In Iraq, we are walking the same delusional path as the British 80 years ago
As Andrew Bostom points out in an e-mail, the current discussions at NRO about the Iraqi constitutional debacle show no awareness of the fact that the Iraqis have tread this path before, when the British, who ruled the country from the end of the Great War to 1932, helped set up a modern state with a non-religious constitution under which the rights of all Iraqis would be protected. The results were grim, culminating in massacres of the Assyrian Christians in 1933-34 and the pogrom of Baghdad’s Jewish population in 1941. Dr. Bostom quotes an analysis of the Iraqi situation written in 1935, which, as he points out, smacks of the same delusional apologetics as the statements coming from Bush supporters today. Note the way the writer, S.A. Morrison, indicates that despite the Assyrian massacres, “progress” is being made (sound familiar?), and that, even though sharia remains the true belief system and way of life of the country despite what the constitution says, somehow the country is moving in the right direction. It should also be remembered that the following was written after more than a decade of British military occupation, and great expense in British blood and treasure:
Iraq is moving steadily forward towards the modern conception of the State, with a single judicial and administrative system, unaffected by considerations of religion or nationality. The Millet system [i.e., dhimmitude—not reflected by this ridiculous euphemism!] still survives, but its scope is definitely limited. Even the Assyrian tragedy of 1933 does not shake our faith in the essential progress that has been made. The Government is endeavoring to carry out faithfully the undertakings it has given, even when these run directly counter to the long-cherished provisions of the Sharia Law. But it is not easy; it cannot be easy in the very nature of the case, for the common people quickly to adjust their minds to the new legal situation, and to eradicate from their outlook the results covering many centuries of a system which implies the superiority of Islam over the non-Moslem minority groups. The legal guarantees of liberty and equality represent the goal towards which the country is moving, rather than the expression of the present thoughts and wishes of the population. [Emphasis added.] The movement, however, is in the right direction, and it may yet prove possible for Islam to disentangle religious faith from political status and privilege. [S.A. Morrison, ‘Religious Liberty in Iraq’, Moslem World, 1935, p. 128]Needless to say, the modern Iraqi polity for which Morrison and his fellow British hoped, in which the government would rule for the benefit of the whole society and all citizens live in peace under the same law and with the same rights for everyone, never materialized. Instead, there were religious conflicts, the continued outflow of Assyrian Christians fleeing persecution, the mass expulsion of the Jews in the 1950s, and ceaseless power struggles by strong men, culminating in the overthrow of the monarchy in 1958, which led ultimately to the Ba’athist takeover and the reign of Saddam Hussein. Yet, despite the direct relevance of the British experiment in Iraq to our own efforts there, it is to be doubted that a single member of the Bush administration or a single one of its journalistic supporters has ever acquainted himself with this tragic history or absorbed its lessons.
And one of the lessons is that the underlying, Islamic nature of the Iraqi society will assert itself over and against any secular state structure. Therefore, even if the Iraqis of 2005 back away from a sharia constitution, that would not solve the fundamental problem; it would only put Iraq back in the same impossible situation that it was in during the 1930s, i.e., with a formally secular/unified state erected over a substantively Islamic/tribal society, while Western do-gooders keep spilling their blood and treasure in the vain, fading hope that the form will prevail over the substance.