The Columbia Critic

A place to debate anything we want to. We'll talk Columbia campus issues. We'll talk up the homosexual problem. We'll talk China. And we'll talk without resorting to partisan rhetoric. We may be left. We may be right. But we aren't going to be quoting any party line. We're leading the discussion. But feel free to chime in. Hannity and Colmes this is not.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

What are we going to do with Iraq?

Georges Sada, an Iraqi general and former number 2 in Saddam Hussein's air force, has recently released book that may throw America's left for a revelation. For three years, the left, myself included, has been chastising the Bush administration for its invasion of Iraq. We were in a war with Al-Qaeda which was based in Afghanistan and there was and still is not a connection between 9/11 and Iraq. Lacking any sort of explanation other than:

"First, just if I might correct a misperception. I don't think we ever said -- at least I know I didn't say that there was a direct connection between September the 11th and Saddam Hussein... but I was very careful never to say that Saddam Hussein ordered the attacks on America. The truth of the matter is the whole world thought that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. might remember, sir, there was a Security Council vote of 15 to nothing that said to Saddam Hussein, disclose, disarm, or face serious consequences. The basic premise was, you've got weapons. That's what we thought. When he didn't disclose, and when he didn't disarm, and when he deceived inspectors, it sent a very disconcerting message to me, whose job it is to protect the American people and to take threats before they fully materialize. My view is, he was given the choice of whether or not he would face reprisal. It was his decision to make. And so he chose to not disclose, not disarm, as far as everybody was concerned."

What is troubling about General Sada's book, "Saddam's Secrets", is that he states that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, materials related to weapons of mass destruction, etc. and that Saddam had them moved to Syria. For three years we have critiqued the Iraq invasion for insufficient intelligence of a threat and the non-existence of WMDs, and for three years we have been embroiled in a struggle in Iraq that has seen the loss of 2000+ American military deaths and 30,000+ Iraqi deaths. It is March 2006, more than 5 years after the deadly attack on the World Trade Center and Osama Bin laden is still at large. A mission unfulfilled 5 years after the fact and the only reason Bin Laden's name reappears in the US media is because he sends video tapes reminding us that he still looms in the shadows. It almost doesn't matter anymore, we have concentrated ourselves on Iraq, our responsibilities to rebuild Afghanistan and bring Bin Laden to justice seem to have fallen by the wayside.

Many on the American right will look at the reasons for war and dismiss them for what seems to be a burst of pragmatic consideration. "We are in Iraq, it doesn't matter why we are there, but what we are going to do now that we are there" a friend said to me on my trip home to Jacksonville during winter break. It seems however with this recent revelation by General Sada that soon the left and the right will be on the same page. We on the left will still not understand why we shifted from Afghanistan to Iraq, but we will acknowledge the threat Saddam posed with WMDs (if Sada's claims are found to be true). The million dollar question is how we proceed with the 'War on Terror'.
The right's strategy is to occupy Iraq for the remainder of the decade, training Iraqi forces to transfer security responsibility, and establish a government. The left has been increasingly pressing for the US military to leave Iraq immediately and devote our efforts to new threats that are emerging. The strategy of the right represents a belief that we can set up western institutions and they will work in the Middle East. The strategy of the left acknowledges a belief that we need to leave because we are engaging in an illegal war and inciting violence simply by virtue of our presence. Neither view suggests that the problem in Iraq is not sectarian violence, Islamic extremism, but the Islamic faith itself.

The United States has a history of social struggle, racism, sexism, war, economic inequity, and a host of other problems, but these issues have been met with a tradition of progressive thinking and they have slowly been addressed and ameliorated. We are a nation of mixed religions and races; our ability to peacefully co-exist on the macro-scale leads us to believe that our gaping differences have been pragmatic set aside so that we are able to function as a social entity. It is this foundation that most of my generation derives concepts of ethics and morals, and perhaps it is also our naivety that causes us to apply these morals homogenously when we try to put ourselves in someone else's shoes.

We can look at an example: In the United States we have organizations like PETA advocating the protection of animal rights and their humane treatment. While some may find PETA a little extreme for their tastes, a little too righteous, I think we can say that the majority of America has some sort of moral compass involving abuse of animals; we probably don't kick dogs and cats and throw alka-seltzer at seagulls. Although we have such strong convictions about these things it is a little ridiculous to apply the same set of morals to primitive man that was required to be a hunter and gatherer in order to survive. It is comedic to picture one of our caveman brethren screaming at another because he was pounding a wild deer to death with a boulder.

I'm surprised that I'm asking this question, but are we making an error in giving every religion the benefit of the doubt in believing that they are on the same ethical/moral level with us? I concede that ethics and morals are social constructs that don't have comparable levels of worst, bad, good and best. I believe however, that we often assume that because we live in the 21st century, a time of vast technological breakthroughs and relative peace, that the global populace has adopted similar beliefs concerning preservation and promotion of life, helping one's neighbor, and generally working together for pragmatic means. After reading quite a bit of Sam Harris' book "The End of Faith", it doesn't seem to be too ridiculous to say that the Middle East and the West are not functioning on the same plane of morality. Harris tries to show that Islam is a faith of expansionism and has a textual basis for intolerance towards other religious beliefs. Further he explains that Muslims are angry that the US is occupying its territory and by the military's presence and trying to solve problems, the US is threatening the grasp Islam has on its followers. Islamic imperialism however is not "imperialism" but a manifest destiny that the Qu'ran calls its followers to take up.

With 9/11 and the War in Iraq as his evidence, the Muslim world is portrayed to be ready to strike at the heart of Western values. The Muslim world may be everything he has described, but regardless if it is because of the strength of non-Islamic nations halting expansionism or some other reason, it is a truth that the vast majority of Muslims have not taken up arms to wage a global Jihad against all non-Muslims. The war of caution that Sam Harris is waving in our faces shouldn't be lost though, as there is a lot to fear. We can see that Islam is not trying to fly to our country and blow it up. Terrorism is a product of radical Islam and its followers. What Harris wants us to see is that although attacks originate from radical Islam, there is little large scale outrage directed at the terrorism, there does not exist a moderate Islam in the Middle East, moderate in the sense that we understand in the West (the difference between moderate and fundamentalist).

So we must wonder where the Middle Eastern leadership's response to terrorism? As of now I am unaware of any such response, I'm not sure if the Arab nations simply do not care or if they eat dinner and watch their televisions thinking "Another terrorist attack by Bin Laden, how terrible, they are infidels anyways"? There has been no organized condemnation or fatwa against Osama Bin Laden for whatever reason. There have been more than a few Muslims condemning terrorism, suicide bombings, killing of innocents, and Bin Laden from America, Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, etc. but these are just the voices of ones among hundreds of millions. The only country I know of that has issued a fatwa against Bin Laden was Spain following the bombing of their trains, perhaps it has happened in London and the US, but I was unable to find any such decree by local Muslim leadership. Such a powerful doctrinal decree is important in fighting the war on terror; there is a hesitance to do so. In fact I believe the last time I heard Iraqis denounce terrorism was when other Iraqis bombed a holy temple in Iraq, and still many chose to implicate American presence as the cause. Sam Harris attributes it to the text of the Qu'ran and hadith. In just the passages that he cites, there are ~ 60 passages from the Qu'ran describing a God that has no tolerance for infidels and that Muslims are encouraged to take up physical action to protect threats against Islam. This is not in my opinion enough to motivate collective peoples to incite a war with the West, but it is reason enough to believe that given a religious fervor catalyst by extremists others will join the cause.

I think we've seen that defense of Islam is not limited to extremists. Defense of Islam does not even need to be as extreme as flying a plane into a building across the Atlantic Ocean. It was only last month that we witnessed a series of protests turned riots caused by the anti-Muslim cartoons published by a Dutch newspaper. As a response to the cartoons, the Danish consulate in Beirut was burned, Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus burned, grenades thrown at Danish embassy in Tehran, Italian consulate in Libya burned, a NATO base in Afghanistan was attacked, mass rioting across Africa, Europe and the Middle East, Christian churches burned down in Nigeria, EU headquarters in Gaza attacked, death threats issued for the cartoonists along with rewards for their deaths, fatwas issued against offending cartoonists and newspapers, and many Muslim demonstrators were killed by crowd stampede, riot by product, and police fire.

Moral relativism is important when we analyze how we as a country must proceed against terror and Muslim violence. In the United States and throughout the EU, there have been many denunciations against terrorism and the perversion of Islam by each respective Muslim community. We must remember that the EU-Muslim and American-Muslim attitudes are very different from those of the Middle East, as American culture requires the blending of religion with secular humanism. We fight for progressive values in the United States, we fight for equal rights of all of our citizens and it is only natural that Muslims within our borders assume a Western influenced understanding of Islam and the teachings of the Qu'ran.

The only feasible option I envision for Iraq if we are to ensure American safety is to create a culture of Western influence in Iraq. Middle Eastern nations are currently able to remain economically independent; they are oil rich nations that do not bother to tax their citizens. Western nations rely on Iraq for oil; Iraq relies on us to buy the oil. As long as we continue and build economic interdependency we can perhaps survive another day. The religious divide between our two cultures is a problem that is ready to strike at any time. America has its share of religious extremists, but in modern times there are no instances of American religious fanatics undertaking a holy war against believers in 'false gods and idols'. Why these terrorist extremists are able to exist and permeate through Middle Eastern nations and cultures is a question that must be directed at Islam itself.

"Any systematic approach to ethics, or to understanding the necessary underpinnings of a civil society, will find many Muslims standing eye deep in the red barbarity of the fourteenth century. There are undoubtedly historical and cultural reasons for this, and enough blame to go around, but we should not ignore the fact that we must now confront whole societies whose moral and political development-in their treatment of women and children, in their prosecution of war, in their approach to criminal justice, and in their very intuitions about what constitutes cruelty-lags behind our own."- Sam Harris- "End of Faith"

It seems obvious to Western thinkers that terrorism and extremism is a gross bastardization and misinterpretation of the Qu'ran and Islam. It is dangerous to maintain such idealized conceptions as the war in Iraq rages on with no resolution in sight, fundamentalist schools continue to receive funding, Iran seems more dangerous than ever, and more people on both sides of the conflict die as each day passes.


  • At 5:36 PM, Blogger The Gentle Cricket said…

    Great post. It's refreshing to see someone who has been a critic of the invasion to recognize the potential evidence that Iraq did have WMD's.

    I am a republican, but like you, I am willing to entertain evidence contrary to what I support. I don't know if there were WMD's, and I am upset that intelligence from so many sources was so flawed. Bush takes a lot of heat for that, which he should, but I think that heat should also be placed on other intelligence sources.

  • At 3:57 PM, Blogger Brian said…

    Sam Harris worries me. I read some blogs by him where he expounded upon his rather elitist atheistic views that all people of religion were dangerous and stupid (in essence) and that the world's problems were there fault. He's almost more radical than the religious right in some respects, and to the degree he blames religious individuals, wrong in his sweeping generalizations

  • At 7:15 PM, Blogger Wang said…

    Sam Harris does preach a very ideal world atheist worldview, but that's not the point.

    You should read his book, basically it's about how we've become so liberal in America that it is taboo and completely untouchable to have critical discourse about religion. First he doesn't say religious people are dangerous and stupid. What he does say is religion has been the root cause of many a bloody conflict in our timeline.

    Second, does it matter that he is more radical than the religious right? I think he makes a very profound set of points, the strongest being that ethics was born out of secular humanism and that ethics and morals do not require a religious foundation to exist. During our 'war on terror' it's more than necessary to understand what moral plane you are fighting on. Thinking that Middle Eastern Muslims have the same evolution of social norms and ethical values is going to shoot us in the foot if we continue to approach them situation in this fashion.


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