A Florilegium of Quotes. Email them to friends, print them out and magnetically affix them to your refrigerator door, so that the contents become imprinted in your brain:
#1. The Commander of the British Forces that wrested Mesopotamia [Iraq] from the Turks, 1917:
“To the People of the Baghdad Vilayet… our armies have not come into your Cities and Lands as conquerors or enemies but as liberators. Since the days of Hulaku your citizens have been subject to the tyranny of Strangers, your palaces have fallen into ruins, your gardens have sunken into desolation and you yourselves have groaned in bondage. …It is the wish not only of my King and his peoples, but it is also the wish of the great nations with whom he is in alliance that you should prosper …But you, the people of Baghdad, … are not to understand that it is the wish of the British Government to impose upon you alien institutions. It is the hope of the British Government that the aspirations of your philosophers and writers shall be realised again. O! People of Baghdad. … I am commanded to invite you, through your Nobles and Elders and Representatives to participate in the management of your civil affairs in collaboration with the Political representatives of Great Britain who accompany the British Army so that you may unite with your kinsmen in the North, East, South and West in realising the aspirations of your race.”
[Source: Atiyyah, Ghassan: Iraq : 1908 – 1921 : A Socio – Political Study. – Beirut : The Arab Institute for Research and Publishing, 1973 p. 151.]
#2. Gertrude Bell, 1920:
“In the light of the events of the last two months there’s no getting out of the conclusion that we have made an immense failure here. The system must have been far more at fault than anything that I or anyone else suspected. It will have to be fundamentally changed and what that may mean exactly I don’t know. I suppose we have underestimated the fact that this country is really an inchoate mass of tribes which can’t as yet be reduced to any system. The Turks didn’t govern and we have tried to govern – and failed. I personally thought we tried to govern too much, but I hoped that things would hold out till Sir Percy came back and that the transition from British to native rule might be made peacefully, in which case much of what we have done might have been made use of. Now I fear that that will be impossible.”
[Source: Lady Gertrude Bell, 1920, The Letters of Gertrude Bell.]
#3. Gertrude Bell, 1920:
“We as outsiders can’t differentiate between Sunni and Shi’ah, but leave it to them and they’ll get over the difficulty by some kind of hanky panky, just as the Turks did, and for the present it’s the only way of getting over it. I don’t for a moment doubt that the final authority must be in the hands of the Sunnis, in spite of their numerical inferiority; otherwise you will have a mujtahid-run, theocratic state, which is the very devil.”
[Source: Lady Gertrude Bell, 1920, The Letters of Gertrude Bell.]
#4. King Faisal of Iraq, 1933:
“Regrettably, I can say there is no Iraqi people yet, but only deluded human groups void of any national idea. Iraqis are not only disunited but evil-motivated, anarchy prone and always ready to prey on their government.” — King Faisal I, writing in his memoirs shortly before he died in 1933.
#5. “There are only two political parties in Iraq: the Sunni party and the Shia party.” — Tawfiq Al-Suwaidi, Iraqi Prime Minister, 1929, 1930, 1946, 1950.
#6. In “The Chatham House Version” the scholar Elie Kedourie comments dryly on the description by the far-less-great scholar Majid Kadduri (in his own book, “Independent Iraq”) of “the wise leadership of Faisal, who inspired public spirit in every department of government”:
“If this [Khadduri’s description of Faisal] were in any way true, there would be no accounting for the degraded and murderous politics of Iraq from the end of the mandate to the end of the monarchy.” [i.e., from 1932 to 1958, when first Qassem, and then the Ba’athists, took over, and things became even more degraded and much, much more murderous].
“The fact is, of course, that this kind of language is most inappropriate to Iraq under the monarchy or afterwards.”
“Lack of scruple greater or lesser, cupidity more or less unrestrained, ability to plot more or less consummate, bloodlust more or less obsessive: these rather are the terms which the historian must use who surveys this unfortunate polity [modern Iraq] and those into whose power it was delivered.”
Do you think such material, had it been thoroughly read in its full context and digested, might have helped make American policymakers a bit more realistic and less messianic about Iraq? Do you think Richard Perle would not have so excitedly declared in 2003 that he wouldn’t be surprised if a boulevard were named after George Bush in Baghdad? Or that Wolfowitz would estimate that the “cost” of the Iraq War might be “$20 billion,” and therefore so much more of a bargain than the cost of the sanctions program — when the cost now, at a minimum, has been estimated at between $1 and $2 trillion dollars, if the costs incurred for the treatment of the wounded, and the macroeconomic costs are factored in? (See the paper of Stiglitz and Bilmes, and if you wish, forget the macroeconomic costs and take the lower figure, and if you like, reduce even that to something we can all agree on as an absolute base — say, $750 billion.) Or that Bernard Lewis would confidently predict that when the Americans overturned the regime the spectacle of rapture and gratitude in Baghdad “would make the liberation of Kabul seem like a funeral procession”?
They forgot all this, or didn’t know it, with their narrow certainties and dependence on Bernard Lewis. A false choice was offered: on the one hand there was the usual crew of appeasers and hirelings and simply ignoramuses (and they were and are appeasers and hirelings and ignoramuses), people who cannot conceive of Islam being the problem. These were the espositos and william-polks and scowcrofts and the djerijians, who wanted nothing done to upset anyone. They are appeasers and idiots. On the other hand there was the belief of Harold Rhode, so uncritically worshipful of Bernard Lewis, and Douglas Feith — so dependent on Harold Rhode. There was Cheney, who was so certain about so many things, and similarly thought Lewis the last word on everything to do with Islam and Iraq. There was not a hint of any consulting with the live J. B. Kelly, or the writings of the dead Kedourie, or for that matter with others, including Bat Ye’or. It was apparently a false polarity: either Lewis, or the likes of such apologists as Esposito, or just as bad, that fake “old Iraq” hand William Polk, with his predictable appeasements. No other conceivable alternatives.
There is a good deal that Bernard Lewis is able to forget, or didn’t know. Look at his enthusiasm for the Oslo Accords, and his grotesque minimizing of the menace of Islam and the mistreatment of the dhimmis, quite unlike his two coevals S. D. Goitein and Gustave von Grunebaum on the mistreatment of non-Muslims under Islam. What did he think would almost certainly happen once the despotism of the Sunni Saddam Hussein was removed?
And wouldn’t a knowledge of Islam have told these analysts something about the prospects for real “democracy” as opposed to the vote-counting that the Shi’a were happy to participate in, in which they voted for whomever their leaders told them to vote lemming-like for? In other words, isn’t a knowledge both of Islam and of the history of Iraq essential, so as not to engage in the kind of folly that is being engaged in?
The Americans, had they informed themselves, would then most likely either have
1) left Saddam Hussein in place, if indeed there was no real reason to suspect his possession, or his being able to acquire, weapons of mass destruction; or,
2) removed him, if there was indeed sufficient reason to believe that he either had or was attempting to acquire, or could soon start acquiring or making, such weapons, and then left Iraq. We still do not know whether or not Saddam was doing that, but those of us who were long willing to believe that the government was reasonable in fearing the existence of WMDs or of the ability of the regime to acquire them — I was one of them — are looking more abashed every day.
What are the most important things to study to figure out what makes sense for the wellbeing of Infidels at this moment in Iraq, given the instruments of Jihad as we can now identify them, and the behavior, ignorant and often pusillanimous, of much of the Western world?
It is history. The history of Islam, both doctrine and practice. The history of Iraq, especially of Iraq since 1920.
Not “psychoanalysis.” Not the “generally applicable rules of counter-insurgency” such as “insurgencies tend, on average, to last 10 years.” Islam. Iraq. History.