Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What Every John and Lucy Should Know About Mithal al-Alusi

by Ibn al-Hawazin Aboosi


LAST WEEK

I barely have time to settle in my seat at the annoyingly plush Pastiche Café before Sayyid Hayder al-Khoei, taking a puff from his peppermint-orange nargeela, asks me concernedly whether I have seen the bravura in the Iraqi parliament-of-sorts concerning al-Alusi's visit to Israel. I'm sure all of you have heard the long and short of Al-Alusi's sin, for the hermits on the moon it suffices to say that Mr. Alusi made a stop at Jewtown, came back to Muslms-R-Us and got an expected upheaval culminating in a revocation of diplomatic immunity.

It is pretty amazing that there still exists a person in Iraq such as al-Alusi, who can have the admiration of such sectarian-ly disparate people such as me and Mr. al-Khoei, if we were to play strictly by the rules of modern-day new-fangled democratic Iraq™, then I hail from the devoutly Saddamist Adhamiya, he the grandson of a late Shi'i World Leader ; we have every reason to poison each other's nargeelas while smiling smugly for the cameras, and even though I could be described as something of a new convert to irreligiousness, Sayyid Haider is very conservative [and married, at 20! good luck!] granted, both of us are decidedly secular, and pretty much share a similar view regarding almost everything political ; However, I have seen many supposedly levelheaded people who eventually went with the tide and embraced the sectarian identity they felt they had to choose, too many, in fact, which caused the current confessional parliament to be installed in place. I myself have made that mistake and voted for the Sunni 618 bloc back in 2005, if you remember correctly, I was too afraid and felt nobody is speaking about those horrible Badr murders, except Harith al-Dhari, with such heroes becoming sectarian is eventual, and it's a hard thing to truly shed sectarianism, it took the death of my friends to truly realize its folly.

WHY I LIKE AL-ALUSI

There are many secular Iraqi politicians in the vein of al-Alusi, but none of them seem to appeal to such a diverse margin of Iraqis as al-Alusi, I do believe it largely has to do with one thing alone: he has guts and showmanship. Al-Alusi blasts Arab dictators with unwavering condemnation and disgust at their despotism and double-standards, he doesn’t hold a thread of reverence for Saddam Hussein, and he never ignores his crimes disrespectfully in the vein of virtually all Sunni politicians. Yet this hostility does not seem to be fueled by racist anti-Arab orientations in the vein of certain Shi'i polemics, but more because of the backwardness of those systems of government. He is straightforward, dashing and explicit. Just look at his party title "The Iraqi Ummah Party", the choice of phrase is significant because nobody dares to voice the view that Iraq as a 'nation' (Ummah) by itself in such a flamboyant manner, basically, no Arab country ever uses the phrase 'Ummah' except when it describes the Arab Nation, the Arab countries are mere 'republics' or 'states', parts of the whole, and this is yet another substantial portion of al-Alusi's maxims, the underlying suggestion in his party's title is that Iraqi Ummah is something quite separate from the Arabic Ummah, an uneasy thing to sell (other examples include Phoenician Lebanon and Pharaonic Egypt). But what sets al-Alusi's Ataturkian ambitions aside is that he doesn't seem to have much stock to invest in all those theories that attempt to link Sumerians to modern-day Iraqi Arabs, which often has very hostile anti-Arab connotations, again , al-Alusi seem to be driven in that direction out of practicality ; Skipping questions regarding the validity of an "Iraqi identity", al-Alusi embraces it unquestioningly and by embracing Iraq as the foremost homeland, he seeks to follow a program that can successfully reflect the desires of the entire spectrum of "Iraqis", bypassing Sunni and Shi'i identification and for the first time truly treating everyone equally ; it doesn't take a while to figure out that undertaking the mission of building a truly stable Iraqi identity where religion occupies second place is not necessarily in the interest of the tyrannical Sunni Arab countries that surround it, who have helped fuel the sectarian war alongside Shi'i Iran, all sides would not benefit from a strong non-aligned Iraq rising from the ashes. Therefore, Al-Alusi's only reasonable partner is the West. His unnecessary showmanship in visiting Israel publicly seems to solely convey this explicit fuck-you approach to Pan-Arabism and Pan-Sectarianism, he says this to Iraqis: I am of a different breed.

ARAB UNITY

This approach is appealing, while I identify as an Arab, and have nothing personal against fellow Arabs, but the interference of Arabs in Iraq has always been misguided and negative, completely oblivious to what Iraqis want, and is as harmful as Iranian interference.

This Mithal al-Alusi stint led me thinking a lot about the proper position and identity we must have, between Iraq, the Arabs, Palestine and America. Until very recently, I had a soft spot for Arab Unity, but on thinking it over I've come to the conclusion that its best we worry about forming an Iraqi identity first before pondering ideas of what is in the interest of "Arabs". The idea of childishly integrating vast countries together with vastly different economic, cultural and religious values seems only to have much weight in sentimentality.

On the other hand, a shot at an "Iraqi" identity, however muddled and baseless historically that identity is, is quite possible. Indeed, it is known that Iraqi Shia and Palestinians share a mutual hatred, but are Sunni Iraqis any more loving of other Sunni countries? I've never met an Iraqi Sunni who identified with non-Iraqi Arabs more than he identified with his Shi'i countrymen. If anything, the similarities between Sunni and Shi'i Iraqis suggest it to be more doable than, say, a union between Sunni Jordan and Sunni Palestine.

REACTIONS AROUND THE WEB:

Hardcore Baathist Iraqirabita.org launched a petition to 'revoke the Iraqi nationality from Dirtbag Mithal', out of 5226 readers, only 432 have signed.

SIIC's unofficial news agency Burathanews.com was naturally scathing. Publishing opinion pieces and articles against al-Alusi.

Saudi-based liberal website Elaph has an interesting 4-part eyewitness account that praises al-Alusi's overall goals but includes several important criticisms, describing him as willing to impose democracy and the concept of an "Iraqi nation" by force and describing the people around him as opportunists. Most commentators favored al-Alusi.

Commentators on al-Arabiya.net's news item regarding al-Alusi's stunt was overwhelmingly and surprisingly positive, predictably, the ones who were negative were either Arabs or ultra-fundies. Maybe there is hope after all.

Angry Arab provides a great rude example of why Arabs could be harmful to Iraq, he predictably looks at Mithal al-Alusi, who he probably has never heard of before, through the prism of Palestine ; This one-dimension worldview can wear off quicker than you might imagine, what might be good for Palestine doesn't necessarily translate to be good for Iraq, and after all, the Iraqi problem is by and large unrelated to the actions of Western entities, which is why Arabs are having a hard time tackling it, all America did is bring it all to the surface.

Secular website Kitabat.com launched an uncharacteristically mouth-frothing campaign against the parliament, descending to a comedic vocabulary so typical of Baathists as personified by al-Sahaf. There were some anti-Alusi articles thrown in for good measure, but there is a great article contributed by German-based Iraqi politician Dhiaa al-Shakarchi, a former Dawa member who resigned from the party having seen the horrors of [political] Islamism, he is currently a secular Muslim, and he manages to sum up my feelings very eloquently:

Yes, perhaps I do not interact with the Palestinian cause as an Islamic cause, I view it as Palestinian first, humanitarian second, and perhaps Arab third.

Yet as we sympathize with the rights of the Palestinian people, we condemn as Iraqis the inexplicable support by radical Arab and Islamist Palestinian movements and its popular bases to the enemies and murderers of the Iraqi people, starting from Saddam and his sons and ending with al-Zarqawi and al-Qaeda. We also condemn the Iranian interference in the Iraqi, Palestinian and Lebanese affairs, and we would not exaggerate should we say that Iran played the most corrosive part in Iraq's destruction, but that does not make other regional and international sides innocent. The foremost international partner would naturally involve condemning fatal US mistakes in Iraq, but I would not look at America as an enemy, in fact I support a friendship that maintains the sovereignty and security of Iraq's democratic project to protect it against Iran's corrosive action and the radicalized factions of Islamists and those with a sectarian political agenda, but if it is clear to us that there is an American conspiracy against the aspirations of Iraqi people then we must surely adopt an entirely different position, albeit balancing the strength of our national convictions with political realities at hand.

As of Mithal al-Alusi's recent visit to Israel, one must say that the man managed, through unparalleled courage to present through his media appearances a political discourse with an effective and distinct national flavor, especially with his equally damning condemnations of Sunni sectarian terrorists and Shii sectarian agents. However, this does not mean we support his visit to Israel, an action that is surely a horrible political mistake committed without the slightest reasonable justification.

Perhaps the man had certain calculations we are unaware of, and it is not unlikely that the predictable uproar swings from the political fall from grace everyone is betting on to a sizable popular base in his favor, especially if we take into consideration that the figures who attacked al-Alusi in parliament are disliked by a great majority of Iraqis, as they are the figureheads of political powers that seek to establish sectarian politics and are often accused of being complicit with Iran. Thus many Iraqis who reject those political powers might support al-Alusi against those forces as an exhibition of their disappointment.

Sotaliraq.com publishes the results of a poll that might confirm some of the things al-Shakarchi talked about:

Do you think parliament must remove immunity from any Iraqi MP that visited or shook hands with an Israeli official? (No 76%, Yes 24%)

Should Iraq fight Israel in place of Arabs and Palestinians? (No 90% Yes 10%)

There are three Facebook groups in support of al-Alusi, the largest has members in the 500+ 750 apx, which is impressive considering Iraqis slow apprecation of Facebook. (it was 500 two days ago)

****

One can definitely be skeptical about al-Alusi, in the end of the day one can say so much without really having to do something. And the enormity of realizing that identifying with Iraq might necessitate an isolationist policy is not something easy to accomplish. However, taken at face value, al-Alusi seems to promise something, he is undertaking a great risk with what he's doing and he has already lost two sons in the process. He has my full support.

7 comments:

Don Cox said...

I hope Iraqis will soon come to realise that the Israelis, like the Americans, are on your side. They believe in democracy, education, technology, and secular government. The Islamists and Palestinians are the enemy. Just think, which side would help you to fix the sewage or develop better irrigation? _____ One has to remember that the Jewish fundamentalists, including the aggressive settler movement, are a small minority. The Turks, the Jordanians, and the Egyptians already work with Israel.

Anonymous said...

I don't know this guy's record but I know what political suicide looks like. Nobody with ties to Israel actually publicizes them including dictators. That he is says to me he doesn't have much of an interest in sticking around to realize that ideology but that he wants something else, as to what it is your guess is as good as mine. Sorry I know it's not what you want to hear but I think AA has a point.

Michomeme said...

هلو عباس شلونك
عيد سعيد مقدما وكل عام وانت بخير وان شاء الله الموفقية دائما
طبعا اني حاولت اكثر من مرة اجدد اللنك مال البلوك مالتك بس كلما اريد اضيف تصير مشكلة بالنت ويكول ماكو سيرفر
بعدني دا احاول والله كريم

Shams said...

"he doesn’t hold a thread of reverence for Saddam Hussein, and he never ignores his crimes disrespectfully in the vein of virtually all Sunni politicians. Yet this hostility does not seem to be fueled by racist anti-Arab orientations in the vein of certain Shi'i polemics"

I loved this part, it seems it is my enigma with Iraqis on this one.


However, with Alusi's visit, all I can say is, just because he is an Iraqi the whole hype is more than overdone, but it is rather pathetic, we had many other Arab nationalities shaking hands with Israel, and maybe he wanted to be clear , he did not care of publicity.
And it was a conference about terrorism, and yeah he was clear that Iran is a mutual enemy, but the question is, If Iran was in the same situation, wouldn't it also find some alliance to curb some common enemy ...isn't that politics anyways?????


However, I am pro an Iraqi isolationist type of politics, meaning we should isolate Israel as well, we do not want their problematic baggage tossed at our side, we care mostly of our neighboring countries in terms of combat.
Of course I am sure there lots of zionists in Iraq, we do not want them either just like we do not want any foreign personal meddling in our affairs.

I do like Alusi's approach, but he should not be there to acknowledge or be part of the dialog betwen pal/isr.

all none of our business. However, going with interest , all the way to alliances , is also a not good strategy for Iraq....Iraq should cut any dependency on any country, it is only America that is the most powerful which needs less of an isolationist strategy but something smarter to combat in the long run.

onix said...

nationalism itself is very much a passed station, i wonder if it is so smart to create an 'iraki' ummah in the 21st century, to even wish for it. I do find reason in ur piece to admire the man tho, it is one thing few people do, to always keep up their opinions.

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