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Iraq – To be or not to be

Iraq bleeds and we watch. What has come over us ? Where is our humanity when we see an open
wound and feel no pang of conscience to stop the bleeding ?

When an individual takes his own life we are filled with a sense of grief and despair that probably can
be compared to no other. For, what can drive a person to reject life and the primeval sense of awe that
life encompasses, for the uncertain prospect of a strange and bleak unknown must give the best of us
some pause. ‘ To be or not to be ’ – so asked Shakespeare, and by asking this question he has remained
the doyen of western literature for 500 years. When an individual takes his own life, we feel somehow
responsible for this act, if only for a fraction of a second. A primordial sense of loss is felt, and an
instinctive question arises ‘ what could I have done to prevent this’, or, ‘what is lacking in me that I
could not convey to my fellow man the glory of life ’ as if, in an echo of the primeval shame that binds
us all into one and which we perpetually want to set right. But in Iraq today, it is not just one
individual, not just one lost soul, who is taking this extreme step of self annihilation. It is as if the
entire country has readied itself for self immolation. And that is the rub, for if an individual takes his
life the aforementioned question could be put to another individual, but when an entire nation is
prepared to take its own life the question penetrates the heights of heaven and all the nations of the
world must be made to answer. And, this nation is no island in the middle of the Pacific or in the
middle of the Amazon jungle. This is Iraq, the cradle of civilization, the ‘David’ of all nations. And
when David (Dawood, in Arabic genealogy) is afflicted with Goliath he is supposed to know how to
tackle him. He has done it in the past, many times through the past centuries. But how is it different
now that he has given up ? Why is he rejecting life altogether. Why this deep sense of inner loss that
knows no redemption. May be Shakespeare would know, may be he turns in his grave today.

800 years before the birth of Shakespeare and about 950 years before the birth of the modern day
United States of America, there was a city named Baghdad, that was the fountain spring of a great
civilization. A civilization that stretched to the Nile on the West, to the Indus River on the East, to the
Caspian Sea on the North and to the Arabian Sea and beyond to the South. This city was famous for its
culture, its architecture, its libraries, and its humanity. The great Harun–ar–Rashid ruled here,
wandering among the poor and the homeless by night, and, delivering judgment in his majestic court
by day. Scherezade danced in the palaces, while traders roamed through the greater part of the known
and the unknown world.

However, even before that, in fact, as far back as 10,000 years ago, Baghdad was part of Ancient
Mesopotamia. If consciousness of one’s existence, in relation to the world around oneself, is a measure
of civilization, then there was a great civilization here. In fact this was the centre of the known civilized
world. Here, there was agriculture, architecture, foreign trade and religion. Here, there was poetry and
astronomy, and philosophy. In the course of time, came the Sumerians, the Akkadians, the
Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Arabs, the Mongols, the Turks, the Safavids,
the Ottomans and the English, one after the other. They stayed and at some point vanished into
oblivion but left behind the legacy of their best. Iraq has evolved through the centuries through the
various stages of self actualization. And along with its own evolution had evolved numerous other
nations that propagated the four corners of the earth. And at every tree-ring of its evolution it had
added something new. This is what evolution is. The Bedouin Arab that we see today watering his
camel in the desert or running his taxi on the streets of Baghdad has in his genes a hundred thousand
years of continuous and conscious evolution of man. He carries in him the good of the past and the
memory of the bad as well. He silently carries with him the ups and downs of civilizations, the glories
and despairs of conquest, the predicament of the human experience. And today, after so long, this
Bedouin Arab has rebelled. He wants to destroy himself. Is it because he is tired and cannot confront
the ups and downs of history ? But that is strange; he has done it so many times before. So what is his
unique situation now that so troubles him that he is prepared to detonate the bomb that he has tied to
his own breast ? Is it the Islamic faith that indoctrinates suicide in situations of no escape ? But the
Islamic faith has never condoned suicide in any form including religious war or ‘jihad’. What do Ivy
League trained psychologists have to say to us about this, the research laboratories, the gigabyte data
bases ? Who can decipher this strange mutation of the DNA in the cradle of civilisation ?

Iraq – The broken circle of life


But, isn’t that the theory that Iraq has no existence as a ‘nation state’ ? It is composed of only three
distinct groups who are sworn to be mutual enemies unto each other unto death ! The Sunnis, the
Shias, and, the Kurds. What nonsense ! Granted, that they had their differences. But they have also co-
existed with each other for several centuries. Both Sunnis and Shias speak the same language in Iraq -
Arabic. They are different in that the Sunnis and Shias are different divisions of the same Islamic faith
along the same lines as the Catholics and Protestants of the Christian faith are today. Iraqi Shias, share
language with the Sunnis, and religion with the Iranians. They are constantly questioning themselves
whether they are Arab first or Shia first. This is bound to lead to some contradictions, possibly enough,
to ignite a few battles for supremacy but surely not enough to drive them to mass suicide. History tells
us that all the three communities have lived together in relative peaceful harmony through the
centuries. The idea of a ‘nation-state’ that became stylish with the educated classes in all the three
communities first became known only with the coming of the British about a 100 years ago.
Technology driven political ideas aroused the imagination of the younger generations. They welcomed
the intruders first but soon found the yoke of colonialism and the prospect of unequal trade
exasperating. Soon they rebelled. The British departed but left behind not one, not two, but three
‘Trojan horses’ that would ensure their control in this mineral rich land for a long time. The first
Trojan horse was the state of Israel, a state founded on the dogma of religion, a state established on the
folly, betrayal and brutality of the west. If preservation of the Jewish people was the purpose of the
west as a means of repenting their wrongs, the state of Israel could surely have been carved out of the
Canadian or Australian landmass traditionally considered sanctuaries for immigrants. Why was a
population uprooted in Palestine, if not for the revival of the spirit of the old crusades as an expression
of religious fundamentalism that the west perhaps still preserve secretly ? The second Trojan horse was
a handful of ‘city states’ formed artificially by creating imaginary straight lines of ‘national’ borders
through hundreds of miles of desert sand. These ‘city-states’ comprising of a few scattered tribes could
never have existed on their own in the past owing to the extremely harsh geo-physical conditions of the
area. However, what could not be sustained in the past for geo-physical in-hospitability was overcome
with the magic of technology and the greed of wealth of a few western nations specially the USA. The
third Trojan horse was, the idea of a ‘nation-state’ planted into the minds of the younger generations
that ran like a contagious fever among the youth of Iraq and most of the peoples of the southern
hemisphere in the 20th century including that of Bangladesh. Of the three, the first and the last one were
especially pernicious. The state of Israel or the alter-ego of western nations has always been a Sword of
Damocles to all the nations in the area (the fabled Sword of Damocles in Greek literature was a sword
hung by a single horse hair over an ostensibly powerful and prosperous person). ‘Nationalism’ or the
force that sustains a ‘nation-state’ was the other Sword of Damocles. Not paying attention to it meant
earning the wrath of the impatient younger generations who wanted technology fed fast growth at all
costs. It is an irony of fate that the very force that brought Saddam Hussein to power i.e. the call of
nationalism also took him through three wars and eventually destroyed him. In order to quell
nationalistic passions he tried to reunite with Kuwait which historically has always been part of Iraq.
Armed by the west with funds, weapons and misguided advice he foolishly attacked Iran. He figured
this would draw away attention from his own disunited peoples and also placate the west. The split
between the Shias, the Sunnis and the Kurds was played skillfully by the western media to take
advantage of the situation that developed. The element of Al-Queda was discreetly allowed to creep in
only for the purpose of manipulative propaganda.
In Bangladesh ‘nationalism’ in the cloak of religion brought about the birth of East Pakistan in1947.
When the duplicitous nature of the cloak was discovered, discontent started to brew and another kind
of nationalism created Bangladesh. Nationalism in the form of the ‘nation-state’ that we see today, is a
western construct, which is primarily driven by technology. The promise of prosperity driven by
technology makes it an unassailable force capable of usurping all other previous doctrines that a nation
may have subscribed to. In Bangladesh the doctrine of religion was overcome with the promise of
prosperity through technology driven nationalism. It is strange that this concept has not been
understood clearly in this country yet, because, if it was then the place that religion has in our society
could have been evaluated with more precision much earlier. May it be noted here that in a situation
where ‘nationalism’ fails, the people and the ‘system’ tries to revert back to the old system. In
Bangladesh this previous ‘system’ was religion. This is why in Bangladesh and in other less developed
nations like Afghanistan, when the general people, or pockets of communities, cannot see the fruits of
technology ever reaching them, they try to revert back to the old system. Recently this was done in
Myanmar where the Buddhist monks gave leadership to a rebellion. In many countries the old system
is religion, but for say China, it is the socialist system. The leadership for this is given by the old guard
– the bearded clerics, the religious teachers, the politburo members etc. This is the cause of the birth of
the Jehadist movements, the Taleban and to some extent the Al-Qaeda. This is exactly also the same
reason why the west is so concerned about not letting these countries revert back to the old ways. They
try to ensure this through aid channeled through the World Bank, the IMF, the UN, the bilateral and
multilateral agreements, etc. For countries like China and India where aid does not have much impact,
it is done through regulated trade, implemented through the MFA, and GATT agreements. However,
the western countries also have a vested interest in ensuring that not only do the developing countries
not fall into the abyss of reversal of progress, but also ensuring that progress takes place in economic
areas and directions that do not collide with western interests. The question may be asked as to why
the west is so concerned about not letting these countries revert back to the penury of older times. This
question answers itself when the west’s attitude towards Somalia, Ethiopia and Myanmar is examined
in perspective. People are dying and they give a foot to that. The reason for this is simple. The west
does not help the third world countries because of any altruistic policies – they just want to ensure that
those capable of developing and using technology on their own initiative are kept on the side of
development and progress albeit under the technological direction of the developed countries. Japan,
Taiwan, South Korea, and Pakistan are beneficiaries of this thought process. The ones who do not
profess to have this technological creativity do not matter in their books. Technology, in spite of all the
brouhaha associated with it is not a very formidable proposition any more for many peoples. All that is
required is a changed state of mind where nature’s laws and resources are treated as friends and not as
masters. Unfortunately, it is perceived to happen to some peoples more easily than to others and this is
the cause of the west’s apathy towards some.
The west feels threatened if some countries are perceived to be capable of developing technology on
their own but reluctant to follow the development path as prescribed by western nations. Japan did not
fall in this category and so flourished economically after WW2. However, China, North Korea,
Vietnam, Argentina, Chile and later, India did fall in this category. So a proxy war was started against
China in Vietnam and Korea. Argentina and Chile was the subject of numerous CIA plots. China itself
was left alone because it was just too big to confront in a united country and also because it was
protected by the USSR. Similarly, India was also left alone because of its size but also because of its
defense treaty with the USSR. Today, Iran is being targeted in a similar way. The west is absolutely
hell-bent to make certain that Iran does not progress in the path of technology on its own. In turn, Iran,
as a bastion of the old values of civilisation, is adamant about developing technology, including nuclear
technology, in order to protect its age old culture from the blind perversions of the west. What moral
right the west has to impose its absolute will on the fate of all peoples of the world in the name of ‘
the international community ’can probably only be answered through the analysis of the fall of other
great civilizations in the past. We in Bangladesh are too insignificant to even consider making a
contribution in this matter. However, to think that great civilizations of the past which contributed so
greatly to the progress of mankind shall be utterly irresponsible in the use of modern technology is in
itself an extremely irresponsible vision of mankind’s history. To think that technology developed over
the last 400 years is the prime property of only a section of countries is repugnant to say the least and
may even be considered quintessentially evil. Where this myopic selfish pursuit is taking us, the Lord
only knows. Iraq may not survive as a ‘nation-state’ today, not because it did not have the aptitude for
it but because it was denied this honour by the machinations of the west to suit their own needs.

Iraq – The destiny of Man ?


America’s track record in the annals of human pursuit in the last two decades has been less than
exemplary. Timeless American values of freedom, patriotism, sacrifice, loyalty, truthfulness and
generosity had earned the hearts and minds of the majority of mankind on the face of this planet. When
Neil Armstrong gazed up at the sky from the Moon, all the peoples of the world saw the rising of the
Earth through the eyes of this American. When Franklin Roosevelt asked Americans not to be afraid,
the world learnt courage. When John Kennedy exhorted Americans to do for their country, the world
learnt patriotism. When Abraham Lincoln spoke to his countrymen about the need to be united, the
world learnt democracy. And, when Martin Luther King asked his fellow Americans to dream, the
world learnt freedom. We cannot, and do not, forget Americans for what they have given to the world –
but, this was a different America. Whereas the American dream has been carried forward in the past by
character, today the same dream is being destroyed by greed. Within a short span of only a few decades
after WW2 a strange transformation has taken place in this Promised Land. The confidence and
warmth generated around the world by the picture of an American GI in his Jeep is a thing of the past.
Indeed, the American soldier hidden inside his Humvy today invokes fear and hatred.

Some choose to blame George Bush personally for all this. We must recognize that George Bush is a
second term president who was elected under the ticket of conservatism. He is against abortion, gay
marriage, gun control, and immigration, but, he is for the death penalty, and cheap petrol which
makes him a favourite with conservative America in the mid-west. Bush was elected on domestic
issues, not for his stand on Iraq. Many Americans are tired of the liberal American preoccupation with
sex, drugs and living life without any values. They are tired of watching serials like ‘Friends’ and
‘Seinfeld’ on television where sex is discussed and practiced like how one uses disposable tissue paper.
Many Americans are tired of cheap consumerism and consumption for the sake of consumption.
Liberal American life today is centered on satisfying the desires of the flesh in whatever form that may
be. Conservative values are assaulted when favourite rock stars, or role models openly declare with
much pride that they are homosexuals, or fatherless bastards, or users of cocaine. Mr Bush has the
support of these conservatives. However, Mr. Bush is also the head of the largest industrialized military
establishment the world has ever seen. This insatiable machine runs on oil, and mineral wealth and will
do anything for its survival and expansion. It will fabricate stories, create myths, mastermind plots,
and, of course, create war. What confounds the mind is when the American establishment itself is
found to be trying to shape world public opinion in order to advance its idea of world-wide supremacy
possibly on behalf of this monolithic machine. Recent websites (e.g. www.911inplanesite.com) on the
internet suggest that the events of 9/11 may have been concocted from the start by a very powerful part
of the American establishment itself. The absence of plane wreckage caught on television footage in
the front yard of the Pentagon on 9/11 has many thinking of such a possibility. These new American
values are catching on with the rest of the world too with stunning speed with the ubiquitous satellite
connections and this is why the elders of countries which have strong family and religious value
systems are deeply alarmed. They know that they cannot keep America away even by staying away
from America.

Another aspect of American irresponsibility has shocked the world’s conscience. Climate change with
all its calamitous implications has essentially gone unheeded in a country caught up in its ever
increasing consumerism and its culture of conspicuous consumption. Despite being the most
technologically advanced nation on this planet, America has adamantly refused to sign the Kyoto
Protocol which would require it to participate in reducing carbon emissions which is considered the
most important cause of global warming. It has been discovered by scientists that although rapid
climate change can possibly occur due to totally natural causes, the degree of this ‘rapid’ change has
increased many fold in the earth’s meteorology in recent years through human intervention. We are
now being told by experienced and dependable scientists that climate changes that took say a thousand
or two thousand years in the past may now happen in say thirty to fifty years due to direct human
intervention. Without going into the nitty-gritty we can well imagine what would happen if the weather
of London and the greater part of western Europe became like that of Iceland in say thirty years time !!
Fundamental and irreversible climate change over a period of only a few decades can change the
course of human history for the extreme worse.

What is the human intellect to do in this situation? What if this human being does not have an
‘intellect’ in the rationale Sherlock Holmes mould? What if the greater part of the human family do not
subscribe to this special kind of intellect. Does it mean that they are all wrong ? All that has been
learnt from thousands of years of reflection, and self rectification, is suddenly going to face extinction ?
The higher values of man do not come from consumption, but from reflection, and finding his special
place of peace in the universe. In a way the desert Arab and the Arctic glacier belong to the same
breed. They are tired – tired of man’s excesses and his greed. They are both ready to give up. The last
drop of blood that oozes out of the body of the Arab in Baghdad has much in common with the last
chunk of glacial ice that melts in the Arctic Circle today. Perhaps, the desert Arab in the final writhing
of his shrapnel riddled body in the centre of Baghdad is reminding us of the fate that awaits us all.

Syed Mujtaba Quader