Chronicle of a dying world

I woke up this morning with a bizarre feeling. Seen from my quiet Parisian suburb- whose tranquil serenity nothing can shake on earth-, the war in Iraq, with its procession of news bulletins, commentaries, analyzes, and other information/misinformation, psychological bla-bla, intoxication rant, delirium-tremens’ speeches, demonstrations, counter-demonstrations, slogans, mythologies, delusions and phantasms, half-truths, pseudo-secrets, lies… besides thousands of men from both sides, engaged with their logistics and machines on a ground already undermined with secular disastrous passions, feuds, anger, frustrated desires…etc… All this sounds such a weird picture gathering an unbelievably schizoid-dissociated world that I can hardly think of anything but a crazy painting of Erro.

However, as I am neither an art critic, nor completely out of touch with the reality, since I have to write a daily political column, I fancied that – like some colleagues- I have perhaps caught that old vice called “professional deformation”, which makes a journalist either completely insensitive to his subject or too sensitive to it. In both cases, he would not be able to see the event with the required detachment, which may subsequently induce him to the distortion of the reality. In times like theses, we may very well fall into one of these traps and, either be robotized so that we report or analyze or comment without really feeling what we are talking about, or get so extremely involved in our job, so passionately concerned with its human side (be it people’s sufferance or happiness, courage, or cowardice, sacrifice or selfishness, etc.), that we get overwhelmed with an unbalanced and necessarily partial view, without even noticing it. I am however hoping that I did not yet reach such a stage, albeit my attachment to my profession that has no match than my attachment to my independence, likely caused such an obsessive fear in my mind.

Thus, the reason of this talk is that, day in day out, I felt while hunting for the information concerning this war that I was growing much more involved on the emotional level than I ever sought to be. It is as if I were an Iraqi émigré living in this French exile and dreaming only of going back to Baghdad, and walking again serenely on the banks of the Tigris, in a country that has regained peace and tranquility. But the entire problem is precisely here: When would the beautiful and cherished Iraq recover and get peace? Nothing makes me touch really the full nonsense of the whole situation like the simple fact of raising such a question in these fateful days of war. Yet, some days ago, I have written that even in wartime, every party would pretend that its concern is only about peace. Of course, but from peace to war, and from war that leads to peace that leads to war, etc, we just see Iraq sinking in blood for at least the past quarter of a century, to the extent that peace has become rather a rare event in that country. I do not want to believe some views propagated by contemporary historians pretending that violence is the indelible hallmark of the entire Iraqi modern history, without thinking seriously about it and raising the question of whether this is due only to the oil, or also to other reasons such as the internal struggle about power and the lack of democracy.

The history of the XX century in Iraq was however, the history of all the political parties that were taking part at one time or another to the political scene. It is known that Iraq is one of the richest Arab countries on this level, that his political class is one of the most experienced in the region; that it is from Iraq and Syria that the first great Arab revolt of 1914-1918, ( to which T.E.Lawrence participated) sparked off, at a time when the Arabs of the Maghreb were still sleeping in the lap of their French mother. Therefore, what undermined the internal dynamism  so that instead of triggering a rich experience of democratic multipartism, it  ended in a deadlock blocking all perspectives, which opened the way to the war(s), as if it was the unique solution to all the troubles of the society?

Was the war against Iran really an inevitable necessity?

Was the war against Kuwait and the alliance another inevitable necessity?

And was this war – which entered its sixth day at the time of this writing-, still another absolutely inevitable necessity?

But necessity for whom? Who triggered the three wars and who tried to profit from them? 

Thus, I kept my monologue: This is too bad! I told myself. I am taking this problem too close to my heart. It is as if my whole life depends on the issue of this war! Why do I feel myself personally concerned? If I acknowledge that this war is mainly between Bush and Saddam, and that I am one among millions of people for whom nothing in their life would change either during the war or after it, and whatever the issue, then does it make any sense to behave as if I was a party in this game? Speaking simply: If I allow one camp to hijack my emotions, how can I do rationally my job?

But this is too simplistic. This is hardly a war between Bush and Saddam, for many reasons, among which:

Saddam is hardly a match for Bush, not on the personal level, but on the symbolic. The second is the leader of a superpower- eventually the leader of the West, although this is now more and more contested (in France, Germany, Belgium, and generally the old Europe). Saddam is not even the leader of the Iraqi people. Nobody in such a case would be credible while claiming 100% of the electorate voices, unless we are all fools, and he alone wise. Even the Prophet of Islam Muhammad (peace be upon him), never pretended that all the people living in Arabia are his followers. He fought enemies, it is known. And some of his worst enemies were not only Arabs, but from his own city: Mecca. So, what’s the wisdom of pretending that 24 million Iraqis have elected Saddam Hussein, when even in his own party (the Baath, that is) he made his way to the top, on the corpses of some of his comrades?

If Saddam is not credible in his own country – not to speak of the Arab world in whose summits he did not show up since the eighties-, so who is resisting the allied forces right now? The people of Iraq? This is hardly the case. We would be more inspired to say: the resistance has been organized by the “popular army”. For those who do not know, this is the militia of the Baath party, which Saddam himself founded since he was the second man in Iraq after the President Ahmed Hassan al Bakr, well before he founded the famous Republican guard. There was a Baathist theory since the seventies about the “popular army”. Just read the magazines of that period in Iraq.

Those who are fighting today against the allied forces in Iraq are not necessarily all Baathist. Some of them are fighting for money (professional). Some others for honor (tribes close by alliance of blood to Saddam). And some others because they are afraid of Saddam’s revenge, or because they don’t trust the Americans and the British more than they trust Saddam. Many among the Shiites of the south – among them the population of Bassorah- did not forget that the Americans who encouraged them to start a rebellion against Saddam in the aftermath of Desert Storm, left them to face alone their tragical fate. Some sources say that there were thousands of dead among them. I do not dare to mention the number, for I fear to seem either exaggerating or trapped into the opposition’s propaganda. But the point is that those abandoned people have not yet forgotten the American behaviour, which may explain why they seem now so reluctant toward those who say they are out there for them.

What we said previously does not imply necessarily that all the Baathists are pro-Saddam, and fighting on his side. When this war is over, it would be wise not to put all the Baathists in the same basket. Some of them opposed him. The trial of the regime should not be the trial of the Baath ideology, or of the Arab nationalism. That would be a deadly mistake. As far as I know, the Arab nationalism – which the Baath is only one of its components- is secular and much closer to the West than it is believed.  Let’s not omit that if Saddam succeeded to stay in power during all those years, it is well because he slaughtered many important militants of this party, who were able to oppose the transformation of the party into a terror machine. After all, Michel Aflaq – the founder- is still respected as a thinker, and his books are still studied in some universities, although he is dead since years. But who would care about Saddam if he passes away? Besides, Who among us never met a Baathist  – either in Iraq or outside it – who hated the regime? I know even some well renowned names that I will not unveil, of people who took the party’s card, just to be left alone. Iraqi artists, journalists, writers, scientists, and other intellectuals living in Iraq under Saddam, had only one choice: to pretend that they are agreeing or to be killed or maimed or jailed. These people are not America’s enemies, although without them the regime would seem really a meager, frightful skull. Thus, the point here is: not all the Baathists are Baathists. Not all the resistance is popular resistance. Not all the fighters are really concerned with Saddam’s survival, but rather with their own.

While this is not a war just between Saddam and Bush, it is true that the brusque disappearance of Saddam may end it. I don’t say one of them, because the Iraqis can hardly reach the US president, whereas the latter is quite capable of reaching Saddam. Let’s not hallucinate more about an honorable exile of the Iraqi president, as a solution. It is too late. And besides, who wants him today? And who would oppose an international court if ever he were to be tried? The USA and Great Britain were able to put a whole country – Libya- under “arrest” during a decade, merely because they were suspecting – just suspecting- two men of blowing up a plane over Lockerby. Would any country accept to get in trouble in a similar case, for the “beautiful eyes” of Saddam Hussein? Let’s take France, which seems so keen on fulfilling law conditions, as an example. If an exile to Paris of the Iraqi president could end this war – decidedly hated by the French -, would France grant him to live in peace? I tell you what: Saddam will never be able to make two steps anywhere in any French street, without causing people to jeer scornfully at him. For prior to the present stance, it was France that was leading the political fight against Saddam. Read the French press in the eighties, and you’ll understand what I mean.

It is not a war between Saddam and Bush, for although those who demonstrate in the streets generally shout their slogans against Bush, they do not mean that they support Saddam either. Just observe that the latter’s name never appears in the slogans. He is merely ignored by the demonstrators in the Western cities to the benefice of Iraq. It is peace in Iraq that they claim, not peace for Saddam. But is peace still possible with Saddam in power?

A point is important: For some Arabs Saddam – with all his bloody history- means resistance to the Western hegemony. For some Palestinians for example, he is a brother. They don’t care about his being a “big brother” – G. Orwell- in Iraq itself. They don’t care about his terror, since they are themselves confronted to the Israeli terror. But would they accept Saddam – or his political clone- as a ruler in a liberated Palestine? I doubt it. Besides, who among the Arabs would accept Saddam as a ruler? Whereas they are all blaming the USA and Great Britain for their imperialistic war, they are all complaining of authoritarian regimes, some of which would sound a paradisiacal democracy compared to the Iraqi regime. Yet, because Saddam challenged Israel and threatened the status quo, defended by Uncle Sam, his crimes against the Iraqi people were nearly forgiven – or anyway ignored- before more an important challenge at stake: the war in Iraq took the aspect of a confrontation between the Arab world (maybe even the Islamic) and the old imperialistic power (G. Britain) allied to the new one (USA). What can the Americans and the British do about that? Easy: Just persuade the Arabs that they are not there only for their oil. Palestine is bleeding, and it is dear to all the Arabs. So they say. Can the Americans be magnanimous? Can they stop what is considered as their proxy war in Palestine?

Thus I long wandered and wondered about what I feel and what is real or unreal. Thereupon, I could state that I was not the sole journalist tested by such a crisis. To be sure, this is far from being consolation or good news, for if it proves anything, it would be rather the straining ambiguity commanding the volatile frontiers between the political and the professional. When they are blurred, it is generally the journalists who are blamed.

To make sure that my case is not isolated, I have nothing to do but read the newspapers, watch TV and listen to the radio. In this moment, there is such a cacophony everywhere that leaves you with the amazing impression that either we are all lying or all blind. Anyway, if Iraq is the land of Babel Tower where God confused the languages of its builders, it seems that the divine punishment reached in our time an unprecedented worldly scale, a glimpse of which we could already notice in the debacle of the Security Council whose debate turned either to the farce or to the nightmare.

But could this be only the beginning of a change much more important? A change that may concern not only Iraq, or the Gulf, or the Middle-East, but also the European Union, the NATO, the UN, and in a single expression the international order?

The gravity of the question stems from the simple statement that historically it is always a war that leads to upsetting a status quo and resettling an order (either regional or international). That was the case in the aftermath of World War 1 and World War 2. It also happened after the second Gulf War. And even if we consider the consequences of the cold war obeying the same rules, we should therefore add that its end with the collapse of the Soviet Union and its dominions resettled the record of another international order.

Would we then be in the course of some great changes in the history?

Hichem Karoui is a writer and journalist living in Paris, France.