Three months after elections in Iraq, a new Prime Minister has not yet been selected to form a new government. Accusations of fraud still surround the election and Ayad Allawi’s secular (but Sunni-dominated) coalition is struggling against the Shiite opposition, led by Nouri al Maliki, to keep a grip on its narrow margin of victory. Many continue to call for a vote recount. Optimists have noted that the political wrangling has at least not devolved into violence.
Yesterday in London, Ayad Jamal Al-Din, a Shiite cleric and leader of the Iraqi Ahrar party spoke at an event at the Henry Jackson Society — an organization named for the U.S. senator with a conflicted legacy who supported unions, the New Deal and Johnson’s Vietnam, and dedicated to the spread of liberal democratic government via western foreign policy. Bataween at Point of No Return, a site dedicated to “the Middle East’s forgotten Jewish refugees,” attended the event and expresses surprise that Ayad supports a secular Iraqi government. He writes, with a surprise that betrays little knowledge of the subtleties of Iraqi history, “An ayatollah in a turban pleading for a secular Iraq? What could be more paradoxical.” He writes:
I asked Ayad Jamal al-Din about the plight of non-Muslim minorities at the lecture he gave at the House of Commons yesterday. The Assyrian Christians were leaving in droves, I said, the Mandaeans were on the verge of extinction, and 150,000 Jews had been driven out: only six remain.
Ayad Jamal Al-Din recognised that the Christian Assyrians had been badly treated since 2003, but theirs was not just a minority rights problem – it was a human rights problem. The Mandaeans were the most affected by persecution, since they had no outside haven, in spite of a small connection with Ahwaz on the border with Iran. As for the Jews, they were the oldest nation in Iraq. Abraham was an Iraqi. In fact he came from Jamal al-Din’s hometown of Nasariya! Even Dutch and Polish Jews originated from the region, he said.
It should be an old lesson: religious minorities are suppressed when a dominant religious party wields governmental power. Yet, in the U.S., this lesson of secular government as a protector of religious tolerance is often lost in residual post-Cold War ideology and the rewriting of history. The U.S.’ behavior in Iraq in many ways exemplifies an erroneous conflation of religious (white, Christian) dominance with Western democracy. Bataween writes:
When I asked what policy the Ahrar party had towards Israel, where Iraqis were the third largest community of Israeli Jews, I got no response. It is obviously too delicate for Iraqi politicians like Ayad to pronounce on the record on this prickly subject….
Read Chris Rhoda’s three-part series on Glenn Beck’s revisions of American history.
Read Peter Beinart’s critique of the American Jewish Establishment.