10/20/2005: Juan Cole On Iraq...
Tomdispatch has an Interview with Juan Cole about Iraq that is worth a read through. Part 1 is available at this link and is called The Treasure, the Strongbox, and the Crowbar.
Here is an excerpt:
… "I was just a Midwestern college professor. I taught my courses and wrote my articles about the Middle East. My interests were in religious institutions, religious movements, especially Shiite Islam and Sunni modernism. I knew where these movements came from. I knew the history of the Shiite clergy in Najaf back to the eighteenth century. And I had lived in the Middle East off and on for a significant period of time.
An "Army brat," with Arabic, Persian, and Urdu under his belt, a scholar who "can make something out of an Ottoman text," he teaches modern Middle Eastern history at the University of Michigan. He is exceedingly mild looking, mild-mannered, and quiet-spoken. Even his humor is hushed. He's ironic. The very name of his blog, he tells me, was meant as a quiet commentary on the "grandiose" blog titles people were then choosing back in 2002. And yet, as anyone who reads his blog knows, his mind is anything but mild. As a reasonable man increasingly appalled by the Bush administration and American policy in the Middle East, he can be, and often is, an impressively fierce essayist.
COLE: It's not just from Iraq. It's our picture of the world. The United States is a peculiarly insular society. Most people here haven't traveled very much and our mass media, all television news of any significance, is controlled by about five corporations.
Basically, the public is informed about things like the Middle East by generalist journalists who were in Southeast Asia or Russia last year, and by politicians and bureaucrats who were dealing with some other region last week. And then there's official Washington spin, and the punditocracy, the professional commentators, mainly in New York and Washington, who comment about the Middle East without necessarily knowing anything serious about it. Anybody who's lived in parts of the world under the microscope in Washington is usually astonished at how we represent them. You end up with an extremely persistent set of images that almost no actual information is able to make a dent in.
TD: Can you apply this to Iraq?
COLE: The famous instance is the interview Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz gave to National Public Radio in February before the Iraq War. He said words to the effect that Iraq will be a better friend to the United States than Saudi Arabia had been. It shows you he was intending to replace Saudi Arabia with Iraq as a pillar of the U.S. security establishment in the Middle East. Saudis are Wahabis and they have sensitivities about their holy cities, Mecca and Medina. Iraq, he said, is a Shia society. It's secular. He juxtaposed Shia and secular. And then he added, it doesn't have the problem of having holy cities.
The Washington power elite that planned out the invasion appears to have thought that Iraq was a secular society, including the Shiites amongst them, and they seem to have been unaware of Najaf and Kabala as among the holiest shrine cities in the world of Islam.
It's not a matter of stupidity on Wolfowitz's part. It's a matter of being uninformed. Willfully uninformed. He just believed whatever people like [long-time Iraqi expatriate politician and corrupt banker, now vice-premier] Ahmed Chalabi told him about Iraq. He probably hadn't read as much as a whole book on Iraq's modern history. Well, Iraq wasn't a secular society.
Part 2, Throwing Grenades in the Global Economic Cockpit, is also up at this link, and it is worth an entire read through.
Karen on 10.20.05 @ 09:28 AM CST