The war between Iran and Iraq, of course, could not have been openly presented by Saddam Hussein as a Sunni-Shi’a war, for obvious reasons. But that is not the same thing as saying that it had nothing to do with the initial fear and hatred, felt by those who ran the Sunni Arab despotism (disguised behind “Ba’athism”) of Saddam Hussein for the mad-dog Shi’a, as they saw it, of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In that war, Saddam Hussein referred to battles from early Islam between Arabs and Persians, and played up — as other Sunnis have more recently done — the “Persian” business. Some, such as Al-Zarqawi, and his successors, have reinforced the resentment of Sunnis at losing control of Iraq to the Shi’a by describing those Shi’a, inaccurately, as “Persians,” or mere collaborators of the “Persians.”
One of Bernard Lewis’s most useful books is The Multiple Identities of the Middle East. One is not only a Shi’a Muslim or a Sunni Muslim. One can be more than one thing. One can be an Arab and a Muslim. One can be an Arab and a Sunni Muslim. One can be an Arab and a Shi’a Muslim. One can be a Berber, and a Muslim. One can be a Kurd, and a Muslim. In the case of Arabs, so strong is the identification of Islam and “Uruba” or Arabness, that even among some of the Christian Arabs (above all among those we have been carefully taught to call “Palestinians”) the identification with Islam is intertwined with “Arabness,” and a need to be able to identify with permanently threatening Muslim Arabs (as a way to fit in, as a way to win them over). One thus finds the phenomenon of the “islamochristian,” which is much less common among more numerous, self-conscious, and historically less cowed communities, such as the Maronites of Lebanon, or even the Copts, especially the Copts once they leave Egypt and can think, feel, speak freely about Islam.
All this escapes Dinesh D’Souza. He’s too busy. So many books to sell, so many CDs to flog. To flog, flog, flog. Step right up. Get your latest Dinesh D’Souza here. Just for today, at No Extra Cost, a Guide to Absolutely Everything.
Who is most likely to shout that there never has been a Sunni-Shi’a divide, and that therefore whatever trouble there is in Iraq of what is demurely described as “of a sectarian nature” (you know: those bombs that blow the gold-tumanned roof off of venerable Shi’a mosques, those revenge drillings into live flesh by the Shi’a militias in return) is the responsibility of the Bad Old Infidels, the Bad Americans?
One group consists of those who will find a way to blame America for the inability of the people in Iraq to engage in sensible political compromise, or to refrain from violence as their main means for obtaining their goals. This group cannot see the world through other than Muslim lenses, with the inculcated violence and aggression that comes with those lenses. They understand that there are only two categories — the Victors and the Vanquished — which is exactly what Islam teaches them as the right way to think of Believers and Infidels. This lesson is not lost on them when they begin to think about other kinds of enemies.
The second group, of course, consists of the Bush loyalists, the people who thought that it made sense to remain in Iraq for Light-Unto-the-Muslim-Nations purposes. But no one, even those of us who believed the Administration’s information about WMDs, should have thought it wise for the Americans to remain in Iraq beyond early 2004. Why then? Why not, say, November 2003? Well, because it was important to be assured both that the country had been scoured for WMDs, and that Saddam Hussein, his two sons, and the face cards in that famous pack used by the Americans in their imaginative game of Fifty-Two Pickup, were either killed or captured. But that was it.
The removal of the regime set in motion what was inevitable: the transfer of power to the Shi’a and the loss of power by the Sunnis. The Sunnis do not and cannot, inside or outside Iraq, accept this loss. They are unwilling to acquiesce in the obvious fact that the Shi’a of Iraq have won and have no intention of giving up power. What can the Sunnis do? The Shi’a don’t need Anbar Province, and they have been quite able to empty Baghdad of many of its Sunnis. They are quite prepared, if need be, to continue that particular operation until the madinat al-salaam, the fabled first city of Islam, is almost entirely in Shi’a hands.
But Bush loyalists cannot admit that. They cannot admit that history demonstrates the depth and duration of Sunni-Shi’a hostilities goes far beyond Saddam Hussein’s mistreatment of the Shi’a. They cannot accept that these hostilities go far beyond the history of modern Iraq, or even the history only of Iraq, but can be found wherever Sunnis and Shi’a are mixed together in sufficient numbers for the latter to be noticed and discriminated against, or attacked, or persecuted.
They ignored history, and now they have a stake in rewriting history, because of what they should have known, but did not bother to find out. And were any of the smiling westernized secularized Shi’a in exile going to inform them about the likelihood of a Shi’a takeover, and a Sunni refusal to acquiesce? This history continues to be ignored in presentations by Bush, by Cheney, by Rice, and by all those so-called “conservative” commentators whose reputations should suffer for their blind and late-in-the-day seeing of the light, where they do, or must pretend to, about Iraq.
Dinesh D’Souza apparently thinks that because many of the conscripts in Iraq’s army were Shi’a, then Saddam Hussein could not have been prompted to declare war against Iran as a Shi’a state. But that is exactly why he declared war (see the “Encyclopedia Britannica” entry posted by Robert Spencer here). He understood that the secular Shah did not appeal to the devout Shi’a of Iraq, and that whatever his differences with Iran under Shah Reza Pahlevi, the Shah’s regime was not for Saddam Hussein life-threatening.
But Khomeini, the militant Shi’a cleric, was a different matter. He had been kicked out of his exile in Iraq, was stupidly offered asylum by the French, and from his perch at Neauphle-le-chateau launched the revolution against the Shah. Had the French government been better informed, it would have cooperated with agents of Savak and had Khomeini done away with while he was in France.
It was because of Khomeini and his revolution that Saddam Hussein attacked Iran — or rather, attacked the nascent Islamic Republic of Iran which, he understood, was a mortal threat to him because of its dangerous appeal to the formerly cowed (“quiescent”) Shi’a of Iraq.
Dinesh D’Souza appears to believe that the army of Iraq was “60% Shi’a.” That is, he thinks the army of Iraq reflected exactly the percentages in the general population. But of course the army was Sunni-officered, strictly Sunni-controlled. He, Dinesh D’Souza, appears not to realize how police states can stay afloat, when they set their diabolical minds to it. What percentage of the officer corps in the Syrian army, for example, in a country where only 12% of the population is Alawite but the country is run of, by, and for Alawites, does he think is Alawite? 12% exactly? Or 50%? Or 80%?
What naivete. Does he really think that the Sunni despots who have run Iraq ever since the British left, even though they were always a distinct minority (and have become more so over time), would do so without total control of the army? Can he not imagine how those Shi’a conscripts would have been pushed forward, fed whatever anti-“Persian” propaganda could be fed them, and then at the first sign of any recalcitrance, executed on the spot? He is lacking in the imaginative faculty.
In the imaginative faculty. In general knowledge. In specific knowledge about Islam, a subject he presumes to know enough to write a book about. The Hoover Institution should not be mocked. It no doubt is mortified that he is still there, and no doubt looking forward to getting rid of him at the earliest opportunity. He will find some other place to exploit for his own self-promotion, though no doubt he will be sorry not to be able to wave around the phrase “Hoover Institution” and bask in its reflected prestige. He’ll do fine, somewhere. People like that always do.