The delusions of war


Artykuł pochodzi z pisma "Guardian"

The tales ordinary Iraqis tell themselves about occupation push the country further into chaos

David Aaronovitch, columnist of the year
Sunday April 11, 2004
The Observer

There is no word more hateful than 'intractable'. The idea that a problem cannot be solved, no matter how hard good and intelligent people try to solve it, feels itself like a negation of goodness and intelligence. The options are resignation and cynicism. At the moment, a year after the fall of Saddam, these are the sentiments that are winning out.
Reporting from Iraq, as from anywhere else, inevitably deals overwhelmingly with the dramatic and the violent. The actions of a few thousand people, American troops, Sunni insurgents and the followers of a smallish Shia group, have created a narrative of rebellion and violence that is hard to move beyond. A microcosm of this has been the kidnapping of three Japanese, and their threatened execution by a group, which itself probably only came into existence at the moment that it decided to send a video off to Al-Jazeera, demanding the withdrawal of Japanese troops from Iraq.
In fact their action told us very little about how most people in Iraq live, but much more about how some media outlets will now prostitute themselves for the sake of the story. Am I alone in wondering how the journalists at Al-Jazeera live with themselves? Did they, I wonder, even consider the consequences for others of broadcasting a geopolitical ransom demand in this way? And if the Japanese prisoners are burned alive (and I don't believe they will be), will Al-Jazeera broadcast that as well?
So, we do not have the authentic voice of the Iraqi people themselves, passing judgment on their first year of relative freedom and expressing their desires for the years ahead. What we have instead is the sound of gunfire and rockets. But we also have the sense that the coalition is failing precisely because the demand for peace is not drowning out the call for resistance.
After all, if the Iraqis were actively and obdurately hostile to such resistance, then it would be likely to be defeated fairly rapidly, its activities hampered by popular opposition. Clerics would routinely preach against it and its operations would be betrayed to the local police. It might hang on through sporadic terrorist attacks, but its capacity to cause widespread insecurity would be limited.
Some of that has happened at various times and places in Iraq, but it isn't happening now. Many people seem disinclined to take the substantial risk of supporting a new Iraq when the coalition makes so many mistakes, when tangible achievements on jobs and services are so limited, and when the outcome of the process is so much in doubt.
In that sense the murderers of the elements which lumped together are called the resistance, have been very successful. Few in numbers, they have managed to drive out the UN and many other agencies, intimidate local democrats, create massive problems of reconstruction out of all proportion to their strength, and delay the benefits of change. The opposition has the benefit of understanding a society that the people in the coalition knew all too little about before 9 April, 2003. Take the business of the Al-Hawza newspaper, the rag that backed Muqtada al-Sadr's Shia faction, and that was closed down for 60 days last month.
The CPA took action because Al-Hawza had spread absurd rumours about the behaviour of occupation forces. But to many Iraqis, who were brought up under the dictatorship, the authorities would only close down a paper precisely because it was telling the truth. The very act of closing it conferred integrity on the bad journalism, while simultaneously undermining the remaining good newspapers.
While in Baghdad last week I also became aware of another psychological factor, one which I had sort of understood in an abstract way, but now confronted in its more concrete form. This was the question of what story the Iraqis would need to be able to tell about themselves. What would be the unifying, satisfying foundation myth of a new Iraq?
In 1940 France was conquered by the Nazis and divided between the occupied zone and collaborationist Vichy. When France was liberated almost entirely by the Allies, it became essential to construct a myth of resistance; just about everybody, it turned out, had been working for the maquis in some way. And as recently as 1969 the great documentary, The Sorrow and The Pity, dealing with the issue of widespread collaboration, caused outrage in France because, according to the head of French TV, the film 'destroyed myths that the people of France still need'.
In Baghdad I met a nationalist professor who had been jailed for three years under Saddam. The overwhelming sense that I got from him was one of deep humiliation. Sitting in his neat receiving-room in a pleasant suburb, drinking tea that his teenaged son brought us, I listened to him get angrier and angrier about the occupation. Resistance couldn't be terrorism, he argued, when it was carried out on your own soil against foreigners. And Iraqis were only being occupied, because they had chosen not to fight.
'The Americans are here,' he said, jabbing his finger, 'because Saddam did not have our support. Iraqis are good warriors, since Babylonian times.'
It is amazing what people will tell you. An educated Iraqi who loathed Saddam nevertheless retailed to me the legend of how the Iraqis alone had fought well against Israel in the various wars between 1948 and 1973. An Iraqi brigade, I was told, had defeated an Israeli thrust against Damascus at the end of the Yom Kippur War, thus saving Syria from total, ignominious collapse. But two days of research has failed so far to turn up any record of this glorious victory, and instead has simply made me more aware of the catalogue of military defeats and stalemates inflicted upon Iraqi arms. Still, if this is what Iraqis believed, imagine the psychological effect upon them of the coalition's decision last August to dissolve the Iraqi army.
While many in Iraq feel free to slag off the coalition, no one dares defend Saddam openly. This isn't because they would be bumped off by angry victims of the tyranny or by the authorities, but because there is no popular appetite yet for such a defence. Quite the reverse. If there are two propositions that might be said to have almost universal backing from ordinary people one encounters, they are (1) that it is wonderful that Saddam is gone, and (2) the occupation is a great disappointment.
So apologists for the ancien régime try a different tack: straightforward nationalism. In the Sunni communities the most influential voice is probably that of Sheikh Harith Sulayman al-Dhari, head of the Committee for Islamic Clerics. Al-Dhari recently described Iraqis on the Governing Council as collaborators and urged Muslims to 'fire on every traitor, and to everyone who pushed towards occupying this country. They represent the will of the foreigner, that is why they sided with the occupiers'. He also has a thing about Iraq being infiltrated by 'Jews actively working with companies allegedly in the country to rebuild Iraq'.
I met al-Dhari's spokesman and relative, Dr Muthanna Harith al-Dhari, last week. Dr al-Dhari had managed to remain unarrested in Saddam's Iraq, plying his trade as professor of Islamic Law at Baghdad University. His glee at the events unfolding that day was hard for him to hide. Though he didn't say it, I got the strong impression that any Sunni leader, no matter how blood-spattered, was better than any American-approved leader, no matter how saintly. It was, I think, a matter of pride to him. He was now hoping for a rapprochement with Shia Iraqis, a concord that I think is unlikely.
In Falluja the Americans who, in many ways, have acted in Iraq with extraordinary restraint, have delivered a myth gift-wrapped to many Iraqis. Expect the 'hero' city of Falluja to join the people of the intifada as one of the Arab world's great delusions. It was the last myth that anyone needed, least of all those who loathe the notion of intractability.

allegedly - rzekomo
ancien régime – stary system
apologists – osoba popierająca jakąś ideę, szczególnie mało popularną
blood-spattered – zbryzgany krwią
to be brought up – być wychowanym
to bump sb off – zamordować kogoś
to confer – nadawać
Delusion – złudzenie
to be disinclined to do sth – nie mieć ochoty czegos zrobić
to drown out – zagłuszać
faction – odłam, frakcja
glee – radość
to hamper – utrudniać
hostile – wrogi
humiliation – poniżenie, upokorzenie
ignominious – haniebny
inevitably – nieuchronnie
to inflict – wyrządzać
insurgents – rebelianci
to intimidate – zastraszać
intractable – trudny do rozwiązania, nierozwiązywalny
to jab – stukać, dźgać
to loathe – nienawidzieć
to lump together – wrzucać do jednego worka
narrative – relacja
notion – pojęcie
obdurate – nieugięty, uparty
outlets – punkt sprzedaży
outrage – oburzenie
overwhelmingly – ogromnie
to ply – uprawaić
rag – szmata
ransom demand – żądanie okupu
rapprochement – zbliżenie
restraint – powściągliwość
to retail – sprzedawać
routinely – rutynowo
rumours - plotki
saintly – świątobliwy
slag off – przygadywać
sporadic – sporadyczny
stalemate – sytuacja patowa
tangible – namacalny
traitor – zdrajca
to undermine– podkopywać
withdrawal – wycofanie


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