Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Syrian Refugees and the Banners (I)

Many look at the Syrian crisis through the picture of the little boy who was laying face down on the beach, dead. They pay attention to the turmoil in Afghanistan when a bomb kills few or many in a wedding ceremony there. The sectarian killings in Iraq, Syria and Libya catch their attention when a gruesome beheading is put on the Web. These events prompt them to action – mostly a FaceBook post. "Open up the border and let the refugees in! How can you stand by and let a little boy die!" "Haven't the Western countries made enough mess in Afghanistan and Iraq. Get out of there!" Or "Where is the civilized world to stop these savageries!" Sometimes it is hard to decipher the rightist and the leftist positions from each other. These protestations are off the cuff outpouring of emotions, not much different than someone's FaceBook picture of his food. Both are off the cuff emotions, the latter demands repetition and the former is begging to go away. I do not have anything against impromptu emotions. I have my own moments but they tell us little to nothing about the reality of the events.

Fewer try to look at these events a bit deeper. They look at the history and compare the more tolerant ways that Western societies dealt with their own displaced peoples during the two world wars, WWI and WWII. Question for them is why the western societies cannot provide to the Middle Eastern (ME) refugees at least the same courtesy as they provided each other during those two wars. Why can't we be more charitable? This view says that Western societies had their own sectarian wars, they had their own "ugly" past why are we not more tolerant of the developments in the ME. It further says, do not intervene and give the conflicts in the ME some time. These are reasonable questions and I will come back to them. But for now let's expand the comparisons.

WWI and WWII were primarily a European conflict, but the U.S. intervened and hastened the end of the first one and brought the second world war to a decisive conclusion. The result of it was the expansion of democracy in the western Europe and recently its extension to the rest of Europe. The U.S. intervention in the Middle East and Afghanistan, with some help from other Western countries, has not achieved the same results so far. One explanation could be that maybe it is too early to expect the same conclusive outcome. The two world wars were not snap events and it took several decades to resolve themselves. While the duration of time could be one explanation I think lack of political clarity is primary. What are these political elements that we need to understand?

Let's expand the comparisons. After the military victory over Taliban and Al Qaeda forces the U.S. helped create a government which its name begins with Islamic, it is called Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Basically we endorsed the creation of a sectarian government. Just imagine that after the victory over Germany in WWII the emerging government was called Nazis Republic of Germany, because it was the representation of German "pride" and their claim to superiority. It would be unthinkable now! After the allies victory the German "pride" had no place in the constitution of the new state. We knew that we are at war with the Islamists and yet we have forgotten the elementary lesson of a modern state which is the separation of religion and the state, separation of tribal "pride" and the state. Afghanistan was not an anomaly, a lapse in judgment. We repeated it in Iraq. While the new Iraqi government is called Republic of Iraq and does not have a religious name embedded in it, but their constitution clearly states that Islam is the state religion. The U.S. might as well have included Islam in the official state name, at least for the clarity of the complete abandonment of the principles.

One can speculate and find all kinds of motives for the Bush administration's forceful removal of Saddam Hussein but one thing is clear and that is his administration's declared political expectations. President Bush unequivocally declared that the Iraqi people are aspiring for freedom and they will embrace the direct military intervention. They declared the goal of intervention is establishment of democracy. But freedom and democracy are opposed to the established sectarian claims of the state as it is clear in the way governments of Afghanistan and Iraq have been formed. My reader might protest that the WWII and today's Islamic world are different and I agree, but that does not override our principles. The point is that the Western policies do not follow any principles and it is continuing along the same incoherent path. I will come back to this later.

On with our comparisons, do you think that during WWII someone in the U.S. would be allowed to hang a Nazis emblem on his porch. During the war German nationals were automatically classified as "enemy aliens" and many were interned, so the display of Nazis emblem was unthinkable. What is the emblem of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in Iraq and Syria, Al Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan or the emblem of the Islamic Republic in Iran? You might think it is (الله اکبر) "Allah is the Greatest" or (لا اله الا الله) "There is no Allah but Allah". Every Muslim uses those words and that is not an emblem per se. I am a Muslim and use those words in conversations as a cultural form of discourse but at the same time I am not Islamist. Above and beyond my cultural habits I believe in the principles of democracy, freedom of expression and this principle overrides all my cultural baggage. As I said those words per se are not and do not form an emblem. In case of the Islamists their distinction as a state is the suppression of women. Their emblem is the forced enclosure of women's bodies in the form of head or face covering, hijab or niqab. That is their distinction from and opposition to the West and modernity. Hijab and niqab might have their roots in cultural traditions but today it is the emblem of the Islamists. It is their reason for existence, it is their battle cry against the West. Without it they would not have any reason for existence. Their existence is for the suppression of women in its worst form.

How do we look at this banner of our enemy in our midst, we do not look down on it, we do not ridicule it. We do not even debate it, how could you! In our daily lives, hijab and niqab, are considered a woman's "choice", her "freedom" of expression. How could you dare debate a woman's choice! The politically correct way is to shun those discussions. I think the reality is different. Nigab might be the "choice" of a particular ignorant woman but as a whole it is the emblem of the enemy. Ignorant in the same way that a religious person chooses the idea of creation and creationism above the idea of the evolution of the species. Ignorant in the same way that one could choose to believe that we live on a flat earth. All those ignorant women with nigab, while individually might have made that choice to cover their faces, to deny their own individual social identity, but as a whole they are displaying the emblem of the enemy. And if you delve deeply into why some women make that "choice", aside and beyond the family patriarchal pressures, it is a form of antagonism with the modern society and sympathy with the Islamists. Isn't that the battle cry of the Islamists?

At present the predominant sympathy is with the "choice" that the Islamists make and clearly their action is not seen as the display of the enemy's banner. Any mention of this plain fact is attacked as "Islamophobia". The prevalence of this attitude overshadows the needed solidarity with millions of women in the Islamic dominated societies. The fact of the matter is that our principles and priorities are upside down and are reflected in the policies of the Western societies.

It is clear that we are at war with some political entities such as ISIS, Al Qaeda and Taliban and serious confrontation with others such as the Islamic Republic in Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and their offshoots in the rest of the ME and north Africa. To move politically in the direction of seeing these Islamist symbols as not compatible with the state of affairs that we are finding ourselves will only clarify the alignment of forces.

While the Nazis and the Fascists could not display their banners in the U.S. during the war, after the war and upon the return to normalcy Nazi sympathizers could exercise their democratic right to display their choice of expression and they have and it is protected by law. But there is no Nazi enemy state that this choice could be relating itself to. That era is long gone. When the women of the countries who are dominated by the Islamists could gain their right to freely choose their body attire, when women of Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Iran could shed their hijab and nigab freely, then that would be the new normalcy in the world and then the Islamic women in the West would be free to display their choice. Today's Nazis in the U.S. are a very small fringe group, one would expect the same with the women who want to choose nigab. They would become a minor social phenomena when the Islamists political control has been uprooted. Their nigab would not be the banner of the enemy but merely a freak choice when the enemy has been uprooted.

In Europe the pressure is building up to ban at least the most egregious form of women servitude, the nigab, the face cover. But the political scene is dominated by the rightists who counterpose the "culture" of wearing nigab to the "national culture". The French consider it as contrary to French secularism, as every country in Europe in some form see this as an impediment to the integration of the Muslim immigrants. The real political context is clouded with the cultural squabbles. An open discussion going beyond political correctness will clear the way forward in confronting and bringing to a decisive conclusion the Islamist reaction that has dominated the world politics since 1979.

To maintain slavery the south imposed the civil war on the northern states of the United States. The south was weaker but it saw the war as its only option to maintain slavery. The modern world needs to place women's right at center stage exactly where the Islamists are waving their anti women banner. The Islamists know and recognize their weaker position and are imposing a protracted form of war to keep their system of women bondage. The cleavage in this struggle is not terrorism, it is not the nuclear agreement with Iran, but it is the unequivocal rights of women . We are not fighting a bunch of terrorists, we are in a struggle to end women's bondage as we did slavery. We need to keep our banner clear from the "choice" of the Islamists in the West and instead side clearly with women under the heel of the Islamists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran and the rest of the Muslim dominated countries. To cleanse our banner is a tough thing to do, it has been sullied badly with adventurous military actions, wishful thinking and wrong choice of political pivot points.

Now, one can ask what is the relationship between the title of my post and what I have said so far. The recent wave of immigrants has everything to do with it but I am trying very hard to keep my posts short so look for my next post.

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