Liberty and Culture in Iraq
“[W]e talked all the time about freedom and democracy. Yet we had precious little knowledge of how to bring a stable, mild, moderate, middle-class, and above all free democracy to Iraq. We had, it seemed, scant idea as to what made our own democracy lasting and liberal. Other than holding elections and writing some kind of constitution, we had little idea as to what kind of civic institutions might precede democracy, what character a people might need to have to make democracy work, or what kind of political institutions were needed to make democracy just. We acted as if democracy were natural—just get rid of the tyrant, hold elections, and look: a democracy.”Agresto explains the lack of understanding of their Iraqi culture and religion is familiar terms to the readers of this blog:
“We generally have a benign view of religion. We always insist that those who kill infidels or torture in God’s name have somehow ‘hijacked’ their religion. We consistently failed to understand that not all religions have the same view as we do of peace, of brotherhood, or of justice. Islam in general, and parts of Islam in particular, are not post-Enlightenment faiths. But why would they be? We desperately kept looking for the supposed ‘moderates’ among the clergy in Iraq. Moderate as compared to what? Just because we believe that God wants everyone to enjoy equal rights, or that killing Jews or stoning apostates is wrong, doesn’t mean that our beliefs are shared in other faiths.He believes the problem wasn't mistaken policies or mismanagement, although he describes that in detail. The problem is something that simple management can't address. He reiterates that we “misunderstood religion, we misunderstood human nature, we misunderstood the prerequisites of liberty and liberation, we misunderstood democracy.” He notes Iraqis fight oppression, not to establish universal liberty, but to be the new oppressor. He explains the difference between Iraq and the nations we defeated in WWII and why Iraq is less suitable for such a transformation. He sees the imposition of “medieval Islamic law under the protection of a new constitution” that will be illiberal and dangerous to world peace. Finally, he worries that Iran’s influence is all but unstoppable.
We have so tamed and, in a sense, marginalized religion in the West that we consistently underestimate its ferocity and strength. … we didn’t, I think, realize, the attraction of extremism and fanaticism, especially among the youth, and especially among a people who have so little stability and order in their lives. We don’t understand either killing for God or dying for God. But others do.”
Despite all that he says we can’t leave anytime soon. And he contrasts Kurdish success with Arab failure. The above is just a brief description of some of the important points. In reading the interview I kept thinking of the paragraph on my masthead that I’ve had for the last two years. Liberty is the end-result of a long and difficult cultural and philosophical evolution.