TCS Daily

Third Time's a Charm!

By Stephen Schwartz - December 14, 2005 12:00 AM

Liberated Iraq has begun its third round of elections, with media reporting Tuesday that Iraqi émigrés living in 15 Western and Muslim countries have flocked to out-of-country polling places established to fulfill their democratic desires.

The third Iraqi ballot will seal a new political order in the country, based on popular sovereignty. Even the minority of Iraqi Arab Sunni Muslims appear eager to vote, notwithstanding their incitement by some of their leaders, who are discontented over the loss of the privileged status the Arab Sunnis had under Saddam.

The January parliamentary vote, the October referendum on the constitution, and now, the balloting that will establish Iraq's independent, formal government -- the process has progressed from success to success. This notwithstanding the carping of Western media, academic pseudo-experts, isolationist bloggers, Democrats disoriented to the point of confused belligerence, and fanatics for the Wahhabi cult in Saudi Arabia, who have financed and recruited the reactionary terrorists in Mesopotamia.

Throughout these events the Iraqi Shia majority of 60 percent-plus, and its leading clerics, have maintained admirable discipline. They have been guided by the steady hand of Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the Shia religio-legal authority, or marja, whose decisions are accepted by leading Shia in all countries including Iran. The Shia Islamic sect, identified with passionate adherence to the House of the Prophet Muhammad and his descendants, has proven devoted and patriotic in its concern for a secure and stable Iraq.

Other unacknowledged heroes of the Iraqi transformation, namely, the political leadership in Kurdistan, have attended to the construction of a new society on the foundation of a long-term policy of U.S. and British protection. Iraqi Kurdistan is standing on its own feet, and has gained the benefits of independence without the liabilities.

Unfortunately, the ideological commissars of the Western and Arab mainstream media (MSM) do not discuss the historical significance for global Islam of the empowerment of the Iraqi Shias and the economic and social achievements of the Iraqi Kurds. Each of these examples is a colossal factor for change in the Muslim world. The advance of the Shias of Iraq has encouraged civic, intra-governmental, and clerical opposition to the disastrous presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran. But more important, Iraq has driven the Saudi monarch to commit to serious reform.

In the beginning of December, Saudi King Abdullah summoned a conference of Muslim scholars from around the world, to meet in Mecca for the 3rd Extraordinary Summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). I had been in Sarajevo and in Kosovo in the weeks before, and in both places was told by Muslim clerics that a major shift was expected at the global parley. There, King Abdullah called for "tolerance... the foundations for a society that rejects isolationism and turns its back on courting hostility to the other, by interacting [with] all of humanity, adopting what is good and rejecting what is bad." He went on to counsel "the spread of moderation... [an increase in] Muslim inventors and industrialists... an advanced Muslim technology, and Muslim youth who work for their life just as they work for the Hereafter, without excess or negligence, without any kind of extremism."

To the degree the MSM paid attention to the Mecca conference, they concentrated on statements made there against terrorism. But Saudi declarations against terrorism, as well as the adoption of token civil reforms like a partial vote for local councils, are of little moment. The Saudi regime itself cannot easily extricate itself from the charity and other institutions it has fostered for the promotion of Wahhabism and it cannot efficiently construct social institutions opposed to the political culture of Wahhabism, which is based on submission to totalitarian control. Paradoxically, the regime can more easily break with Wahhabism altogether. Serious comments by the Saudi monarch on the future of Islam are much more important than perfunctory antiterrorist speeches.

In addition to Saudi King Abdullah's defense of moderation -- an explicit rebuke to Wahhabi radicals -- Jordanian King Abdullah sent an important message to the Mecca conference supporting the Amman Declaration, which calls for a ban on takfir or false and ideological accusations of apostasy in Islam. As I pointed out in a TCS article on the fourth anniversary of 9/11, in reporting on the Iraqi constitution, Western media failed to notice the significance of the document's prohibition of takfir. I described then, as well as in speeches I made in Jakarta and Singapore, how Wahhabis, the inspirers of al-Qaida, have for centuries declared that those who do not share their fanatical doctrines are apostates from Islam. This has been their excuse for murder and pillage against Shias and non-Wahhabi Sunnis. And it is important for another reason. By labeling all nonradicals apostates from religion, and blessing as faithful Muslims only the adherents of their own violent ideology, the practitioners of takfir bind their followers together as an elite, but also as a pliable human mass.

The Amman Declaration condemned takfir against Shias, in the bloodthirsty manifestos of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, as well as takfir against Sufis, or spiritual Muslims. The declaration called for the restoration of pluralistic debate in Islamic discourse and affirmation of liberty as a principle. The Amman Declaration, change in Saudi Arabia's conception of Islam, refusal by notable Iranians to accept the outrageous public behavior of Ahmadinejad, and calls for the advance of reform in Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt all show the impact of events in Baghdad.

Has it been worth it? To many Europeans and some Americans, who put peace before all other values, nothing positive can come out of the Mesopotamian combat. But Americans have historically valued freedom over peace. In accepting the sacrifices required to secure freedom in their country the Iraqis have, in my view, repaid the debt of blood owed to the American and other coalition dead and wounded in the conflict there.

Many will doubtless disagree with me. But the opponents of intervention in Iraq are increasingly candid in their general contempt for democracy and its global expansion. Of course it would have been better had the Iraqi transformation cost as little blood as those in Ukraine, Kyrgyzia, and Lebanon. But the opponents of American intervention overseas hate our support for fair elections in Azerbaijan, liberation in Belarus, and a general curbing of Russian neo-authoritarianism -- even by the peaceful means of leaflets -- as much as they hate the war in Iraq.

In the Saudi kingdom, it will be necessary for the triumph of religious pluralism, state accountability, popular sovereignty, and broad popular liberties, that any effort there be bloodless. Saudi Arabia and Iraq should both be like Poland, not like ex-Yugoslavia or Iraq as it has been so far.

But a consolidation of political reform in the region will now be made further possible, by massive voter participation in Iraq. Action by President Bush to compel Saudi King Abdullah to prevent further incitement and recruitment for terror in Iraq by clerics in the kingdom will resolve the bloodshed of the present moment. The MSM has made heroes out of the Iraqi terrorists, mistakenly granting them honorable titles as "insurgents" and "resistance." The real heroes of Iraq, alongside the troops of the U.S.-led coalition, are the Shia clerics, Kurdish political leaders, Sunni Sufis, and others who have made orderly developments in the country possible. The success of the election will be their victory, as well as that of President Bush and his team, and of the small group of neoconservatives and others who have had undimmed faith in the common sense and ideals of the Iraqi majority.

For the Wahhabi killers and their Western enablers, in media and politics alike, the election in Iraq will echo a traditional American jeer: three strikes, you're out!

Stephen Schwartz is author of The Two Faces of Islam.

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