Thursday, October 07, 2004

The Fruits of the Iraq Invasion

When the advertizing campaign for the Iraq invasion began in the late fall of 2001, I became a demonstrator. I had never marched before, but things changed, as they say, after 9/11. The reason for my political awakening was that I could foresee the future, and the future held an Islamic theocracy in Iraq. In fact, anybody could foresee the future at that time, provided that the anybody listened to some unbiased news coverage and read a few books on Iraq.

I'm not fond of theocracies of any stripe, and as experience shows, they are terrible for women. The first thing traditionalists attack when they seize power is women: women are scrutinized, forced into different clothes, segregated from men in all other ways essentially eradicated from public view. I very much doubt that women were traditionally treated this way in general, but the new traditionalists seem to make up their own traditions as they please.

It is curious, though, that women serve as the canary in the mines. Why is it that controlling the women is so important for the fundamentalists? I can think of quite a few theories to explain this, but none of them explains why women are seen as the enemy in some fundamental way. After all, even fundamentalists have wives and daughters that at least some of them love. Yet they are quite willing to have them lead lives with no independent choices. This makes me very sad, to be honest. Here is an Afghan judge telling us why women have to be imprisoned for disobedience:

Kandahar's chief judge argues that sharia, or Islamic law, protects girls like Musliba. "Our laws make family unity a priority," said Judge Abdul Basir Mahbooky, fingering his prayer beads. "That is important for women because, I'm sorry to say, women don't have the mental or physical capacity to live alone in this society. We must make sure they are cared for."

Something similar can be heard from the lips of the Christian fundamentalist patriarchs in this country, and though they frame it more gently, the fact remains that many fundamentalists like to regard women as some sort of domestic pets: cute, but in need of protection and strict discipline.

To return to Iraq, my fear is that Iraq will follow in the footpath of the Taliban. Instead of a democracy in the Middle East we just might be creating another Iran or Afghanistan. Consider this:

In a postwar Iraq tormented by growing violence and uncertainty, the men with the power are the ones in robes and turbans Muslim clerics counseling spiritual renewal and active defiance of the United States and the Iraqi government it backs.
In the 18 months since Saddam Hussein's regime fell, Shiite and Sunni clerics alike have shot to prominence, eclipsing the U.S.-backed politicians in smart business suits who returned from exile to form a new ruling class but found themselves sorely lacking the clergy's popularity.
The emergence of religion as a force has started a trend that may be difficult to reverse in this conservative nation. It raises the possibility of an Islamic-oriented regime that could fall well short of the U.S. goal of a secular democracy serving as a model for the rest of the Arab world.

Religion is a source to which people return when life is difficult, even unbearable, and I can understand that. Still, I wish (oh how I wish) that there would be at least some major religions which don't afford solace and comfort at the expense of women's full humanity.