Tuesday, May 01, 2007

My argument against the war in Iraq

My argument against the Iraq war
Shiites believe that the true successors of Muhammad were murdered and the succession went to the wrong people. Saddam Hussein was a Sunni Muslim who ruled a country with a 2-1 Shiite majority with the power of the sword. The US invaded Iraq, and ejected Saddam from power. Apparently the argument from weapons of mass destruction fell apart upon close inspection, but the most laudable of the motivations that the Bush Administration might have had for going in there was the idea that if we could set up a democracy in Iraq, we could set up a model for other Middle Eastern Islamic countries to follow. The idea was that other countries in the Islamic would be able to see what democracy can do and would want to have democracies in their own countries. So the Islamic world would gratefully see the advantages of American democratic political institutions and anti-American terrorism would be de-motivated.
Unfortunately, this plan had a snowball’s chance in Baghdad of working. Democracy doesn’t work unless the religious majority is prepared to allow the religious minority religious freedom. Will Shiites give that to the Sunnis, whom they consider to be usurpers of the true Islam and assassins of its true leaders? So long as religious minorities don’t get religious freedom, all you’re ever going to get is a tyranny of the majority. Hence the Sunnis are fighting against us, and many of the Shiites don’t want us around either.
Islam, unlike Christianity, is from its very founding a religion that seeks rulership. Whatever its merits may be, it seems constitutionally incapable of accepting the idea of church-state separation. At least, those who might be willing to accept a de-politicized conception of Islam are not likely to be found in Iraq. I have always thought that had we understood Buddhism better, we might have avoided the colossal blunder we committed in Vietnam. Had we understood Islam, we perhaps might also have avoided the even more colossal blunder in Iraq.


The Uncredible Hallq said...

Okay, I see your line of reasoning with Islam... but what's the issue with Buddhism and Vietnam?

Anonymous said...

I've spoken to a lot of American servicemen who have been to Iraq, and they tell me that most of the Iraqis they encounter DO want the American military there. And I get the same impression from reading the Iraqi blogs (which, of course, didn't exist when Saddam Hussen was in power). Most of the "insurgents" or whatever you want to call them are not Iraqis, but come from the surrounding countries that have a vested interest in seeing the Democracy project fail. In fact, prior to Saddam's ascension to power, Iraq was a relatively modern and secular state, so it seems to me that there would be a good chance of democracy taking hold there.

I would also point out that, as a former American serviceman myself, the situation in Iraq is not that bad for a military operation. This is because any military is bureaucratic and incompetent. And for a war, it seems to be above average. Several thousand American servicemen were killed in a single training accident during World War 2. We haven't reached that number after four years in Iraq.

Having said this, I also have sympathy for those against the war. The thing that convinced me was Steven den Beste's outline: http://denbeste.nu/essays/strategic_overview.shtml

Blue Devil Knight said...

Victor: an interesting take I hadn't heard before.

Bush needs to address what we are to do when we go in to liberate a country and give it democracy and it turns out that the people, once free from authoritarian rule, actually don't want an American-style democracy! If the people freely choose to set up a theocracy, there is little to no hope that we will be able to convince them it was a mistake.

The above has all been obvious to me, but I hadn't considered that the dominant Islamic sects may be, at root, less compatible with church-state separation when compared with Christianity (arguably the Hebrew scriptures don't leave much room for such separation either. It would be interesting to compare Jewish versus Muslim attitudes to this: how has Israel handled religious freedom, for instance?).

On the other hand, in the early days of the US, there was not religious freedom (especially within individual states). Ultimately, I think we need to let the Muslims take care of themselves, go through their growing pains, and hopefully eventually advocate religious freedom.

Sturgeon's Lawyer said...

Islam, unlike Christianity, is from its very founding a religion that seeks rulership.

Ummm...not so much.

Before making statements like this perhaps you should read the Qu'ran, in which it is clearly written, "There shall be no coercion in matters of religion."

Well, okay, you can't read the Qu'ran, and neither can I, because we don't read classical Arabic, but a translation would make the point... It isn't Islam that seeks "rulership" but some Muslims -- like some Christians, some Jews, etc.

Mr. B said...

Dan'l, it seems to me that you're misinterpreting VR - that statement doesn't seem so much to be about coercion in religion. He's of course welcome to correct me on that.

Sturgeon's Lawyer said...

I don't think I understand what else it could be about. If it is not about coercion in religion, then "seeking rulership" seems like a standard human desire for power over others, which is no different in adherents of Islam than in adherents of any other religion. Some people just want to rule others.

Paul said...

Frankly I think it will be a long time before the American public knows why the Cheney-Bush administration really started this war. I clearly remember that in the run up to it, non partisan experts were articulating the danger if not liklihood of civil war.

Victor Reppert said...

Finding a passage in the Qu'ran to support non-coercion doesn't show that Islam is not coercive, or that it won't be understood that way by its followers. it's the same as the Bible: proof texts don't settle questions, and with respect to many issues you can quote the Qu'ran on both sides. It is illegal to practice any religion other than Islam in Saudi Arabia. And there is only one Shi'ite government on the planet, and that's in Iran, a real hotbed of religious freedom.

Look Christianity, with nothing about governing in the New Testament, took centuries to get over the governmental temptation. When Islam began it set up a government. How much harder will it be for Muslims to learn that lesson than for Christians?

Of course, it's all about hermeneutics, and one thing I would like to know more about is how Muslims practice hermeneutics. I'm sure a peace-loving Islam could be supported by an appeal to the texts. The trouble is that all the bombs are in the hands of people who don't read the Qu'ran that way.

Sturgeon's Lawyer said...

You're quite right about proof-texting, a point that stings as it's a practice I have inveighed against for years.

What is true, however, is that until some time in the 20th century, Christians and Jews had complete freedom to practice their religion in Islamic countries. Even in Saddam's Iraq, Jews practiced freely (I'm not as sure about Christians); now they have mostly fled the country.

My point is that while, yes, many Muslims today seek an exclusive position of political power for their religion, this is not historically all that true.

Also, my quote from the Qu'ran was not an isolated case; both Qu'ran and Hadith are full of statements that persons of other religions are to be respected so long as they do not aggress against Muslims, and that Christians and Jews, as "peoples of the book," must be fully respected as "submitters," followers of the one God.

Sturgeon's Lawyer said...

I did a bit of rereading over the weekend to bolster what I'm saying. The basic point is this: yes, the early caliphates were expansionist, but it was not for religious reasons.

The Arab tribes prior to Mohammed had subsisted, in part, by raiding each other, a custom called the ghazu. In the context of early Islam raiding a group of fellow-Muslims was strictly forbidden, but there was a clear economic need to get resources somehow, so they turned to the military and economic conquest of their neighbors.

That this was not a religious conquest or 'conversion by the sword' is made clear by the simple fact that very few people in the conquered territories did convert.

Datapoint: It was well into the second millenium AD that Egypt became a primarily Muslim country, though it was conquered by the first four Caliphs.

Datapoint: it was under the early Caliphs that Jews were allowed, over five centuries after the Roman Diaspora, to return to Jerusalem -- in fact, the Caliphs specifically invited a number of Egyptian Jews to return.

Etc., etc.

Anonymous said...

I don't speak much about my political views, but since you did here goes.

Bernard Lewis is an Islamic scholar who said that when we flew over Iran to bomb Iraq people held up signs that said "Drop Bombs Here."

An overwhelming majority of Iraqi people voted in their first elections, sending shock waves through the Muslim community.

Presently the military of Turkey is threatening to overthrow their ruler simply because he seems to want Islamic law, as evidenced by his wife wearing a berka. The people in Turkey do not want Islamic rule.

While you are probably right about Islam and democracy mixing like oil and water, the question we might want to seriously look at is how many true Muslim believers there are in Muslim countries. We don't really know, do we? It's not unlike how many true Christian believers we have in the Western world, except that in many Muslim countries that's the law.

Give democracy a chance in Iraq. We're already there, for good or bad reasons. To the question when we should quit trying is a question I cannot answer because I don't have all of the facts. People with political agendas back home are making arguments to win elections both ways, and I have not visited Iraq to see for myself.

Anonymous said...

Sturgeon's Lawyer wrote "Even in Saddam's Iraq, Jews practiced freely..."

I'm not sure what SL's sources of information are, but here is the situation as described by Wikipedia:

"Most of the 10,000 Jews remaining after Operation Ezra and Nehemiah [the Jewish exodus to Israel of 1950-52] stayed through the Abdul Karim Qassim era [1958-63] when conditions improved, but Anti-Semitism increased in the Ba'ath Party era [1963-2003], culminating in the 1969 lynching of 14 Iraqis, most of them Jews, who were falsely accused of spying for Israel, which led to the departure of most of the remaining Jews.

"The remainder of Iraq's Jews left over the next few decades, and had mostly gone by 1970. Today, fewer than 100 Jews remain in the country, and, as of 2004, debate over the Iraqi constitution has included whether Jews should be considered a minority group, or left out of the constitution altogether."

More detail can be found in a 2004 article in the Jewish Virtual Library:

"With the rise of competing Ba'ath factions in 1963, additional restrictions were placed on the remaining Iraqi Jews. The sale of property was forbidden and all Jews were forced to carry yellow identity cards. After the Six-Day War, more repressive measures were imposed: Jewish property was expropriated; Jewish bank accounts were frozen; Jews were dismissed from public posts; businesses were shut; trading permits were cancelled and telephones were disconnected. Jews were placed under house arrest for long periods of time or restricted to the cities.

"Persecution was at its worst at the end of 1968. Scores were jailed upon the discovery of a local "spy ring" composed of Jewish businessmen. Fourteen men, eleven of them Jews, were sentenced to death in staged trials and hanged in the public squares of Baghdad; others died of torture..."

"In response to international pressure, the Baghdad government quietly allowed most of the remaining Jews to emigrate in the early 1970's, even while leaving other restrictions in force. Most of Iraq's remaining Jews are now too old to leave. They have been pressured by the government to turn over title, without compensation, to more than $200 million worth of Jewish community property...

"Only one synagogue continues to function in Iraq, "a crumbling buff-colored building tucked away in an alleyway" in Bataween, once Baghdad's main Jewish neighborhood. According to the synagogue's administrator, "there are few children to be bar-mitzvahed, or couples to be married. Jews can practice their religion but are not allowed to hold jobs in state enterprises or join the army." The rabbi died in 1996 and none of the remaining Jews can perform the liturgy and only a couple know Hebrew. The last wedding was held in 1980."

I leave it to the reader to decide whether this constitutes "free practice" of Judaism.