Notes from a small island
A weblog by Jonathan Ali

Sunday, April 13, 2003  

Today is Palm Sunday, the day on which Christians believe Jesus Christ rode into Jerusalem on an ass, the roadway strewn with palm leaves by his followers to mark his triumphant entry into the city. Christ had come promising freedom for the Israelites; in a matter of days he would be dead.

Last week another would-be liberator triumphantly rode into another city in the Middle East. But unlike Christ, whose promise of freedom was not physical, but spiritual - a distinction the Israelites did not understand - this new liberator proclaims tangible freedom. True democracy. Peace. Stability. Prosperity.

The images out of Baghdad over the past week have been as contrasting as they have been stark. One the one hand, joy and celebration, on the other, pain and chaos.

The liberation of Baghdad. It certainly wasn't the liberation of Paris. No winsome madamoiselles tossing flowers to green-helmeted Joes riding on tanks. Nor crowds in their tens, hundreds of thousands lining the streets in a unified acknowledgment of gratitude. Just a few rag tag mobs pulling down statues, some sporadic dancing in the dusty streets. And of course, the looting. The looting, and in the hospitals, the dead and dying.

Every war has its civilian casualties, innocents caught in the undiscriminating teeth of the machine. But not every war has worldwide media coverage 24-7. For every Iraqi child lying in a hospital bed with his limbs blown off, there are hundreds more like him in other conflicts around the world that no cameras are covering, that no one cares one jot about.

For all the casualties, for all the anarchy and chaos that has rushed into the void created by Saddam's removal, the Iraqi people, according to one philosophy, are now free. The question is though: free to do what? Freedom is not a desirable end in and of itself. With freedom comes responsibility. Do Iraqis possess the responsibility to make good use of their freedom? Do they understand the burdens that freedom, the transition to democracy that is meant to take place, entail? (Do many of the so-called democratic nations even understand this?)

They will learn, it will be said. They will learn, we (whoever "we" is is yet to be determined, and will be a contentious issue) will help them. And then, like dominoes, the other non-democratic regimes in the Arab world will fall, and those nations will also embrace democracy - perhaps (as it seems to be in the case of at least Syria), with a little help.

But there is the other side. The other side that sees democracy, when uttered by Western tongues, as just another word for white American Christian Zionist imperialism. The other side that remembers this war started off as one to disarm Saddam. Then morphed into a charge to get Saddam. And only just recently, with, it seems, no WMD found, and perhaps never to be found, and with Saddam missing, he too perhaps never to be found, only now is it seen as a war of liberation. The other side that remembers history, and America's chequered involvement with it; that believes (with good reason) that this could be the start of a new age of imperialism. The other side that, one suspects, even if the United Nations had approved military action, would still have been opposed to, or at least been mightily uneasy about, an American-led force of Western nations occupying a major Arab (even if not Islamic) state.

Yes, even though Iraq is not an Islamic state, though Saddam Hussein was no great upholder of Islam - in fact, quite the opposite, having murdered tens, hundreds of thousands of his own people, Muslim people, more than the invading coalition could have ever killed - despite that fact, many millions continue to see this, rightly or wrongly, as a war against Islam.

These millions don't see the issue here as one of democracy. Or freedom. Or the end of tyranny. As much as that might mystify or enrage those who (genuinely) want to liberate those millions, that is the fact. To the millions, it is a case of Us against Them. East against West. Islam against Christian Zionism. Freedom? That's subjective. Tyranny? Yes, it exists, but it's our problem to deal with, or not. No, things aren't perfect, but we are an old and proud people and we have been dealing with these issues for hundreds, thousands of years. Leave us be. Get Israel to stop persecuting the Palestinians. Then we'll talk. Or not.

The problem is this is the 21st century. Patience isn't the virtue it once was. Oil is now a major element of the equation. And of course there is 9/11, which no American has forgotten, and no Muslim will be allowed to forget. As I said in an earlier post, this war is over, or almost. This war. There's much more to follow. Christ was aware of that, even as the palm leaves were being laid down before him. We'd do well to recognise the same.

posted by Jonathan | 1:10 PM 0 comments


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