The Bleeding Edge of Islam
As Dubya prepares to invade Iraq — regardless of what large segments of humanity may think or say about the wisdom of such a reckless adventure — individual members of the administration are beginning to communicate their vision of post-war Iraq to those of us who will have to live with the consequences.
On September 22, Condolezza Rice, US national security adviser, told The Financial Times the US will be “completely devoted” to rebuilding Iraq as a democratic state — that is after the already demolished state is bombed again, ostensibly to either kill, capture, or simply demoralize Saddam Hussein, and punish the Iraqi people for allowing themselves to be held captive by a totalitarian ruler who has fallen out of favor with his masters. Rice said the “march of freedom in the Muslim world” does not “stop at the edge of Islam.” The “values of freedom, democracy and free enterprise” will stride uninterrupted through Bahrain, Qatar, and Jordan. People will celebrate, particularly the CEOs of massive multinational corporations.
Meanwhile, the neocon chicken hawk — or, as The Economist calls him, the “velociraptor” — Paul Wolfowitz, Dubya’s deputy secretary of defense and a former political science professor, does not believe, as he told The New York Times on September 22, “it’s unreasonable to think that Iraq, properly managed… could turn out to be, I hesitate to say it, the first Arab democracy… even if it makes it only Romanian style, that’s still such an advance over anywhere else in the Arab world.”
Fractious Romanian style coalition politics aside, what the Dubya administration — most recently via the ruminations of Wolfowitz and Rice — are shooting for is nothing short of a neocon rendition of “democracy.” This democracy will be prefabricated in right-wing think tanks, externally and militarily imposed, and “properly managed” by western experts who know what is best for primitive, uncivilized Arabs. It will contain a westernized brand of “freedom,” in other words “free enterprise” (“free,” that is, for multinational corporations). In the absence of Saddam, possibly General Nizar al-Khazraji — the field commander responsible for gassing 5,000 Kurds — may be acceptable as the “democratic” figurehead in post-Saddam Iraq. Or maybe Brigadier-General Najib al-Salihi — instrumental in the invasion of Kuwait more than a decade go — will suffice as a puppet for the long suffering Iraqi people. Another potential candidate is the embezzler Ahmad al-Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress. The US has actively groomed such men since 1990.
In Iran, CIA imposed “democracy” served well the interests of multinational oil corporations and defense contractors — that is, up until 1979 when a popular revolution ejected the US stooge Shah Reza Pahlavi. The Iranians, unlike many Americans, remember their recent history well. Iranians recall how Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh, the popular and democratically elected prime minister, was deposed by the CIA in 1953 for the unpardonable sin of suggesting Iran’s oil belonged to Iranians, not British Petroleum. After Mossadegh was forcibly removed from office, the Shah went about “modernizing” Iran, a legacy that included the creation of a CIA-trained SAVAK, a brutal secret police force that had the dubious honor of attaining the worst human rights record in the world, according to Amnesty International in 1976. “The radical fundamentalist regime that rules Iran today,” observes Mark Zapezauer, “could never have found popular support without the CIA’s 1953 coup and the repression that followed.” In other words, the “democracy” forced on Iran by the US government and the CIA eventually nurtured the sort of radical Islamic political movements now vehemently opposed by Dubya and the neocons. Never mind that when radical Muslims served Washington’s purpose — as in the case of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan — they were supported (and subsequently abandoned).
The Arabs of Iraq, as well as the Persians of Iran, have the US and the CIA to thank for the brutal dictatorships they have suffered under for decades. As Andrew and Patrick Cockburn have shown (Out of the Ashes, The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein, Verso, 2000), the CIA was instrumental in overthrowing the Iraqi regime of Abd al-Karim Qassim in 1963 and installing the Baath Party, a secular Arab nationalist political party that included a young member named Saddam Hussein. “We came to power on a CIA train,” Ali Saleh Sa’adi, Baath Party secretary general, has admitted. Even though the Iraqi people were fond of Qassim, this did not stop the Baathists from executing him and showing his body on Iraqi television and in the newspapers. Following the coup, the CIA gave the Baath a laundry list of communists and others it wanted assassinated. Years later, the administration of Reagan, with the help of William Casey and the CIA, “personally spearheaded the effort to insure that Iraq had sufficient military weapons, ammunition and vehicles to avoid losing the Iran-Iraq war,” according to former NSC staffer Howard Teicher. Reagan wanted to play Iraq and Iran off each other by stoking the flames of war, a geopolitical chess game that resulted in the death of 600,000 Iranians and 400,000 Iraqis.
Condi Rice seems to think Jordan is a “democracy,” at least partially. The writer Rami Khouri, who likely finds his definition of democracy in common dictionaries like most people, would probably beg to differ with Rice. “What Jordan is in reality is a somewhat disguised police state run by the monarchy, the army, and the vast intelligence apparatus,” writes Khouri. “This ‘Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan’ uses a variety of sophisticated tactics to co-opt, neutralize, and repress all serious opposition — political or intellectual.” Rice may wish to consult with Leith Shubeilath regarding the current state of political freedom in Jordan. Shubeilath, an engineer by trade, was thrown in a Jordanian prison for making the mistake of demanding political reforms. “This absolute rule we have is like the gods on Mount Olympus,” Shubeilath told Robert Fisk, “they may differ among themselves about who takes what but they dominate the people and no one has the right to question them.” According to Amnesty International, hundreds of people are routinely arrested in Jordan for political reasons. The security and prison services often hold dissidents incommunicado and tortures them. The State Security Court — a military court of the sort that would likely warm the cockles of John Ashcroft’s heart — prosecutes political prisoners without bothering to provide safeguards for fair trials.
It would seem the only major bone the Dubya neocons have to pick with Qatar and Bahrain is their lack of support for the invasion of Iraq. Qatar, of course, hosts al-Jazeera, which the Bushites don’t appreciate, mostly because the news broadcaster tells Arab viewers things they would never hear on CNN, but also because al-Jazeera has the temerity to run bin Laden interviews without censoring them, as American media corporations did after a sharp dressing down by Condi Rice last year. No doubt Washington is concerned about Arabs making up their own minds on Middle Eastern issues without the input of the official US propaganda services, CNN, ABC, CBS, Fox, etc. Back in October, Secretary of State Colin Powell met with the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, and asked him to “restrain” al-Jazeera. So angry is the Dubya regime over the freedom of press expressed by al-Jazeera that it not only dropped a 500-pound bomb on its Kabul studio last November, but is also holding one of its employees — a Sudanese cameraman captured in Afghanistan — at the US Navy concentration camp at Guantanamo. Anyway, once Qatar is fully “democratized” in the way Rice, Wolfowitz, and other Dubya neocons deem appropriate, al-Jazeera will be either yanked off the air or reduced to running re-runs of Disney’s “Aladdin” and “Kazaam.”
As for Bahrain, the diminutive oil nation is indisputably the least democratic Arab nation on Condi’s list, primarily because lately it has arrived at its own conclusions without asking Washington for permission — and also because Bahrain is organizing an anti-war coalition, of sorts. Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Sulman al-Khalifa is asking other Arab and Muslim states to firmly reject Dubya’s Iraq attack. “There is a strong intention to strike and occupy Iraq, and a clear Arab and Muslim stance is required,” the Bahrain Tribune daily quoted the Sheikh as recently saying. This is a problem because Bahrain is “home” to the US Navy Fifth Fleet. If the prime minister of Bahrain insists on peace and sanity — and setting off fire alarms about the Iraq attack seriously harming “the whole region” — Condi and Bush may soon consider Bahrain only marginally less troublesome than Iraq.
The problem with the Arab world, to quote Defense Secretary Rummy, is they — and, indeed, much of the rest of the world — think in “pre-9/11 terms,” which is to say most people find Dubya’s mad rush to war in search of empire scary and homicidal. The Dubya military regime may attempt to smash through the “edge of Islam” with Boeing B-2 Stealth bombers and one million dollar per unit AGM-86B Boeing cruise missiles, but in the process they will likely initiate a form of social upheaval unknown in the Arab world (with the distinct exception of Palestine).
Neocons consistently misread history — when they bother to read it all — and believe military power is an invincible and indomitable force. “The Arab street has fallen silent,” the neocon Charles Krauthammer wrote in The Washington Post late last year, “because the United States astonished the street with one of history’s great shows of arms.” Statements such as Krauthammer’s not only reveal deeply seated racism, but a fundamental misunderstanding of the human spirit and history. People struggling to free themselves from oppression may be “astonished” by the murderous capability of laser guided GBU-28 bunker buster bombs, but such terrible munitions do not diminish the desire to resist. In fact, as the Vietnamese adequately demonstrated more than a quarter of a century ago, it serves to redouble their determination to fight on and eventually prevail against terrible odds — and terrible machinery.
“Far from being the terrorists of the world, the Islamic peoples have been its victims, principally the victims of US fundamentalism, whose power, in all its forms — military, strategic, and economic — is the greatest source of terrorism on Earth,” John Pilger wrote in Hidden Agendas. “People are neither still nor stupid. They see their independence compromised, their resources and land and the lives of their children taken away, and their accusing fingers increasingly point north: to the great enclaves of plunder and privilege. Inevitably, terror breeds terror and more fanaticism. But how patient the oppressed have been. Their distant voices of rage are now heard; the daily horrors in faraway brutalized places have at last come home.”
KURT NIMMO is a photographer and multimedia developer in Las Cruces, New Mexico. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org