Sunday in Iraq
Via Barcepundit, this article by Mario Vargas Llosa is worth a read (my translation). The article was first published in the Spanish newspaper El Pais.
I spent nearly all of Sunday, January 30 glued to the TV, following the reports, on all the international channels, on the Iraqi elections. It had been a long time since I was so moved by a political event.
To be truthful, I was “hoping against hope” for what happened. Not because I’m psychic, but from what I learned during my short visit to the country, in late June-early July of 2003, where, in all the places I visited, I noticed a generalized sense of relief and great hope after the fall of the Baath and Saddam Husein regime.
Back then, the terrorist actions by Al Qaeda, by Ansar al Islam, by the brigades sent by ultraconservative Iranian clerics, by Abu Musab al Zarqawi, and by the surviving Baathists, were only starting and it was difficult to imagine that they’d grow to the apocalyptical proportions they have reached.
This, and, above all, the formidable international media campaign by the European media swelling with hate towards the United States, had managed to convince an important percentage of public opinion that the military intervention in Iraq was an absolute failure, and, additionally, a counterproductive operation that, instead of bringing about the country’s democratization, would set the Middle East afire, leaving it at the mercy of anti-Western fundamentalist fanatics.
Iraq World be the new Vietnam, which, for the second time, would make the arrogant American colossus bite the dust! All of resentful Europe, nostalgic for the vanished revolution, threw itself on the streets to celebrate this gift from the gods.
Michael Ignatieff, in his fine article La prudencia política y el coraje de los iraquíes (EL PAÍS, 30-1-05) (Political Prudence and Iraqi Courage), asked on the very day of the elections, “Why are there so few people that feel even a shudder of anger when they see voters being shot at on Baghdad streets?” “Why is there not even a faint applause in the newspapers for 6,000+ Iraqis that, risking their lives, are running for public office?” For a very simple reason: because those elections weren’t serious, they were just a farce by the occupation, which the Iraqi people, identified as “the resistance” – a cleverly designed term that gives terrorists a halo of dignity – would boycott, showing the whole world its contempt of the Anglo-Saxon colonialist intervention. Political correctness had dictated it, and all that was needed was the facts to confirm the theory.
The abused, decimated, destroyed Iraqi people, survivors of four decades of one of the most evil perversions known to history, and of two years of blind and demented terrorism against the civilian population, has made sure to set things right. How? By voting, in spite of the fundamentalists’ threats that voters would be targets of suicide bombers at the polls and that each voter, by the mere act of depositing a ballot in a box, would be an object for persecution and beheading, along with his or her entire family.
They weren’t intimidated. There they went, in Bagdad, Basra, Najaf, Fallujah, in all of Kurdistan, and even in the Sunni triangle. The pictures were thrilling. Entire families standing in line for hours at the polls, in a festive atmosphere, and among them, women, ululating or making a “V” for victory for the cameras, smiling broadly. Men and women with the same answer, when asked why vote, “Because we want peace,” “Because we want freedom”.
The murderous suicide bombers did kill fifty voters. But nearly eight million Iraqis, gambling their own lives, agreed to legitimize with their votes the first free elections in Iraqi history. Nearly 60% of all who registered, an extraordinary rate even when compared with that of the most advanced democracies, which resoundingly affirms the Iraqi election.
And it also shows the fallacy and narrowness of the culturalists’ theories, which deem it abusive and insensitive to “impose” a Western democracy on a society which its own culture intrinsically rejects because it it would lose its “identity” by acquiring actions, deeds, and beliefs. And these racists consider themselves progressive! They don’t even realize that their idea of a collective identity is a concentration camp that sentences an entire people to never advance, to eternally live in darkness and barbarity.
After what took place in these elections, would the Spanish government suspect that, maybe, it was premature to withdraw its troops from Iraq as hurriedly as it did? That maybe it was folly to encourage other countries to desert the coalition headed by United States and Great Britain?
Of course not.
There already is an army of liberal scribes rattling the computer keyboards trying to calm their consciences by showing, through sanely deconstructionist arguments, that these elections aren’t at all what they seem – the beginning of a democratic process in Iraq, as it happened in Afghanistan – but an accident, a small back step of the Iraqi people, which, unduly manipulated, has fallen into a trap from which it will soon pull out by discovering what is truly right and good for them. And that, in any case, the bombs and murders of the “resistance” will soon show that nothing has improved, that everything’s getting worse. In our times nothing is as true as Arthur Koestler’s statement that the intellectual is able to show everything he believes and believe everything he can show.
No matter what the result of the elections might be, they have been, just from the huge participation of voters, a huge success of large consequences in the entire Middle East. The elections show that it is perfectly possible for a country with a large Arab and Muslim majority to opt for a democratic system where power alternates, where the right to disagree is respected, and where a vertical and horizontal decentralization of powers guarantees autonomy to the religious and ethnic minorities.
For the first time in their history, Shiites, who are 60% of the population, will cease being marginalized and exploited by the Suni minority, and the Kurds (nearly 20%) will have a right to their language and culture within a flexible national unity.
Of course, there’s much that needs to be done, and, undoubtedly fanatical terrorism will kill many. But these elections are a pause, that maybe will contribute to decrease the skepticism and hostility from countries like Spain and France and might lead them to collaborate with the Iraqi people – who have made themselves heard in this election – so the Iraqis might free themselves from terror, oppression, and reach towards the modern world.
All day Sunday, as I watched on the tube the images from Iraq, I thought about Profesor Bassam Y. Rashid and his family. Professor of Spanish at Baghdad Univeristy, with a PhD from the University of Granada, Professor Bassam was my translator and inseparable companion for the twelve days I spent in Iraq.
The word “gentleman” must have been invented for this Suni Muslim Baghdadi with urbane manners and exquisite literary taste, generous and tolerant, whom so many years of horror and dictatorship hadn’t broken his spirit nor eroded his belief that Iraq would be, someday soon, “like Spain”, he said, a prosperous, modern democracy.
I’m certain he and his wonderful wife, whose hospitality turned their modest home into a palace, were standing in one of those long lines at the polls. Undoubtedly they must have brought along, so he’d always remember this historic day, their young son Ahmed, who assured me that heaven looked like Granada. As you well know, Professor Bassam, there are fictions that become truths. With the courage your fellow men have shown, Iraqi will be one of them, you’ll see. And we’ll celebrate having dining on lamb, at el Cusi, in The White Palace!
Mark Steyn looks at European anti-American sentiment.
Now I take the point that “democracy” – as in elections – isn’t every thing. In the development of successful nations, the universal franchise is usually the last piece of the puzzle, as it was in Britain. Anyone can hold an election: Mugabe did; so did Charles Taylor, the recently retired Psycho-for-Life of Liberia. The world’s thugocracies have got rather skilled at being just democratic enough to pass muster with Jimmy Carter and the international observers: they kill a ton of people, put it on hold for six weeks and then, when the UN monitors have moved on, pick up their machetes and resume business as usual.
I prefer to speak of “liberty” or, as Bush says, “freedom”, or, as neither of us is quite bold enough to put it, capitalism – free market, property rights, law of contract, etc. That’s why Hong Kong is freer than Liberia, if less “democratic”. If I had six or seven centuries to work on things, I wouldn’t do it this way in Iraq or Afghanistan. But the “war on terror” is more accurately a race against time – to unwreck the Middle East before its toxins wreck South Asia, West Africa, and eventually Europe. The doom-mongers can mock Bush all they want. But they’re spending so much time doing so, they’ve left themselves woefully uninformed on some of the fascinating subtleties of Iraqi and Afghan politics that his Administration turns out to have been rather canny about.
Two worthwhile reads, both.
Update Just as I was finishing this post, Maria sent this article,Iraqis Cite Shift in Attitudes Since Vote. Mood Seen Moving Against Insurgency