The fate of the Christians in Iraq should not have come as a complete surprise. It is true that some believed that the kind of Iraqis in exile they met, the soft-spoken thoroughly westernized chalabis and makiyas, were representative men and would, with others like them, inherit Iraq. Really? Was that ever plausible?
Here was the worldly, smiling, slippery eye-always-on-the-main-chance Chalabi, a man who had lived in the West since the age of 14. He left Iraq at the time of Qassem’s coup, and the overturning of the monarchy, back in 1958. He had become thoroughly used to London, to New York, to Chicago. He had forgotten what real non-westernized Muslim Arabs in Iraq, his old countrymen, were like. He dreamed his abstract mathematical dreams of an older time, of the old elites and old families, of those who, though in the Muslim world and nominally Muslim, had acquired non-Muslim ways of thought, by having money and attending non-Muslim schools. Oh, those good Boston College Jesuits ran Baghdad College, which everyone who was to become anyone attended.
It's the dream that they all have, as they mislead themselves, and mislead, still more grievously, Westerners who have gone to school with them or befriended them, and assume they know what they are talking about. They forget that there are Muslims who are well versed in deception. And if they are unwilling to renounce Islam, they will continue to work, naturally, for their own power -- a power that they may think will help curb the "excesses" of the primitive Believers. But that is a far different goal from what should be the goal of Infidels -- to wit, to weaken the Camp of Islam and Jihad, and the hold of Islam over the minds of men.
Chalabi had been out of Iraq since Qassem's coup in 1958, when the monarchy came to an end, and the real power -- "strongman" Nuri as-Said, was killed and his half-naked corpse dragged through the streets of Baghdad, so that delighted onlookers could join in the fun, hitting it with their shoes, or perhaps here and there adding or rather subtracting their own two bits from the already-mutilated corpse.
So Chalabi, friend of Wolfowitz and others, paid his respects in Princeton to Bernard Lewis. He surely must have expressed his admiration, that of a knowledgeable fellow connoisseur, for his taste in Islamic art and manuscripts and books, and Lewis must have found Chalabi, in turn, a fine and trustworthy fellow. Lewis also must have been pleased to have had such influence in Washington, especially as, when he lived in Great Britain, the Arabists of the Foreign Office could not ignore his friend, colleague, and fellow editor, Ann Lambton. Her field was Iran, but she was consulted, she was listened to, for she -- unlike Lewis -- had the merit of being the right sort, and was even related to Harold Macmillan’s wife. But they could, and did, pay insufficient attention to the acute Bernard Lewis, for the obvious cruel and stupid reason.
There was, along with Chalabi, the Arab girlfriend of Wolfowitz, the one who hoped for good things to happen in Iraq and then in the larger Arab world, good things that would be brought about by the Americans, by the expenditure of American efforts, lives, money, and war materiel. One wonders if Wolfowitz has come perhaps to realize that there can be, under a Western veneer, a hard-to-eradicate mental type. What he failed to perceive before and is only just now beginning to comprehend may help explain what “went wrong” in Iraq, and why.
Kanan Makiya, whose mother was apparently English, did not spend nearly fifty years outside of Iraq. But he seemed genuinely puzzled as to why Arab “intellectuals” never denounced the murders of the Kurds. But he, Kanan Makiya, himself failed to realize, or did not allow himself to realize, that in the world of Islam, some Muslims are superior to others. Arab supremacism explains the indifference to the fate of the Kurds and the continuing complete lack of sympathy by Arabs for the Kurdish desire for autonomy and even an independent Kurdistan. And the same Arab supremacism explains the indifference to the cultural and linguistic imperialism of the Arabs in Algeria, who only recently were pressured by men and events into repealing the law banning the use of the Berber language, Tamagzight, and otherwise making more rather than less difficult the survival or renewal of Berber culture. And the war of Arab Muslims on black African Muslims in Darfur, with the Arab Muslims (especially Egypt) running diplomatic interference for the Arabs of Khartoum, can also be explained -- but only if one recognizes that Islam has been, is now, and always will be a vehicle (despite its universalist pretensions) for Arab supremacism. Makiya has not permitted his brain to go there. It is all too unsettling, all too damning in a way that he, who can one minute declare himself to be an atheist, and then, on the same television show, immediately become defensive when he senses that Islam is being questioned or attacked, cannot endure.
With reliance on Chalabi and Makiya and those Americans who found them plausible, the Administration went to war without having learned about Islam, and without having identified the correct goal of the Iraq campaign, which should have been to weaken the Camp of Islam and Jihad. That goal would or should have made the Bush Administration not choose, as its consolation prize once the weaponry had not been found, the messianic sentimentalism of “bringing freedom” to “ordinary moms and dads” in Iraq and then, through this exemplary Light-Unto-the-Muslim-Nations project, to the rest of the Arabs. Those Arabs have had to endure despotisms, and have seemed remarkably prone to enduring those despotisms, though so many were so busy solemnly explaining why Islam and democracy were so compatible, and anyone who suggested otherwise didn’t know what he was talking about or was, still worse, a “racist.” This included those who calmly pointed out in what ways Islam and democracy of the advanced kind -- that is, the kind beyond mere vote-counting, the kind that guarantees individual rights, and does not insist that the final measure of rightness be the Shari’a -- were based on different ideas of what constitutes political legitimacy, and that democracy in the Western sense could not be transplanted, for the good gardener could not ignore that deeply-rooted and broadly-ramified difference between the inshallah-fatalism and Obedience to the Ruler that Islam demanded, and the very different ideas upon which modern democracy is based.
And then there were the Christians. Who planned, who foresaw, who thought about, the Christians of Iraq? Saddam Hussein did not do them favors. What he did do was, because his Ba’athist figleaf, the one that covered the unseemly reality of what was essentially a despotism run largely by, of, and for Sunni Arabs, establish a regime that was “secular.” That is, it was theoretically open to all, Arabs and Kurds, and even non-Muslims. Tariq Aziz, a Christian, played a useful part. Christians helped supply the household staff, the tasters and the cooks and the drivers, for Saddam Hussein, because they could be trusted. They would not dare turn out to be treacherous, and they had no independent base of support. They existed on the whim of the Muslim ruler in a Muslim land. Indeed, the Americans in the Green Zone inherited the same staffs of Christians, the same ones who had waited on Saddam Hussein.
But what did the Americans understand about Islam? Nothing. So they did not know, and they were not to learn, that 100,000 Assyrians had been murdered by Muslim Arabs in 1933, soon after the British left. They did not know what the word “Jizyah” meant, just as they were not told -- not at Fort Jackson, not at Fort Bragg, not at Fort Benning, not anywhere at all that the troops were trained -- about Islam, and about the treatment of non-Muslims that was the natural state of affairs under Islam, that arose from the texts and the tenets of Islam. And even in Iraq, where Saddam Hussein rightly recognized that the main threat to him came from the Shi’a Arabs, there were those who were not what we call, with an unavoidable rough-and-readiness, “secular” (like Iyad Allawi, who had once been a member of the Ba’ath Party before going into his anti-Saddam exile), but rather devout. And the more devout they were, the more of a danger they were to Saddam Hussein -- and also, of course, to the Christians.
There was no understanding of what would naturally happen when the regime of Saddam Hussein was overturned. The chalabis and makiyas and rend al-rahim francke, and those of similar Georgetown and McLean acceptability and chic and charm, were too much in evidence. The unrepresentative un-primitives were taken to represent the masses in Iraq, just as those who played tennis with, or drank port or smoked cigars with, Prince Bandar were convinced that he represented the “real” Saudi Arabia, and all the dour Wahhabi stuff was just for show. We have fools running us, fools in the most basic sense -- unclever and unschooled and unstudied in the ways of men and the force of events, and convinced, because they fly all around the world, from capital to capital, that they therefore understand the world. But really, what do the likes of Condoleezza Rice, or Madeleine Albright, understand, no matter how many world leaders they meet?
For Saddam Hussein the threat was always mosque-based, with the mosques being those of the Shi’a. A second perceived threat not so much to the regime as to Iraq itself was identified as coming from those Kurds unwilling to submit to the arabization of what they saw, not always accurately -- the Assyrians had been there before -- as Kurdish lands that should remain Kurdish.
The Christian refugees who have appeared occasionally on NPR, such people as Donny George (former head of the Baghdad Museum), have -- unsurprisingly but still annoyingly -- blamed America for everything. Without saying, quite, that they longed for the days of Saddam Hussein, because although bad he was not so bad for them, they talk about those they are always careful to call “the turbans.” American listeners may not realize that “the turbans” refers only to the Shi’a, because in the experience of the Christians the secular Sunnis of the Ba’ath Party were not a threat; the Shi’a, those with the turbans, were. Christian Iraqis cannot, they realize, say this openly. They cannot explain fully to themselves, and still less to the outside world’s Infidels, how tenuous was their position as Christians in a Muslim society. This explains the Christian regret at what was wrought in Iraq, that is, the removal of someone whom most of us have no trouble seeing as a monster.
This view of Iraqi Christians may seem immoral to outsiders, but it seems to them not immoral but born of necessity. Yet they cannot quite bring themselves to explain the horrible situation in which Christians, in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, find themselves, and therefore the kind of moral compromises they must make with this Muslim leader or group, or with that, in order to survive.
The Christians of Iraq made the best of it. But now, with Saddam Hussein gone, it is difficult to see who will protect them. About half of them have left, and since Christians made up a large, disproportionate percentage of the doctors, engineers, and other professionals whom the Iraqi state needs, but will doubtless never be induced to return, one can assume that Iraq will be the loser. What about those who remain? Will the Muslim Shi’a who run the country decide to protect the Christians, if only to guarantee that they are seen by their American benefactors to seem to practice “tolerance”? Or possibly to make sure that the remaining Christian professionals remain, because they are so needed?
And if the American forces withdraw, should they not be making plans to protect those Christians? Should they not establish some kind of sanctuary for them, perhaps in northern Iraq, close to or within Kurdistan? Should they not arm the Christians, and leave an expeditionary force there to protect them, a force that can call on airpower from the Gulf carriers, and from bases in Bulgaria (and perhaps even Turkey) at quick notice? Such planning, however, can take place only if the Administration, or the Pentagon, recognizes that the threat to the Christians, from the now-unchained Muslims, is real, is permanent, and must be taken as a grim fact of Dar-al-Islam life.
And if any Iraqi “refugees” are to be admitted to this country, it should only be Christians. They, after all, are indeed threatened. But Sunni Arab Iraqis have all kinds of places under Sunni Arab control. Shi’a Arab Iraqis have most of Baghdad and the entire south. The Kurds now have the north. It is the Assyrians, and the Chaldeans, and the Mandeans (a tiny sect, whose ancient libraries have been pillaged by Muslims) who, if anyone needs to be considered a refugee from Iraq, can be so considered. Keep that in mind, the next time someone says we must admit all kinds of Iraqis. No, we should not. And furthermore, too many of those Muslim Iraqis who came here, as “refugees” from Saddam Hussein, and who can now go back to Iraq without fear of persecution, have not done so. They should be made to do so. They no longer have an excuse to fall into the category of those who need to remain.