Tuesday, December 28, 2004

More of the Cole watching

Self-congratulation and heartily endorsement of US initiative. Juan Cole, Monday, December 27, 2004:

The New York Times reported on Sunday that the Bush administration has been exploring with Iraqi figures like Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and the election commission the possibility of a set-aside for Sunni Arabs in the parliament to be elected on January 30. The American overtures have met substantial resistance, but not complete rejection, writes Steven Weisman.

Of course, I heartily endorse this initiative, and had proposed it myself in early December.

In "How to Save the Iraqi Elections", we are being reminded of the fact that he has been actually improving his proposal from 20%, in November 19, up to "generous" 25% by December 5--"generous" indeed compared to the only 10% of his rather stingy guest, Andrew Arato:

Upcoming voting is headed toward train wreck unless U.S. sets aside legislative seats for Sunnis.

Assuming the security problems do not prove fatal to the elections, they can now be salvaged politically only in one way. The interim government, which has already declared martial law, must pass a decree ordering a onetime set-aside of a generous 25 percent of seats for predominantly Sunni Muslim parties.

This sort of quota is regrettable, but it is the only solution to the crisis. It should not form a precedent, but rather should be done as an emergency measure just this once. Once the parliament meets to craft a constitution, it is important that it create an upper house that somehow over-represents the Sunni Arabs and Kurds, so as to prevent a tyranny of the Shiite majority.

The American-designed government, with a one-chamber legislature, ensures permanent Shiite dominance, likely by religious parties, which contains the seeds of future disaster for Iraq.

Cole is desperately trying a "regrettable" supplementation, a "once occurrence" as he says, into his ethno-centric constitutional system; that is, he is making a small concession to more local practices. But, how would 20% or 25%--make it 49%--of parliament members and constitution legislator prevent "a tyranny of the Shi’ite majority"? How would parliament decide on some "over-representation" of the Sunnis in some upper house if the majority of parliament members are Shi’ites? And suppose they agree to do so, how would an equal representation in senat alone stop Shi’ite tyranny in parliament and thereby in the whole balance between the two chambers? Well, that remains something of a mystery.

Monday, December 27, 2004

USA The Model

Juan Cole wrote in his blog (11-28-04) that Iraqis were in effect electing a constitutional assembly and that the main business of the new parliament was to craft a permanent constitution:

So, the analogy would be to 1789. What would the new American Republic's chances have been if the Southern states had not been able to send delegates to the constitutional convention, and so had been excluded from having an input into it? All sorts of compromises had to be hammered out in 1789, concerning southern slavery and how to count a slave for census purposes, etc. If the South hadn't been able to show up, the northern states would simply have ignored those issues, and the secession of those states might have come 70 years early. Would the North have been able to resist it so successfully at that point?

Likewise, Sunni Arabs have a big stake in the permanent constitution. Will it give Kirkuk and its oil to the Kurds, depriving Arabs of any share in those revenues? Will it ensconce Shiite law as the law of the land? Will it keep a unicameral parliament, in which Shiites would have a permanent majority, or will it create an upper chamber where Sunnis might be better represented, on the model of the US senate? If all those issues go against the Sunnis because they aren't there to argue their positions, it would set Iraq up for guerrilla war into the foreseeable future.

Just tell us, Professor Cole, how a one-man-one-vote based election is likely to result, constitutionally speaking, in limiting the Shi'ite influence in the country to 50% and guaranteeing the other 50% influence to Sunnis? As far as I know upper chambers in the USA were not so much about religious faith or even ethnicity as they were about territory. So how relevant is the model to us Middle Easterners? Why this fixation to the individual-based and state-centric Hamiltonian federalism? Why should we in the first hand prefer a Kanan Makiya-like federalism, not an Edward Said inspired bi-confessionalism? Why should we worship the US model?

Related readings:

'Staying the Course' Won't Do
By Patrick J. Buchanan
December 27, 2004

Iraq Rejects U.S. Talk of Adjusting Vote Result
By Luke Baker
December 26, 2004

Iraqi Elections
By Phyllis Bennis
December 20, 2004

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Happy 2005

Omar Bouragba 1993

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Cole's sectarian view of elections in Iraq

Juan Cole's "Lebanon-like" solution : put aside 20% of seats in parliament for the Sunni Arabs.

If elections are held in January, I see only one way to avoid disaster. This would be some sort of emergency decree by the current government that sets aside, say, 20% of seats in parliament for the Sunni Arabs. This procedure would seat Sunni Arab candidates in order of the popularity of their lists and in order of their rank within the lists on which they run. But the results would essentially be "graded on a curve." In a way, this procedure is already being followed for women, who are guaranteed 30% of seats. This solution is Lebanon-like and is not optimal, but it might be the best course if long-term sectarian and ethnic conflict is to be avoided. Remember, the first thing the new parliament will do is craft a permanent constitution. You want Sunni Arabs sitting at that table, or else.

No Mr Cole, a Lebanon-like non-sectarian solution is: leave 50% of seats for Sunni Iraqis - including Sunni Kurds.

Related readings:

Why elections in Iraq are lose-lose proposition
By Edwin Black
December 13, 2004

Iraqi election could lead to sectarian war, some say
By Tom Lasseter
December 11, 2004

Sectarian electoral maneuvers may break Iraq apart
By Mustafa Malik
November 27, 2004

Ethnic Iraqi federalism rejected
By Ahmed Janabi
January 10, 2004

The Specter of Sectarian and Ethnic Unrest in Iraq
By Nicholas Blanford
January 7, 2004

Despite assurances from the Shiite community, Sunnis remain wary of Shiite political aspirations. "If it happens that the Shia and Kurds rule Iraq, the country will never be safe and stable, not for hundreds of years," said Sheikh Abd al-Karim al-Qubaysi, a prominent Sunni cleric in Baghdad. "This is not a threat. The Sunnis are not declaring war. We always call for brotherhood and dialogue. But we will not allow anyone to cancel out our role in Iraq. Just as Iraq needs Shia clerics and leaders, so Iraq needs Sunni clerics and leaders. There must be a balance between the two. Iraq will never calm down unless the two sides are equal."

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Resignated Cole

Friday (12/10/2004 05: 11:03 PM), Juan Cole wrote on Sunni Arab view of boycotting elections:

This way of thinking ["Taking part in elections like these means nothing but to grant legitimacy to a completely illegal situation."] is completely self-defeating and also historically inaccurate. Nehru would not have been prime minister of an independent India if the Congress Party had not fought elections under British colonial domination. Sistani has the right idea here.

In short, Al-Dhari is wrong that the guerrilla fighters have achieved much positive; he is wrong that cooperating with elections cannot result in independence; he is wrong that the boycott movement is significant outside the Sunni Arabs. The only thing he is right about is that the technical preparations for the elections are problematic.

I was at a public event on Thursday night and someone asked me why the Sunni Arabs didn't just take the best deal they could get. I replied that they think they are the real majority of the country, or that is the public pose (requiring them to invent a million Iranian Shiite infiltrators to explain all those extra Shiites). They think they can push the Americans around and maybe even push them out of the country. They think once the US is gone, they will have a better, not worse chance, at regaining something like their former political ascendence.

In other world, to Cole, Iraqi Sunnis "seem to be living in a dangerous fantasy land." Well, I would say instead that they are living in a double nightmare: option 1, an American for ever lasting occupation; option 2, a Shiite inverted confessional oppression. Indeed, both parts have obviously chosen sectarian politics; numerically conscious Shiites are for the electoral one-man-one-vote majority rule oriented path, and the less secure Sunni minority for the patriotic but potentially authoritarian armed struggle.

Juan Cole gives an impression of fatalistic resignation. Not only does he seem confident in future, US monitored, electoral outcomes, but he gives eventual majority rule and Sistani’s strategy for Shiite confessional hegemony his blessing. But, why "for Christ’s sake" can't all independence forces join in a common vision of future and common strategy of resistance to occupation? Why can't Shiites and Sunnis agree on sharing power (fifty fifty) prior to elections; why can’t they secure genuinely Iraqi elections and bi-confessional federal outcomes?

Can "cooperating with elections result in independence" as Cole says? Yes, but only if prior to it Iraqi independence forces are cooperating with each other. And it’s definitely not or not solely about technical electoral issues, but about basic visions of future Iraq and the sort of democracy most suitable for the country—conventional liberal Western or consociational and Lebanon inspired one.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Refreshing our memories of Edward Said

Apparently, the year that passed since Edward Said died saw a certain revival of the one state solution among Palestinians, among the Fateh Palestinians for example. It seems that even those who preferred, as Said did most of his lifetime, the two-states’ solution for Palestine, felt that the reality on the ground in Israel/Palestine defeated this particular solution. It seems that those who were committed to the Palestinian refugees’ right of return, also realized, as Said did for some time, that a two states structure as such held no hope for any reasonable or feasible solution for this particular problem, which is at the heart of the conflict and may be the key to its settlement. Yet, the two-state, not one-state, solution is or seems to be the only starting point for trade-offs and the only realistic path to Said’s very ideal of a bi-national state in Israel/Palestine in the future. Moreover, Said’s realistic utopia is badly in need of reformulation in unequivocally non-secular terms, if ever it is to become equally attractive for Palestinians and Israelis.


When the Christian intellectuals introduced the idea of secularism into the Middle East they translated wrongly the word secularism into Arabic language. One can only speculate on whether it was naively or demagogically wrong. Resulting Arabic term al’ilmânia, which literally means "the scientific view," was not as such entirely alien to the concept of secularism but nonetheless far away from being identical with it. Some of this local representation has been hanging there for a long time and it even became an integral part of Arabic intellectual equipment. The late and to us so much cherished Edward Said was no exception. The way he used his fetish like word secular never stopped surprising, puzzling, causing general confusion. Indeed, even he called things scientific "secular."

Naturally, the "scientific view" has been specified and thoroughly radicalized in this context. "Secular" in Said’s quite peculiar language use came to designate not only "true intellectualism," anti-dogmatism and critical oppositional practice, but as it were an entire knowledge-theoretical program – worldliness, doubt, outsider view, ironic attitude to truth, anti-essentialism, dissension, systematic suspicion of cultural phenomena, to mention only few aspects. That is not to say that this program needs to be translated, which does occur in Said’s own theorizing, into some fixed political philosophy, whether it be hostility to nationalism, communitarianism and identity politics or advocation for hybridity, cosmopolitanism and liberal individualism. Historical-epistemological "secularism" need not necessarily imply ethical-political secularism.

Judging Said’s posture in the secularism issue need not in the least proceed from this latter’s literary criticism and personal definition of secularity; it should instead proceed from the usual--legal, institutional, constitutional--meaning of secularism. In other words, all that is needed here for an assessment is observing Said’s concrete political activism. That is, one shouldn’t blink the fact of Said’s self-evident internationalism, multiculturalism, (not least Palestinian) identity politics, inter-confessionalism, and postcolonial communitarianism. And if by any chance one is to look here for "inconsistencies" they are surely to be find elsewhere; being "committed to Palestinian nationalism while abhorring by the very notion of nationalism," was simply Said’s way of consistent inter-nationalism-- Ilan Pappe’s recollection power badly deteriorated only a year after Said’s death.


Political theorist Fred Dallmayr (1997, 50-52) once commented on the emerging theme in Said of an exodus or exile from identity, of a diasporic existence beneath or beyond spatial and temporal constraints, and the cultural critic assuming the role of a cosmopolitan wanderer freely moving across time and space. Dallmayr was curious as to the political implications of Said's endorsement of nomadism:

What concrete consequences are entailed, for example, in the present Near East situation? Are Palestinians now asked to abandon their quest for a homeland and remain content with refugee camps--or with a complete dispersal into diasporic existence? Would a similar advice be offered to the Kurds or American Indians? As it seems to me--and Said would probably agree--it is always an awkwardly embarrassing matter to preach poverty to the poor or homelessness to the homeless. The message is particularly embarrassing in the present global situation, a setting dominated (as Said insists) by an imperial identity bent on homogenizing and standardizing the world. Cutting loose from local moorings, in this setting, means precisely to aid and abet this process of homogenization--that is, the production of a global nondistinction or sameness. But, if all people are the same and substitutable, then what difference does it make if the world is governed from a hegemonic center (say America)...?

F. Dallmayr drew the optimistic conclusion that "hybridity" thinking had so far only an insignificant impact on Said’s engagement and resistance to sliding into either parochial exclusivism or global vagrancy. Thus, according to Dallmayr, when it came to it Said resolutely took sides against the complacently vagrant intellectualism:

"It would be the rankest Panglossian dishonesty," Said concedes," to say that the bravura performances of the intellectual exile and the miseries of the displaced person or refugee are the same" or of the same order; for clearly there is a vast difference between "the optimistic mobility, the intellectual liveliness, and the logic of daring" marking the "various theoreticians on whose work I have drawn" and on the other hand "the massive dislocations, waste, misery, and horrors endured in our century's migrations and mutilated lives."

Indeed, discussing at the time "hybridity and Arab identiy" with Stephen Sheehi (Al Jadid magazine, Vol. 4, no. 22, Winter 1998), Said was careful, opposing the involuntary fact of hybridity to its utopian norm:

-- In many of your more recent works and talks, which I have heard, you seem to be stressing the notion of “hybridity” which is really important in responding to claims of authenticity by essentialist nationalists.

"Well, it is not necessarily authenticity only. It’s some notion of purity."

-- Right, essentialism.

"Right. I mean you can be hybrid and authentic at the same time."

-- I guess that is where I am going. I like the notion of hybridity but a facile reading of it offers a sort of Kantian utopianism that erases, say, the violent process of becoming that hybrid. So how does one talk about hybridity without emptying it out of that very process?

"I don’t think you can. There are people who do, like Homi Bhabha in a completely theoretical way. I don’t. The various historical processes which include imperialism, that would include crossing boundaries, migration, genocide, all of these collective experiences of involuntary or forced uprooting and dislocation, contribute to this, not some utopian idyllic state. I just don’t believe that. I am very profoundly historical in that respect. So I try to talk about it very rarely and I use it to refute those that say ‘let us return to original whatever’, original Islam, original Swedishness."

Proponents of secularism, "hybridity" and the like should be reminded here of Said’s outlook in the Kosovo issue for example (Protecting the Kosovars, The Treason of the Intellectuals)--and for that matter even of Noam Chomsky’s and Pierre Bourdieu’s. Said, while by no means sparing NATO/US bombings of Serbia, actually supported the self-determination demand of Kosovo Albanians and nothing less than that. To him,

it was imperative that the NATO bombing should stop, and a multiparty conference of all the peoples of former Yugoslavia be called to settle differences between them on the basis of self-determination for all, not just for some, or for some at the expense of others.


Said has always waved aside the idea of a unitary secular state in Israel/Palestine as a solution to conflict in the Middle East. He is counted among the first prominent Palestinians who adopted the idea of two-state solution and who, since the seventies in his case, argued for recognition of Israel—the PLO took formally position for first in the meeting of the Palestinian National Council, 1988. In the article The One-State Solution, 1999, he started advocating for a non-territorial ethnic-confessional federalism; for one only state for Israelis and Palestinians. This bi-national, non secular, federal state was to transform rivals into partners and allow each side to express its national identity without excluding or oppressing the other:

The beginning is to develop something entirely missing from both Israeli and Palestinian realities today: the idea and practice of citizenship, not of ethnic or racial community, as the main vehicle for coexistence. In a modern state, all its members are citizens by virtue of their presence and the sharing of rights and responsibilities. Citizenship therefore entitles an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian Arab to the same privileges and resources. A constitution and a bill of rights thus become necessary for getting beyond Square 1 of the conflict because each group would have the same right to self-determination; that is, the right to practice communal life in its own (Jewish or Palestinian) way, perhaps in federated cantons, with a joint capital in Jerusalem, equal access to land and inalienable secular and juridical rights. Neither side should be held hostage to religious extremists.

Notice only that he then wrongly called common, minimal, federal citizen rights "secular" rights; that is, wrongly when one is, as he has been, speaking of consociational democracies—a legal theoretician like John Rawls would have never spoken that way.

Interviewed by Mark Levine the same year, Said appealed to multiculturalism:

I'm very pleased to register myself under the banner of multiculturalism, not as a pastime or academic slogan, but rather as a way to work with others who are jammed together with me on a tiny territory—to bring it now to Palestine and Israel—and who so far have managed to survive by denying the full historical and political existence of the other. So I think multiculturalism can be consonant with ideals of emancipation and enlightenment if it's applied to concrete situations in which people of different cultures have not been able to live together peacefully, but in my opinion can.


In an interview to Israeli journalist Ari Shavit, My right of return (18 august, 2000), Said made it still more plain how much he disliked talk of secular states in Palestine/Israel.

--Two years ago you wrote an article in The New York Times endorsing a one-state solution. It seems you've come full-circle - from espousing a one secular-democratic state solution in the '70s, to accepting the two-state solution in the '80s, back to the secular-democratic idea.

"I would not necessarily call it secular-democratic. I would call it a bi-national state. I want to preserve for the Palestinians and the Israeli Jews a mechanism or structure that would allow them to express their national identity. I understand that in the case of Palestine-Israel, a bi-national solution would have to address the difference between the two collectives."

In the same interview Said referred back to the ottoman millet model as an alternative to Western secularism:

--So what you envision is a totally new situation in which a Jewish minority would live peacefully within an Arab context?

"Yes. I believe it is viable. A Jewish minority can survive the way other minorities in the Arab world survived. I hate to say it but, in a funny sort of way, it worked rather well under the Ottoman Empire, with its millet system. What they had then seems a lot more humane than what we have now."

--So as you see it, the Jews would eventually have a cultural autonomy within a pan-Arab structure?

"Pan-Arab or Mediterranean. Why should it not include Cyprus? What I would like is a kind of integration of Jews into the fabric of the larger society, which has an extraordinary staying power in spite mutilation by the nation-state. I think it can be done. There is every reason to go for the larger unit. The social organization that would be required is something I haven't really pondered, but it would be easier to organize than the separation that Mr. Barak and his advisors dream of. The genius of Arab culture was catholicism. My definition of pan-Arabism would comprise the other communities within an Arab-Islamic framework. Including the Jews."


Finally, in an interview with the Cairo paper Al-Ahram, only 15 months before his death, Said suggested that it was

now up to us (Palestinians) to project the idea of coexistence in two states that have natural relations with each other on the basis of sovereignty and equality.

With that he implicitly acknowledged the accords signed in Geneva only a short time after his death. With that he also rejoined Noam Chomsky’s posture. With that he made it finally clear that the two-state solution was the only serious start and realistic path to the ideal of a bi-national state.


Thus, our memories would be entirely untrustworthy if persisting in a fancy that Edward Said’s struggle was about some world secularization. President Bush and his "War on Terror" have proved best at that business--Christopher Hitchens, among those applauding Bush's Secular Triumph, already made this point. Said’s struggle throughout his life was about self-determination for all peoples of the world, including naturally the Palestinian people. In any case, this particular political legacy of Said’s was his obvious and manifest one to the postcolonial world.