Anthropological Quarterly 76.3 (2003) 479-483
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Iraq and Democracy
University of California, Berkeley
There is an uneasy feeling in our country—a feeling that something unprecedented is happening. A Vietnam veteran put it more bluntly: "We've lost all 3 branches of governmentóthe judiciary when they selected the President, the Congress when they abdicated to the Executive Branch, the Executive Branch when they refused to listen to dissenting Americans."
There is an uneasy feeling in the country—our founding fathers placed the war-making power in the hands of Congress where decisions could be openly debated. Slowly we realize that a dozen unelected men and one woman are making decisions that will compromise the lives of American fighting forces, the lives of Iraqis we say we want to liberate, the future of American schools, health care, our relations with old allies; the costs of war unfathomable. Senator Byrd's "we stand passively mute" speech objected to Congressional abdication. Three branches of government are now one; objections by high-ranking military officers are muted—all of this justified by unsubstantiated presuppositions fed to the public ad nauseam: 1) that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and that they are linked up with al Qaeda; 2) that the rest of the world, including NATO allies, are wrong: 3) that the Iraqis would welcome us as liberators—in spite of 12 years of sanctions and thousands of child deaths, in spite of daily [End Page 479] bombing missions since 1991, in spite of an illegal invasion. Such prognostication is indicative of poor intelligence, an example of what happens when a president is isolated by a band of self-serving advisors.
How little we know of the Arab world, of Iraq and its people, of the place that Baghdad—the Florence of the Middle East—has in the hearts and minds of Arab peoples. Iraq—the cradle of civilization. How could we have thought that Iraqis would not defend their country from invasion? Why would the Shias in the south have welcomed the Americans when Shia Iran is also being threatened by the American administration?
How little we know about the Arab world—do we really think there is no consequence of our double standard foreign policy? One for Saddam Hussein and one for Ariel Sharon—both brutal men responsible for the death and destruction of innocent civilians. Hussein gassed the Kurds, Sharon killed 17,000 Lebanese civilians before he got to Sabra and Chatilla, to one side his provocation of the present intifada, both fed by arms from the United States. Double standard—the attack on the USS Cole by Muslim terrorists was rightly condemned, but the USS Liberty in 1967 bombed by Israeli war planes was covered up by the Pentagon. Israel is the sole country in the region with weapons of mass destruction.
I've taught about the peoples and cultures of the Arab world at the University of California, Berkeley since 1960. Currently, I teach a seminar on what other civilizations think of the west, beginning with a Chinese Buddhist missionary who went west to India in the 9th century. In teaching I have been struck by the depth of ignorance about this large expanse of the world. In my research I have noticed mirrored images. The Arab historians of the Crusades thought the Crusaders were barbaric savages, ignorant of medicine, without no culture or civilization, although they had technology. Gandhi said the same about the British—brute force. Some years ago when the Middle East Center entertained a visit from Moroccan governors, I argued with one of the governors over their use of light water nuclear reactors along their coast in the absence of Moroccan know-how making them dependent on the French, their former colonizers. In frustration the governor blurted out, "The French—they have no culture, no civilization, but they do have technology (not the same as civilization)." This is an observation that we hear from Tokyo to Gibraltar, most recently from Japanese CEOs, and even more recently the Europeans refer to the US as the extreme West in making...