Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Clash of Civilizations in Iraq

The London Free Press
By Rory Leishman

In the aftermath of the Second World War, the United States single-handedly transformed Japan into a thriving and stable democracy. Why, then, have Britain and the United States failed in their no-less-noble attempt to bring peace, prosperity and democratic stability to Iraq?

Fouad Ajami has addressed this issue in his latest book, The Foreigner’s Gift: The Americans, the Arabs, and the Iraqis in Iraq. Ajami is the distinguished Majid Khadduri Professor of Middle East Studies at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

To begin with, Ajami points out that Japan was militarily crushed at the end of the Second World War. With Hiroshima and Nagasaki virtually obliterated and the rest of the country utterly prostrate after years of devastating air bombardments, the defeated Japanese had no disposition to resist the United States army of occupation.

In contrast, most of Iraq emerged unscathed from the lightening invasion by the United States and British forces that toppled the brutal regime of president Saddam Hussein. Granted, most Iraqis were duly shocked and awed by the devastating power of the surgical air strikes unleashed by the United States air force. But the backers of Hussein’s tyrannical government suffered few casualties. Within weeks, they were able to mount a series of terrorist counter strikes that have escalated into the massacre of close to 3,000 Iraqi men, women and children each month.

Ajami notes another crucial difference: While Japan is a relatively unified country, Iraq is riven by centuries-old rivalries among a host of factions led by Sunni and Shiite Arabs in the south and Kurds in the mountains of the north.

Saddam belongs to a tribe of Sunni Arabs. He relied upon his supporters in the Sunni community to terrorize, torture and subjugate the Shiite majority and the Kurds. In the process, his murderous thugs killed literally hundreds of thousands of their fellow Iraqi citizens.

Yet Ajami reports that there is “no wholesale embarrassment among the Sunni Arabs about the crimes and terrors of the old regime.” Many Sunnis inside and outside of Iraq hold that Saddam’s cruelty was necessary to avoid the kind of wholesale anarchy that now grips large parts of Iraq.

Ahmed Chalabi, once a favorite of the Pentagon, concurs. He bitterly contends that if President George W. Bush had put him in charge of the government of Iraq following the overthrow of Saddam, he could, and would, have taken the tough measures necessary to crush all Sunni resistance.

As it is, Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair firmly rejected this option. Constrained by the principles of Western civilization, they refused to condone criminal means to achieve the desirable end of democracy in Iraq.

A third major difference between Japan and Iraq is that while the people of Japan were completely isolated and friendless after the Second World War, the Islamist Sunni terrorists in Iraq have been able to count upon the sympathy and support of Muslims throughout the world.

Consider the views of leading Muslim religious scholars such as Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi of Qatar. Ajami describes him as “the intellectual godfather of the Al-Jazeera satellite channel.” Qaradawi has ruled that it is “a duty incumbent on every Muslim” to oppose the “crusading” war by the United States-led coalition to bring democracy to Iraq.

Even Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, whom Ajami characterizes as “the quintessential establishment jurist Sheik al-Azhar of Egypt,” has opposed the war. With United States and British forces poised to topple the Saddam regime, Tantawi issued a standard fatwa declaring: “It is obligatory to stand with Iraq against any aggression, for resisting aggression against any Muslim country is incumbent on all Muslims.”

Ajami contends: “Qaradawi could do no less: The Muslim street, as far away as the communities in Western Europe and North America, looked to him, and his rulings would have to be consistent with the worldview of his followers.”

With admiration for Saddam and opposition to the liberation of Iraq so pervasive in the Muslim world outside Iraq, is it any wonder that there is not a single, Muslim-majority country that has established a stable and prosperous democracy? What more graphic evidence can there be of the clash of civilizations between Islam and the West?

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