Aug. 16, 2004Articles and commentary regarding world events

     In Iraq, presently, the militant leader Moqtada al-Sadr is being called upon to lay down arms and join the political process. But what does negotiation mean if the basic premise of that negotiation is that the occupying U.S. force in Iraq remains, and that only the way to work with or adapt to this premise is being negotiated? The problem of what is being called the 'insurgency' in Iraq is that it is not just a rebellion by a small group of radical militants who reject U.S. occupation and intervention. It is an uprising by a small group of radical militants, however it is a group that represents a much larger national sentiment

     Underlying the 'insurgency' is the issue of national integrity and self-determination - that which lies behind the distinctly different terms 'occupation' and 'liberation'. From the militants' point of view, both the U.S.- led occupation and the U.S.- supported transitional government are not 'liberating' Iraq to seek its own definitions, aims, and forms of government, but rather asking that it conform to U.S. definitions and aims via a government that is aligned with these. The issue of humiliation here and of self-respect is the same issue that faces Muslims in a large part of the Arab world, namely, the feeling that their own culture and belief system is being co-opted by a western perspective which seeks to change and control it so that it becomes something else. The movement toward national self-defense which is the sub-current of the insurgency, is a movement whose basic impetus is the desire for national integrity and an end to foreign influence - something that U.S. forces, by virtue of their very presence in Iraq, seem not to understand.

     This issue of national integrity is of major importance - more important, perhaps, than the specific issue of who controls Iraqi oil. Palestinians, too, through their radical groups, Hamas and the al-Aqsa brigades, are also fighting and dying for this issue. In both countries, there is an attempt to reverse the force of humiliation through radical militancy - in Palestine, through terrorism and suicide bombings, in Iraq, through the vociferous opposition of Moqtada al-Sadr and his followers. Among both peoples there is a deep need to transform powerlessness into a position of power and strength. This is not to condone the tactics which are the cause of so much violence and death, but to understand the reason for these tactics - the reason for which even young children in Palestine are willing to fight and die. In Najaf, supporters of al-Sadr are arriving from all over the country to support the Mehdi cause and an end to American occupation.

     Not everyone feels threatened by foreign occupation. Some feel they are benefitting from it. Some are not so fiercely nationalistic. But for those who feel that their very lifeblood is being threatened, it is a cause worth dying for, a cause worth living for as well if the basic premise were understood - the need for real self-determination in Iraq and an end to foreign intervention. Those who are most fiercely aligned with this goal are not crazy. They are angry and they are humiliated.

     If negotiations were truly to be open, they would have to lay on the table for discussion, the possibility of the end of the American occupation, not in two years or five years, as some retired generals are now suggesting would be needed to 'stabilize' the country, but now.

     A 'fight to the finish' in Najaf would be a terrible thing, not only in terms of the direct and immediate loss of life on both sides, but also in terms of the symbolism of strength-in-resistance creating heros among those who fight the Americans. This is a banner that has already been taken up in much of the Arab world, and it would be increasingly a banner that would draw to itself much of Islam should grave destruction to the Iman Ali shrine take place.

     America needs to recognize the effects of its use of power upon a world that feels its hand keenly and that needs to seek independence from this hand. Can we not, with greater humility, find the way toward meeting this world on its own cultural terms, in its own language, instead of converting it into what we think it should be?

Related links:

"World's Shiites Warn that U.S. is Treading on Sensitive Ground." (Aug. 12, 2004)

Iraq: U.S. Keeps Winning Battles, Losing Wars (Aug. 13, 2004)

Iraq: Massacre Fears as Najaf Peace Talks Collapse (Aug. 15, 2004)

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