Forwarded from IAC-discussion List
MAY / 2003
Dear Tahir Zaman,
Of course to be democratic is not necessarily to be secular. Secularism is even perfectly reconcilable with dictatorship. Saddam's regime was one example, the soon to be imposed Bushite-liberal regime is another example--Turkey is the history of another secular dictatorship, examples are many. Remember, very influential people are now advising the American Administration to install liberal secular institutions in Iraq and not bother about democratic institutions (compare with securing the oil while leaving the museums to the looters). Take Greek tradition of democratic thinking, this is much older than contemporary secular thinking. Secularism is a purely modern, Western, liberal and deeply Christian thought. Sadly enough, while most creative and serious Western political thinkers abandon it, secularism is being fetishized in the Arab world.
Remember, there were no flowers and candies to welcome the Americans, as promised by Kenaan Makiya and his likes. “Surprising” the invader, Iraqis’ message was that democracy to them meant Iraq’s sovereignty and SELF-determination for its people, that they alone were to determine which regime the country should have. Iraqis are “surprising” the occupiers still, showing them their readiness to fight against liberal dictatorships as well, showing them their determination to fight for a non-secular post-liberal democracy--socialist, Islamic, communitarian--of some sort.
True, some people are minimizing what I called the “new deal in Iraq,” keeping their eyes shut or burying their heads in the sand (The Guardian writing about 2,000 supporters in Basra last Saturday, while many others, like Reuters, are reporting figures up to 100.000). True, some fear the current situation of rising Muslim protest and Shiite power demonstrations, would only increase the hopes of patriotic Iraqis not their worries. Indeed, the current movement could be announcing a period of mounting religious sectarianisms for example. But, what’s being downplayed is that it could be also announcing a threatening phase of secular counter-sectarianism. Worse even, it could fool superficial secular patriotic democrats into siding with secular unpatriotic liberals; it could fool them into siding with the occupation forces and those who decided beforehand that a non-secular Iraqi state "isn't going to happen."
As for the first worries, it’s not obvious at all whether the Shiite hierarchy wants to impose an Iranian-style Islamic state on Iraq’s mixed population. Spokesmen for al-Hawza and statements of al-Hakim said they wanted not an Islamic state but a "government of all Iraqis", including non-Arab Kurds and Christians. Yet, even as these Shiite leaders demand the departure of U.S. forces and stress an Islamic revival, they also emphasize the need for democratic values. Compared to Iran, I believe Iraqi Shia have opted for a more popular and less theocratic democracy conception. They also want a freely elected government, but that is in large part because they know that, in a free and fair election, they would be well positioned to govern. I think the issue of government in a consociational society like Iraq shouldn’t be at all a matter of settlement in terms of majorities and minorities. There should be some more just arrangement that looks after the interests of all involved communities, ethnic and confessional, non-secular and secular alike.
I believe Iraqi Shia have also opted for a more decentralized rule, though not enough as to espouse some form of federation, not even a “confessional” non-Western style federation. That is where their sectarianism is mainly hiding. Many of them urge unity among Shiites and Sunnis, and call for the protection of minority rights, including those of the Kurds. I think they should be a lot more precise about group rights; about self-government rights at local community level and special representation rights in central national institutions, if they are to truly increase their credibility among all Iraqis. They should if they want to avert even more dangerous sectarianism, secular “confessionalism,” and secular fundamentalism, striking back at them.
However, a rather moderate and more optimistic picture of further developments is provided by the gathering of Islamic organizations, including the Shiite prestigious al-Dawa party and a [Sunni] Iraqi Islamic Party with other--communist (the Iraqi Communist Party), socialist, nationalist, and democratic--organizations within the same front organization: the Iraqi Patriotic Forces Coalition. This sort of political collaboration could tempt larger Shiite constituencies if only the secular taboo were finally heaved. I believe the Iraqi democrats should, at least partly, drop the secular dogma if they are to win the patriotic battle against sectarianism.
Dear Tahir, of course raising the flag of a secular Iraqi rule is not so wise. It is as foolish and sectarian, if not more, as raising the flag of a Shiite theocratic rule in Iraq. It is raising the flag of civil war and playing into the hands of the Anglo-American occupier. Remember the Algerian tragedy is the clash of two fundamentalist beliefs, the secular and the Islamic. An Iraqi civil war will be also the clash of two sectarianisms, the secular and the religious. Yet, the issue is not one of either secularism or theocracy. There are more options, many forms of political organization allowing for both "confessions" to exist side by side. There are forms of governments (call them post-liberal regimes) where all belief communities--secular atheists, secular theists, non-secular theists, and non-secular atheists--can live side by side. Nor is the issue one of denying the Arab-Islamic cultural identity of Iraq, that business is one of the Anglo-American puppets, the Makiya the Chalabi and their likes. To the contrary, the political and cultural history of our region have shown other and richer modes of social organization than the now Western dominating one.
Iraq Action Coalition Discussion Forum