Across the Bay

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Makiya on the New Iraq

Here's a truly excellent piece by Kanan Makiya in WSJ on the Iraqi elections and Iraq's future.

Makiya stresses the importance of the Shiites political wisdom and inclusiveness, but also the importance of the consitution and the consensus over what the definition of the new Iraq will be. I have echoed these themes in my posts "Iraqi Sunnis and the Lebanon Model" and "Consociational Iraq Revisited".

If you read Makiya's piece, you'll find several key words that point towards the consociational model for plural societies (consensus, minority rights and veto, fractured and deeply atomized, etc.). He knows that's Iraq's hope. That's why he insists that Iraq cannot be called an "Arab" or "Islamic" state (I still don't understand why they haven't removed from the old flag the Allahu Akbar added by Saddam.) This is precisely why the Lebanese 1943 National Pact did not state that Lebanon was an Arab state. A compromise was reached to add that it had an "Arab aspect" (or "face") to please the Sunnis. It was only recently after the Syrian and Saudi-sponsored Taef Accord that Lebanon was declared an Arab state for the first time in its history.

This will be another disappointment for the hypocritical Arab nationalists, who will see this as another sign of "retrogression" and "introversion" and "isolationism." Take for instance this question leveled at Fouad Ajami on that Al-Jazeera roundtable with luminary Juan Cole and Ghassan Atiyyeh. Atiyyeh complained about the enshrinement of ethnic and sectarian identities (as if they can be negated by the flick of a switch!) and of course blamed it on the Americans! Juan Cole naturally agreed. It was Ajami however who laid it down with blunt honesty:

    I myself am not enthusiastic about the Lebanese model, and the Lebanese precedent, that you would have a society based on sectarian divisions. However, we must see the Arab world for what it is, in all honesty. We should look in the mirror and see it like it is, and that is that Arab society is still built on a sectarian basis. The political system in Syria is built on a sectarian basis, the system in Iraq has the sectarian element ... (Emphasis added.)

Exactly. Reality on the ground dictates you work with what you have, not try to deny or repress the identities people have which are either much older than any Arab or Arabist identity, or they are not Arab at all. That's why I think Makiya has it right and Atiyyeh missed the mark by saying that this eliminates the "Iraqiness" and enshrines the ethno-religious identities instead. These communities are stuck together, so if you're not going to divide the country, you will need to work under an all-inclusive unifier. The only unifier is "Iraq!" So, as long as the other identities are not threatened, and as long as "Iraq" guarantees that those identities won't be threatened, then it will strengthen the formula of "Iraq" as a pluralist society. As Makiya put it:

    Since 1968, the Baath have been trashing the only idea that can hold the great social diversity of Iraq together: the idea of Iraq. Their answer to the question "Who am I?" was: You are either one of us, or you are dead.

    True to their word, they killed anyone who dared to say he was a Kurd or a Shiite or a leftist, or a democrat and a liberal. Contrary to what many Iraqi Shiites tend to think nowadays, the Baath never wanted to build a Sunni confessional state in Iraq. Anti-Shiite sectarianism was introduced on a large scale after the uprising of 1991. The state that the Baath built in Iraq up until the 1991 Gulf War was worse than sectarian. It thrived on the distrust, suspicion and fear that it went about inculcating in everyone. In this sense it was consistently egalitarian. Atomizing society by breeding hate and a thirst for revenge was the regime's highest ambition and principal tool of social control. Every Iraqi--Kurd or Arab, Muslim or Christian, Shiite or Sunni--became both complicit in the Baathist enterprise and its victim at the same time.

The damage done, as Makiya noted earlier, was not just a result of the Baath's brutal repression. It's also a result of its ideology of Arabism that negates "Iraqiness." So all those who talk about the "secular Arab nationalist" Baath should think again. The same applies for the Syrian Baath (see Josh Landis' site for more, esp. his paper on religious education in Syria which I linked to in my one of my posts below).

As for Lebanon, the attachement of people to "Lebanonness" is stronger than ever. (See Theodor Hanf's conclusion in his Coexistence in Wartime Lebanon: Decline of a State and Rise of a Nation.) There are no secessional parties, and more than ever there seems to be agreement on a basic narrative that stresses the uniqueness of Lebanon even as it concedes (for the Maronites) its Arabness. I.e., there has been a slight revision of the '43 pact whereby the "Arab aspect" is further asserted for the sake of the Muslims, but where the Maronite and Christian insistence on uniqueness and independence has found receptive ears among Druzes and Muslims, albeit after a while. But if the Iraqis can set it all down in a constitution from now, then Ajami would be right once again in his assessment (on that Al-Jazeera show) that these Iraqi elections were a substitute for civil war, in that they showed that the Iraqis want to have a national dialogue, with national participation without violence. Even with the Sunnis not turning out in great numbers for the elections doesn't matter because they will be part of the writing of the constitution, and thus the new narrative for Iraq. Add to that the presence of the American troops. In fact, no one will ask the Americans to leave, I think, until an agreement is reached on the constitution and the definition of the new, consociational Iraq (Atiyyeh hinted at something similar in the interview saying that the Sunnis now need the Americans).

Writing in the Feb 14 issue of US News, Ajami echoes Makiya's consociational democratic terminology:

    In the year to come, Iraqis will learn democracy's virtues -- and the limits it imposes on political passions.
    In the best of outcomes, the tormented country will be shared, and a serious constitutional process will do what has never been done in modern Iraq's bloody history: reconcile the different communities of this country. (Emphasis added.)

Or, as Makiya concluded:

    The debate over Article 61(c) prefigures the most fundamental political struggle that will take place in the National Assembly of the new Iraq--the struggle over what it means to be an Iraqi. As the majority in the coming National Assembly, the Shiite leadership will be at the forefront of this struggle. The selfish sectarian impulse, however understandable and natural, needs to be turned on its head into a new political idea that embraces the whole country, one that is neither Arab nor Islamic, but Iraqi.

    This idea cannot be built in reaction to perceived enemies, real or imagined; nor can it be built on exclusions of any kind. It has to be founded on the principle of tolerance and forbearance. No other formula will work in Iraq. We Iraqis tried dictatorship; in fact we took it further than almost anyone else in the world. Still it did not work. The country all but fell apart. But for a new inclusive idea of Iraq to take hold, the Shiites in particular have to make a very real sacrifice; they have to think beyond what is in their own self-interest, narrowly conceived. In so doing they might just become the agents for a genuine democratic transformation of the whole Middle East.