Monday, July 21, 2014

Is Another Middle East Possible? Hope, Negation, and the Rebirth of the Individual

Dr. Saladdin Ahmed
Guest  contributor, Dr. Saladdin Ahmed, received his Ph.D in Philosophy from the University of Ottawa.  He taught in the Political Science and Sociology departments at the University of  Duhok during the 2013-2014 academic year.  He is working on a book entitled, "The Destruction of Aura and Totalitarian Space."

In the most hopeless of times, seeking hope becomes ever more meaningful.

Whose hope, or hope for whom? Obviously, in a world so divided, after such long histories of suppression and exploitation on racist, male chauvinist, and economic bases, one group’s dream could very well be another group’s nightmare. The unity of a nation from one perspective could translate to genocide from others, particularly for those whose existence or general will for whatever reason does not correspond to the imagined unity.

However, and regardless to the ethical plausibility or implausibility of any form of statehood, some forms of genuine peaceful co-existence must be kept alive as an Ideal to inspire a sane discourse in the midst of so many exclusionary discourses of hatred and denial. That is to say, there must be some hope for humanity as such, hope for peaceful coexistence without any specific group dominating other groups politically and economically in the name of a state, religion, sect, or nationality.

How could that hope be born? Hope should not be based on a dogmatic or psychological denial of the existing reality. Inevitably, however, in times like these, the more one, from a universalist point of view, familiarizes oneself with the reality, the less hopeful one becomes. Yet precisely because of this hopelessness and the subsequent need for hope, we need to be inspired by a philosophy of negation – as opposed to a mentality of denial.

In today’s Middle East, it is hard to find any group whose members do not feel underprivileged politically. Of course, that is not to say all groups are equally wrong or equally right in their outlooks. There are groups who have historically been on the oppressive side and other groups who have been unfortunate enough to be repeated victims of colonial borders, imperialist and nationalist enterprises, and racist or religious politics. 

Needless to say, these categories, oppressors and oppressed, are not mutually exclusive. Within each group there are oppressors and oppressed. Moreover, there cannot be a group of people who are metaphysically oppressors or oppressed. In fact, oppressors often legitimize their exploitation of Others on the basis of self-victimization drawn from some historical or mythological/religious circumstances.

After the 2003 American invasion of Iraq and the Arab uprisings of 2009, some shifts in ethnic and sectarian relations of domination took place. As a result, the superficial stability and security that had existed under the respective dictators in Iraq and Syria came to an end. 

From there, unlimited enmities that had previously been contained within the systematic violence of the state surfaced, and fanaticism fed into more fanaticism. Some found their historical opportunity for emancipation, others found their opportunity to take collective revenge, and still others tasted victimhood for the first time. The result, in short, has been something of a Hobbesian nightmare of war of all against all.

The only real way out of this climate of distrust and hatred in the Middle East does not involve borders, flags, gods, or the lack thereof.  A peaceful Middle East will only be possible when an individual’s sense of justice is not rooted in his or her sectarian identity and when each defends the rights of the Other.  Rather than submitting to collective self-victimization and demonization of the Other, individuals must learn to think autonomously and to hold themselves accountable for their own deeds.

Unless a day comes when Arabs defend the rights of Kurds, Turkmen defend the rights of Chaldo-Assyrians, and Muslims defend the rights of Christians, Jews, and other minorities, everyone will be a loser in the Middle East and barbarism will continue to thrive at the expense of the values of life and diversity.

Unless a day comes when men learn to become self-critical in terms of the male dominated present, that is a product of thousands of years of gender inequality, and to defend the rights of women precisely because they are not women, there can be no real hope even if racist and religious domination fade away.

Unless equality for all is guaranteed, there will always be an industry of collective identities to justify the economic exploitation of huge numbers of people.  As long as such exploitation continues, flags, holy books, and borders will continue to be organic parts of what sustains the current nightmarish reality.

As a mentality, the denial of the Other or her right to exist suffers from both ethical and intellectual deficiencies.  Ethically, it is based on sheer selfishness and egoism.  Intellectually, the mentality of denial strives for a one-dimensional world flattened by force, which is arguably the worst possible world for the intellect.

On the other hand, a philosophy of negation necessitates the existence of the Other as the only path to the sublimation of the self.  The Other is the mirror through which the self realizes its potentialities and its innovative role in the world.  As a mirror of the self, the Other is both the reflection and the negation of the self. By the same token, the self is the Other endlessly reflected and negated.  The result of this movement is a third entity that is neither the self nor the Other, but a more complete mode of existence capable of being a conscious creator of history, a bridge to better spaces and times.

As much as power is a cult in the Middle East, resisting its exercise, its sick creations, its culture, and its hierarchies is the essential method to demystify its cultic allure and begin imagining a freer world.  In traditions that value power in its most controlling and patriarchal versions, it is, of course, the most controlling individuals – those who fully submit to the power relations and the culture of oppression – that ultimately become the dictators of social space.  In short, bullies rule.

During my year in Iraqi Kurdistan as a university lecturer, I noticed a pragmatic bond between bullies on all levels, and with such a network of bullies in place, individuals with critical or simply autonomous personalities are systematically bullied in everyday life. These bullies use and are used by the ruling political party in each region, and these parties have therefore become the hub of individuals who seek special social privileges with minimal individual effort. As a result, the dominant social and political systems are structurally oppressive, anti-critical, and patently totalitarian.  In their normal functioning, these systems reward the worst and punish the best.    

When I started teaching at the University of Duhok, I quickly realized that the only way to avoid being a sustaining element of the existing totalitarian system was to methodically resist dominant social norms.  From day one, the bullies amongst the student body made their presence clear in their ingratiating behavior towards me as an instructor and their habit of speaking on the behalf of their classmates. 

These bullies were always male, from the ethnic and religious majority, and usually from families with ties to the ruling party accompanied by wealth and prestige. Whatever individual merits they possessed were never cultivated in their own right or for the sake of acquiring knowledge; their skills were rather reserved for playing power politics. 

Gradually, I also noticed that most of the rest of the student body sought to curry favor with the bullies in order to get by.  More disturbingly, these bullies were most of the students’ only effective communication channels to department heads and other administrators on various levels who themselves played the same games according to the same unspoken codes of domination. 

Being an uncritical educator in these circumstances simply would have led me to directly supporting a discriminatory system that was structured to punish free minds and reward bullies.  Vulgar forms of the exercise of power dictated all human interactions, so it would have been impossible to miss the structural violence the first victim of which was education itself.  As in most oppressive cases, I could not afford being hopeless.  Being hopeless would have meant being submissive to the existing reality, and giving up.

Being a Kurd and a man, in an environment where Kurdish men are the majority in terms of power relations, I found an ideal opportunity to put my philosophy of negation into practice. In spite of the historical atrocities and injustice Kurds in Iraq and elsewhere have faced, I openly criticized the shortcomings of Kurdish society, especially in terms of gender relations, refugee and minority rights, and freedom of expression. 

I rejected the common assumption that for a nation of victims, Kurds in Iraq are doing well.  By negating the common Kurdish discourse of victimhood and turning it on its head through self-critique, I was able not only to undermine dominant social norms, but also to create a space for self-reflection and creativity.  Through empowering the marginalized, including women and minorities, a different dynamic began to shape the learning space.  Fanaticism, sectarianism, male chauvinism, and racism – the plagues of today’s Middle East – gradually gave way to autonomous individual voices.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

"A Letter to the Rationalist Current in Iraq" رسالة إلى التيار العقلاني فـي العراق

Guest contributor, Dr. Faris Kamal Nadhmi, is a professor of social psychology at Salahiddin University in Arbil, the KRG, Iraq.  He formerly taught political psychology at Baghdad University.  His latest book is The Political Islamization of Iraq, Dar al-Mada Press, 2013.  This letter was published in al-Mada newspaper on July 16, 2014.
هل كان ترفاً فائضاً أن يجمعنا كبرياء الهوية العراقية الواحدة، وأن تدمع عيوننا عند سماع النشيد الوطني، وأن نتسامى عزاً عند التحديق بجدارية جواد سليم الخالدة؟ هل كنا ساذجين حينما صدقنا أن دجلة والفرات قد وحّدا حقاً الجغرافية والسياسة في إطار اجتماعي متين حيك بخيوط النسل والفن والزمن الميزوبوتامي الجميل؟ وهل جاء اليوم هؤلاء البرابرة المتأسلمون ليوقظوننا من "غفلتنا" تلك ويعيدوننا إلى "حقيقة" اختلافنا وتشرذمنا واستعصائنا على التعايش؟!
مَنْ مِن العراقيين لم يكن يريد أن يكون عراقياً؟ مَن من العراقيين لم يكن متحمسا في الافتخار والتفاخر بعراقيته؟ مَنْ من العراقيين لم يحب بغداد ويتعصب للياليها ونهاراتها، لكرادتها وأعظميتها، وكأنها وجدت لأجله فقط؟
من يستطيع أن ينسى العراق الذي عرفناه في الكتب المدرسية، وفي ذكريات أمهاتنا وآبائنا، وفي سفرات الطفولة إلى البصرة وسرسنك والموصل وحديثة؟ حتى الكرد ما يزالون يوقرون اسم العراق بالرغم من استقلالهم شبه المكتمل عنه، بل إن نفراً مهماً منهم يصرّ أن يعتز بعراقيته وكرديته معاً.
الكارثة المصيرية التي تعصف بالعراق اليوم هي تمظهر غير مباشر لتراكم مريع لأزمات أخلاقية عصفت بالسلوك السياسي لكل أنواع السلطات التي حكمت العراق خلال أكثر من نصف قرن، ولم تجد لها حلاً ولو جزئياً حتى اليوم. ولكي أكون محدداً في توصيف هذه الكارثة، أطلق عليها تسمية "إصرار السوسيولوجيا العراقية على هزم الذات".
هذا الإصرار مرده احتمالان متداخلان: إما رغبة لا شعورية جمعية مستميتة لعقاب الذات، وهذا احتمال يبدو مفتقراً لأسانيد كافية وإنْ كان لا يخلو من أحقية جزئية؛ وإما صور ذهنية مشوهة واعتقادات لا عقلانية جرى تجذيرها بعمق في الإدراك الاجتماعي العراقي على نحو تخيلاتٍ إثنية متخندقة صراعياً، ولهذا الاحتمال أرجحيته في رؤيتنا الحالية،
فأغلب الفرقاء وحتى شرائح كثيرة من المثقفين باتوا يتحدثون باختزال وتسطيح شديدين عن مظلومية سابقة للشيعة تتصارع مع مظلومية حالية للسنّة، لتفسير الانهيار الدولتي والمجتمعي الذي يحدث اليوم. هل يمكن بالفعل التحدث علمياً وواقعياً عن مفهوم نقي للشيعة أو للسنّة لتوصيف حال العراق سابقاً وحالياً؟
لا أحد تقريباً بات يريد الإقرار بمسألة التعدد الهوياتي المتزامن في الشخصية البشرية، وبأن لا وجود لجماعة بشرية أحادية الهوية والوظيفة بشكل مطلق. فلكل جماعة مذهبية ثمة ثلاثة أبعاد هوياتية منفصلة وظيفياً وقابلة أيضاً للتفاعل بحسب العوامل الموقفية المحيطة: بُعد ديموغرافي مدني متسامح لا بد منه، وبُعد ديني محايد لا بد منه، وبُعد سياسي صراعي غير حتمي.
وطبقاً لهذا التصنيف، فإن الشيعة والسنّة ديموغرافياً، هم الغالبية المدنية والريفية الكاسحة من عرب العراق الذين يقبلون بعضهم حد التزاوج والتصاهر والتفاعل الثقافي والاقتصادي المنتج. أما دينياً، فالشيعة والسنّة كلاهما لديه أقلية محدودة تختص فقهياً بما تنتجه مراجعهم من ثيولوجيا ومرويات داخل الحوزات والمدارس دون إلغاء للآخر. وسياسياً، فبعد أن أسّس بول بريمر نظام الطائفية السياسية في تموز 2003، صار الشيعة والسنة وقوداً ديموغرافياً ودينياً بخساً لآلة الفساد السياسي التي تديرها أقلية ثيوقراطية من الطائفتين مصممة على إدامة الصراع الإثني بوصفه المبرر الوحيد للبقاء في سدة السلطة ولو على أنقاض مجتمع يعاني أقصى درجات الإذلال والتجويع والاكتئاب والتغريب النفسي والتشريد المناطقي في بلاده.
هذا البُعد السياسي الصراعي بين شيعة العراق وسنّته لم يكن حتمياً، بل هو محض احتمال أمكن تصنيعه سيكولوجياً بأدوات الفعل السياسي والاقتصادي والأيديولوجي، مثلما يمكن تصنيعه في أي مجتمع آخر يبدو مستقراً في لحظة تأريخية معينة.
فبعد أن تم قدح هذا الصراع جرت إدامته عبر ما أسسته ضمن ما يسمى بـ"الاقتصاد السياسي للحروب الأهلية"، أو كما يسميه "جورج إلويرت" George Elwert بـ "أسواق العنف" Markets of Violence، إذ يقول: ((أمراء الحرب يكسرون ظهر الدولة ويحتكرون العنف بدلها. فخلف دخان الصراعات الدينية والعرقية والسياسية والايديولوجية، يتضح المصدر الاقتصادي للفعل الاجتماعي... واستمرار هذا العنف يستند إما إلى دوافع اقتصادية أو سلوك اقتصادي لا شعوري)).
وليس أكثر من دولة نفطية ريعية فاشلة كالعراق جرى تقويض مؤسساتها على يد الاحتلال الأمريكي، يمكن أن تقدم أسواقاً "مستقرة" ومولّدة للعنف الطائفي المقتات على أموال الفساد الذي أصبح بحد ذاته اقتصاداً سياسياً "آمناً" وراسخاً، بل وقادراً بدوره على توليد بنى مجتمعية فوقية متمثلة بالأفكار التعصبية والسلوكيات الإقصائية بوصفها الضامن المؤكد لاستمرار اقتصاد العنف وازدهار أسواقه.
إذن، هل وصلنا أخيراً إلى المصير الأخرق الذي كان بالإمكان تجنبه تماماً؟ ها نحن اليوم نكف عن كوننا عراقيين متحضرين، ونبدأ بكوننا برابرة، إما داعشيين أو صفويين! فباحتلال مدينة الموصل في 9 حزيران 2014م وخروج أجزاء كبيرة من محافظات نينوى وصلاح الدين وديالى والأنبار عن سلطة الحكومة الاتحادية في بغداد، ووقوعها في قبضة الجماعات المسلحة القادمة من ثارات التأريخ وغرف التعذيب والإعدام، يكون العراق قد بلغ نقطة تحوّل حاسمة في تأريخه السياسي المعاصر. فالدولة العراقية اليوم باتت تقف برمتها أمام احتمال التفكك والحرب الأهلية أكثر من أي وقت مضى.
اللحظة الحالية في العراق هي البداية المؤكدة لانتفاء الشرعية عن مجمل العملية السياسية التي أدارت العراق منذ العام 2003م بتخطيط من الإدارة الأمريكية. فلا معنى لشرعية دستورية في ظل غياب الشرعية الوطنية المستمدة من الرضى المجتمعي العام عن أخلاقية أداء السلطة.
إنها لحظة صراع دموية بين نمطين بائسين من الإسلام السياسي للهيمنة على بلد عريق في علمانيته الاجتماعية ونزعاته الجمالية، دون أن يعني ذلك تجاهلاً لوجود عناصر أخرى عشائرية أو مدنية أسهمت بشكل محدود في هذا الصراع السياسي الذي اتخذ طابعاً ثيولوجياً كاسحاً في محصلته النهائية.
فالنمط الأول، أي السلطة الإسلاموية في بغداد بشقيها الشيعوي والسنّوي، وما يتصل بها من ميليشيات ممذهبة، قد فشلت في تقديم أي أنموذج لدولة تستطيع الحياة والاستمرار، بل إنها هدّمت كل العناصر الإيجابية المتبقية في الدولة العراقية المتآكلة قبل 2003م، ثم سعت إلى هزيمة ذاتها لا شعورياً، دون أن تتمكن من الاستفادة والتعلم من أي تجارب سياسية أو آليات ديمقراطية مرّت بها، إذ يعزى ذلك إلى نزعتي الاستبداد والفساد اللتين تغلغلتا فيها وجعلتا منها بنية سيكوسياسية مغلقة تفترس نفسها.
وفي مقابل ذلك يقف النمط الثاني، أي التنظيمات الإسلاموية الوحشية العابرة للجنسيات (القاعدة وداعش) بما اندمج فيها من رموز وأدوات الفاشية البعثية السابقة، فإنها منزوعة الشرعية أصلاً في أذهان العراقيين بما فيهم سكّان المحافظات ذات الأغلبية السنّية الديموغرافية، الذين يرون في سلوك هذه التنظيمات نمطاً من أصوليةٍ متطرفة لا تتناسب مع نمط الحياة العراقي المعروف ببراجماتيته ودنيويته. أما نجاحاتها العسكرية على الأرض فهي ليست إلا مكاسب وقتية ونتائج غير مباشرة لفشل النظام السياسي في بغداد في إدارة التنوع الإثنولوجي في البلاد، وإخفاقه في معالجة النزعة المطلبية التي عبّر عنها سكّان تلك المحافظات، بل ولجوئه إلى الحل العسكري القاسي في حالات عديدة بدلاً من التفاوض الحقيقي لكسب النخب السياسية والعشائرية والدينية ذات التمثيل العالي بين العوام.
هذا هو كل ما استطاع الإسلام السياسي الرث تحقيقه بعد أحد عشر عاماً من سادية الصراع على السلطة: نجح بتفتيت الهوية البشرية المؤنسنة وإعادة صياغتها وفق سرديات أساطيرية يصدقها كل فريق عن الآخر، ما يستدعي تفجير رأسه أو قصف بيوته أو محوه مادياً أو معنوياً على أي نحوٍ كان، لأنه ليس "ورعاً" بما يكفي، أو فقط لأنه "الآخر" الذي ينازعه على امتلاك الله!
وهنا أعاود طرح فرضيتي القائلة أن المجتمع العراقي ضحية لكل ما حدث ويحدث اليوم، إذ جرى تزييف وعيه، وهدم ثقافته السياسية، وشفط أمواله عبر تعميته بخلافات فقهية سطحية عمرها عشرات القرون، لينكفئ على نفسه فاقداً أي فاعلية في التأثير في الأحداث، بل مُستَدرَجاً ضد إرادته إلى كوارث ومآسي لا حدود لها، ليؤكد ارتهانه لقوى عمياء تقوده من مذبح إلى مذبح وتجعله هازماً لذاته.
فها هو اليوم يعاود الانقياد الأعمى لإغراء نزع هويته الوطنية والافتتان بهويات طائفية مدججة بالأسلحة، متجاهلاً أن احتكار العنف وإنفاذ القانون هما من حق الدولة وحدها سواء كانت دولة فاعلة أو عاجزة، إذ لا يوجد اختراع بشري أعز وأغلى في قيمته وجدواه من اختراع الدولة المدنية بكل مثالبها ونواقصها القابلة للإصلاح على الدوام، بوصفها أفضل أنواع العقد الاجتماعي التي خلص إليها العقل البشري حتى اليوم.
المشهد السياسي العراقي اليوم أصبح يمثل صورة الماضي المنصرم بكل دمويته وفجاجته ورثاثته. لقد وقعت الخطيئة وجرى اغتصاب العراق على يد المتأسلمين الغرائزيين أدعياء "الوصاية" على مصائر الناس، سواء كانوا في سدة السلطة الرثة أو في فصائل الإرهاب الدموي. ولا فرصة لهؤلاء المغتصبين بأي مستقبل ينتشلهم من تهشم شرعيتهم وموتهم التام في العقل الجمعي للعراقيين.
فالعملية السياسية التي أنتجت الهزيمة وأسبابها باتت فاقدة لأسباب الاستمرارية والمقبولية المجتمعية الحقيقية مهما توافرت أساليب الإنعاش السريري المؤقتة. وذلك ليس بغريب عن العراقيين، إذ ظل نظام البعث مستغرقاً في موته السريري لأكثر من عقدين من الزمن.
إن التحليل السياسي الصرف لا بد أن ينتهي باستنتاج نهاياتٍ متشائمة للمشهد الكارثي الحالي. غير أن الغور في الديناميات الجدلية للسلوك الاجتماعي الذي ينضج متريثاً على عكس تقلبات السلوك السياسي، قد يجعلنا أقل تشاؤماً وأكثر انفتاحاً على المآلات الإيجابية المحتملة في المدى البعيد.
فالافتراض الذي أتبناه حول وجود نزعة يساروية اجتماعية كامنة في عموم المجتمع العراقي، يرشدني إلى أن العقلانية الاجتماعية في العراق يمكن استعادتها ببطء بتأثير وجود هذه النزعة اليساروية الحقانية المتجذرة بعمق في المنظومة القيمية للشخصية العراقية بسبب تراثها الثقافي العدالوي دينياً وطبقياً. وهذه النزعة غالباً ما ترتبط طردياً ببزوغ الهوية الوطنية الجامعة لكونها نزعةً عابرة للدين والمذهب والعرق والطبقة والمستوى التعليمي.
تؤكد تجارب الشعوب بقوة أن الهزائم الحربية الكبيرة تعقبها تبدلات عميقة في بنية السلطة السياسية، وفي خيارات الاقتصاد السياسي المتسيد، وفي مجمل المزاج الشعبي العام، حتى إنْ جاءت هذه التبدلات بتريث وبطء. ولذلك يبقى احتمال بزوغ الهوية الوطنية العراقية من جديد أمراً ممكناً، إذ أن تراجع شرعية النظام السياسي الطائفي الحالي من جهة، ووحشية الجماعات المتطرفة التي باتت تفرض سلطتها العنيفة على أجزاء واسعة من المحافظات ذات الأغلبية السنية الديموغرافية من جهة أخرى، قد يعيد الاعتبار السيكولوجي لشرعية الهوية الوطنية ضمن تهافت مريع لهويات فرعية فاشلة. وهنا قد تزداد بمرور الزمن احتمالات حدوث حراك شعبي مدني عابر للدين والمذهب والجغرافيا، لاستعادة الأمن والسلام والهيبة الوطنية.
هذا الحراك المرتجى يتطلب إطاراً تنظيمياً احتجاجياً له، عبر سعي عقلانيي العراق بمختلف صنوفهم، من ديمقراطيين وليبراليين ويساريين وقوميين ودينيين متنورين، للتحالف ضمن إطار جبهوي سياسي- ثقافي جديد عابر للأعراق والأديان والمذاهب والقبائل والمناطق، يكون بديلاً شرعياً وواقعياً للأوضاع السياسية الحالية المنتهية الصلاحية.
إن هذه النواة الجديدة يمكن أن تشكّل التكوين الجنيني الأولي للعراق القادم بتسامحه وسلمه الأهلي. فإذا كان المشهد السياسي الحالي بات يشكل الصفحة المحروقة الأخيرة من حقبة جرى فيها اعتماد الطائفية السياسية منهجاً لإدارة دولة كانت موحدة في هشاشتها وضعفها، فإن الصفحات القادمة لم يبتّ بعد بمآلاتها، وهي لا تزال تنتظر التشكل بإرادة صانعي الحدث من نخب وعوام.
فتقسيم البلاد ليس الخيار القدري الوحيد الماثل أمامنا، بل تنفتح السوسيولوجيا السياسية على آفاق متنوعة من بينها تراجع الوعي الطائفي المزيف وبزوع الوعي الوطني المنقذ.
من قال أن أحلام اليقظة لا تنقذ الشعوب من إحباطها وقنوطها ساعة الكوارث، لتنقلها إلى عالم الأمل والمحاولة؟ ألم يحلم العبيد يوماً أن يتحرروا؟ ألم يحلم الأوربيون يوماً أن يتوحدوا؟ ألم يحلم المرضى العقليون يوماً أن لا تثقب جماجمهم؟ ألم تحلم النساء يوماً بالمساواة بالرجال في الدساتير على الأقل؟
ليس لنا إلا أن نبقى نصون حلمنا العراقي، ونعلن كل يوم عن حقدنا الحكيم على طفيليات السياسة التي نهشت ألفتنا وحميميتنا نحو بعضنا، متعكزين على ذكرياتنا الأثيرة كشعب كان موحداً إلى حد كبير في مدارسه وجامعاته ومقاهيه وحاراته وأسواقه وآثاره وأغانيه ونكاته ومزاجه وأكلاته وزيجاته وآلامه وقهقهاته!
اليوم لا أرثي غياب العراق الذي عرفناه وتنفسناه واحترفناه في أعماقنا، بل أهجو قاتليه مزيفي الدين والسياسة والتأريخ، وأعلن زوال شرعيتهم الكامل من حياتنا إلى الأبد.
ليس لنا اليوم إلا أن نبدأ حلم استعادة العراق الذي جعلناه مهنتنا الوحيدة على مدى عقود طويلة ظلت آمالنا فيها عاطلة عن إيجاد وطن حنون ومؤكد ونهائي.
ليس ثمة ضمانات بالنجاح، لكننا لن نتخلى عن بديهية إننا يتامى في هذا الكون، وإننا ليس أكثر من نطفٍ انحدرت من حامض نووي واحد لتجد في هذا العراق جسداً وبيتاً ومعنى وهوية!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Iraqi Initiatives against the Seizure of Land by the ISIS Terrorist Organization

al-Najaf peace initiative
With the media emphasis in the ISIS crisis on terrorism, military engagements, violence, and refugees, little attention has been given to efforts by Iraqis from all walks of life to develop initiatives aimed at addressing terrorism, sectarianism, corruption in government, autocratic rule, and support for displaced Iraqi citizens.  Those who see such efforts as ineffective and of marginal benefit in a time of war need to recognize that they reflect the views of a large majority of Iraqi society, require assistance from the international community, and, most importantly, represent a key component of combating the ISIS threat to Iraq and the Levant.

Those who would dismiss such initiatives forget that only a short time ago, ISIS was a terrorist organization on the verge of defeat by the Nusra Front in Syria.  Today it controls much of Syria and northern Iraq.  ISIS did not achieve its success by military means alone but was able to use negotiation, providing services to local towns and villages that it controlled, reigning in the power of local warlords (as the Taliban did to gain local support in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s), and lowering the price of gas and food, sometimes forcing bakers and merchants to sell goods cheaply as a form of zakat.  ISIS has also provided its fighters with "brides," namely single women who are forced to "marry" them.

In the context of an Iraqi government that is promoting rather than confronting sectarianism, and creating more violence, doing nothing to reign in corruption and enacting policies such as allowing the formation of unregulated Shi'i militias that promotes more hostility and conflict among Shi'a and Sunnis, ISIS' message of unity and stability needs to be offset by a narrative of an inclusive, secular and civil Iraqi nation-state in which all cultures, religions and (non-violent) political perspectives are respected.

Antonio Gramsci's famous distinction between a "war of position" and a "war of maneuver"  applies  both to ISIS' efforts to impose a form of extremist hegemony on the areas that it has seized and the efforts of Iraqi nationalists and democracy activists to counter that would-be hegemonic message.  The attack on Mosul was a "war of maneuver" in which ISIS terrorists went to the barricades on June 9th against an Iraqi army that had no cohesion or esprit de corps.  Preceding this attack, there was a long "war of postion" in which ISIS infilitrated Moslawi society and convinced many city resident to support its cause.  This support explains in large part how a few thousand ISIS fighters were able to defeat two divisions of the Iraqi army. For Gramsci, the war of position is of greater importance than the war of maneuver because the latter can never succeed without the success of the former.

In the current crisis, Iraqi nationalists face a two-prong "war of position."  First, they need to fight against ISIS and convince Iraqis, especially youth, that it is a brutal, terrorist and criminal organization that will deprive those its rules of all their rights and subject them to an oppressive form of authoritarian that will be worse than that of  Saddam Husayn's Ba'thist regime.  Second, they need to fight the corrupt, autocratic and sectarian regime of Nuri al-Maliki whose policies have brought Iraq to the brink of becoming a failed state.

The two initiatives described below continue an Iraqi tradition that goes back to the Young Turk Revolt of 1908 of fighting dictatorship and sectarian efforts to divide and conquer Iraq by pitting its ethnoconfessional groups against one another (see my Memories of State: Politics, History and Collective Identity in Modern Iraq for more details ). 

The first initiative, "Achieving Civil and Societal Peace to Defeet Terrorism and to Ensure the Construction of a Civil Democratic State," was sent to me by an Iraqi friend, and parallels a similar effort by another group of Iraqis that I published on The New Middle East on June 20th, "The Initiative of Iraqi Intellectuals for the Unity of Iraq" ( ).  This initiative  represents an effort by 94 Iraqi civil society organizations to work together to implement the goals listed below.

  • In the face of the vicious terrorist onslaught against our country, and the inability of the ruling political blocs to fulfill the constitutional obligations in the aftermath of the recent elections, ninety civil society organizations have signed this declaration to launch the Civil Initiative under the slogan: “Achieving Civil and Societal Peace to Defeat Terrorism and to Ensure the Construction of a Civil Democratic State”
  • Defeating the schemes of evil terrorists requires, at the same time, correcting the course of the political process and dismantling the sectarian-ethnic power-sharing system (nizam al-muhassasat), as well as defending the freedoms of opinion and expression and human rights, ensuring media freedom, respecting ethnic, religious, sectarian and cultural diversity in our society, and combating financial and administrative corruption.
  •  The Civil Initiative is seeking, through a multifaceted and peaceful movement, to confront the current existential crisis by the following means
  • Organizing meetings with the political forces in order to find a common national platform to extricate Iraq from the crisis.
  • Encouraging dialogue between various social strata to contain the tension, and stop sectarian and ethnic agitation, in preparation for convening a broad national conference of all Iraq's political forces that are committed to seeking an end to the crisis.
  • Issuing an electronic information bulletin to inform the Iraqi public about the ongoing developments in a transparent manner and without falsification.
  • Convening a meeting with representatives of the United Nations to exchange views, develop a support system for the political process in Iraq and preserve the unity of the nation.
  • Contacting representatives of the diplomatic corps in Iraq to discuss national affairs and to help contain the crisis and confront terrorism in accordance with international obligations and laws.
  • Mobilizing national, regional and international efforts and relief organizations to address the destructive effects of the armed conflict on civilians and the displacement of thousands of families to other areas where they lack the most basic means of sustaining human life.  
The second initiative, available only in Arabic, describes the efforts of a broad sector of al-Najaf's citizenry to confront the ISIS crisis and its threat to Iraq. It was organized by the Union of Writers and Authors in al-Najaf and  is entitled, "al-Najaf's Intellectual Elite Launches an Initiative for National Peace and Reconciliation."  

Like the initiative described above, this effort brings together writers, clerics, professionals, labor union representatives, intellectuals and civil society activists, namely a cross-section of Iraqi society.  The effort of this initiative is to explain to the populace of al-Najaf the danger posed by ISIS, to support the Iraqi army in its efforts to defeat ISIS and to promote unity among all Iraqis regardless of sect or ethnicity.

As I learn more details about these two initiatives I will post them to The New Middle East. One thing is clear, however.  Most thoughtful and politically conscious Iraqis realize that ISIS cannot be defeated by military means alone.  Only a political strategy that invokes Iraqi nationalism to bring Shi'a, Sunnis, Kurds and other confessional groups together in a national unity government can successfully defeat this threat and prevent Iraq from becoming a fragmented and ultimately failed state. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Time to Find New Approaches to Defeating Terrorism in Iraq and the Middle East

This post is co-authored with Dr. T. Hamid al-Bayati, Iraq’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations from 2006 to 2013, and currently Adjunct Professor in the Graduate Program, Department of Political Science, Rutgers University. Ambassador al-Bayati's most recent book is From Dictatorship to Democracy: An Insider’s Account of the Iraqi Opposition to Saddam. University of Pennsylvania Press.

The seizure of large swaths of Iraqi territory by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) and its declaration of a “caliphate” calls for new approaches to combating terrorism in Iraq and the Middle East. With news that ISIS may be cooperating with al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to develop bombs that can escape detection, the global terrorist threat has reached a new danger level.  As the Iraq crisis makes clear, ISIS cannot be stopped only by military means.  How then can ISIS, and terrorist groups in other parts of the Middle East, be defeated?
ISIS "Caliph Ibrahim" calling for modesty but wearing an expensive Western watch
Confronting ISIS requires a holistic approach that addresses the political, economic and social causes underlying extremism and terrorism. While strengthening Iraq’s intelligence capabilities and enhancing its armed forces’ ability to fight terrorism are critical to combating ISIS, the US has neither the funds nor the human resources to pursue this struggle alone. New and bold initiatives are needed to erase the scourge of terrorism working with Iraq and regional allies.
Crucifixion of ISIS opponent in Raqqa

Political reform  Iraq needs to begin by forming an inclusive national unity government that will make the Sunni Arabs and Kurds feel that they are an integral part of the body politic.  If the Iraqi government fails to gain their support, Sunnis will continue to support ISIS and the Kurds will most likely declare independence leaving Iraq a weakened state, comprised of Baghdad and the Shiite majority provinces of the south.
Iraq also needs to develop a more decentralized system of government.  More authority must be devolved to the Sunni and Shiite provinces by Baghdad.  One way to achieve this goal is to create the Federal Legislative Council called for by the 2005 Constitution but whose formation has been blocked to date.  The Council is intended to give provinces greater oversight of Iraq’s parliament and would do much to enhance the provinces’ participation in national politics.

Iraq's parliament meets on July 7
A regional conference to eliminate support for terrorism  The US should take more vigorous steps to stop the flow of money to terrorist groups. Under United Nations auspices, the US and Iraq should convene a regional conference to address the growing terrorist threat to Iraq and the Middle East, with the participation of Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait and the UAE. The conference would develop a regional strategy to contain terrorism by addressing its causes.  Because ISIS would never have become so powerful without foreign funding, these sources must be dried up. One effective measure would involve bringing individual terrorist financiers to justice, thereby deterring others from contributing money in the future.
This conference would seek to pressure Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf states to constrain those in their countries who fund extremist groups like ISIS.  Iran, for its part, could be encouraged to constrain support for rogue Iraqi Shiite militias, such as the League of the Righteous People (Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq), if it meant benefiting from reduced tensions with Saudi Arabia and the US.
Having states complicit in the violence in Iraq publicly renounce that violence and commit to playing a more responsible role in combating terrorism would constitute a major step forward.  We have already seen positive behavior by Iran where President Rouhani has urged Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to form a more inclusive government and by Saudi Arabia which has promised to provide funds to try and convince Iraq’s Sunnis to join a national unity government.
Sunnis pray at Musa al-Kadhim mosque
Reclaiming Islam While critical, the national and regional policies just mentioned do not address long-term problems that provide support for terrorism in Iraq.  Perhaps most neglected in fighting terrorism are Iraq’s own resources. Terrorism has relied on Islam’s appropriation by radical, poorly educated clerics. With the support of its moderate clerics, Iraq needs to launch a wide-scale campaign that combats misinterpretations of Islam and the Qur'an. For instance, terrorist efforts to justify killing innocent civilians, which the Qur'an, the Bible and the Torah strictly forbid, is belied by the verse, “Whoever kills a believer intentionally - his recompense is Hell, wherein he will abide eternally.” (Qur'an 4:93)

As a Shiite majority country, Iraq’s most important center of Islam is the al-Hawza al-'Ilmiya (Scientific Place of Learning), a group of religious seminaries in the Shiite shrine city of al-Najaf.   A powerful weapon at the clergy’s disposal is the religious decree (al-fatwa).  In 1914, when British invaded Iraq, the Shiite clergy issued fatwas protecting not just Shiites but Sunnis, Jews and Christians, namely all Iraqis, regardless of sect or ethnicity.

In the tradition of 1914, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the leader of the world’s Shiites, issued a fatwa following ISIS’s seizure of Mosul on June 10th that called upon all Iraqis to come together to defend their country from terrorists.  This fatwa is one of many that Ayatollah al-Sistani has issued since the topping of Saddam Hussein in 2003 that call on Iraqis to avoid sectarian violence and for Shiites not respond to terrorist attacks by Sunni extremists.  

Sunni and Shia pray together in Baghdad
Shiite and Sunni clerics have used the example of the 1920 Revolution against British colonial control when Shiites prayed in Sunni mosques and celebrated their religious festivals and vice versa.  When the important Shiite shrine in Samarra, the al-Askari Mosque, was bombed in 2006, Shiite and Sunni clerics in the city called upon their followers to pray in each others' mosques.

In 2013, Shiite clerics called on their followers to pray in the Sunni 'Abd al-Qadir al-Gaylani mosque in Baghdad while Sunnis called on their followers to pray in the Shiite Musa al-Kadhim mosque in Baghdad as well.  A February 2014 conference, “Religious Pluralism and Tolerance in the Dialogue of Civilizations,” at the University of Kufa, near al-Najaf, brought together clerics and a large audience from all over Iraq.  Designed to establish a UNESCO Chair in Religious Dialogue at the University of Kufa, conferences like this should receive more Iraqi government and international support (

Supporting Iraqi youth Much more support must be given to the needs of Iraqi youth who constitute 70% of Iraq’s population under the age of 30.  Iraqi youth are the drivers behind the most active of Iraq’s 6000 officially registered civil society organizations.  However, youth also provide the cadres for terrorist and criminal organizations.  This critical demographic is Iraq’s “generation in waiting” and its future leaders.  Iraq’s political class needs to reform the political system not only to provide a better example of democracy, but to inculcate a political culture of citizenship and civic responsibility in Iraqi youth.
Baghdad University students celebrate their graduation 2009
To combat the ability of terrorist groups and crime syndicates (increasingly one and the same), the Iraqi government must address Iraqi youth’s employment needs.  Many Iraqis are angry that, despite the country’s massive oil wealth, the official poverty rate is 20% of the population (many argue closer to 30%).  Many poor youth lack education and are illiterate, a legacy of the harsh UN sanctions regime of the 1990s that destroyed Iraq’s education system.  Youth who migrate from Iraq’s weak agrarian sector to urban areas such as Baghdad are highly susceptible to extremist narratives and inducements of money and power that come with joining terrorist groups. 

Restructuring education A key to reducing the lure of terrorism is education.  Iraqi school textbooks, Arab and Kurdish, do little to explain concepts of religious pluralism, cultural difference and tolerance, or to teach Iraqi youth the values of compromise and negotiation.  For example, texts on Islamic education could do much more to define the concept of jihad (whose primarily meaning is to achieve closeness to God) and explain that the Qur'an explicitly forbids forced conversions (“Let there be no compulsion in religion,” Surat al-Baqara, 2:256)

The Center for Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Studies at Dohuk University in the KRG, and a cohort of faculty members at Baghdad University with interests in conflict resolution, have made efforts to develop nationwide peace studies curricula. A May 2014 Dohuk University conference on “Education and Peace Building in Iraq” attracted Arab, Kurdish and international peace practitioners and academics from throughout Iraq, indicating widespread support for expanding Iraqi education to focus on peace and conflict resolution studies

In addition, many Iraqi youth have formed civil society organizations whose goal is to improve relations among Iraq’s different ethnic and confessional groups and promote an Iraqi national consciousness. An example is the “I am Iraqi, I Read” group that distributes free books in Baghdad’s squares. The United States Institute of Peace has worked actively with Iraqi youth in developing the Salam Shabab (Youth for Peace) organization.  These initiatives need more support from the Iraqi government and the international community.

In focus groups, Eric Davis conducted with Arab and Kurdish youth between the ages of 12 and 30, 89% said they would never join a political party and none of the respondents chose a political leader as a role model.  This alienation from politics bodes ill for the future of Iraq unless youth can be inspired to see politics as a way to improve the quality of life in Iraq, and not as a means for individual politicians to pursue economic gain and political power.

A public diplomacy offensive How can moderate Islam, employment and education combat terrorism in Iraq?  The US could encourage the UN to establish an annual conference on Combating Religious Extremism and Terrorism that would develop curricula for school teachers and religious instruction in Iraq and other Muslim majority countries.  The conference could promote social media platforms and websites to reach large numbers of youth in the Muslim world and other countries where religious extremism has caught hold.  The United States Institute of Peace, which has extensive relations with Iraq, would be an ideal institution to help organize such a conference.

Sunni and Shi'i clerics meet to unite 2 sects
The Obama administration should request funds from Congress to expand its public diplomacy initiatives.  It could publicize, for example, efforts by Shiite and Sunni clerics to make Shiism a fifth, Ja’fari school of al-Sharia that would in effect eliminate the difference between the two sects.  As part of this public diplomacy effort, President Obama should invite moderate clerics to the White House to foreground their views.

More Iraqi students should be offered positions at US universities, especially since the Iraqi government and the KRG have allocated over 10,000 scholarships for study abroad.  Ninety graduate students currently study at Rutgers University where they are making exceptional progress.  Iraqis who have studied in the US invariably return to Iraq with a positive view of American society.

The Iraqi government should be encouraged by the US to use its oil wealth to provide vocational training for poor youth and to improve the agrarian sector to reduce rural to urban migration. Providing employment opportunities for poor youth from all ethnic and confessional groups in Iraq would have a salutary impact on reducing the base of recruitment for terrorist organizations such as ISIS.

The US has many allies in the Middle East and elsewhere who share its desire to eliminate the global terrorist threat.  Forging an international coalition of states that would come together to support the new approaches just suggested would constitute a long-term strategy for defeating terrorism in Iraq and the Middle East, thereby bringing a better life to all the region’s peoples.