What's happening in Iraq on daily basis makes one ponder the question: what went wrong? Of course, the question does not concern Iraq in itself, because we see what's going wrong with it, nor is meant what B. Lewis has used as a title to a book about Islam either, but rather the question concerns the Arabs in general? How could a world made up of more than 300 million humans loses consciousness of itself and further sinks into the abyss of colonialism. How the multitude can keep quiet and conduct life as if nothing is happening in its midst? Are these people still alive? Or just from the neck down?
The reason the question is posed this way is not only because of the absolute silence of the so-called "Arab Street" this time but because this latest blatant attack on their heartland is one in a chain of attacks that have been happening to them over and over again, and that once again being duped with false hopes! As if they've not been stung long enough, even this time around are not going to heed to what once their collective wisdom had taught them: "No believer is stung from the same hole twice?" Not twice not trice, but they're at an umpteenth times, and the count still going. No, the multiple invasions and many defeats have thickened their hides and seem to have become an acquired genetic trait. The repetitive stings had long paralyzed their nerve response apparatus and immunized their system(?) to the effect of its poison. Weakened, compromised, and humiliated, they barely survive in a world made up of predators! The question is why Arabs, among all the nations of the earth, let themselves being preyed upon by whichever power calls the shots of the day? Aside from a fossilized culture and atrophied mind-set, one is inclined to use the word, 'naivete' to describe the behavior of their states and the attitude of the multitude, but the term isn't strong enough to covey a meaning close to idiocy, if not outright stupidity on their part - such an attribute became deeply ingrained in their mental make-up once they'd abandoned the idea of life and with it history as projects-in-progress, lived and made as their processes unfold, and instead put themselves into a mold cast long ago and which no longer fitted their turgid and purulent physiques. This naivete' perhaps was both the cause and effect of the long historical slumber in which they still are wallowing, and which had brought them the many tragedies from which they're still smarting: From buying Napoleon's invasion as possible liberation -and his campaign as a wake up call- to taking Britain's fake promises -of independence -during and after WWI, on their face values, to the present brouhaha of the neo-cons's staled refrains to bring them, once again, democracy! The only consolation about these deceptions, their makers have never promised will be delivered on silver plates. The gullibility trait is becoming one of the idiosyncratic feature Arabs are known for, which also has made them one of the few victims of history, par excellence, and was used well against them over and over again by their adversaries and friends. Being who they're and what they're, the current round of attacks will not be the last, but more and more are still to come. As long as Arabs, unlike any other human group, persist on living in their own warped time, outside of history, on the margins of present civilization. Arabs may not be the first or the only ones to have fallen in love with what they perceive to be the cause to their sometimes flimsy past, and one must say undeserved, successes, in an extended span of time, but they must be among the few who'd been caught in the whirlpool of extra-human commandments and their labyrinthian subterfuges, of God's wishes and desires, until they ended up a mere debris in the blackholes of history!
"The Land Between the Two Rivers" with its great cities, from Basra, through Najaf, Karbala, Baghdad, Samarra, Falluja, Ramadi, and up to Kirkuk and Mosul were the beacons and depositories to most of the heydays of Arab history. Baghdad, that once proud city, the capital of the empire and the seat of its Abbaside Dynasty where scores of Haruns and Ma'amuns had the foresight and the wisdom to let the imagination roam and reason scout the boundaries of human knowledge, opening "the gate of interpretation" quite wide, and thus encouraged their fellow faithfuls to ask questions and to seek answers wherever they may be found; the citadel of the Arabs' glorious days, has become lately the gathering place to all types of mercenaries and soldiers of fortune of the world over on top of the most formidable military machine the world has ever witnessed so far. What did Iraq do to deserve all this? Aside from being tribal and sectarian and surrounded by bad relatives, no more nor less than what 3/4 of humanity have done and still are doing, that's, having a bad dictator!
Once upon a time Mesopotamia was known as the cradle of civilization, today that same land is full of terror gangs, treacherous 'opposition' groups, rancourous turncoat mullahs, scores for quislings for politicians, and on top of all that an outright sold-out government! How could all these calamities have gathered force in once place, in a land known for its historical strives, without ringing a bell of the looming danger? A culture of backwardness, tribalism, and setting on top of one of the largest deposits of the most sought after commodity in the modern world, were the curses as well as the bait that attracted all sorts of predators, and prevented the collective amnesia to sound the alarm of staying on the look-out for both the predators and any signs of dissent. For, it's no secret, outside interference and signs of dissent were long fermenting there; if the neo-colonial state had chosen to ignore them, it was done in the futile hope that one day they'll fade away. In retrospect, in part, the Baathist regime's cruelty could be seen as a reaction to counter the inherited fractious conditions! The Baathists' setting-up of one of the most repressive machines was a clumsy way to fuse an amalgam to fuse together into a coherent whole and to stem any signs of dissent before germinating into further fragmentation! It was an uphill battle fought on different fronts: nation-building, development, and Arab integration, all going on, in the same time, at lockstep! Evidently that battle was lost and the project(s) failed miserably. Today's trials of Iraq are testimony to many lessons missed, not the least of which the notion of priorities, which one comes first the chicken or the egg! What are the priorities of development the culture that changes the mind-set, or the infrastructure that makes life a bit easier? The biggest mistake of the Iraqi successive regimes, as well as all of the other Arab regimes in various degrees, was to believe in the notion, long held by many including the Marxists, that says: improving the material side of life will eventually lead into a change in the more crucial component for development the human factor. The Arabs compounded this mistake by another more determinant: embarking on the question of 'awakening' and subsequent development as a linear process and modernity as an afterthought. That's in viewing the world as well as acting upon it in pre-modern terms and approaching modernity with a cluttered mind-set. This mistake is still dominating the efforts, though sloppy, to the so-called nation building stage, and it's undermining any attempt to both development and the project of Arabs' integration.
Once upon a time Baghdad wished to be the new Prussia or Piedmont of the so-called Arab World and to unite its statelets into a superstate of the Arabs, but alas, old tribal grudges die hard. While the Baathist fools were busy impersonating the Bismarks and the Garibaldis of this world, the chicken-hawks of the Peninsula and the rest of the nouveau riche clowns, wrapped heads, and ignorant-soldiers-turned-tinpot-dictators were busy soliciting protections against the "new Hitler" of the Middle East -Saddam and his cronies- and signing protection treaties a galore - not to forget giving up also the little of sovereignty they'd gained after a century of pitched battles and a rivers of blood and tears, and with it what remained of their already tarnished dignity!
Iraq's present tragedy is first and foremost of Iraqis' making, however, its neighboring states, Arabs and non-Arabs, were/are no innocent bystanders. Arab neighboring states were part and parcel of the attack on Iraq. They have conspired and abutted, in private and in public, the onslaught planned against Iraq and since the invasion have spared any effort to see that the total destruction of that country is completed. From offering their territories as a staging for the launching of the war to the resources put for the use of the attacking forces! Idiocy of the Baathists, Arabs deceptions and intrigues -not to mention the stabbing of each other in the back -with a smile on the face- all these and more have led to today's Fallujah, Ramadi, Baghdad, Haditha and Abu Ghraib to become vivid and graphic replays of what, not long time ago, had occurred in places like Algeria, Vietnam, etc. The killing fields of those places have, once again, revived in Iraq and Afghanistan, this time around, with far more lethal fire power and more sophisticated war management machine. In the interlude between then and now, the war machine has been perfected to a tee, and had been tried many times over, in Central America, in the Balkans and the Gulf, not only in its fire power's aspects but particularly in the way it's perceived, projected, and its proceedings disseminated. The media received special attention, in this case, its of spinning ways of the "news" became part of the campaign strategy: embedding its correspondents with the military in the theaters of operation as a way to establish a close relationship and thus build a sense of camaraderie between the fighting soldiers and the reporters. The "good news!" in the middle of charnel house became the buzzword and the guiding light for the media look for and to go after. The Orwellian world has come to pass! The doublespeak: invasion is liberation, occupation is democracy, and puppets are charismatic leaders...
If there's any difference between yesterday's and today's massacres, it resides only in the behavior of the rest of the world, in the sense of its terrible total silence! Humanity's conscience seems to be in inverse proportions to the means of dissemination of the news and its concurrent images. Too much light blinds! We're back into the Dark Ages when entire populations were wiped out before anyone could hear their futile cries and silent agonies. What's happened to the world? Despaired! Hypnotized! Too busy consuming! Total amnesia or just fatigue? For, the atrocities taking place today in Iraq are far more sophisticated and unfortunately for their victims far more lethal, than what took place in Congo, Algeria, Vietnam Angola, etc. What had happened in those places was mere prelude to what's come to pass in Iraq. Yet back then the world stood up and let its voice be heard while it's still watching in mum today, perhaps due to shock induced paralysis?
The sixties generation thought it could change the world and to put an end to the futile cycles of slaughterings and pillagings of the weak. They marched and they shouted until they brought down some regimes and accelerated the end of the imperial wars of their days. Vietnam and Algeria may have become, by now, only vague memories in the mists of time but their lessons have yet to be absorbed by those same circles and forces that are still bent on controlling the world's resources and thus dominating it. They're helped in this endeavor by the gullibility and lack of interest by the rising generations -those who came after the sixties and seventies of the last century- their lack of interest to anything to do with history. Ignoring that old saw which says those who forget history are bound to commit its mistakes. Otherwise they'd have learned what history can teach, that's, for the oligarchies and kakistocracies of the world, only time and place may change the play still remains the same. Vietnam, Congo, Angola, and Algeria , etc., these places before they became mere footnotes in the long history of genocides, were, once like today's victims of aggressions, mere pawns in the "Big Game" targeted for their resources and strategic locations. And before these places were other numerous places where the snake-juice's salesmen hawked their wares under one banner or another: from civilizing missions, to democracy, to human rights, etc. And going even further back, today's shrills are no different from then homilies. How ironic today's secular preachers of modernity and human dignity are no different from their predecessors: those zealots and bloody preachers of yesteryear, who had conducted their ruthless campaigns under the banner of whoever God they claimed, in their scorched earth marches! Today's secular preachers may use different gospels -that of democracy and human rights- but are as intent as their predecessors on writing a bloody history, which as being currently written -as usual- is short on memory of what really counts and long on useless braggadocio. Things change only to remain the same. The world may have different configuration, the means may have changed, but the aims are still the same: I'm more powerful so I dictate the terms!
Today's Arabs, as yesterday's their predecessors, are not even close to being 'stakeholders' in world affairs-responsible guardians to the world!- they're relegated to the "screwed up states" (rogue and failed states) and their populations are either out of it or bent on religion and fanaticism. Thus they're divided, humiliated, and occupied, without sovereignty or dignity, their real-estate is part of the powers's to be "national securities" concerns, while their pass time seems to be still wailing on lost glories and supplicating God to come to the rescue. Lacerated, some out of self-inflicted wounds, caught in their own intrigues, with no friends to call upon or powers to come to the rescue, they're paralyzed to do anything except wallowing in their own gag; they're left, literally, to the dogs, or to rot! 5-centuries of sleep are long enough to have brought them down from pioneers of civilization to today's "sand niggers" epithet, oops! syndrome.
The Arabs have played a big part in bringing destruction to Iraq and thus on themselves. Some of them, if not all, saw in the Baathist's motto"One Arab nation of an eternal message," a real threat to their hollow kingdoms, sheikdoms, princedoms, and the rest of the family fiefdoms; others saw the Baathists and Iraq with them as aliens fallen from another planet, not deserving of normal human sympathy, empathy, compassion, and solidarity from their neighbors, even when these latter claim to be brothers and sisters -who needs enemies with such relatives! Whatever little development Iraq had, has been lost, and with it, trillions of dollars worth of a century of work has gone up, literally, in smoke! It'll take Iraq and the rest of the area generations only to recover from this once in a millennium trauma, actually catastrophe! All the area's oil resources have gone, so far, in vain! With infrastructure destroyed, oil dwindling, and population exploding, the area is facing another millennium of destitution and neglect!
When the present trauma of Iraq comes to an end and the fog clears, Arab states have to deal with its consequences. What will come out of the Iraq's tragedy is still unclear. There's a good chance that the Arab states have brooked some future monster state, an angry state, a la German state that came out of the Unification and lasted until the end of WWII, with similar grudges and humiliations, bent of revenge an the settling of accounts.
Reality often times overtakes the imagination! Fallujah, Abu Ghraib, Haditha, etc. stand in ruins and shame, testimony only to human folly and dormant conscience! They bear their calamities in silence, in stark contrast to similar situations that preceded them, in history, and had exerted such a rekindling to their contemporaries's imagination. At the height of the Spanish Civil War, on 26 April 1937, the Nazi planes, acting on behalf of General Franco, bombed the small Basque town of Guernica, on its market-day, killing almost a quarter of its 7000 inhabitants. Few months later, at the International Exhibition in Paris, Pablo Picasso exhibited the famous painting by the same name of the town, Guernica, which now hangs somewhere in the cavernous UN Building in New York, supposedly as a reminder to those who pull the strings of this world to the consequences of organized violence. Since then this painting, became an icon, and stood as a rallying cry against the inhumanity of war.
What Arabs can do today to redeem themselves and save some of their hides? They've, collectively and sundry, to take a stand one way or the other, for what's tearing their area only to re-patch it anew in the hope that what comes out this time around will be better than what came out last time. They've to make their voices and with them their wills heard about their future and what they want to be. Instead of acting literally their traditional female roles, when they keep mum while their fate is decided by others, they should come forth and let the world hear what they plan to do. The mentality of "che sara sara,' and God's will will take its course are not acceptable alternatives anymore, for these had brought them to such sorry state. A fresh attitude of the kind: I'm the owner of myself and I'm the master of my fate, should become the motto and the guiding principle to every Arab sundry and collectively. For, the client state status and the love-hate paradox - of the multitude to the West's civilizational products have- are sinking deeper and deeper into backwardness, dependency, if not actual enslavement. It's time for them to decide, and this time seriously, either to join the herd or to go their way. But either way, they've to change their world view and with it their work's ethic and to put themselves right on building modern secular regional-states -in the hope that a nation-state will coalesce out of them!- that are, free, democratic, just, and prosperous.
This call is an urgent one! For, Iraq's darkest days are still ahead. Once the occupation comes to an end, the settling of scores will start and each Iraqi will have to take a stand. Then and only then the world will know where Iraqis stand, and where Iraq is heading and with it the future of the area. Reason enough to mitigate the complicity of the neighboring states and the treachery of the other Arab states and prevent the seeds of hate and rancor, which they've planted, from germinating into more discords and further disarrays. A new dynamic vision is needed to meet the Iraqis new charge and direct it toward a better future for all. Without such an initiative, the area is doomed. For, sooner or later Iraq will want to settle its accounts with all the neighbors and beyond for the roles they played in bringing it to where it's today. Left to its own course, havoc and chaos will further tyrannize the area and will bring it to look itself in its own mirror. Perhaps seeing the semblance of its distorted image, then and only then, will be forced to face its own dilemmas: how and where its neglect of heeding the call to re-awakening and rejuvenation had landed it. Maybe Arabs finally will take notice of those pompous and rhetorical introductory phrases to their history such as "when Europe was in deep sleep, the Arabs were carrying the banner of civilization..." And amend to either more realistic description:"when Europe woke up and started working harder, Arabs went to sleep and still at it," Or to a more daring cry: " When all the world thought we're dead and finished, a resurrection is taking place, in the here and now, and a giant phoenix is rising out of its ashes."