- While Saddam Hussein’s execution was greeted with delight by many of his victims – Iranians, Kuwaitis, and Iraqi Shia – it also generated widespread criticism among many Arabs and Muslims. This evokes one of the more confounding paradoxes relating to Saddam – the wide discrepancy between his actual track record and the adulation in which he was held by non-Iraqi Arabs.
- Saddam transformed Iraq into the most repressive police state in the world, where a joke or a reported thought could cost a person his life, where tens of thousands of civilians were brutally murdered by their government, and where millions starved while their unelected ruler spent incredible sums of money on monuments and palaces for himself.
- Saddam embroiled his country in a string of catastrophic foreign adventures that claimed more than one million lives and wrought untold physical and economic wreckage. Upon his ascendance in 1979, Iraq was a regional economic superpower, boasting some $35 billion in foreign exchange reserves. Twenty-three years later, it had been reduced to dire poverty and underdevelopment, with tens of billions in foreign debt.
- Why has such an abysmal record been widely applauded by Arabs and Muslims?
- It is the Middle East’s violent political culture that has created and perpetuated the monstrosity of Saddam (and his ilk). Only when this culture is fully eradicated will the region’s inhabitants be able to look forward to a better future. Saddam’s execution, at long last, sets a precedent of holding a local tyrant accountable for his crimes.The writer is head of the Mediterranean Studies Program at King’s College, University of London.
January 14, 2007
December 27, 2006
December 14, 2006
December 2, 2006
PARIS, Dec 1 (Reuters) – A French engineering student who was expelled from Syria on suspicion of trying to join Islamists fighting U.S. forces in Iraq has been placed under formal French judicial investigation, a judicial source said on Friday.
November 25, 2006
A disease is eating away at the Middle East. It afflicts the Syrians, the Iraqis, the Lebanese, even the Israelis. It is the idea that the only political determinant in the Arab world is raw force – the power of physical intimidation. It is politics as assassination.
This week saw another sickening instance of this law of brute force, with the murder of Pierre Gemayel, a Lebanese Cabinet minister who had been a strong critic of Syria. Given the brutal history of Syria’s involvement in Lebanon, there’s an instant temptation to blame Damascus. But in this land of death, there are so many killers and so few means of holding them to account, we can only guess at who pulled the trigger.
I fell in love with Lebanon the first time I visited the country 26 years ago. Part of its appeal, inevitably, was the sense of living on the edge – in a land of charming, piratical characters who cherish their freedom. Lebanon has great newspapers, outspoken intellectuals, a wide-open democracy. It has almost everything a great society needs, in fact, except the rule of law.
Many of the assassins’ victims have been colleagues or people I knew as a reporter: Bashir Gemayel, Rafik Hariri, Samir Kassir, Gebran Tueni. I pick up the paper some days wondering who will be next. Among my Lebanese friends, it’s commonplace to speak of an assassinated father or son. These brave people live every day in the sights of the assassins. They inhabit a culture of death, yet they go on robustly – heroically, to my eyes.
The sickness must end. The people of the Middle East are destroying themselves, literally and figuratively, with the politics of assassination. So many things are going right in the modern world – until we reach the boundaries of the Middle East where the gunmen hide in wait. Those who imagined they could stop the assassins’ little guns with their big guns – the United States and Israel come to mind – have been undone by the howling gale of violence. In trying to fight the killers, they began to make their own arguments for assassination and torture. That should have been a sign that something had gone wrong.
This is a time of convulsive change in the region, and many doors are being pushed open. Syria has an opportunity to leave behind its drab Cold War trench coat and become a modern, prosperous Mediterranean nation; Hizbullah, the party and militia that represents Lebanon’s dispossessed Shiite population, has a chance to lead its followers into political power and prosperity. But they won’t realize these opportunities so long as the politics of assassination rules the region. If Syria and Hizbullah keep brandishing their power like a hand grenade, it will ultimately blow apart in their hands.
The Middle East needs the rule of law – not an order preached by outsiders but one demanded by Arabs who will not tolerate more of this killing. Any leader or nation who aspires to play a constructive role in the region’s future must embrace this idea of legal accountability. That is what the United Nations insisted this week, with a unanimous Security Council resolution demanding that the murderers be brought to justice.
Now the UN must find a way to make the rule of law real. It has chartered a special investigator, Serge Brammertz, to gather the facts in the assassination of the late Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, and has called for an international tribunal to try the cases. It must make this rule of law stick
But the killers always seem to win in Lebanon. That’s the cynics’ rejoinder, and looking at the record of the past quarter-century, it’s hard to argue otherwise. The healthy parts of Arab life keep being overwhelmed by the sickness. The more America and its allies try to support the forces of moderation, the more they seem to undermine them. Western ideas about democratic progress instantly produce deadly antibodies in the Arab body. The disease keeps winning.
The idea that America is going to save the Arab world from itself is seductive, but it’s wrong. We have watched in Iraq an excruciating demonstration of our inability to stop the killers. We aren’t tough enough for it, or smart enough – and in the end it isn’t our problem. The hard work of building a new Middle East will be done by the Arabs, or it won’t happen. What would be unforgivable would be to assume that, in this part of the world, the rule of law is inherently impossible.
Syndicated columnist David Ignatius is published regularly by THE DAILY STAR.
November 15, 2006
The Arab and Muslim worlds now confront a civilizational challenge unlike any they have faced since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The terrorists attacks on New York and Washington cost thousands of innocent lives. Millions of other lives will be wasted or lost if Muslims and Arabs respond to September 11th by wallowing even more in their sense of victimhood.
“Anti-Americanism” in the hands of an Osama bin Laden is but the latest and most virulent form of an idea nurtured originally by secular, so-called progressive, nationalist Arab intellectuals under a variety of labels: anti-imperialism, anti-zionism, Arab socialism, pan-Arabism. These took as their point of departure genuine grievances, some more legitimate than others. Among the legitimate grievances, priority must be given to the injustice caused by the dispossession of millions of Palestinians that accompanied the birth of Israel in 1948.
In the hands of Arab nationalists and leftist “anti-imperialists” of my generation, however (of whom I was once one), this sense of grievance failed to get channeled into building civil societies based on any hard-won expansions of civil liberties wrested from tyrannical regimes (such as occurred in Latin America in the 1980s). Our failure to even pursue such goals left a vacuum that was soon filled by a conspiratorial view of history , reinforced by those tyrannies, which ascribed all the world’s ills to either the great Satan, America, or the little Satan, Israel.
The dangerous, unstated corollary of this view was the notion that “we Arabs” had no, or hardly any, power to change the unjust ways in which the world works. Arabs in particular, and Muslims more generally, began to see themselves as the “eternal” victims of the 20th century, consigned to a Sisyphean “struggle” against Satanic injustice. Lost was a sense of ourselves as authentic political agents aiming toward concrete and gradual political gains.
It is important to note that Arabs are not the only people who wrap themselves in victimhood; the modern Israeli sense of identity was, after all, forged on the foundations of the Holocaust just as surely as Palestinian national identity was forged by Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Such symmetries (there are many) created a powerful complex of victimhood, applicable to one degree or another to all peoples of the Middle East (Palestinians, Israelis, Kurds, Armenians, Turkomans, Shi’is, and Sunnis).
In the Arab world, especially after Israel’s victory in the six day war of 1967, this complex turned into the driving force of politics and culture; it became the foundation upon which such murderous regimes as Saddam Husain’s Iraq and Hafez Assad’s Syria were built. From the hands of secular Arab nationalists, the murderous anti-American brew was passed on to (previously marginal) religious zealots. In 1979 it fused with anti-Shah sentiments to become one of the animating forces of the Iranian revolution. In the wake of that seminal event, it overwhelmed major sections of the Islamic movement from Algeria to Pakistan.
The Arab and Muslim worlds today comprise a basket case of collapsing economies and mass unemployment overseen by ever more repressive regimes. But in many ways the greatest failure in the Islamic world is intellectual, specifically a failure of the intelligentsia – writers, professors, artists, journalists, and so forth – who, with few exceptions, fail to challenge the region’s wildest and most paranoid fantasies. If anything they buttress them by refusing to break out of nationalist paradigms (for instance by not extending the hand of solidarity to counterparts in Israel).
Instead they act as “rejectionist” critics, excoriating their rulers for being insufficiently anti-zionist or anti-imperialist. Lost in all of this is the hard work of creating a modern, rights-based political order, one that could form the basis for general prosperity. Absent that alternative focus, in the thick of endlessly self-pitying victimizing rhetoric, is it any wonder that despairing middle class individuals gravitate toward radical and terrorist activities aimed at smiting the demonized other? Their horrific/suicidal actions call forth ever more summary and violent responses, which in turn reinforce that pervasive sense of victimhood, yielding other delusional martyrs. Here is the abyss facing the world’s Arab and Muslim communities today.
To pull back from the precipice, Muslims and Arabs, not Americans, must be on the frontlines of a new kind of war, one worth waging for our own salvation and our own souls . That, as out-of-fashion Muslim scholars will tell you, is the true meaning of “ jihad ,” a meaning hijacked by terrorists and suicide bombers and those who applaud or excuse them. To exorcise what they have done in our name is the civilizational challenge that Arabs and Muslims, within and without the Arab and Muslim worlds (Osama bin Laden has erased the significance of such distinctions) face at the dawn of the 21st century.
Kanan Makiya was born in Baghdad, Iraq and now teaches at Brandeis University. His books include “Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq” (University of California Press, 1989 and 1995), “Cruelty and Silence: War, Tyranny, Uprising and the Arab World” (Penguin, 1993) and “The Rock: A Seventh Century Tale of Jerusalem” (Pantheon Books, 2001).
November 10, 2006
At the end of August, The Art Newspaper revealed the stunning news that Donny George, president of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage in Iraq, had been forced to flee the country in fear of his life and take refuge in Damascus. In recent months, Dr George sealed up the treasures of the National Museum in Baghdad behind concrete walls, as it was too dangerous to leave them exposed. He was replaced by a relation of the Minister of Tourism, who comes from the party of Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia cleric and leader of the resistance movement.
Quite rightly, the world reacted with horror to this new threat to Iraq’s antiquities. No technically competent director is left to protect one of the world’s finest archaeological heritages. A situation with catastrophic potential, such as a new pillage of the museum could take place or objects could be sold off en masse.
It is worth deconstructing this event, in order to understand what has really happened and what the dangers are.
Dr George has worked tirelessly since the invasion in 2003, to protect and recover the antiquities then pillaged from the museum. I have the highest admiration for what he has done. He was and is the right person to interface with Western archaeologists, for the recovery of smuggled artefacts and getting help from Western institutions. I suspect that relations with his own government were by no means so warm. The problem is not that he is a Christian, or that he was a Ba’th party official. In my experience, he did not have a great interest in the Islamic heritage, and no doubt this communicated itself to superiors, whose main interest is indeed Islam.
Frequently, archaeologists in Arab countries follow the role models provided by their Western counterparts. Dr George is one of them. Overwhelmingly, Western archaeologists in the Middle East concentrate on the ancient cultures—Egypt, Mesopotamia, Biblical archaeology, etc.—no doubt seen as the ancestors of their own culture. Medieval Islam is of little interest. In a recent meeting in Paris, intended to relaunch French excavations in Iran, there were 23 ancient expeditions, and one Islamic. Not an untypical example. Many of my colleagues have a genuine goodwill towards more recent studies, but others have no interest at all, and it shows.
It would not be surprising if less well-informed Muslims—I do not speak of the cultivated middle classes, who have a genuine interest in their past—were to see the archaeology of the Middle East as in some way belonging to the foreigners and not to themselves. In some cases, they are right: Hellenism and Rome in the East were colonial empires. In others they are not; a modern Shi’i Iraqi probably has the DNA of a Babylonian. In addition, of course, Islam has a revolutionary tradition, that is, Islam replaced earlier civilisations which were considered to be decadent. Islam has a high appreciation of Jesus, but his prophecy was succeeded by that of Muhammad.
Islamist governments, that is, governments of people with more or less fundamentalist Islamic opinions, are a fact of life in the Middle East these days. There may be more tomorrow. Some effort has to be made to deal with them, in order to protect the archaeological heritages of the countries they govern. Simply giving up on contact is not an option. The archaeological heritage cannot be replaced once it has disappeared.
The actual activities of an Islamist-type government are in fact variable. The most extreme case was the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001. In that case, the act seemed to be carried out precisely because there would be an international outcry against it. It was a way of revenging themselves on the West. In the case of the Shi’i administration in Baghdad, and particularly the Sadrists who control the relevant ministry, there have been only words so far. Al-Sadr is alleged to have said that it was acceptable to loot pre-Islamic sites.
But there is little evidence so far of faith-based looting or destruction in Iraq. Professor Elizabeth Stone of Stonybrook University has said: “What is striking is that the Islamic parts are left alone, whereas the immediate pre-Islamic sites are not.” It is true that there has been little looting of Islamic sites in proportion to ancient sites, but it is a difference that goes back to 1991, and has economic origins. Islamic objects from Iraq are not seen as having the same financial value.
On the other hand, in Iran, an Islamist-type regime has come to terms with its archaeological heritage, and images of the pre-Islamic Iranian past are used again for national representation.
There is no doubt that Muslims undervalue the uses of archaeology—even of the Islamic period—for proclaiming their identity. Archaeology is more commonly associated with nationalism, and Islam has a more transnational character as a source of identity. In the short term, the interplay of Islam and nationalism needs to be exploited to defend archaeology. In the long term, a concerted effort needs to be made to sensitise Muslim populations to their magnificent archaeological, architectural and artistic heritages. This point needs to be understood even by archaeologists of the ancient world; it is only by sensitisation of Muslims to their own material past, that they will begin to appreciate that the ancient past is also theirs.
The writer is the professor of Islamic art and architecture at the Université de Paris I (Panthéon-Sorbonne)
October 18, 2006
A bogus study on Iraq casualties.
BY STEVEN E. MOORE
Wednesday, October 18, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDTAfter doing survey research in Iraq for nearly two years, I was surprised to read that a study by a group from Johns Hopkins University claims that 655,000 Iraqis have died as a result of the war. Don’t get me wrong, there have been far too many deaths in Iraq by anyone’s measure; some of them have been friends of mine. But the Johns Hopkins tally is wildly at odds with any numbers I have seen in that country. Survey results frequently have a margin of error of plus or minus 3% or 5%–not 1200%.
The group–associated with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health–employed cluster sampling for in-person interviews, which is the methodology that I and most researchers use in developing countries. Here, in the U.S., opinion surveys often use telephone polls, selecting individuals at random. But for a country lacking in telephone penetration, door-to-door interviews are required: Neighborhoods are selected at random, and then individuals are selected at random in “clusters” within each neighborhood for door-to-door interviews. Without cluster sampling, the expense and time associated with travel would make in-person interviewing virtually impossible.
However, the key to the validity of cluster sampling is to use enough cluster points. In their 2006 report, “Mortality after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: a cross-sectional sample survey,” the Johns Hopkins team says it used 47 cluster points for their sample of 1,849 interviews. This is astonishing: I wouldn’t survey a junior high school, no less an entire country, using only 47 cluster points.
Neither would anyone else. For its 2004 survey of Iraq, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) used 2,200 cluster points of 10 interviews each for a total sample of 21,688. True, interviews are expensive and not everyone has the U.N.’s bank account. However, even for a similarly sized sample, that is an extraordinarily small number of cluster points. A 2005 survey conducted by ABC News, Time magazine, the BBC, NHK and Der Spiegel used 135 cluster points with a sample size of 1,711–almost three times that of the Johns Hopkins team for 93% of the sample size.
What happens when you don’t use enough cluster points in a survey? You get crazy results when compared to a known quantity, or a survey with more cluster points. There was a perfect example of this two years ago. The UNDP’s survey, in April and May 2004, estimated between 18,000 and 29,000 Iraqi civilian deaths due to the war. This survey was conducted four months prior to another, earlier study by the Johns Hopkins team, which used 33 cluster points and estimated between 69,000 and 155,000 civilian deaths–four to five times as high as the UNDP survey, which used 66 times the cluster points.The 2004 survey by the Johns Hopkins group was itself methodologically suspect–and the one they just published even more so.
Curious about the kind of people who would have the chutzpah to claim to a national audience that this kind of research was methodologically sound, I contacted Johns Hopkins University and was referred to Les Roberts, one of the primary authors of the study. Dr. Roberts defended his 47 cluster points, saying that this was standard. I’m not sure whose standards these are.
Appendix A of the Johns Hopkins survey, for example, cites several other studies of mortality in war zones, and uses the citations to validate the group’s use of cluster sampling. One study is by the International Rescue Committee in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which used 750 cluster points. Harvard’s School of Public Health, in a 1992 survey of Iraq, used 271 cluster points. Another study in Kosovo cites the use of 50 cluster points, but this was for a population of just 1.6 million, compared to Iraq’s 27 million.
When I pointed out these numbers to Dr. Roberts, he said that the appendices were written by a student and should be ignored. Which led me to wonder what other sections of the survey should be ignored.
With so few cluster points, it is highly unlikely the Johns Hopkins survey is representative of the population in Iraq. However, there is a definitive method of establishing if it is. Recording the gender, age, education and other demographic characteristics of the respondents allows a researcher to compare his survey results to a known demographic instrument, such as a census.
Dr. Roberts said that his team’s surveyors did not ask demographic questions. I was so surprised to hear this that I emailed him later in the day to ask a second time if his team asked demographic questions and compared the results to the 1997 Iraqi census. Dr. Roberts replied that he had not even looked at the Iraqi census.
And so, while the gender and the age of the deceased were recorded in the 2006 Johns Hopkins study, nobody, according to Dr. Roberts, recorded demographic information for the living survey respondents. This would be the first survey I have looked at in my 15 years of looking that did not ask demographic questions of its respondents. But don’t take my word for it–try using Google to find a survey that does not ask demographic questions.
Without demographic information to assure a representative sample, there is no way anyone can prove–or disprove–that the Johns Hopkins estimate of Iraqi civilian deaths is accurate.Public-policy decisions based on this survey will impact millions of Iraqis and hundreds of thousands of Americans. It’s important that voters and policy makers have accurate information. When the question matters this much, it is worth taking the time to get the answer right.
Mr. Moore, a political consultant with Gorton Moore International, trained Iraqi researchers for the International Republican Institute from 2003 to 2004 and conducted survey research for the Coalition Forces from 2005 to 2006.