[OUTLOOK]Iraqis deserve all the praiseSo democracy doesn’t work in the Arab world? And the Iraqi terrorists ― yes, that’s what they are because they target mainly civilians ― are fighting a “war of national liberation” against the American occupiers? Think again.
Or let’s go back to another occupation ― that of Germany after the collapse of the Hitler regime. The first free national elections took place there in 1949. How many Germans would have gone to the polls if remnants of the SS and of the Stormtroopers had systematically bombed the polling stations? Not too many, but the Iraqis did ― with a participation rate of around 60 percent, which is more than in some U.S. presidential elections.
Ah, many Europeans say, but those were mainly Shiites and Kurds, while the Sunni Arabs stayed at home. Think again. Their participation rate was around 25 percent, and that took real courage because the Sunnis live in the very areas where the terrorists can roam much more freely than in the other parts of the country.
Yes, granted, but the “insurgents” (a more polite word for “terrorists”) are fighting against the American and other foreign occupiers, aren’t they? We may not like their means, so one standard argument goes, but we have to understand that their war is against the foreigners, and not against their own people.
Think again, and then read what Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, al-Qaeda’s chief operative in Iraq, had to say just before the elections on Jan. 23. The gist of it is that his henchmen are fighting not the Americans, but democracy in Iraq.
He starts out, correctly, by defining democracy as a principle where “the people are the source of all authority.” But then he thunders that this is the “very essence of heresy and error as it contradicts the basis of the faith of Islam,” where all obedience must go not to man, but to Allah.
Freedom of religion and belief? That is “perverse and false” because this freedom entails that “man can believe anything he wants and choose any religion he wants.” But whoever changes his faith, Zarqawi continues, Islam says: “Kill him. It does not say: Leave him alone.”
All sovereignty belongs to the people? It belongs to God, “and none else.”
Freedom of expression? No, again, because that would allow people to “hurt and revile the Divine Being.”
Freedom of association? “That principle is null and void according to Islamic law” for it would also legalize “heretical parties.”
Separation between mosque and state? Wrong and vile again.
Majority rule? “This principle is totally wrong and void because truth according to Islam is that which is in accordance with the Koran and the Sunna [the tradition of the Prophet].”
Zarqawi’s mentor, Muhammad al-Maqadisi, puts it all in a nutshell: “Democracy is denying Allah the Almighty.”
Let us now listen to Ibrahim al-Hariri, an Iraqi writer and torture victim who has returned to his country after 33 years of exile:
“The fundamentalists have insulted the dignity of man. They were playing the old game: terror and force against normal people. The people, who have suffered so much under the dictatorship, must have found this ridiculous. Was Zarqawi the alternative? This was the single-most important reason why the people began streaming into the polling stations on Jan. 30.”
The writer and poet continues: “The fundamentalists and the old-regime loyalists have nothing to offer except death and oppression. They speak to the people while standing on mounds of buried corpses.”
He concludes: “I am no hero and not a courageous man, but when I have to fight for Iraq’s freedom, I will do it ― like most of the Iraqis.”
Those millions around the world who protested against the United States in 2002, thus unwittingly trying to protect the tyrant Saddam Hussein, were blinded by their fear and hatred of America. Many of them still do not see clearly what is happening in Iraq.
It is true that weapons of mass destruction were never found. It is also true that the United States did not just have democracy in mind, but also strategic interests. But neither did the allies of World War II fight first and foremost to bring democracy to Germany and the Japan.
The purpose was to bring down murderous regimes that had inflicted a world war on the rest of the planet. Also, nobody thought in 1945 that Germany and Japan would ever evolve into stable, liberal democracies.
But the irony is that they did. Will Iraq follow in the footsteps of Germany and Japan? We don’t know. All we know is that the Iraqi people took one giant step forward ― and this under the most dangerous conditions for their lives and limbs.
Let’s pay them the respect and admiration that is due to them. And let’s hope that they will prevail against those who want to bring back the old tyranny.
* The writer, the editor of Die Zeit, a German weekly, is a visiting professor of political science at Stanford University.
by Josef Joffe