous rhetoric that has contributed to the rise of totalitarian political Islam. In the West, there is the Left, safe and secure in thier little ivory towers of academe, totally divorced from the reality of cruelty, and which willfully closes its eyes to atrocity. By their silence, they have not only aided and abetted the cruelty, as if they themselves had given the orders, but they also aid and abet the latest version of fascism, totalitarian political Islam, which is not satisfied with merely maintaining the status quo of cruelty, but has the goal of expanding that cruelty.

Makiya himself comes from the Left, an admirer of the theories and spirit of Trotsky, which makes his criticisms dead on target. His main charge agains the Left is that it ignores Cruelty because it has “retreated into a politics of cultural relativism,” and has, thereby, become “antithetical to the original values upon which the internationalist left had been founded.” He laments that this loss of the sense of internationalism no longer allows the Left to be “able to cross boundaries and think across boundaries.”

I have personally come to believe that those of us who still hold to that older sense of internationalism must redefine our position and perhaps, as a starting point, we should begin with Makiya’s point, thus:

“When there is abuse of human beings, there is no longer any philosophical or political argument that I can tolerate listening to if it justifies or somehow legitimates the continuation of that abuse. If there is any course of action that can diminish or eradicate the sources of htat abuse from the world, it seems to me that the high moral ground of politics is to call for it.”

This, of course, is where the Left has delegitimized itself. It is where the Arab world, and perhaps the wider Islamic world, has delegitimized itself. To ignore cruelty, to stand for the continuation of political totalitarianism that inflicts cruelty, is no longer a tenable position and that fact should be shouted from the rooftops.

Makiya does an excellent job of describing European Silence as having even worse effect for the continuation of the Politics of Cruelty than that of the Left. He brings up a point that I have long suspected, and it is that by openly opposing Operation Iraqi Freedom, Europe in effect said to the Arab and Islamic world that the Politics of Cruelty in which they engage, is the best that world can do. Europe told the Arab and Islamic world that “you Arabs and you Muslims can’t do any better than this [the Politics of Cruelty], so why mess around with this thing [democracy] in the first place?” I have long suspected this fact, and to me it is the height of racism, a leftover of the old, colonial “White Man’s Burden,” with which Europe remains infected. It is the reason we see so much unrest in Europe today.

While Makiya maintains that there is a reformation needed in Islam and he believes that we may be witnessing the birth of this reformation. It is a position I also hold. Such a reformation is necessary, it is inevitable and we are only now beginning to see reformers speak out against the Cruelty of Political Islam, especially the totalitarian variety. To hold such a position, to believe that the ideals of democracy and internationalism are not antithetical to the Arab/Islamic world puts us, by default, squarely opposite the European position. It also puts us squarely opposite the position of the Left. Makiya rightly remarks that the Islamic tradition and texts are open to other interpretations, can accomodate the ideals of modern democracy and human rights, and that the Salafi (Jihadi) position rests on a minute amount of text. The Jihadis are, therefore, doomed.

In a similar way, Makiya comments on the Silence of the Arab world in the face of atrocities committed against the Iraqi people and its support for the Jihadis. As a result, the Iraqi people themselves are incensed with the rest of the Arab world. The problem, as Makiya puts it, is one in which the Arab world must take responsibility for its own sorry state of affairs and end the political and intellectual culture which points the finger and lays the blame on anyone and everyone else. In my opinion, the Arab world should be given no open door to business opportunities for rebuilding either Kurdistan or Iraq unless and until they are willing to get on board with a program of serious democratization themselves. That means the Arab world must put an end to the politics of blame and remove forever the mantle of victimhood.

Makiya discusses much of the pre-war planning, the hatred that emerged as a result of battles between the various US agencies that were involved with pre-war planning, as well as post-war administration. Not surprisingly, the two agencies on the receiving end of much criticism are the State Department and its handmaid, the CIA. As one involved with the prewar planning, Makiya relates that initially, the idea to go to war had nothing to do with the creation of democracy in Iraq. The State Department merely wanted a change of strong men. Makiya calls it “regime change,” but I cannot call it that, since the State Department intended to keep the Ba’ath in power, while simply changing the face of the Ba’ath. It was not until the idea of creating democracy was hammered into place that Makiya agreed to join the program.

The Department of State and the CIA were hampered by their old boy networks, by their experience in the Arab world, that they were not able to think outside their well-worn little boxes. There were excuses made not to include too many Iraqi-exiles because the State Department wanted the job to come from the inside, a sneaky way of trying to maintain the Ba’ath. Similarly, they were afraid of too many Kurds becoming involved with the liberation of Iraq and the establishment of democracy but, as Makiya points out, the Kurds have been instrumental in maintaining a balance and in getting the hard work of establishing a government off the ground. Indeed, the Kurds have been the backbone of the entire enterprise and without them, everything would be much worse today.

It was also the paranoia of the State Department that limited the number of Iraqis who actually participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom to sixty-three persons. If there had been thousands of Iraqis deployed with American troops, Makiya believes that the trust of the Iraqi people would have been secured much more quickly.

Something that might be surprising is the praise that Makiya has for Paul Wolfowitz. Paul Wolfowitz has been the target of the Left, the Europeans and the Arab/Islamic world. That he has been a target of the enablers of cruelty should make everyone else wake up and take notice. But Makiya, in discussing the role of the Defense Department, makes it clear that it was Wolfowitz in the Defense Department who argued for the creation of democracy:

“It was the other people within the defence department, in particularly the really extraordinary figure of Paul Wolfowitz, who argued the political case for democracy.”

I would also urge everyone, especially those on the delegitimized Left and in the Arab world, to read Makiya’s comments on Abu Ghraib and the Iraqi reaction to it.

Toward the conclusion, Makiya abuses the illusions of those who think that democracy is merely freedom. With democracy comes great responsibility and with responsibility comes authority. Neither is democracy something that generates spontaneously. It is built with hard work and with hard work it is maintained. It is far from utopia but, to this point in history, it is the best that we, as political animals, have.

It will take many years to build this structure in Kurdistan and Iraq. Those who will throw up their hands in frustration or hopelessness are, perhaps, too much overcome with a slave mentality for real democracy. Perhaps only the foundation will be laid in our lifetime, while the really magnificent structure of democracy in the Middle East, Kurdistan and Iraq in particular, will be constructed and gilded by the next generation, a generation born free of the Republic of Fear and free of the bondage of Cruelty and Silence.

Interview with Kanan Makiya, Part 1
Interview with Kanan Makiya, Part 2

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