June 13, 2005


Why Sunnis blow themselves up (Spengler, 6/14/05, Asia Times)

The Mesopotamian Sunnis, like Hezbollah or Hamas, well may understand their position better than does the president of the United States. Minorities that have withstood a thousand years of invasions, oppression and massacres now face a new and deadlier threat. During the past century, 2,000 ethnic groups have gone extinct, but an equal or larger number will go extinct during the next decade, as two spoken languages disappear each week.

Hezbollah, after sweeping elections in the south of the country on June 5 in Lebanon's staggered polls, laughed at American demands that it disarm. Hamas holds the balance of power in Palestine after Mahmoud Abbas postponed parliamentary elections scheduled for July 17. Syria, meanwhile, went back to its usual business of intimidating local as well as Lebanese opponents. And on June 8, Iraq's Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders embraced the ethnic militias now engaged in a low-level civil war with the country's Sunni Arabs. [...]

Prosperity today comes at the price of leveling traditional relationships of all kinds, everywhere, that is, except for the oil-producing nations of the Middle East, where petrodollars have kept traditional society alive in a sort of iron lung. The oil producers did not have to send their young men to work in German factories, like Turkey, or their young women to work in German brothels, like Ukraine. The complex of tribal, religious and linguistic associations that divide the peoples of Iraq will not go out with a whimper, like cultures that the global marketplace slowly has eroded. Instead, they will go out with a bang.

Sudden impoverishment motivates men to fight to the death. In the modern era the most remarkable example is the American Civil War, in which died an astonishing two-fifths of Southern men of military age. The South fought for its "way of life", that is, for the fact or opportunity of membership in a leisure class supported by slave labor.

Gaming the odds on civil war in Iraq has blossomed into a minor industry during the past few months. I wrote in January 2004, "No one in the Bush administration wants to let slip the dogs of civil war. On the contrary, the White House still hopes that Iraq will set a precedent for democracy in the Muslim world. Yet civil war is the path of least resistance." This is tragedy, not malice or forethought, even if Bush comes across like an outtake from Aristophanes rather than a character in Aeschylus. Some in the Bush camp view the promotion of Arab democracy as an asymmetric bet. "Either it will be very good for us [if it works], or it will be very bad for them [if it doesn't]."

As Spengler's example of our own points out, civil war is hardly incompatible with democratization. The creation of a democratic Shi'a crescent stretching from Lebanon through Iran will provoke some wars with the Sunni, like the one going on in Iraq, but serves our own national interests if in no other way than tying Islamicists down in an existential battle within the Islamic world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 13, 2005 9:43 AM

"Why Sunnis blow themselves up"

Who cares why? Just encourage them to keep at it.

Posted by: obc at June 13, 2005 3:50 PM