Repost from the old site. This is a good article, the first article I wrote on the Internet in December 2004. It was widely posted all over the Net and got a lot of comments on the Net. I believe it is still relevant today.
By any progressive standards, the Iraqi resistance seems to have morphed in recent days into one of the most unprincipled, unethical, fanatical, unreasonable, and reactionary resistance factions on Earth.
From a progressive standpoint, it would seem the Iraqi rebels have some principled grounds to fight for – we see them as resisting a US imperialist, neocolonialist and Zionist invasion of Iraq, one intended to subdue all of those forces in the Middle East resisting US and Israeli desires for total economic, military and political domination of the region.
The US invasion was completely contrary to international law, there has been massive colonization and outright theft of Iraq’s resources and economic base, and the US appears to be demanding the right to establish several colonial garrisons in the conquered land in furtherance of its imperial plans for the region.
We could go on and on about the larger political and economic schemes at play here, but that’s all been dealt with extensively by others. The point I am trying to make here is that merely from anti-imperialist or anti-colonialist point of view, the Iraqi resistance would seem to have a valid cause for armed struggle to throw the invaders and occupiers off their homeland.
Given the seedbed for a patriotic, nationalist, principled resistance the US has sown in Iraq, what have the Iraqi guerrillas done? In 2003, one could still hold out hope for some sort of a progressive, secular, nationalist armed resistance in Iraq. Through 2003, a plethora of resistance groups appeared, with new ones popping up every week or so.
A number of them were standard nationalist groupings, others stridently opposed sectarian politics, and a number were decidedly secular. Some of these groupings were associated with the former regime, but many were not.
They were generally made up of Sunni Arabs, though there were also a number of Shia Arabs, along with a few Kurds, Turkmen and even Iraqi Christians filling out the ranks. Further, there were a number of openly Leftist armed groups, though their numbers were small.
From the point of view of the Iraqi resistance, the best thing to do would be to cast aside all sectarian nonsense and try to unite as many groups as possible against the occupiers. This is what a sensible, intelligent, nationalist resistance does. Even in a region where tribal politics holds sway, the fighters close ranks in the name of “national unity”, as the guerrillas in Palestine have done.
The resistance should avoid imposing noxious, draconian law on the peoples under its control, proceed cautiously in the case of spies, and avoid trying to form local government. The case of Palestine is instructive for how a “national unity” resistance should be run.
Prior to the founding of Hamas in 1987, Islamists in Palestine were hardly involved in the armed struggle – they spent most of their time, believe it or not, arguing about how long to grow one’s beard. If one took up arms, one was regarded as a “Communist”, since armed struggle against Israel was for “Communists”.
There was a great deal of sectarian conflict in those days and the precursors to Hamas killed and wounded many Leftists, who the Islamists despised.
Around this time, Israel helped found Hamas as both a divide and conquer strategy against the Palestinians and to Islamicize the face of Palestinian struggle in order to make it less appealing on the international front. In many ways, this strategy was a complete failure. Before the founding of Hamas, the Islamists were attacking Leftists in Palestine all the time.
This internecine conflict came to an end soon after the founding of Hamas. After things settled down a bit, the Palestinian resistance moved to a point of equilibrium called “national unity”. Presently, open Leftists and Communists in the PFLP and DFLP fight side by side, with no problems whatsoever, with the hardline Islamists in Hamas.
Professors on Palestinian campuses write openly atheist and blasphemous tracts against Islam and are not harmed. One of the top figures in the PLO is an acknowledged atheist and no one bothers him. There are large marches against suicide bombings. Hamas eschews all local law enforcement and refuses to implement an Islamic dress code.
In Ramallah, one can walk into a bar and order a drink during Ramadan – the only place in the Arab World one may do this – and Hamas refuses to even issue an official denunciation. Hamas has never tried to shut down the numerous bars in Palestine.
Although Hamas is officially the Palestinian branch of Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas keeps this a big secret because the MB is so disliked in Palestine (it is regarded as an Islamic extremist organization). Most Palestinians are not even aware of the relationship. Last Christmas, Hamas members actually presented gifts and toys to churches in Bethlehem – an unthinkable act for a hardline Islamist group.
Hardline Islamist imams in Gaza have called for Palestinian Christians and Muslims to fight side by side against Israel. Palestinian Christians, and some Muslims, wear whatever they please, and miniskirts and not unheard of, even in Gaza. The Islamists don’t like Western dress, and comments are made, but Hamas has never tried to enforce any kind of Islamic dress code in Palestine.
Palestinian papers are filled with articles that many hardline Palestinians would consider to be openly treasonous – calls for calling off the armed struggle, for settling for the most debasing peace agreements with Israel, for peaceful struggle a la Gandhi, for disarming the armed groups, etc.
Through it all, Hamas and the hardliners generally keep their mouths shut and tolerate openly “sellout” positions, all in the name of national unity. Although the differences between the Left, the PLO and the Islamists are often very wide, there is not much discussion of these differences – they are all temporarily glossed over in the name of national unity.
PFLP and DFLP fighters, open Leftists, came out for the funerals of Hamas leaders Sheik Yassin and Abdulaziz Rantissi and were seen fighting in the battles with the IDF that erupted afterward. Human rights organizations operate openly in Palestine, criticizing both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides, and the armed factions leave them alone.
Most importantly of all, all Palestinian factions have deep roots in their communities and do not brutalize the people they live amongst. In many places, almost everyone in the community is part of the resistance in one way or another, from young kids to women to old folks – everyone serves some function. You can’t get closer to the people than that.
Journalists, politicians, government workers, UN employees, aid workers, Christians, Druze, students, innocent civilians, even ISF volunteers, have nothing to fear from Hamas, the most radical of the Palestinian factions. Hamas has never been known kidnap foreigners for ransom, or to behead prisoners, much less to do so on videotape.
Hamas has never attacked a Palestinian school, store, campus, neighborhood, mosque, church, bar, press office, polling place, government office or hospital. Only informers for Israel have something to fear, and usually only after a serious investigation.
Even on the rare occasions when Hamas has taken an Israeli soldier hostage, the captives were treated fairly well, at least until Israel made the mistake of trying to “free” them. Hamas held them as ransom to try to get its own prisoners out of Israeli prisons.
When Israel refused to negotiate and stormed the hideout, the guerrillas executed the prisoner, which is a crime, but that is still not the same thing as wanton execution of all enemy prisoners or beheading prisoners on tape and peddling the gorefest around the Internet.
Even during the 90’s, while the PA spent much of its time arresting Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists as favors for the US and Israel, Islamic guerrillas generally refrained from attacks on the PA, a breathtaking show of self-restraint.
While controversy has swirled over the Palestinian terror tactic of suicide bombings against civilians, the world fails to recognize that almost all Palestinian attacks have been against military or settler targets in the Territories, and only a relative few attacks have occurred inside the Green Line.
Palestinian guerrillas have repeatedly offered to cease all attacks on civilians inside Israel, only to be endlessly rebuffed. One gets the feeling that Israel wants a suicide attack inside the Green Line now and again to malign the enemy and feed its propaganda machine. Even here, though, Palestinian terrorists have taken a nuanced stance.
Note the International Solidarity Movement’s (ISM) volunteers that swarm the Territories, standing by the besieged Palestinian people and helping protect civilians. Most people don’t realize that 1/3 of ISM volunteers are Jewish.
Generally, these Jews who have chosen to stand by the Palestinian people do not complain of racism from the supposedly Jew-hating Palestinians. How long would a Jewish civilian volunteer last in Iraq’s Sunni Triangle, no matter how pro-resistance he was?
The point here is that all of these people – atheists, blasphemers, bartenders and bar patrons, women in miniskirts, “sell-outs” and compromise at any cost types, human rights activists, journalists, humanitarian workers, Leftists, Communists, feminists, Christians – are basically left alone!
There may be some words exchanged here and there, but in general, no one threatens them, puts a gun to their head, beats them up, attacks them, tortures them, much less kills them or chops their head off on tape. This is the intelligent way to run a principled, intelligent, nationalist resistance to a colonizer, occupier or invader.
Why? Because by fracturing and fighting amongst themselves, the resistance serves the needs of the occupier. Divide and conquer is the age-old colonial game and the smartest resistance movements try not to fall for it.
So what has the Iraqi resistance done? Exactly the opposite of the Palestinian resistance! Instance of uniting for national unity, they are presently pursuing one of the most reactionary, backwards, barbaric, sectarian, fascistic, oppressive, domineering, racist, tribalistic, and downright stupid agendas imaginable.
Allow me to elaborate: In late 2003, after the capture of Saddam, the resistance started moving towards Sunni Islamism and the pro-Saddam factions started drying up. Although there have been a couple of serious, and commendable, flare-ups of Shia nationalistic Islamism with the 2 Sadr rebellions in 2004, at the moment, the resistance is probably 90% Sunni Arab.
Furthermore, as 2004 wore on, the Sunni Islamists became more and more extreme, with a movement towards Salafism or Wahhabism, the most extreme Sunni Islam with roots in the Arabian Gulf.
Through 2004 the Leftist, nationalist, and unified front type groupings gradually seemed to give way to this extreme fanatical Sunni Salafist Islam, which now dominates the Iraqi resistance with its bleak, cruel, Medieval, puritanical, theocratic agenda.
With each passing month, more and more Shia are alienated from the resistance as the Sunni extremists attack the Shia with increasing regularity. In the areas they control, the Sunni fanatics have imposed the most backwards, insane, brutal and stupid version of Islamic law since the fall of the Taliban.
Even Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Sudan are not this harsh. Women are threatened and then shot dead for the crime of wearing blue jeans. Drivers listening to music are pulled out of their cars, beaten, and ordered to listen to religious music. Stores selling musical instruments and music and video CD’s are ordered to close and attacked when they don’t close. Hairdressers and makeup shops are ordered to close.
Women refusing to wear the hijab are threatened with guns and sometimes killed for not covering up. Alcohol stores are ordered to close and bombed when they don’t comply. Alcohol sellers are flogged in public. Men with long hair are given mock public trials where they are beaten and their “Western” haircuts shorn.
In recent days, the Sunni guerrillas around Latifiyah in the so-called Death Triangle have committed the ultimate outrage of shutting down the schools in the region, either in “solidarity with Fallujah” or because “schools are cooperating with the Occupation”.
One has to think hard to think of a resistance group in recent years that has shut down the schools of very same people they are claiming to “protect”. The damage that could be done to the Sunni youngsters in these areas from long-term school shutdowns is hard to calculate.
Journalists are kidnapped, beaten, tortured, shot dead, and even beheaded on tape in a frenzy of delirious rage that is hard for the sane mind to comprehend. News agencies are attacked for not sufficiently toeing the guerrilla line.
And in the ultimate crime and the nadir of stupidity, an aid worker who dedicated her life to the Iraqi people and hated the Occupation was kidnapped and brutally murdered for reasons only an asylum inmate could comprehend.
God forbid, even hospitals are attacked; in the most egregious case, after the idiotic bombing of a Christian church, in order to doubly punish the “infidel Christian” victims of the blast ferried to the hospital.
Execution of “spies”, “informers” and the like is utterly random and at the whim of the guerrillas, often without much evidence or the slightest hint of a proceeding.
The upshot of all of this is that in the areas where they Sunni fanatics hold sway, they are often feared and hated by a certain number of residents, Sunni Arabs themselves. Some residents are so fed up with guerrilla high-handedness and cruelty that they have welcomed the re-Occupation of their cities by US troops.
When a guerrilla faction is reduced to ruling and surviving through terror and not through the deep, passionate support of the people, that resistance faction is utterly failing in one of the primary rules of guerrilla war.
This rule, cited from Mao to Che to the finest war colleges on Earth, that the guerrillas need to gain support from civilian populations through good deeds and by the passionate commitment to the guerrilla cause of the people the guerrillas live amongst. The people’s support for the guerrilla works best when freely given and not coerced – terrorizing the people you claim to represent only gets one so far.
And how are the Sunni Islamists treating other religious groups, whom any half-sane Sunni resistance ought to be trying to enlist in a national resistance? Christians are threatened, ordered to close their alcohol, hairdressing and makeup shops and wear the hijab. If they refuse, they are killed.
Some Christians are being ordered to convert to Islam on penalty of death and there have been a few deaths in these cases. Iraqi churches, some of the oldest and most beautiful in the Christian World, have been repeatedly and shamelessly bombed.
It is true that many Christians have supported the Occupation in the past, but many others have not, and some large Christian parties have recently strongly opposed the Occupation.
The Shia are threatened, bullied, humiliated and ultimately ethnically cleansed. An entire region, from Abu Ghurayb down to Yusufiya and Latifiyah, is being systematically cleansed of Shia in an attempt to expand the Sunni Zone west of Baghdad.
Clearly, this is no better than what Israel does in their Territories. In Latifiyah, Shia mosques have been ordered to close and Shia are being thrown off the land so that Sunnis can take their farmland. Landowners renting to Shia are threatened with death unless they throw the Shia off the land.
The Sunni Islamists have begun setting up checkpoints in Latifiyah, on the popular Shia pilgrimage route between Baghdad and Najaf/Karbala. When Shia pilgrims arrive at these checkpoints, they are pulled out of their cars and ordered to denounce Ali, their patron saint. If they refuse, they are shot dead on the spot.
Other Shia are pulled out of their cars, beaten, and ordered not to come that way again. A Shia armed brigade, the Fury Brigades, was formed recently in Basra to deal with the blatant Sunni racism and oppression of the Shia in Latifiyah.
This Shia armed group recently fought a battle with Sunni Salafists in Latifiyah. Of course, US forces sat back and watched for a couple of hours while they bloodied each other. Obviously, it serves the occupier, the US Coalition, Israel, and imperialism in general to have various Iraqi factions fighting against each. This is exactly what the US and Israel want – the better to control Iraq.
The long-term strategy of the Israeli Right has long been that in order for Israel to survive its hostile neighborhood, Israel needs to become the dominant imperialist state in the Middle East and take control of the neighborhood by attacking its various hostile Arab neighbors (or getting the US to do it for them) and breaking up hostile Arab states into endlessly warring ethnic statelets.
This strategy was laid out in an internal Israeli document published in 1980 and uncovered and revealed to the world by the brave Israeli dissident Israel Shahak. Other more recent documents echo the same line, especially Securing the Realm in 1996 (The Securing the Realm document appears to lay the groundwork for the Iraq invasion).
The 1980 Israeli paper said that the optimal situation for Iraq, from Israel’s point of view, would be endless civil war between the various sects and ethnic groups, especially the Kurds and the Shia and Sunni Arabs. An eventual breakup of Iraq into unstable ethnic mini-states would be ideal.
A number of prominent American thinkers have also recently published on the benefits of breaking up Iraq into unstable, weak, easily controlled ethnic statelets. So, in their bottomless tribal stupidity, the Iraqi resistance is playing into the precisely laid plans and wildest dreams of their worst enemies – the Israelis and the Americans!
At the moment, the Sunni resistance has various goals. The first and only noble goal, from the point of view of an ideal resistance faction, is to throw the US Coalition out of Iraq. Beyond that, the Sunnis increasingly fear a Shia takeover in the coming elections in January. The Sunni Arabs have brutally ruled Mesopotamia, and later Iraq, for many centuries, lording it over the Shia Arabs in the process.
This 20% oligarchic elite, the Sunni Arabs, feel somehow entitled to lord it over Shia Arabs and Kurds like the worst feudal overlords.
A Shia victory in the coming elections would be the end of the reign of this racist ruling class Sunni elite, the end of their supremacism and domination of the other groups in the nation, and the end to their ill-deserved privileges obtained by brutally exploiting the other groups. The Sunni Arabs need to get used to the fact that they are a minority in Iraq.
If the Sunnis had any sense, they would be negotiating deals with the Shia at this very moment. Instead, like a typical ruling class thrown out of power, they are not giving up the tiniest bit of their illegitimate power and privileges without a vicious fight.
These deals would take the form of some sort of apology rituals by the Sunnis, such as statements of apology by the Sunni clergy for the crimes the Sunnis have committed against the Shia over the centuries, or perhaps pilgrimages to Shia mosques where prominent Sunnis essentially repent to the Shia for their crimes and ask for their forgiveness. The fact that these rituals would be largely symbolic is not the point.
In this sort of socio-political ritual, the symbolism itself can have potent sociological and political ramifications. The Sunnis could also cut deals for some sort of affirmative action or power sharing in government, a la Lebanon.
The Sunnis could point out that the Shia can hardly run the country without Sunni expertise and wealth. In return, the Shia would offer the Sunni Arabs, say, 20% of the seats in Parliament, 20% of the positions in the Cabinet, and perhaps one top-ranking post.
The basis for this deal would be that sharing power is preferable to civil war and that Iraqi Muslims ought to unite against the US and Israel instead of serving the enemy by infighting. Now that’s if the Sunni Arabs had any sense. But it appears that deep-rooted tribalism and bigotry and the towering arrogance and sense of entitlement of an ancient ruling class is trumping pragmatism in Iraq.
The Sunnis feel that they have enough power, guns and money to both throw out the US Coalition and then put the Kurds and Shia back under their boot, just like in the good old days. And they are willing to gamble a lot to get it all back. The game here is the zero-sum game.
Each group – Sunni Arabs, Kurds and Shia Arabs feels that either their tribe gets it all, or their tribe gets nothing. There is one winner who gets everything, and two losers who get zero. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Certainly sharing the wealth and power is preferable to endless civil war that only serves the enemy.
There are plenty of logical, historical reasons for Shia Arabs, secular Iraqis, progressive Iraqis, nationalist Iraqis and even Iraqi Christians to oppose the Coalition’s Occupation of Iraq. In 1920, all these groups rose up against the British.
At the moment, many amongst these groups are either supporting the US Coalition or sitting on the sidelines because the Taliban-like Sunni resistance either offers them nothing or seems even worse than the US. In this case, the US presence at least offers Christians, the Shia, the secular, progressives and even nationalists some modicum of protection against the nightmare of a brutal Sunni theocracy.
The leading figurehead for this insane, fanatical, brutal Sunni nonsense is none other than Mr. Zarqawi. This man is a certified sadist, a sociopathic freak with the mind of a serial killer who delights in personally sawing off the heads of live human beings for the whole world to see.
A few of his more famous victims have been utterly innocent in any sense of the word. Zarqawi harbors a crazed, pathological hatred of Shia Muslims and Christians in general, not to mention Sunni Muslims who are insufficiently fanatical. One could hardly think of a more backwards, terrifying, medieval, monstrous, criminal, racist pig of a man to head the Iraqi Resistance.
The US and Israel must be delighted. Zarqawi is a grade-A villain right out of the movies, with virtually no redeeming qualities and a mortifying, bloodthirsty, genocidal vision. The elevation of Zarqawi to the symbolic leadership of the Iraqi resistance symbolizes the depths of the depravity and lunacy to which the Iraqi Sunni Salafist rebels have sunk.
On the one hand, we have the ultra-reactionary, backwards, racist, corrupt, sexist, cruel-hearted, supremacist, chauvinist, criminal, fundamentalist, crusading Bush Administration and its imperial armies smashing around the globe picking fights and bullying the planet.
Lined up against them, in Iraq and Afghanistan, are some of the most backwards, ultra- reactionary, supremacist, chauvinist, medieval, fundamentalist, racist, corrupt, sexist, cruel-hearted criminals on Earth, offering a vision at least as vicious, animalistic, cold, primitive and fascist-like as Bush’s crusaders, if not much worse.
Rational people realize that religious wars are some of the stupidest of all possible wars. This war – the “War on Terror” – is a becoming a war between insane reactionary religious fanatics, one side waving the banner of Christianity (and more surreptitiously, Judaism), the other the banner of Islam.
The failure of the rest of the Earth, inhabiting the relatively sane terrain between these terrifying extremes, to offer a substantive vision between these two utterly bleak alternatives, is profoundly dispiriting.