Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Why the Gulf States Need Labor Unions

When it comes to the oil-rich sheikdoms of the Arabian Gulf, media and governments in the West have been largely united in their praise. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recently dubbed the emirate of Dubai "an amazing city-state on the Gulf that is becoming the Singapore of the Arab East," and told NPR's Terry Gross that the Palestinians should emulate it. (He left it up to listeners to imagine how one could emulate Dubai without billions of dollars in oil reserves.) Christopher Hitchens wrote last week in Slate about his recent visit to Qatar, which he described as "a sort of cross between Switzerland and Hong Kong." He hailed the little country, among other things, for its treatment of immigrant workers, who receive "a much better deal than their semi-indentured fellows in Riyadh and Jeddah." The Bush administration apparently agrees. The White House has signed a bilateral free-trade agreement with Bahrain and is pushing for agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Oman. Since 2001, the White House has been calling for a Middle East Free Trade Area (MEFTA) similar to NAFTA, which it hopes will transform Arab politics by liberalizing Arab economies. This idea is a guiding principle for newly appointed Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, who formerly served Bush as U.S. Trade Representative. He has invoked the "spirit of the Levant," the region's history as "the world's preeminent bazaar," and even the Koran to argue for free-trade agreements with Middle Eastern countries.

These sentiments sound nice. But they are increasingly out of touch with reality. While news coverage of the region has lately focused on elections in Baghdad and Ramallah, and protests in Cairo and Beirut, there is growing political unrest in Gulf capitals, too. Some of it takes the form of Al Qaeda-style violence, once exclusive to Saudi Arabia but now common in Kuwait and cropping up in Qatar as well. But there's another form of discontent that's ubiquitous in the Arabian desert--even amid the shimmering skyscrapers of Friedman's "amazing city-state on the Gulf": The appalling treatment of workers in these countries has spawned gutsy labor movements, which are agitating for basic freedoms of association and collective bargaining. In two Gulf capitals they have already gained some ground. Yet the United States, apparently intoxicated by the promise of free trade with Gulf states, has not done enough to support them. This is too bad--not only because the groups are fighting for American values such as freedom and social justice, but also because many of the Gulf's labor leaders happen to be pro-Western and anti-Islamist.


Think of Poland's Solidarity movement in the 1980s, and you have an inspiring example of the liberating power of trade unions in the face of centralized authoritarian rule. Now lose that analogy for a moment and enter the alternate universe of the Gulf. Unlike other regions of the world, many Gulf states are populated primarily by foreign migrant workers. A small elite stratum of the Gulf's foreign population is composed of educated Indians, Pakistanis, Arabs, and Westerners who teach at schools and manage companies and stores. The rest are primarily underclass--migrants from the Indian subcontinent, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, and poorer Arab countries. When Gulf states experienced construction booms from the '70s through the early '90s, a larger proportion of migrant workers were male. Now the trend favors women, many of whom work as domestic servants.

To document the harsh conditions these workers face, an International Labor Organization survey published in 2004 compared domestic-worker conditions in Lebanon, Bahrain, Kuwait, and the UAE with domestic-worker conditions in Costa Rica. How many days do you have off per month? the survey asked. In Costa Rica, the average was four to six; in the UAE (whose commercial capital is Dubai), the average was zero. Are you physically, verbally, or sexually abused? In Costa Rica, 14 percent said yes; in the UAE, Kuwait, and Bahrain, roughly 50 percent said yes. Is your freedom of movement controlled? In Costa Rica, the answer was generally no; in the three Gulf states, it was overwhelmingly yes. The U.S. State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor has likened Kuwait's worker conditions to "indentured servitude."

All these data reflect those sheikdoms where workers are thought to be treated the best. In Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Qatar, by contrast, just to ask such survey questions would be illegal. Workers' passports in Gulf states are usually confiscated by their masters, and there is little or no recourse to complain of maltreatment. When a migrant worker wants to leave the Gulf, it's not always easy to regain one's passport or afford a plane ticket. Consider the following from the March 27 Gulf Daily News in Bahrain:

Workers of a top garment factory went on a rampage last night following the death of a colleague. More than 500 Asians working for the MRS Fashions, which makes trousers for J C Penny, started damaging the factory's East Riffa premises after their colleague, who was kept in isolation for 15 days due to chicken pox, committed suicide. ... The workers--mainly from India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh--claimed two other workers had committed suicide in the past, another died of a heart attack and five others became insane as a result of harsh working conditions that require them to work for more than 12 hours daily. They blamed the manager of the factory for their ordeal. The workers also alleged physical abuse by floor managers and said they were not getting proper food and medical care.

If ever there was a place deserving of labor unions with teeth, the Gulf is it.

Many countries, unfortunately, are missing the key ingredient for the formation of workers' rights movements: a critical mass of disenfranchised locals who understand the region well enough to get a movement off the ground. It's not surprising, therefore, that the countries where labor has begun to seriously organize are Bahrain and Kuwait--the two Gulf states with a sizable Shia underclass. In Bahrain, Shias are the majority of the local population, though the ruling family is Sunni. Unemployment among Bahrain's Shias is high: Despite the large number of migrant workers, the country's unemployment rate is between 13 and 16 percent--and is believed to be much higher among Shias. In Kuwait, where Shias are only about a third of the population, the labor movement is weaker than Bahrain's, but well ahead of its near-dormant counterparts in Sunni Qatar, Oman, or the UAE.

Who are the union leaders, and what are they saying to their constituents? An American labor activist who recently visited the Gulf has shared with me a collection of Arabic-language newsletters from several nascent unions. Beyond critiquing working conditions and government restrictions on organized labor, they take pains to express an ideology that is radical for the Gulf--a notion of solidarity and social equality that spurns ethnicity or the heated language of religion. Here's an excerpt from a piece by the president of the Bahrain Airport Services union, Abdullah Hussein, from the March 2005 issue of that union's eight-page newsletter:

[T]here is one single truth ... embodied by the capability of labor unions to exact more rights for workers, increase wages, prevent the tyrannical isolation of individuals and groups, improve the conditions and circumstances of labor, and enter into serious negotiations with the administrations of companies. The ability of unions to realize their demands would not be feasible without a workers' conscience--by the members of the union--of the importance of workers' unity, cohesion, mutual assistance, and standing without hesitation behind their unions. Unity and solidarity on the part of workers are the most powerful weapons workers have, by which they will be able to realize their demands and exact their justice and legitimate rights.

Having lived in the Gulf emirate of Dubai for the better part of an academic year in 1999, and traveled around a bit, I can attest: You don't often see these sort of ideas in print. I did see missives on migrant workers--but from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, which explained strategies for converting those workers to Islam.


Though Gulf unionists' writings show their passion for collective action, it's hard to imagine their efforts amounting to much without a serious nudge from a superpower. Bahrain's labor movement operated semi-underground, without legal protection, during the '80s and '90s, and has won some official status thanks to a forward-looking young king over the past three years. The country is on track to join the WTO and signed a free-trade agreement with the United States--the only one in the Gulf so far--last September. Yet according to the U.S. State Department, Bahrain's labor movement has just 11,300 members, stretched over 40 private-sector and 6 public-sector unions, out of a national workforce in the hundreds of thousands.

Those numbers aren't bad for non-Islamist political groups in a Gulf state, but they're still no great shakes. In Kuwait, where the government is now in FTA talks with the United States., de facto unions have the status of government-sanctioned "committees," and their membership is smaller. Whatever pressure the U.S. may be exerting on these governments to create a legal space for unions to flourish, the governments haven't yielded all that much.

Meanwhile, American labor has raised concerns about White House haste to establish FTAs with the more egregious violators of workers' rights--like Oman and the UAE--in the coming months. The AFL-CIO's Thea Lee told Congress last year, "To grant the UAE an FTA in the present circumstances would mark a significant reversal of previous policy, and a huge step backwards in the cause of workers' rights in the Gulf region."

On March 26, the UAE announced a ban on the use of underage children as camel jockeys in its many races. They were mostly one-and-a-half and two-year-olds from the Indian subcontinent, Yemen, and Sudan--numbering around 2,700, according to the UAE government. This symbolic concession has the effect of eliminating an historic eyesore--the pain those children suffered was manifest to crowds of thousands--but is little more than a token gesture in the grand scheme of UAE labor rights.


In light of the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers on September 11 were Saudis, it's hard to fathom why the United States would even consider ignoring a secular movement in the Gulf with reasonable goals and thousands of members. The American labor official who recently visited the region observed that 4 of the 46 Bahraini unions have woman chiefs--and the umbrella group that unites them has already reached out to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions in Brussels for membership. Compare that with Egypt, where the millions-strong labor movement has been around for decades but still has no official relationship with Brussels.

Professional unions in many Arab countries have been largely ineffectual by international standards--aside from their proclivity for banning "normalization" between their members and worker counterparts in Israel. (Even the Nablus-based Palestinian confederation has been excluded from the rickety Arab labor establishment in Damascus, as punishment for its ties to the Israeli union Histadrut.) The Gulf unions, by contrast, according to the American labor official, desire logistical support and training from the United States--a sentiment you don't hear very often from the traditional Arab labor headquarters in Damascus. To be sure, the Bahraini unions are--and the Kuwaiti unions are about to become--members of the Damascus-based establishment. All the same, their eagerness for American partnership is an opportunity to plant the seeds of meaningful political change.

What can the United States do for these unions in practical terms? In countries where there are no unions, the U.S. government should demand to know why--well before a free trade agreement is signed. Laws restricting public assembly--which exist in many Gulf states--ought to be eased in any country wishing to sign a free-trade agreement with the United States. But the right to assemble is only the first step in a long road that should lead to the rights to strike and collectively bargain--which either don't exist or are severely constrained in all Gulf states.

And it's not just the U.S. government that has a role to play. In countries where unions are already active and feisty, like Bahrain and Kuwait, American labor unions should lend support to their counterparts by offering advice and tactical training.

It would be a shame to see America's ability to push this agenda hindered by domestic politics. Though President Bush recently acknowledged the importance of labor unions in the building of healthy democracies, it's no secret that pro-business conservatives are far from sympathetic to unions in general. At the same time, one hopes that American labor will not be held back by the suspicions of its own left flank, some of whom view any global outreach--especially to the Arab world--as part of a neo-imperialist project. The Bush administration and American labor might seem like odd allies. But if "the world's preeminent bazaar" is to ever become a tolerable place to work, Gulf unions are going to need the help of both.

Joseph Braude is the author of The New Iraq: Rebuilding the Country for Its People, the Middle East, and the World.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Smoke Signals: What Big Tobacco Can Teach About Democratization


Far too often, America's best-laid plans to promote democracy in friendly Arab countries have gone up in smoke. Consider the State Department's woebegone Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), launched in December 2002 with great fanfare by the Bush administration. Its purpose was to fight the underpinnings of extremism in the Arab world by directly funding Arab activists who want to push for women's rights and political and economic reform. But according to a study by the Brookings Institution, almost two-thirds of the first $103 million MEPI spent ended up benefiting Arab government agencies instead--"subsidizing Arab governments' attempts to build a kinder, gentler autocracy." As for the money that was actually doled out to democracy activists, some recipients have faced retribution from their government. Last Monday's Wall Street Journal reported that the MEPI-funded Egyptian Association for Supporting Democracy had barely gotten off the ground before a pro-government weekly in Cairo accused it of being, in the Journal's words, "pro-Zionist, anti-Egyptian, and anti-Arab." Clerics at two prominent mosques tarred the group's staff as American stooges. The Egyptian parliament opened an investigation into possible wrongdoing by its members. Some lawmakers are trying to prevent more foreign dollars from pouring in. All this over a $150,000 MEPI grant--which had been earmarked for nothing more than a training seminar on how to run for parliament and an in-house film series of Egyptian movies.

When it comes to fomenting non-violent change in the Arab world, where is America's legendary ingenuity and know-how? You're not going to like the answer. The Americans who have been most effective at promoting their agenda in Middle Eastern societies, by any objective measure of success, are neither Washington wonks nor overseas diplomats. They are the owners of big tobacco companies.

Compare MEPI's pitiful record with the following statistics: Between 1990 and 1997, according to the American Cancer Society, while tobacco consumption dropped in South America and the Caribbean by 16.5 percent, North America by 7.6 percent, Western Europe by 5.9 percent, and Eastern Europe by 5 percent, the Middle East saw the opposite trend--a spike in consumption by a staggering 24.3 percent. In 1990, Egypt imported 90 million cigarettes; in 1997, it imported 500 million. Between 1995-96 and 1999-2000, expenditures on tobacco as a percentage of total urban household expenditures in Egypt went down by more than 50 percent; but during the same period, cigarette expenditures as a percentage of total urban household expenditures actually went up by about 5 percent. So at the same time as more traditional forms of tobacco consumption--such as water pipes and snuff--were declining, cigarettes were on the rise.

Of course, smoking is nothing new in the Arab world. But Western companies saw the popularity of their products grow significantly during the 1990s. And they managed to achieve this growth despite a rising stigma against American products in the Arab world--and despite anti-tobacco campaigns waged by Arab governments, Muslim clerics, and the media. American tobacco, pitted against authoritarian regimes and Islamists in a war of words and ideas, fought hard in the Middle East and won. And the question that Washington's befuddled policymakers ought to be asking is how. How--in the very same countries where U.S. government agencies are struggling to promote a noble ideal--have cigarette giants managed to sell millions of death sticks?

Thanks to anti-smoking activists, it's now possible to answer this question. Reams of internal documents subpoenaed from R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris, and other companies through lawsuits are now available to the public and searchable online. The World Health Organization (WHO) has combed through them and published studies on the firms' operations--including their activities in the Middle East. The documents, which mostly date from the '80s and '90s, tell a story of Byzantine intrigue married to American-style tenacity: Where rubber-stamp Arab parliaments sought to ban smoking in public places and curb cigarette advertising, American companies managed to defeat some of these bills and knock the teeth out of others. Where Muslim clerics spoke out against the dangers of nicotine and issued religious edicts (fatwas) against smoking, Big Tobacco funded Islamic seminaries--and used its leverage to exact alternative fatwas in favor of smoking. Where Arab newspapers, mostly government-controlled, sought to warn their readers of cigarettes' health hazards, the companies manufactured one rebuttal after another--and pressured editors to print them.
They did all this, remarkably, on the cheap. With an annual budget of just a few hundred thousand dollars, big tobacco firms came together in the mid-1980s to set up their own equivalent of MEPI. The Middle East Tobacco Association (META), as it came to be known, had a mandate of "promoting and defending" the companies' agenda in the region. To be sure, where MEPI stands for democracy and freedom, META stood for nicotine and corporate greed. But nothing succeeds like success. So rather than ignore an organization like META because its end goals were reprehensible, Washington policymakers would do well to examine its methods. That is, of course, unless somebody has another bright idea about how to promote an agenda--any agenda--in a region of autocrats, without the use of force.


You might say that META operated in Arab countries much the way lobbying groups and political parties function in the United States--but with fewer restrictions from the legal system. WHO alleges that the group's very formation by rival tobacco firms amounted to a form of collusion. Leaving this possibility aside, however, META does not appear to have otherwise violated the law. It served its members as a private intelligence agency, a p.r. unit, and a springboard for outreach to influential Arabs. All these tasks were centralized under the stewardship of one "secretary"--a fact that made for the smoothest possible pooling of intelligence, ideas, and influence.

At times, the appointed secretary was an Arab national, although one of the most effective META chiefs happens to have been a Westerner, former journalist Robin Allen. According to an internal document from 1990, Allen was chosen for his "good contacts in the region" and put in charge of lobbying "opinion formers and decision-makers in the GCC"--i.e., the Gulf states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE--and "win[ning] goodwill on behalf of the industry." Hired hands like Allen were also instructed to monitor "threats" to the tobacco industry. In 1982, Philip Morris requested intelligence on "anti-smoking activity" in the Arab Gulf Health Ministers' Conference. Five years later, the firm called for a "consultant who can help us monitor and influence the Alexandria-based WHO office [in Egypt] which help [sic] prepare GCC health plans."

From these documents, two big ideas emerge: First, there's an implicit self-awareness that META's activities run counter to the interest of Arab regimes--at least, inasmuch as any regime should be concerned for the health of its citizens. Second, there's a dogged determination to view each autocracy not as a monolith but as a mosaic of individuals with conflicting interests of their own, some of whom are identified as "friends" of the tobacco industry and others as "threats" or "opponents." In this respect, META's behavior in Cairo, for example, has been similar to that of some of the more relentless lobbying groups in Washington today.

Thus in the early '80s, when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's wife Jihan campaigned for anti-tobacco legislation in parliament, the cigarette companies fought back--inside the parliament itself. Philip Morris won an assurance from legislator Hassan Soleib, who vice-chaired the Committee for Industrial Development, "that no draft law related to industry or trade could pass Parliament without the advice of his committee." No sooner had Egypt's first lady circumvented Soleib, presumably by lobbying her husband, than Philip Morris and another company, Rothmans, teamed up to take the battle to Egypt's health ministry. They sought "technical discussion regarding the implementation ... thereby also achieving a delay." META and its constituent firms fought tooth and nail for ten years to water down any legislation curbing cigarette advertising or smoking in public spaces. A Philip Morris memo in 1993 lays out one component of this strategy: "Seek to defeat the proposed [advertising] ban ... [or] as a fall back, ensure that advertising freedoms ceded are kept to a minimum."

In a sense, META's lobbying efforts mirror those of many multinational corporations in the developing world: Big companies can often find influential locals willing to work on their behalf. But the group's relentlessness is unusual, in that it stood up for years to some of the most powerful people in Egypt--and for a cause that much of the government was dead-set against. In this respect, META's success is an example that would-be American democratizers can learn from: It demonstrates that smart politics can often thwart the intentions of authoritarian regimes--from within.


Beyond the challenge posed to Big Tobacco by the healthier instincts of Arab leaders, another problem the industry faced was the relationship between smoking and Islam. In 1984, an intelligence report from Brown & Williamson in Saudi Arabia advised that "the pressure upon smoking is continuous, with Friday sermons being delivered in the mosques stating that smoking is haram (outlawed by Islam)." In 1987, Philip Morris suggested a new policy objective: "Work to develop a system by which Philip Morris can measure trends on the issue of smoking and Islam. Identify Islamic religious leaders who oppose interpretations of the Koran which would ban the use of tobacco and encourage support for these leaders." The company appears to have done just that, by making a charitable donation to an Islamic seminary in the Gulf. A Philip Morris memo from 1989 proclaims that the company had won "extensive coverage in GCC media for Philip Morris' corporate contribution to the House of Koran, an Islamic cultural institution in Bahrain."

Why Bahrain, of all places? While the document doesn't say for sure, a different source offers some idea of the company's thinking. META secretary Abdullah Borek wrote, "While Bahrain in itself is not such an important market, its function as a forerunner in the Gulf must not be under-estimated." This insight is rather profound. Had a Western tobacco executive sought to influence the teachings of a puritanical seminary in Saudi Arabia, he probably would have been chased out of town. But where Saudi Arabia sets the standard for rigid doctrinal sensibilities, Bahrain occupies an important cultural space of its own: It's a liberal desert island where many Saudis and other Gulf Arabs go to escape for a weekend of pleasure--a middle ground of waywardness that's socially to the left of Saudi Arabia but well to the right of Europe and the United States. Subverting Islamic ideas about smoking in Bahrain was a feasible way to affect popular sentiments all over the region--including in Saudi Arabia--through the back door.
By the early '90s, the companies appear to have been emboldened to push the envelope even further. A 1991 memo from Philip Morris to the secretary of META states that the company "would prefer to maintain the right to hold special promotions during Ramadan." In 1995, Brown & Williamson went so far as to propose a special ad campaign to promote light cigarettes during the fast month, with the slogan, "Now is the time to switch to Lights." According to a company memo:

The Holy Month of Ramadan is a time of fasting, in order to practice self restraint and cleanse the body.

It is therefore a time when Muslims try to live a healthier life and it is believed that many people may try to give up smoking.Smoking during daylight hours is banned until the Iftaar [break-fast] cannon goes off around 6:30 pm. Therefore smokers will not have had a cigarette for around 14 hours.

This being the case it is reasonable to assume that after such a period of abstinence the tar/nicotine levels of a Lights/U.L.T. brand may be more acceptable to consumers than at normal times. This coupled with a desire to lead a healthier life may provide an opportunity to get smokers to switch.

Tobacco executives, who make their living by understanding and manipulating cultural sensibilities, showed an intuitive understanding of the Islamic milieu that some American policymakers still do not grasp. Rather than accept any particular notion of Islam as preached from a pulpit, they viewed the range of Muslim attitudes as part of a living cultural continuum--susceptible to nudges from within and without. It's tragic that this understanding on the part of some Americans has been applied to such unwholesome ends--while not, it seems, to the cause of political reform.


Finally, there is the matter of Big Tobacco and public relations. U.S.-backed reformers aren't the only ones who suffer from negative perceptions in the Middle East. After all, while the region's pundits widely believe that America wants to harm Muslims, they know that cigarettes cause cancer in Muslims. Yet inexplicably, only the latter of these two p.r. nightmares has managed to inspire a dogged counter-campaign.

"I strongly believe," wrote Abdullah Borek at the end of a lengthy META memo, "that any attacks from the other side should be countered in this way"--by sending letters to the editor--"and while we will not be able to change general trends and considerations, I am fairly certain that we can give the other side to understand that they do not own the floor." The group hired a local communications firm to monitor local and regional newspapers for any and all coverage of tobacco. META then began to respond to negative press by submitting letters to the editor and op-ed pieces under assumed names--seeing to it, according to one document, that "no excess duplication appears ... [to] avoid the appearance of a concerted campaign." Articles rebutted the charge that smoking is hazardous to one's health and advocated "smokers' rights," along with the merits of allowing tobacco companies to advertise their product. By the early '90s, the group became more aggressive, calling for "more placements, less caution." META scored dozens of hits in the region's leading papers, noting in one report that "key anti-industry publications had been breached in Saudi Arabia, pan Arab and UAE." Building on this momentum, the group launched a new campaign called "Voice of Reason," which sought to persuade well-known Arab journalists "to develop pro-industry articles," arguing that "it was doubly essential to approach only those well-known writers who had an open mind, and see that he was a) willing and b) well-briefed." In this way, tobacco companies built relationships with editors and publishers, enlisting their support to oppose advertising bans--and occasionally threatening to withhold advertising dollars from publications that opposed the tobacco agenda.


What lessons should be drawn from the story of Big Tobacco in the Middle East? That depends on your perspective. Take the view that META's tactics were inherently anti-democratic--based as they were on complicity with powerful elites and the use of money to buy off public voices--and you have an argument for the U.S. government to reject these methods completely when promoting Arab democracy. The trouble is, while the State Department's MEPI behaves like a troop of Cub Scouts in the Arab world--promising transparency in its strategies and a commitment to "partnership" with Arab governments--its grantees are getting crushed, because their competitors have far fewer scruples. The clerical endowments of Saudi Arabia and Iran finance their own political agendas in much of the region, but they promise neither transparency nor partnership.

Personally, I find it remarkable that many Americans who would agree to the use of force to promote democracy would at the same time eschew the more subtle tactics of a tobacco company to achieve the same ends. In any case, let's not delude ourselves: There is no hope of achieving reform in the Middle East through "partnership" with authoritarian regimes. When done right, democratization is addictive, and hazardous to a dictator's health. When done wrong, it isn't worth doing at all.

Joseph Braude is the author of The New Iraq: Rebuilding the Country for Its People, the Middle East, and the World. This essay first appeared in The New Republic Online on April 18, 2004.

Monday, June 06, 2005

On John Paul II's Record in the Middle East

Muslim leaders are widely reported to be mourning the death of the Pope. Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, the ranking cleric at Egypt's preeminent Al Azhar Islamic seminary, said his death was "a great loss not only to the Catholic church but to the Islamic world." Senior Muslim Brotherhood preacher Yusuf al Qardawi wrote, "He was a man of peace who stood firmly against the Iraq war and the Israeli separation wall." The leadership of Hamas conveyed its condolences to the press and urged the Vatican "to maintain its position in support of our people and our cause, and focus its efforts on steering its followers to defend the rights of our Palestinian people to confront the continuous Zionist aggression, which targets Muslims and Christians..." Sympathies poured in from Syrian president Bashar Assad, Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, and Arab League chief Amr Moussa, among others. Former Malaysian premier Mahathir Muhammad recalled that Pope John Paul II had "supported the Palestinians and condemned their victimization. He also ... opposed the occupation of Iraq." Arabic-language satellite networks, according to the Associated Press, "have launched a media blitz for the death of Pope John Paul II, giving Mideast viewers hours of live broadcasts from the Vatican and programs on the pontiff's life--coverage rarely given even to the region's leaders."

In the midst of all these tributes, however, one thing has been lost: When it came to the Middle East, Pope John Paul II largely failed to promote social justice and religious freedom. His political strategy in the region was in many ways the very opposite of his political strategy in Eastern Europe. The Pope took a hard line against communist governments, but in the Middle East, his strategy was too often one of appeasement--not only toward authoritarian regimes but also toward powerful religious-political movements that preach intolerance toward minorities. Partly as a result, the percentage of Christians in the population of many Middle Eastern countries continued its precipitous decline over the past three decades. Ironically, the Muslim Middle East grew more religiously homogenous and less tolerant at the same time as the Christian West was growing more religiously diverse.

It's impossible to know for sure why so many Islamist leaders and Arab heads of state were so generous in their praise of John Paul this week. But here's one theory: They liked him because he didn't hold them to the same standards to which he held Poland's Wojciech Jaruzelski and the USSR's Mikhail Gorbachev. They liked him because whereas he successfully fought for religious freedom, equality, and social justice in Eastern Europe, in the Middle East he did not.


Why did John Paul come to adopt a stance of appeasement toward Middle Eastern leaders? He may have concluded early in his papacy that critical engagement with the Muslim world doesn't pay. Consider the results of the Pope's correspondence with Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini in the early 1980s. I first saw the letters on a visit to the Iranian city of Isfahan in 1998. A lot of people saw them, because they were on display in glass casing at the Khomeini Museum. According to a paper by Yusuf Progler, professor of social sciences at the Zayed University campus in Dubai, the Pope had initiated the correspondence, noting the "increase of tension" between the Carter administration and Iran. He urged the Ayatollah to consider reestablishing relations with the United States government. Khomeini refused. "Our militant, noble nation took such cutting-off of relations as a good omen and celebrated it with rejoicing," he wrote. Khomeini asked the Pope to tell Carter to "treat the nations that want absolute independence--and which do not want to be aligned with any power in the world--according to humane criteria." A few months later, the Pope wrote back with a second request: He asked the Supreme Leader for an assurance that Iran's ancient Christian communities would not be harmed, and would be permitted to worship and study their faith as before. Khomeini's reply was disheartening. He alleged that Christian schools in Iran had been used as a base for Western espionage, and asked:

How can I tell my nation that Christian clergy are [not] in the service of the superpowers? Why did the Pope make no comment when our young people were killed on the streets? ... Does Christ act well toward the rich and badly toward the oppressed? Do you know what they did to our country? ... How can I reply to the oppressed people when they ask us why we defend these clergymen who don't say a word against the superpowers and oppression, even of the American people?

Perhaps the Pope drew a lesson from his interactions with Khomeini: Christian leaders who intercede with Muslim politicians on behalf of the West are liable to gain little and lose much. Twenty years later, Iran's once-strong Chaldean Christian community, which falls under the hierarchy of the Vatican, has dwindled to 8,000 people. The population is smaller even than the country's beleaguered Jewish community, which numbers about 11,000, according to the U.S. State Department. What's more, the strained relations between the Vatican and Iran have also become a problem for the embattled Christians of Iraq--thanks in part to Iran's growing influence there. Some newly empowered Shia politicians who enjoy the Iranian government's support have begun to call for the application of Islamic law in Iraq, which could officially make Christians second-class citizens. Moreover, Christians themselves have become prime targets for kidnappers; in January, a Catholic bishop was abducted.


Following the Pope's early failures with Khomeini, the Vatican during the past 20 years has largely taken a soft approach to the Middle East, eschewing stern moral language in its dealings with Islamists and instead trying to engage them in dialogue. The problem has been that the Vatican's ostensible partners in this exchange had different ideas about what dialogue meant.

John Paul II's years as Pope coincided with an unprecedented proliferation of hardline Islamist teachings of both the Shia and Sunni variety. Revolutionary Iran's oil-rich clerical endowments subsidized books and mosques that molded millions of minds in Pakistan, Lebanon, the Gulf states, and beyond, while the Saudi Muslim World League and its many subsidiaries bankrolled Wahhabi firebrands and their teachings across the Sunni Muslim world. The latter project enjoyed Western acquiescence, particularly during the Reagan years, because it helped recruit fighters for the Jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan. I have seen many of these books, in Persian and Arabic, in markets across the Middle East. They conjure a world of shadowy international conspiracies--Western leaders and Jews using Catholic churches, Masonic lodges, and multinational corporations as their agents to plunder Palestine and enslave Muslims. Once you have been through a few of these volumes, as many Muslims have, you won't easily view your Christian neighbor the same way again--let alone the odd Jewish neighbor. Nor will you be able to see much good in the Pope's visit to a synagogue in 1986, or his establishment of full diplomatic ties to Israel in 1994, or his apologies to world Jewry for the Holocaust at various times in the '90s. On the contrary, you will find, in all these developments, a validation of the very conspiracies you were taught. Here is how Amir Said, a commentator at the website Islamway.com, summarized the Pope's career this week:

This Pope's life or death does not concern me much, because the Jews have already established themselves in the Vatican. The arrow from the Zionist bow has struck, and the matter is no longer confined to one man alone. Rather, a base of Jewish hegemony has anchored itself on the Catholic religion. ... The Pope, in truth, is a distinguished product of joint Catholic-Jewish manufacture. His production passed through a number of stages and religious and intelligence plots of the highest precision. Some of these plots are wrapped in the strictest secrecy, while others have today come to be revealed to researchers.

Now try and imagine how such a mindset would process the Vatican's overtures for dialogue with Muslims. In 1997, Ahmad Sakr, director of the Foundation for Islamic Knowledge in southern California, joined a delegation of Muslim leaders on a visit to Rome for several weeks of discussion with Catholic counterparts. The coordinating body was the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue (PCID). The Council's statement, which cites an encyclical letter of Pope John Paul II, explains: "Dialogue is a two-way communication. It implies speaking and listening, giving and receiving ... It includes witness to one's own faith as well as an openness to that of the other. It is not a betrayal of the mission of the Church, nor is it a new method of conversion to Christianity."

Sakr returned to California and published a four-part essay on his experiences in Rome in the Arabic-language Chicago-based newspaper Al Zaitounah. Under a photograph of Sakr shaking hands with the Pope, he wrote the following:

I said to myself that if the prophet Abraham, peace be upon him, came to visit the Vatican, the first thing he would have done would have been to break all of these idols and destroy them from existence entirely. ... The Vatican has founded three active university institutions to teach Islam from within--its sole goal being to figure out how to instill doubt among the Muslims in their belief and in their faith. ... They should sincerely repent to God, and they should not take Jesus as the son of God.

The Vatican had reached out to a firebrand; and the results were clearly nothing to brag about. Moreover, among the long list of guests whom the Pontifical Council invited to meet with the Pope over the years, there was nothing unique about Sakr's political profile. As recently as January 2004, the ninth annual PCID conference brought the Pope together with Abdullah Nasif, head of the Saudi Muslim World League--an endowment that has helped disseminate anti-Christian books. Of course, it's always your ideological opponents with whom dialogue and bridge-building are most important. But where was the tangible improvement for Arab Christians--or for the Middle East as a whole--that such meetings brought about?


Dialogue, not the moral stridency with which he so frequently spoke about other issues, was the Pope's modus operandi when it came to the Middle East. And so rather than take Arab and Islamist leaders to task for their shared role in creating a climate that was hostile to Arab Christians, the Church too often placed the lion's share of the blame on Israel. Why have Arab Christians left Palestinian territories? According to the Catholic Near East Welfare Association ("a papal agency for humanitarian and pastoral support"), "The principal reason for the dramatic rise in Christian emigration has been the continuing Israeli military occupation and the denial of the sovereignty of a Palestinian state wherein Christian Arabs could feel at home economically, politically, culturally, and spiritually." And why have Arab Christians left Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon? Under the section heading, "Christian Emigration from Jordan," the group writes that "Students of migratory phenomena have pinpointed a series of factors, which have triggered or accelerated" the trend of Christians leaving Jordan and other Arab countries. The first item: The "Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has continued unabated since 1948." What you won't find in any of these reports is the frankness of Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who retired in late 2003 after serving the Pope as Foreign Minister for 13 years. He told Reuters, "There are too many majority Muslim countries where non-Muslims are second-class citizens"; and he singled out "the extreme case of Saudi Arabia, where freedom of religion is violated absolutely--no Christian churches and a ban on celebrating Mass, even in a private home. Just like Muslims can build their houses of prayer anywhere in the world, the faithful of other religions should be able to do so as well."

The disconnect between these studies and Tauran stems from a painful reality: The former reflect the input of bishops from local Arab dioceses, where political and social pressures tend to influence what they can write. Contrast the Catholic Near East Welfare Association report with the following straight talk from Iraq, post-Saddam Hussein, where bishops now enjoy a measure of freedom, at least from government supervision: Chaldean bishop Rabban Al Qas explains, of Islamists: "In the time of Saddam Hussein they acted secretly; they would send anonymous threatening messages, urging even bishops and priests to convert to Islam. ... Under Saddam Hussein there was a veiled persecution." With this in mind, the Vatican's blaming of Zionism for the emigration of Christians from Arab countries surely should be taken with a grain of salt.


Perhaps the best-known example of the Pope's appeasement strategy in the Middle East came in 2001, when he met with Syrian president Bashar Assad and top Muslim clerics in Syria. At the time, an Arab journalist reported on the speech Assad gave in the Pope's presence:
Assad pointed to the atrocities that the Israelis in Palestine are perpetrating and the perpetual aggression that they are carrying out on the Islamic and Christian holy places in an attempt to kill all the principles of the divine religions, with the same mentality by which [they perpetrated] the treachery against Christ, and his torture, and similarly did they attempt to double-cross the prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing be upon him.

The Pope turned the other cheek at Assad's nod to old-fashioned "Christ-killer" rhetoric, and was subsequently treated to another lecture on the Palestinian cause from Syrian Sheikh Ahmad Kuftaro during his visit to the Umayyad mosque in Damascus. The fact that the Pope was made to listen to the central message of Arab-Islamist populism was Syria's way of saying, We are in the driver's seat today--not the Pope. When it came to relations between the Catholic Church and Arab and Islamist leaders during the last 25 years, that too often seemed to be the case.

To be sure, the challenge of promoting religious freedom and social justice in the Middle East is in many ways more complex than fighting communism. In communist countries, freedom and liberty were stifled by an identifiable leadership. In the Middle East, by contrast, social justice is hindered in large part by authoritarian regimes, while the principle of religious equality is undermined by transnational religious-political movements that are unaccountable to a single government. There are other differences as well. The Pope's Polish background made it natural for him to fight communism in his native Eastern Europe; any efforts by the Catholic Church to fight for religious freedom in the Muslim world would invariably be tinged by the history of the Crusades; and the situation of Christians in the Middle East (where they are a religious minority oppressed by a Muslim majority) is quite different from the situation in the Soviet bloc (where Christians were a large majority oppressed by an atheist minority). And to his credit, the Pope did not always opt for appeasement in the Middle East. He traveled to Sudan, where Christians faced genocide and slavery, in 1993; he also beatified Sister Josephine Bakhita, a Sudanese slave, acknowledging the dignity of her long-oppressed community.

Moreover perhaps in a very narrow sense, the Pope's approach served Middle Eastern Christians well. His support for Palestinians and opposition to both U.S. wars in Iraq helped to carve out a political space for Arab Christians to feel a bit more secure in their home countries. Syrian Cardinal Ignace Moussa Daoud put it well in May 2003: "There was a big danger that Christians would be considered allies of the Americans, but thanks be to God all this was avoided because of the positions taken by the Pope and the Vatican." Palestine and Iraq were on the lips of nearly every Muslim cleric and Arab head of state who praised the Pope's memory this week. It is difficult to imagine a similar outpouring of Arab and Muslim sympathy for the departed leader had his position on those two issues been different.

But in the long run, the Pope's soft stance toward dictators and Islamists hasn't served anyone well--not Christians, not Jews, not Muslims. In Latin America, the Pope spoke clearly for social justice; in Eastern Europe, he spoke clearly for religious freedom; but in the Middle East he allowed himself to be lectured by Bashar Assad about how the Jews killed Christ, and bad-mouthed by some of the very Islamists whom he had welcomed into the Vatican. His successor must be shrewd and demanding in the Middle East--and willing to be loved a little bit less by the region's self-appointed leaders.

Joseph Braude is the author of The New Iraq: Rebuilding the Country for Its People, the Middle East, and the World.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Compare and Contrast: Why Farid Ghadry Is Not the Ahmad Chalabi of Syria

Pity the Arab exile who dares to preach democracy in Ahmed Chalabi's wake. Syrian-born businessman Farid Ghadry has formed a political movement that aims to topple the regime of Bashar Assad--and he is taking flak from journalists and pundits across the political spectrum. In Slate, Elisabeth Eaves wrote flippantly of Ghadry: "Remember that name: He could soon be cashing millions in U.S. government checks. ... The road to Damascus may be closed for now, but if Ghadry can just sit tight--and save a few million for PR--collective amnesia ought to have us ready for another Middle East invasion by the early 2010s." A Washington Post story on Ghadry's high-level meeting at the State Department last week noted that his Syria Reform Party is "often compared to the Iraqi National Congress led by former exile Ahmed Chalabi." Lest the meaning of that comparison be misunderstood, the article quoted a professor at Georgetown observing: "Its membership is extremely thin and is not taken seriously. It's almost unheard-of in Syria." (Missing from the Post story, incidentally, was the disclosure that the Georgetown professor, Murhaf Jouejati, isn't exactly a disinterested party. His father served as Syrian Ambassador to the United States under Hafez al Assad. As to the veracity of his claim that Syria doesn't take Ghadry seriously, it's worth noting that Ghadry was taken seriously enough to merit an attack in the official Syrian daily Tishreen two days earlier.) TNR, too, has cast doubt on Ghadry: Two years ago Eli Lake quoted a former American ambassador to Syria saying that it would be "ridiculous" to expect Syrian liberals to generate "any meaningful political opposition."

What explains this widespread antipathy? We all agree (or should) that the world would be better off without the Syrian regime--after all, it once mowed down 25,000 men, women, and children over a long weekend--which makes the knee-jerk hostility of pundits toward Ghadry a bit of a mystery. Having surveyed coverage of Ghadry, listened to the Reform Party of Syria's Arabic-language broadcasts, read the group's literature, watched Ghadry debate on Al Jazeera, and reached him by phone in Paris, this is my best-guess explanation for why pundits are so skeptical: America's questionable experiences with Chalabi have left many commentators with an allergy to liberal Arab exiles. And that's too bad, because Syria is not Iraq. And Farid Ghadry is not Ahmed Chalabi.

The major difference between the two men is the circumstances under which they have sought change in their respective countries. Chalabi spent much of the 1990s trying to provoke the international community into action against Saddam. In many ways, he had no choice, because much of the international community would have been happy to forget about Saddam altogether. The same cannot be said of Syria today. U.N. Security Council resolution 1559, which calls on "foreign forces" (meaning Syria) to withdraw troops and spooks from Lebanon, enjoys the staunch backing of the United States and France--not to mention the backing of hundreds of thousands of Lebanese protestors. The assassination of former Lebanese President Rafik Hariri, allegedly on instructions from Damascus, has only served to galvanize that movement and further isolate Syria in its region. President Assad was rebuffed by both Saudi Arabia and Egypt over the past month when he appealed to those governments for help.

According to The Washington Post, Jacques Chirac believes that the Syrian government probably wouldn't survive a withdrawal from Lebanon. He may be right: A withdrawal would badly hurt Syria's economy. Remittances from Syrians working in Lebanon are an economic lifeline to thousands of Syrian families, and Damascus's private sector has profited from its ability to put the squeeze to merchants in Beirut. Unlike Saddam's Iraq, Syria lacks oil wealth with which to tempt foreign powers in exchange for political support. Should Syrian Kurds stage an uprising in the country's northeast, or a few hundred protestors lie down in traffic in Damascus, they will find a world of solidarity--and the regime will have to face that solidarity virtually alone. Assad doesn't have Washington lobbyists, think tanks, or Islamist groups to rally to his cause as the Saudis do. Nor does he have the support of Israel's backers in the West, as the Egyptian and Jordanian regimes sometimes do.

But Assad still has a few chips left: the support of Vladimir Putin and Iran's mullahs, some vestiges of pan-Arab solidarity in Middle Eastern societies, and the stage fright of Syrian opposition activists. It's these last two chips that Farid Ghadry and the Reform Party are trying to take away.

On the matter of pan-Arab solidarity, the difference between Chalabi and Ghadry is plain to any Arabic-speaking couch potato. Chalabi had a legendary distaste for pan-Arab media. He rarely appeared on satellite networks prior to the Iraq invasion, and when he did, he often spoke English. This was indicative of his belief in Iraqi exceptionalism--that his country's suffering was unique and incomparable to that of its neighbors, who didn't truly care for the Iraqi people and therefore did not deserve to hear from him. Most Iraqis weren't watching, because Saddam had clamped down on satellite technology; the punishment for owning a dish was five years in prison. And so Chalabi focused on reaching Americans and Brits, in order to persuade them that Saddam posed an imminent threat. Nor was he particularly charming on Arabic TV when he occasionally did appear. I'd venture to say his popularity in Arab countries other than Iraq descended with his public appearances.

Ghadry, by contrast, appears on Al Jazeera and other networks fairly frequently. He can't claim Syrian exceptionalism, because he calls for democratic change in a Sunni majority country--and Sunni majorities in other countries are watching. So he emphasizes not the differences but rather the commonality of suffering between Syrians under Assad and Arabs elsewhere. His arguments advocate democracy and reform while repudiating the anti-American tropes that Arab police states typically use to stay in power. Witness the following exchange from Al Jazeera this past Tuesday between Ghadry and George J. Hajjar, a gray-haired supporter of the Syrian regime, senior lecturer at Notre Dame University-Lebanon, and author of a book called America in the Era of the Fourth Reich. The subject of the debate was whether "the American invasion of Iraq had been necessary to push the Arab world toward reform and change." Hajjar had this to say:

Though Bush is calling for democracy, America now is in the era of a Fourth Reich--a new Nazism. ... America, in light of the American political and economic system, is a kleptocratic state--a state of thieves and killers--and the proof of this is that those who rule it are WorldCom, Enron, Martin Lockheed [sic], and others of this sort. ... The last person who can talk about democracy is George Bush. ... He and his Zionists form a grave danger to all humanity, and to civilization, not to mention America itself. I say with all pride, I hope that hundreds of thousands of Arabs would go to Iraq and fight this invading imperialism--and that would not be a fault, but rather an honor for us--to defend Iraq and fight the occupation in Iraq. It's not a crime...

Nothing unusual about Hajjar's rhetoric; these tropes are repeated every day in much of the region. The difference is, there's usually no rebuttal. Enter Ghadry:

First of all there is a violent attack on America by Professor George. ... I had thought that this program was to talk about freedom and democracy and the impact of Iraq on these freedoms and democracy. ... I want to ask Professor George, is he for these freedoms and democracies or against them? This is a question that he must answer, because it is the crux of this discussion. ... I am certain that there are many people who hate America, but as someone who has lived in America 30 years, I know that country well, and never did a moment come that I felt that America was racist toward me, and I'm a Sunni Muslim. But let's leave that aside. We consider and believe that the freedom and democracy that came by way of the Iraq war is what is helping the Arab peoples toward freedom and democracy today, and we have seen proofs in Lebanon, and the pressures and demonstrations that happened in Egypt, and we have seen it in Saudi Arabia, and we will see it in other countries and in Syria soon.

In response, Hajjar lost his cool. He became, remarkably, more irate. He hurled personal invective at Ghadry and accused America of assassinating Lebanon's Hariri. Ghadry hit back, demanding he furnish proof of this accusation. At which point Hajjar took to flailing his arms and yelling at the top of his lungs. The clip-on mike eventually fell off Hajjar's lapel--affording Ghadry an opportunity to riff a while longer without interruption. The debate was stunning television. It lay bare the authoritarian mindset and the vexation that a mindset experiences when challenged. Based on the running poll of Al Jazeera viewers, moreover, Ghadry appears to have influenced Arab audiences. Before the debate began, only 13 percent of viewers polled agreed "that the American invasion of Iraq had been necessary to push the Arab world toward reform and change." By the program's midpoint, with over a thousand more votes emailed in, the proportion had swelled nearly three-fold, to 34.9 percent.

Ghadry, who denies receiving funds from any government, makes a more effective case in Arabic for replacing pan-Arabism with democracy than any American diplomat I've ever watched. So if the "millions in U.S. government checks" the Slate writer joked about are being spent on somebody else, they're being wasted.

The other chip Assad holds--the stage fright of his domestic opponents--stems from a classic authoritarian move he made when first he took the helm after his father's death in 2000. The young president announced his intention to introduce sweeping reforms in Syria--encouraging some intellectuals to openly criticize government corruption, the pervasive security apparatus, and the country's enduring "emergency laws." This period of openness, known as the "Damascus spring," ended with a sweeping crackdown on the dissidents who had reared their heads; several hundred of them remain in prison today. Still, that brief period of liberalization can be taken as evidence that debate and dissent exist in Syria, even though it is now confined to people's homes owing to a climate of fear. Recent developments since the Iraq war suggest that opponents of the regime are at last regaining some of that old gumption--and might be profoundly emboldened by the belief that a new Syrian opposition party enjoys the support of the United States. Witness the March 2004 riots in the Syrian Kurdish towns of Qamishli and Hasake, in which 14 Kurds died, or the thousands of signatures on an online petition calling for a lifting of the emergency laws collected by a new group called Restoration of Civil Society in Syria. These cracks in the wall of Assad's regime have no analogue in the late years of Saddam's Iraq.

Unlike Chalabi, who would have had difficulty using mass media to communicate with his followers inside Iraq, Ghadry can reach Syrians--and does. Satellite penetration in Syria is relatively high, so there is reason to believe that some of Ghadry's countrymen saw his appearance on Al Jazeera this week--some may even have been among the voters backing him in the Internet poll. (The Georgetown professor's claim that Ghadry is "almost unheard-of in Syria" did not seem to take his TV ubiquity into account.) In addition, the Reform Party's radio broadcasts parse news for the Syrian interior in ways designed to encourage dissent. One 60-minute segment, archived on the Radio Free Syria website, is a panel discussion on the Qamishli riot called, "Uprising or Fracas?" The host tries to engage Syrian callers in a debate on the political significance of the violence--and whether a bigger uprising might lie in the future. Another program features the voice of Syrian poet Marwan Uthman, who was arrested and deported by Bashar in 2003 for sticking it to the regime in verse. Reached by phone on a visit to Paris this week, Ghadry explained to me how he views the purpose of these broadcasts, and media outreach to Syria in general:

We're trying to pull the rug from under the Baathists. They have a strong identity, so we want to dissolve that identity so that we can psychologically hurt them. ... The Iraqi National Congress, there was no consultation with the inside. But you have to remember that for the INC, there were limited tools--Internet was just starting to happen, in '98, '99, Al Jazeera was still young. We're looking and saying, okay, we can take advantage of that.

The fact that Chalabi's audience was primarily Western and Ghadry's is primarily Arab goes to the heart of their respective strategies. While Chalabi sought to foment a foreign invasion of Iraq, Ghadry seems to believe that, with the help of strong diplomatic pressure from overseas, he can actually bring about change from within Syria.

Dream on, you may say. Ghadry, 50, a father of four who likes to drive his kids to soccer practice in Bethesda, Maryland, is hardly the picture of a revolutionary. Yet this soccer dad may well be undermining Assad's regime among Arabs more successfully than Chalabi ever undermined Saddam's. American pundits may sneer. But then again, American pundits aren't the people Farid Ghadry needs to win over.

Joseph Braude is the author of The New Iraq: Rebuilding the Country for Its People, the Middle East, and the World. This essay first appeared in The New Republic Online on April 1, 2005.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Playing From Memory: The Sound of a Culture Flash Frozen in Time and Thawed a Generation Later

Israeli-born composer and performer Yair Dalal has never been to Baghdad, home to his parents until they fled in the early 1950s together with 125,000 other Jews. But it's that city's musical heritage, as it sounded when his family departed half a century ago, that comes alive in Dalal's technique and improvisational style today. His music is the sound of a culture flash-frozen in time and thawed a generation later.

Learning the music of your parents' generation doesn't seem unusual. But as far as the Iraqi Jewish diaspora is concerned, the icy excesses of nationalism in the Middle East have created cultural barriers that make Dalal's achievement, sadly, unique. Among the many who were forced to flee Baghdad, tarred as Zionist traitors, were some great musicians--including more than half the players in the legendary Iraqi National Orchestra. Their weekly radio concert in Baghdad had aired live across the region for years. They formed a new ensemble in Israel, struggling to reach the same Arab listeners via short wave, but it's hard to connect with an audience you can no longer actually meet. And it proved too difficult to build up a critical mass of fans inside the Jewish state; Arabic music was taboo among Israelis during the early decades of conflict. So by the time Dalal went out looking for an Iraqi music teacher in the late '70s, he found some of the all-time greats selling parsley and scallions in a Tel Aviv market. They probably thought he'd be better off working for a credit-card company, but they taught him their licks anyway.

A classically trained violinist, Dalal learned to play the oud--a 13-stringed precursor to the European lute. Shaped like a giant pear sliced down the middle, you tune it much like a violin but strum it, mandolin-style, with a feather pick. Its deep, hollow body resonates with every nuance of finger pressure on the neck or friction between pick and string--an audio readout of the performer's temperament and skill almost as visceral as the sound of his own voice. The range of melody, moreover, is vast--meaning not the distance from lower to upper registers but the wide open space in between each note. Intervals are negotiable because the oud, unlike a mandolin or guitar, has no frets. Melodies do cartwheels around the rigid semitones of modern Western music; they stretch back in time to medieval and ancient scales that mixed quarter- and three-quarter-tone intervals among the wholes and halves. These are the sounds that some historians of Western music used to claim had been lost for all time, after the Roman church clamped down on ancient Greek chants. In fact, the ancient scales lived on in Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, and the eastern Mediterranean coastline and were codified by musical philosophers in ninth-century Baghdad. (Click here to listen to a few of these scales, known in Arabic as maqamat, played on the oud in streaming audio.) Chains of teachers and students passed them on for generations in Iraq and bequeathed them to players in the twentieth century--in spite of efforts, ancient and modern, to suppress them.

Plato's Republic had outlawed a few scales, arguing that certain musical intervals were dangerous because they incited violent acts or aroused sexual urges. Khomeini, during his years as a Muslim jurist in southern Iraq, issued a similar edict; his ban holds among some religious Muslims even now. But it's not easy to eradicate intervals as tiny as the space between two fingers. Only the prevalence of the electronic synthesizer, in bands across the Middle East today, threatens at last to snuff them out. The irony of Yair Dalal's musical journey backward on the oud to the sound of his Iraqi roots is that trends in Arab, Israeli, Turkish, and Greek dance music have meanwhile converged. Up-tempo and harmonically streamlined, they all sound equally distant from his retro playing style.


Listening to one of Dalal's first albums, Al Ol (Najema, 1995), you can hear the past meet Dalal's other influences to tell a modern story. The first track, "Solo Arak," opens with the breathy sound of the Nay, an Arab shepherd's flute, riffing on a couple of old-time scales. The initial flute phrase is modest--a slow flirtation with three or four notes of the melancholy Nahawand scale--pausing and starting, pausing again then starting up more deliberately. Then, a tiny transformation: The same narrow melodic space is reexplored through the more angular and suspenseful Hijaz scale. The riff uneasily resolves on a low note, which is held at length before an extra gust of breath effects a sudden octave-high jump. From this peak the notes climb down again, returning to Nahawand, and at last greet the strumming sound of Dalal's oud. The two instruments state the theme in unison, which is then sung--surprise--not in Arabic but in modern Hebrew, and in the somber guttural accent of an Iraqi immigrant. Heavy traditional Iraqi percussion drives the tune forward. The words are by Iraqi-Israeli poet Ronny Someck:

Black ants crawl over nicotine-stained fingertips
dipping a mint leaf into the glass.
The alcohol dismantles Abd al Wahhab's "Cleopatra."
Now all is clear
solo violin
solo flute
solo oud
we're solo arak

These words evoke an image that the children of Jewish immigrants from Iraq (myself included) know well: An old-timer from Baghdad, living below the poverty line in Israel among ants, listens to a broadcast of the beloved Egyptian composer Muhammad Abd al Wahhab on the radio. He nurses a glass of arak--clear hard liquor made from anise, which turns cloudy with a cube of ice and which Iraqis like to drink with fresh mint. The song manages to fuse a timeless Mesopotamian sound with the very modern nostalgia that's felt today in the Iraqi diaspora for a not-so-distant past.

Other tracks on the album combine the same modern reality and ancient memory in more subtle ways. Dalal's most traditional performances are his unaccompanied Oud improvisations, known in Arabic as taqsim, which build in intensity and usually end in an old Baghdadi Jewish folk song--like "Taqsim Eliyahu," the second track. Arabic music fans who listen can tell that Dalal's solos are a marked departure from the flashy style of Egyptian virtuoso Farid al Atrash, whose famous oud riffs from the '50s and '60s are imitated all over the Arab world today. Dalal's taqsim is more brooding--almost meditative in its rhythmless contemplation of the scales--perhaps evoking a time in the Middle East when the pace of life was slower.

The album's title track, "Al Ol," is an ensemble work that explores the borders of modern Israel--literally. "Ol" is the word that Bedouin in the Jordan Valley use for a swirling desert wind, common in Israel's eastern and southern fringes, that emits a wailing sound. Sometimes an Ol can actually be seen, because it whips thousands of specks of sand, in mid-air, into the vague shape of a cone. There's a legend that each Ol is the ghost of someone who has earned God's wrath (the word is also the origin of the English word, "ghoul"). An insistent three-beat rhythm played on the daf--a hand-held frame-drum--captures the swirling pattern in sound, while Dalal's oud, the voice of a singer, and a clarinet embody the Ol's tormented soul. It's hard not to hear a hint of klezmer music--eastern European Jewish soul--in the angst-filled blasts of the clarinet. But the ambience is much darker here than in a klezmer ensemble. In its fusion of musical styles, metaphors, and even disparate ethnic motifs, "Al Ol" is at once Iraqi, Ashkenazi, and quintessentially Israeli.


I meet Yair Dalal for coffee whenever I visit Tel Aviv and he's in town. We both travel a lot, but Dalal--like his elder Iraqi music teachers--is prevented by his Israeli citizenship from visiting the places his heart craves most to see. Baghdad has always topped the list, but there are other dream destinations. "I want to go to Saudi Arabia," he once told me in Hebrew.

"Saudi?" I asked. "Mega-malls, gaudy houses, chandeliers in every room, crystal dolphins on the coffee table?"

"Desert," he replied. "Friendships for life. Wide open spaces."

He has formed memories, through his music, of places he has never seen. These memories are all beautiful and loving.

Joseph Braude is the author of The New Iraq: Rebuilding the Country for Its People, the Middle East, and the World. This essay first appeared in The New Republic Online, March 30, 2005.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The League of Extraordinary Autocrats

Here's the good news from the Middle East this week: In an Al Jazeera poll of 17,955 viewers just before the Arab League's two-day summit in Algiers, thousands of people voted for "democracy and political reform" as their number one priority--so many, in fact, that they almost equaled the number that voted for "supporting the Palestinians" (26 percent for the former, 27.6 percent for the latter, with a 3 percent margin of error). Furthermore, "independence for Iraq" came in near the bottom at sixth place--trounced by such causes as "improving the status of human rights" and "fighting poverty and unemployment." All these results together suggest that Arab societies are beginning to assign greater importance to development and liberty than to the hot-button issues of Palestine and Iraq. That's a historic and exciting shift.

Now here's the bad news: As far as the region's most powerful decision-makers are concerned, Arab public opinion still doesn't matter. The thirteen-nation Arab League summit did little more this week than stymie the latest initiatives for peace and democratization: Jordan's proposal to improve Arab relations with Israel was nixed; the West's pressure on Syria was denounced as "foreign intervention"; and political reform was mentioned "only in passing," according to The New York Times.

Sadly, the big winners this week were neither Arab societies nor even their unelected leaders. That trophy belongs to Hamas, which has been working for many years to discredit any discussion of Israeli-Arab normalization. Hamas played no small part this week in helping to torpedo Jordan's peace plan. Also, honorable mention goes to an obscure Western consulting firm that is reported to have begun its own dialogue with terrorist groups in Lebanon; more on that in a moment. The trouble with both these mini-victories is that they are a blow to mainstream Arab aspirations.


Underlying the week's many political maneuvers is a familiar tag-team alignment: On one side, authoritarian Arab regimes like Syria and Egypt are clinging to power and Islamist movements like Hezbollah and Hamas are clinging to their weapons. On the other side, Israel and Jordan want to bolster prospects for regional change, for starters by making Islamist militias obsolete. That means encouraging Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to disarm Hamas and cutting off the umbilical cord that ties Hezbollah to Syria. It also means formally ending the Arab League's opposition to Israel. This week's Al Jazeera poll seems to indicate that many Arabs would like to see the latter team succeed. But of course, it's easier said than done. From the seaside splendor of Sharm al Sheikh back in February, Israeli foreign minister Silvan Shalom told journalists that as many as ten Arab governments "have a diplomatic representative in Israel," suggesting their willingness to sign a peace deal. The government of Jordan's King Abdullah II has worked toward that goal over the past few weeks. Jordanian Foreign Minister Hani Mulki argued to Arab leaders that Jordan's peace proposal would strengthen Ariel Sharon's hand to dismantle Jewish settlements (although he later backed off somewhat, clarifying that he was not advocating "normalization," a loaded term among Arab leaders fearful of backlash by groups like Hamas).

Unfortunately, that proposition had too many downsides for the tag team on the other side. The authoritarian Gulf states are struggling to beat down crops of homegrown Al Qaeda-style insurgents--so why should they cede a rhetorical chip by caving to Israel? Egypt's leadership has already paid its dues to Washington by brokering a temporary Hamas-Islamic Jihad truce and permitting select opposition parties to run for the presidency in May--so why take more heat in the region by siding against the Islamists now? Lebanon's hands are tied. And though they are supposedly being untied in excruciatingly slow motion by Syria, they may be retied again if Syria somehow deflects the international pressure it now faces. As for Hamas and other armed militias, blocking normalization with Israel is one of the reasons they wake up in the morning. And this time, it's also a matter of prestige: They want to claim victory in the Palestinian Intifada. Ten new peace deals (or even two or three) between Israel and Arab states would make it clear those groups had lost.

All these considerations have converged in light of America's pressure on Arab autocracies--strengthened by pressure from Arab societies--to reform. Historically, the best way to deflect such pressure has been to claim that it was inauthentic--nothing more than an imperialist imposition--and speak out against the Zionists for good measure. The need to do that again, and do so convincingly, is why Islamists and some Arab rulers are now, in effect, each other's allies of convenience.

Thus the message from the rostrum at the Arab League summit was familiar. Speakers repeated platitudes from the last big summit in 2002, as if Arab geopolitics had barely changed in the past three years. Having ruled out the Jordanian peace plan at the outset, they simply defrosted the hard-line Saudi plan of 2002, knowing full well that Israel has already rejected it and even secured a tenuous truce without it. As for the question of political reform, the tone was set by the following rousing statement from Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika:

We recognize that it has become imperative for all societies, particularly Arab societies, to [carry out] reforms. But it should also be recognized that we have already arrived at that [conclusion], for we have begun to carry out these reforms. Reforms shall not be imposed on us. I say, they shall not be imposed on us! They shall not be imposed on us!

Presumably the crowd loved it; the crowd, after all, was composed of Arab heads of state.

Meanwhile, in the streets of Arab capitals and via satellite television, Hamas and Hezbollah delivered rallies and sound bites that bolstered the League's retro stance. On the first day of the summit, protesters near the Jordanian University in Amman burned American, British, and Israeli flags, and called on Arab leaders "to form a unified position in support of the Palestinian people and to apply Islamic law," according to Al Jazeera.

Hezbollah chief Hasan Nasrallah assured journalists in Beirut that his movement "would bear responsibility for defending Lebanon and confronting Israeli aggressions." Translation: We won't disarm. And leading Hamas ideologue Mahmoud al Zahhar appeared on an Al Jazeera panel to offer his version of a "mission accomplished" speech, regarding the outcome of the Intifada: "On the issue of resistance and withdrawal," he said, "the goal of the resistance has been to banish the occupation, and now the occupation, its entire apparatus, will leave the Gaza Strip, God willing, this coming July or shortly thereafter." Translation: We won. It's the stick that works. So don't try and sell us a bunch of carrots.

Of course, which fighting force won the Palestinian Intifada depends on your definition of victory. But if ever there was a definition of defeat, it's the toll in physical and human infrastructure that the Intifada has taken on Palestinian society over the past four years. A failure to defang the resistance factions will only guarantee that gang-land culture rules in Palestine and south Lebanon for years to come--whatever political authority prevails there in name. For this reason by itself, it's too bad that the Arab League turned down a ten-state mega-treaty with Israel this week. The sweeping move might have helped to take the steam out of Zahhar's "mission accomplished" and further isolated Hezbollah. Then again, Silvan Shalom and Jordan's King Abdullah may have expected too much out of the rickety League to begin with. Now that the preeminent assembly of Arab leaders has spoken, hopes for transformative change turn once again to the societies they rule.

The role some Islamist movements played in bolstering the leaders' intransigence is manifest for all to see. And that's why, now of all times, it's discomfiting to observe some well-connected Americans and Brits touting their new unofficial dialogue with Hezbollah and Hamas. An Al Jazeera news segment Tuesday reported on an "unprecedented meeting" in Beirut between leaders of the two terrorist groups and a new U.K.-based consulting firm, Conflicts Forum. Participants were said to include "American persons close to American decision-makers." The Forum's co-founder and director, Beverley Milton-Edwards, speaking in English, had this to say to Al Jazeera:

I think the importance of this meeting, as the speaker from Hezbollah pointed out this afternoon, is that this isn't actually about enmity between the people from Islam and Muslims and those in the West. In fact, the idea here is to end this disconnection--for people to understand that there is a common platform between the peoples of Islam and the West. So this is a unique opportunity for opinion formers in North America and Europe to hear that enmity is not on the table.

There's a presumption implicit in this statement: that the militant factions participating in the meeting are somehow representative of the "peoples of Islam." In fact, many of the "peoples of Islam" now favor regional priorities that these factions are aligned against, like "democracy and political reform." You just wouldn't know it from listening to Beverly Milton-Edwards or the Arab League.

Joseph Braude is the author of The New Iraq: Rebuilding the Country for Its People, the Middle East, and the World. This essay first appeared in The New Republic Online on March 25, 2005.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Gender Gap: What President Bush, American Feminists, and American Muslims Haven't Done for the Women of the Middle East

The Bush administration and its supporters are claiming credit for the advancement of women's rights in Muslim countries. Last Tuesday, at a White House ceremony to mark International Women's Day, First Lady Laura Bush told an audience of Arab and Muslim women that her husband had made their cause a "global policy priority" and cited an impressive list of achievements won by American military actions. She noted that the Taliban no longer oppresses women in Afghanistan and has been replaced by a government with three female ministers, along with a new constitution that is "one of the most progressive documents on women's rights in the Muslim world." She also cited high female voter turnout in the Afghani, Palestinian, and Iraqi elections, and the fact that a third of Iraq's elected parliament members are women. Both the First Lady and another speaker at the event, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, stressed the administration's desire to spread these gains across the region through the State Department's Middle East Partnership Initiative. Rice told the audience, "As you stand for your rights and for your liberty, America stands with you." Wall Street Journal columnist Daniel Henninger summed up the impact of White House policy on Middle Eastern women with this observation: "After the fall of Saddam and the election of January 30, it is harder than it was for authoritarian regimes to force their women into the shadows."

Perhaps it is harder to force women into the shadows; but it's still not actually hard. Women remain marginalized and oppressed by many of the Middle East's secular and Islamist governments alike--including both America's allies and its opponents--and it's not clear what exactly the White House intends to do about it. Even in the two countries where the U.S. exerts direct military authority, the cause of women is advancing in some ways but regressing in others. In Afghanistan, human rights organizations report that rape, sex trafficking, and extra-judicial "honor killings" remain prevalent in rural areas, in part because the central government is too weak to exert much control outside Kabul. In Iraq, the security situation has effectively barred many women from leaving their homes to go to school or work. Furthermore, some newly elected Iraqi Islamist parties are pressing to repeal the relatively liberal personal status law for women that has been on the books since 1959. They want to replace it with a version of Islamic law that would take away women's inheritance rights and skew divorce law to favor men. These setbacks are the downside of political destabilization brought about by American hard power. The trouble is, American soft power is weak and inconsistent on the issue of Middle Eastern women--at a time when soft power is precisely what is needed to mitigate the negative side-effects of an aggressive foreign policy.


The inconsistency begins at the top. President Bush has declared that "No society can advance with only half of its talent and energy--and that demands the full participation of women." But he also said, in his last State of the Union address, that he does not seek to impose Western culture on new and fledgling democracies: "Our aim is to build and preserve a community of free and independent nations, with governments that answer to their citizens, and reflect their own cultures." So what should the United States do when entrenched cultural forces call for the curtailment of women's rights?

During the year ending in June 2004 when the Coalition Provisional Authority ruled Iraq, Americans largely acquiesced to a strengthening of Islamist control over women and families. In one fateful decision, the army discontinued the pre-war system of food rations and begin distributing food to Iraqis through mosques. Zainab Salbi, an Iraqi feminist who is CEO of Women for Women International, was in Baghdad at the time. In a phone conversation, she described to me what happened next:

We were talking with women who were saying, During Saddam's time we would go to the store [for food]. ... Now we had to go to the mosque, had to cover from head to toe, and we had to fight with men for the food because we were forced to the back of the mosque. When I asked the general who was giving us the briefing, I asked him, 'Are you considering the impact you are having on women?' ... He did not understand the word gender.

While Islamists began to consolidate power and influence, some women's rights activists lobbied the U.S. government for a measure of affirmative action--initially, by asking CPA chief Paul Bremer to give women special consideration as he selected the Iraqi Governing Council. Though women are a majority of the country's population, only three were nominated by Bremer to serve on the 25-member Governing Council. Moreover, only one woman served among the country's 25 ministers, no women participated in the drafting of the Transitional Administrative Law, and out of hundreds of judges appointed by the CPA to serve in the country's court system, only 15 were women. When later confronted by women's groups with the suggestion that 40 percent of parliament seats be reserved for women--similar quotas have been established in 80 countries worldwide--Bremer initially refused ("out of a Republican ideology," Salbi alleges). A de facto parliamentary quota was eventually put in place by the CPA-appointed NGO tasked with setting the rules for Iraq's election: Each party had to list one woman for every two men among its candidates, thereby guaranteeing a one-third women's presence in any parliament. But the American role in this victory for women, now touted by Laura Bush, wasn't exactly enthusiastic from the start.

The Bush administration's apparent discomfort with the notion of affirmative action for Middle Eastern women is unfortunate in light of its stated commitment to advance their rights. There's a broad consensus among Arab feminists that quotas for women in the political arena are crucial in any attempt to offset the overwhelming cultural pressure against women's advancement. Consider the following percentages of women in the parliaments of Arab countries where the government is secular and America has some influence: Palestine, 7 percent; Jordan, 5.5 percent; Egypt, 2.9 percent; Oman, 2.4 percent; Lebanon, 2.3 percent; Yemen, 0.3 percent. Conspicuously missing from the list is Saudi Arabia, where the percentage is, of course, zero; recent municipal elections barred women from voting--let alone running for office.

Bush supporters have defended U.S. policies by noting that the most conservative voices in Iraq on women's issues include some female Islamist politicians, as documented by a front-page story in last week's Wall Street Journal. But a central explanation for this odd state of affairs is inconvenient for Bush backers: The fact that secular governments routinely disenfranchise women from power is often the reason that politically ambitious women resort to Islamist parties for a piece of the action.


American soft power, of course, is more than just the policies of the U.S. government. Grassroots movements play a vital role as well. Yet here too, Middle Eastern women have too often been let down. Some of the largest American feminist organizations opposed the Iraq war, which was their prerogative, but did so in part by whitewashing Saddam Hussein's record on women's issues. The fall 2003 edition of the National Organization for Women's NOW National Times, in a piece called Iraq: A Step Backwards for Women, had this to say about Saddam's rule: "Prior to the 2003 invasion, women comprised more than 20% of the Iraqi workforce, holding a wide range of technical, professional, and governmental positions, including a full fifth of the country's parliamentary seats."

Say what you will about the Iraq war and its aftermath, it's hard to deny that Saddam's departure in and of itself was good news for the country's women. In his final years, the dictator had ordered prostitutes to be beheaded. His security services had raped and tortured female relatives of Iraqi opposition activists and sent videotapes of the sex acts to their families. Thus it was unconscionable of NOW chief Kim Gandy to draw moral equivalence between Saddam Hussein and Bush in an antiwar protest called "Code Pink: Women's Pre-Emptive Strike for Peace." Gandy said: "The real terrorism is the Bush administration's disregard for international law and destruction of civil liberties at home. This has become an issue of one dictator versus another." Of course, there are feminists who take a more constructive position. Feminist Majority leader Eleanor Smeal (also a supporter of the Code Pink rally) was among the first American activists to identify Taliban atrocities against women in Afghanistan. In December 2001, she called upon Bush to "construct a foreign policy as if women mattered."

Yet somehow, voices like Smeal's were largely absent last fall when the State Department's Middle East Partnership Initiative tasked American NGOs with training Iraqi women for public life. Perhaps the Bush administration is to blame, or perhaps the feminist establishment decided to wash its hands of Iraq policy in an election year, or perhaps a little bit of both. In any case, a major recipient of a $10 million grant package for Iraqi women's programs was the Independent Women's Forum--a right-wing group originally formed to counter feminists who opposed Clarence Thomas's nomination to the Supreme Court. Among other campaigns, the Forum had lobbied in opposition to the Violence Against Women Act. How well the organization has been doing on the ground in Iraq is unclear. What is clear is that the talent and resources of the mainstream American feminist movement have, for the most part, not been put to constructive use on behalf of Iraqi women.

Nor have America's most prominent Muslim organizations been particularly vocal on the empowerment of women in the Middle East. Part of the reason may be the funding some of these groups are widely reported to receive from conservative clerical endowments in the Gulf states. Thus the Council on American Islamic Relations, allegedly a recipient of Saudi funding, has been aggressive in advocating the right of women to wear a headscarf in the American workplace and outspoken on Israel's occupation of Palestine--but, as far as I can tell, silent on the exclusion of women from elections in Saudi Arabia or the struggle for women's suffrage in Kuwait. The content of Al Zaitounah, a biweekly pro-Hamas newspaper from the Islamic Association for Palestine in Chicago, has been lacking in introspection on the challenges women face in Islamic societies. In an article last year, the newspaper quoted the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood movement as saying, "The woman has not been dignified in any civilization or any religion as she has been dignified in Islam."


Having invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States has arguably set in motion a wave of political change that stands to weaken authoritarian rule in numerous other countries. In this respect, setbacks for women in Afghanistan and Iraq that stem from weakened central authority, physical insecurity, and a rise of Islamist political influence may be a harbinger of things to come in many places. Which is why it's so important for American politicians and grassroots movements across the spectrum to shed their ideological baggage and formulate coherent stances on the use of soft power to advance Arab and Muslim women.

There are some encouraging signs that this process has already begun. The National Council of Women's Organizations weighed in with a statement on women's rights in Iraq on February 25. Other groups with a global reach, like Women for Women International, have been active and influential on the ground in Afghanistan, Iraq, and across Africa and Asia for years. This afternoon at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery in New York City, in a move of symbolic importance, the Progressive Muslim Union will publicly break with a Muslim tradition of long standing that denies women the right to lead mixed-gender prayer services. The leader of the Friday prayer, who will also deliver the afternoon's sermon, is Amina Wadud, an African-American Muslim theologian from Virginia Commonwealth University. A New York mosque refused to host the event, claiming it would be incompatible with Islamic law. Wadud, who has already drawn coverage on the satellite network Al Arabiya, says she has received numerous death threats in the past few weeks. At a recent lecture in Toronto, she was accused by one Muslim man of being a "CIA agent." He apparently had no idea of the gap that often divides the U.S. government from American grassroots movements. This disconnect is intolerable at a time when American policy stands to affect millions of Muslim women--for better or for worse, and whether the U.S. manages to formulate a coherent strategy or not.

Joseph Braude is the author of The New Iraq: Rebuilding the Country for Its People, the Middle East, and the World. This essay first appeared in The New Republic Online on March 18, 2005.