Never Have So Few Done So Much Damage To So Many

by Hugh Fitzgerald (April 2007)


Would it be immoral for Americans to leave Iraq, or to allow it to dissolve? Some have said so. But as to the question of morality, I don't even understand the question. The Kurds resent the Arabs for good reason. Why should they not try to make a move for independence, and if by helping them the American government can weaken Syria and Iran, and have a semi-reliable ally in what was northern Iraq, why not? What is immoral about that?

And as to the sectarian divisions, they date back a thousand years before the founding of the United States. The depth and duration of that division, in other words, owes nothing to us. It is the Americans who have tried, at great human and economic cost, to make the Iraqis less tribal, less selfish, more imbued with a sense of a nation -- and a nation that is not merely a place to be controlled by their sect or tribe or family. The Americans have tried to encourage entrepreneurial activity instead of reliance, as in so many other Muslim states, on either oil money or foreign aid from Infidels, and to encourage the adoption of a Constitution that would actually move away from the Shari'a.

It has all failed. And that is despite the enormous efforts of American soldiers, who were never taught about Islam, and yet persevered, and were puzzled when the Muslims of Iraq did not behave, as those soldiers expected them to, as a grateful "Iraqi people," but rather as a collection -- with a handful of exceptions -- of grasping, whining, greedy, meretricious people, eager to have the Americans do everything for them, eager to have them lavish them with aid money (thrown around, by the billions, like confetti), and distinctly indifferent to American losses when not taking outright pleasure in such losses, yet always willing to blame the Americans for everything.

Does a Sunni bomb go off killing Shi'a? The Shi'a crowds gather, and tell reporters that they blame the Americans. The Sunnis are kidnapped by Shi'a militia, and the Sunnis rant against the Americans. And now 98% of the Sunni Arabs say that all attacks on Americans are justified and that they personally approve of them, and 75% of the Shi'a say the same thing. Only the Kurds express, by a large majority, lack of approval for such attacks.

What is the conceivable offense to morality in no longer sending Americans to fight and die for people who cannot overcome Islam, who will in large -- and ever-increasing -- numbers, take delight in the deaths of Americans? And does anyone, does even Bush, still think that Iraq could somehow become a Light Unto the Muslim Nations? Karen Hughes, Bush’s loyal and equally unintelligent aide, is the one who is most directly involved with "reaching out to Muslims." That is the extent of our propaganda effort, an effort that should be made not to win jihadists over, but to fill them with confusion and to demoralize them, and make at least some of them begin to see that their political, economic, and social failures are a direct result of what Islam inculcates -- not only the specific doctrines, but the habit of mental submission that it demands.

It is immoral for Bush and others to persist obstinately in a course that makes no sense. Like the general in "The Charge of the Light Brigade," or like the madly complacent generals who sent people to their death in the trenches in World War I, these people are not thinking straight. Others -- the soldiers and Marines of the regular army, and of the Reserves and National Guard -- at least had every right to expect that they would not be sent to Iraq except in case of absolute national emergency. Yet the war in Iraq is most definitely not a case of "national emergency" but of willful ignorance of Islam, lack of imagination, lack of wit, lack of knowledge about Iraq, at the very top. And then there is always that claque of loyalists, the assorted kagans and kristols or, for that matter, that speaking-truth-to-power admirer of Edward Said, the minor polemicist Christopher Hitchens, who only yesterday began to find out a little about Islam. He's a dab hand at running with whatever little knowledge he acquires, tout en faisant son petit Orwell.

There is nothing "machiavellian" or "immoral" about refusing to continue to keep various groups of Muslims from one another's throats. Who knows? Maybe they'll all make peace. Let's say that is the outcome. I could live with that. I could also live with the other. It is theirs to make or mar. We got rid of a murderous monster. That murderous monster, it turns out, was about what Iraq appeared to need, if the only conceivable good is an absence of the kind of strife that became inevitable, sooner or later, once the regime of Saddam Hussein was removed.

Perhaps some think the regime of Saddam Hussein was moral, and that therefore it was immoral to end it, but Christopher Hitchens is not among them. He thinks the removal of Saddam Husseini was justified and desirable. Unfortunately, he also seems to think it is Americans who should pay, and keep paying, the price for that removal -- instead of those whose belief-system makes them naturally unwilling to compromise, that makes them susceptible to crazed beliefs and conspiracy theories (the Sunni Arabs, for example, really allow themselves to believe that they constitute 42% of the Iraqi population, and they really believe that they have a right to that amount of power, or even more, and certainly they will never acquiesce in the Shi'a rule over Iraq).

Bush and his loyalists refuse to identify the enemy properly -- which consists of all those who think they have a duty to spread Islam through Jihad, until the goal that Muhammad, uswa hasana, al-insan al-kamil, is achieved, and the world is made safe for Islam because all obstacles to its spread, and imposition, have been removed, so that "Islam dominates and is not to be dominated."

The Bush Amdinistration prates about a "war on terror" and tells us that this war "can be won" but it will take time. Cheney says "a generation." Blair speaks of  "twenty, even thirty years." This shows their wilful misunderstanding.  

This "war" has no end. Even to think in terms of a war with an "end" shows that you have not thought through the problem of Islam. Even if Muslims are weakened, or appear to have let the doctrine of Jihad fall into desuetude, because they may appear, and may in fact be, too weak to act on it (essentially, from about 1800 to 1960, that was the case, and that was the period when some Muslims, recognizing the weakness of the Islamic world, actually tried to think of ways to "reform" it but aside from visiting Europe and noting the need to rival it in military technology, nothing every came of that "reformist" impulse, tiny and ineffectual as it was). 

This war has no end, because Islam cannot everywhere be stamped out -- have Nazis, or neo-Nazis, ceased to exist? Of course not, nor have devout Communists eager for levelling by the state, nor have Fascists, nor have all kinds of human impulses that, if translated into the political sphere, are mortal enemies of civilization and intelligent freedom. But they have been held in check, their numbers limited.

The task of the non-Muslim world is to weaken the Camp of Islam, and the appeal of Islam to the psychically and economically marginal in the West, in the most effective way, and at the lowest cost. Ordinarily that can be done by exploiting the natural pre-existing divisions within Islam. Iraq, for example, offers two of the three main divisions.

The first is the sectarian (Shi'a and Sunni), and sufficiently balanced in power that neither side could easily defeat the other, despite the large Shi'a advantage in population, for the Sunnis are much more ruthless, aggressive, and determined, and have deep-pocketed allies in Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Kuwait (the Al-Sabah family doesn't want a Shi'a threat from Iran-cum-Iraq to replace what it faced with Saddam Hussein, especially since there are many Shi'a in Kuwait, who may now be regarded as a potential fifth column).

The second is the ethnic: the justified desire of the Kurds to be independent of the Arabs, who have persecuted them, and murdered them, and taken over their lands, and appropriated the oil wealth under those lands (which lands, in fact, were in reality those of the Assyrian Christians who in fact were, in the post-World War I settlement, dispossessed by some of those Kurds moving south, as in turn, the Kurds were later dispossessed --as in Kirkuk -- by the government-sponsored resettlement of Arabs moving north).

The third, not present within Iraq but certainly present among the Muslim states: is economic: the resentment of poor Arabs and Muslims over the unmerited vast wealth of the rich Arabs and Muslims, a resentment that has not been exploited because, idiotically, the Western world has, instead of drawing attention to the grand theft of "Muslim" resources by a handful of rulers and states, and their refusal to share the wealth not only with many of the people in those states, but also with other Muslims, thus showing not the slightest interest in supporting fellow members of the umma (although payments to other Muslims for spreading Islam in the West, or to engage in acts of terrorism against Israel or India or other Infidel states -- well, that can and is supported by rich Arabs).

We need first to recognize, and then to exploit, these fissures. I haven't begun to explain the kind of propaganda that would help, but most of it should be obvious.

But it is not obvious to the likes of Karen Hughes. It is not obvious to the likes of Cheney's daughter, the one involved in bringing "democracy" to Iraq (what makes her an expert? what allowed her to be put in charge of such matters?). And it certainly isn't obvious to Condoleeza Rice, with a most limited view of things, whose claim to fame is that she was a good -- i.e., obedient -- graduate student in some branch of Kremlinology, but lacks the learning, the world experience, and the imagination to push her even more limited boss into something like a comprehension of what Islam is all about, and how it makes best sense to constrain and weaken it.

There are at least three separate Sunni insurgent groups: the Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia who want to fight the Americans, and the Shi'a for being "Rafidite dogs" or the worst kind of Infidels; ; the tribes in Anbar Province who have been offended by Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia and are fighting with them and may, mistakenly, be thought of therefore as American allies;  the Sunni Arabs in Iraq who refuse to acquiesce in their loss of power to the Shi'a, and to want to fight  the Americans, seen as having been responsible for that loss of power, and the Shi'a, but do not quite see the Shi'a as those "Rafidite dogs" that the members of Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia do.

There are at least three Shi'a groups: the Shi'a who are genuinely secular, westernized nice. This nearly-infinitesimal group, the very group that presented itself to the Bush Administration as representative of Iraq, has people who are secular, some of whom were once even pre-Saddam members of the Ba'ath Party (see Allawi), and represent the remaining Baghdad elite (Shi'a division), all of whom, of course, were trained by the Jesuits at Baghdad College and all of whom have spent between 10 and 45 years in the West. They represent almost nobody but themselves. The second group consists of the los-de-abajo Shi'a poor, who have rallied around the troglodytic ABD (all-but-desertion) resentful Moqtada al-Sadr, whose face shows exactly what he is, and who support their own Jaish-e-Mahdi and of course some militias. The third group consists of the slightly better off, and slightly more presentable, leaders and members of SCIRI and Daw'a, competing parties, with ideologies or personal agendas that can hardly be distinguished by non-Muslim Iraqis, and need not be. They claim to listen to Sistani, and Sistani, it is claimed by the Americans, is simply solidly on the side of right (that, of course, is nonsense) -- see and scroll down until you find the list of what is "najis" or "unclean"  in the view of Sistani -- you'll find yourself on the list.

Then there are the others, including possibly the most touching and impressive political figure in Iraqi public life, Mithal al-Alusi, the son of a professor of classical Arabic literature, supporter and signer of the St. Petersburg Declaration of "secular" (mostly apostates) Muslims, and a brave visitor to Israel. It should be no surprise that when Mithal al-Alusi's party ran, in a nation of 27 million, it received 4,500 votes. Policy cannot be made on the basis of the nearly infinitesimal group of thoroughly secularized and westernized Muslims. Moqtada al-Sadr has at least a thousand times the support of Mithal al-Alusi, and were the most savage of Sunnis to run, he would command Shi'a millions as well. This is something that the Bush Administration and those who still wish to support its Iraq policy simply cannot comprehend, or will not allow themselves to comprehend.

No one in the intelligent past would have found anything remarkable in the notion that one needs to know what moves the minds of men -- and in the case of Muslim men, above all else what moves them is Islam -- and to know the history of a place, ancient and modern, the history of its people or peoples, their manners and customs and desires and motives.

And without some sense of Iraq's past, in a past-controlled part of the world, with adherents of a belief-system who insist on living, especially in times of mental and emotional desarroi, in that past of fabled and exaggerated greatness, no sensible policies can be constructed.

Here is a florilegium of quotations, culled quickly from both Iraqis (rulers and scholars, including the formidable Elie Kedourie, a Baghdadi Jew who at the university level was educated, and made his celebrated academic career, in England) and non-Iraqis, and how one wishes they had been known, and studied, and thought carefully about, in Washington four years ago:   

#1. The Commander of the British Forces that wrested Mesopotamia [Iraq] from the Turks, 1917:

"To the People of the Baghdad Vilayet... our armies have not come into your Cities and Lands as conquerors or enemies but as liberators. Since the days of Hulaku your citizens have been subject to the tyranny of Strangers, your palaces have fallen into ruins, your gardens have sunken into desolation and you yourselves have groaned in bondage. ...It is the wish not only of my King and his peoples, but it is also the wish of the great nations with whom he is in alliance that you should prosper ...But you, the people of Baghdad, ... are not to understand that it is the wish of the British Government to impose upon you alien institutions. It is the hope of the British Government that the aspirations of your philosophers and writers shall be realised again. O! People of Baghdad. ... I am commanded to invite you, through your Nobles and Elders and Representatives to participate in the management of your civil affairs in collaboration with the Political representatives of Great Britain who accompany the British Army so that you may unite with your kinsmen in the North, East, South and West in realising the aspirations of your race."

[Source: Atiyyah, Ghassan: Iraq : 1908 - 1921 : A Socio - Political Study. - Beirut : The Arab Institute for Research and Publishing, 1973 p. 151.]

#2. Gertrude Bell, 1920:

“In the light of the events of the last two months there's no getting out of the conclusion that we have made an immense failure here. The system must have been far more at fault than anything that I or anyone else suspected. It will have to be fundamentally changed and what that may mean exactly I don't know. I suppose we have underestimated the fact that this country is really an inchoate mass of tribes which can't as yet be reduced to any system. The Turks didn't govern and we have tried to govern - and failed. I personally thought we tried to govern too much, but I hoped that things would hold out till Sir Percy came back and that the transition from British to native rule might be made peacefully, in which case much of what we have done might have been made use of. Now I fear that that will be impossible.”

[Source: Lady Gertrude Bell, 1920, The Letters of Gertrude Bell.]

#3. Gertrude Bell, 1920:

“We as outsiders can't differentiate between Sunni and Shi'ah, but leave it to them and they'll get over the difficulty by some kind of hanky panky, just as the Turks did, and for the present it's the only way of getting over it. I don't for a moment doubt that the final authority must be in the hands of the Sunnis, in spite of their numerical inferiority; otherwise you will have a mujtahid-run, theocratic state, which is the very devil.”

[Source: Lady Gertrude Bell, 1920, The Letters of Gertrude Bell.]

#4. King Faisal of Iraq, 1933:

"Regrettably, I can say there is no Iraqi people yet, but only deluded human groups void of any national idea. Iraqis are not only disunited but evil-motivated, anarchy prone and always ready to prey on their government." – King Faisal I, writing in his memoirs shortly before he died in 1933.

#5. “There are only two political parties in Iraq: the Sunni party and the Shia party.” – Tawfiq Al-Suwaidi, Iraqi Prime Minister, 1929, 1930, 1946, 1950.

#6. In "The Chatham House Version" the scholar Elie Kedourie comments dryly on the description by the far-less-great scholar Majid Kadduri (in his own book, "Independent Iraq") of “the wise leadership of Faisal, who inspired public spirit in every department of government”:

“If this [Khadduri's description of Faisal] were in any way true, there would be no accounting for the degraded and murderous politics of Iraq from the end of the mandate to the end of the monarchy.” [i.e., from 1932 to 1958, when first Qassem, and then the Ba'athists, took over, and things became even more degraded and much, much more murderous].].

“The fact is, of course, that this kind of language is most inappropriate to Iraq under the monarchy or afterwards.”
“Lack of scruple greater or lesser, cupidity more or less unrestrained, ability to plot more or less consummate, bloodlust more or less obsessive: these rather are the terms which the historian must use who surveys this unfortunate polity [modern Iraq] and those into  whose power it was deliverered.

Do you think such material, had it been thoroughly read, in its full context, and digested, might have helped make American policymakers a bit more realistic and less messianic about Iraq? Do you think Richard Perle would not have so excitedly declared in 2003 that he wouldn't be surprised if a boulevard were named after George Bush in Baghdad? Or that Wolfowitz would estimate that the "cost" of the Iraq War might be "$20 billion," and therefore so much more of a bargain, than the cost of the sanctions program --when the cost now, at a minimum, has been estimated at between $1 and $2 trillion dollars, if the costs incurred for the treatment of the wounded, and the macroeconomic costs (see the paper of Stiglitz and Bilmes, and if you wish, forget the macroeconomic costs and take the lower figure, and if you like, reduce even that to something we can all agree on as an absolute base -- say, $750 billion)? Or that Bernard Lewis would confidently predict that when the Americans overturned the regime the spectacle of rapture and gratitude in Baghdad "would make the liberation of Kabul seem like a funeral procession"?

They forgot, or didn't know, with their narrow certainties and dependence on Bernard Lewis. A false choice was offered: on the one hand there was the usual crew of appeasers and hirelings and simply ignoramuses (and they were and are appeasers, and hirelings, and ignoramuses), people who cannot conceive of Islam being the problem. These were the espositos and william-polks and scowcrofts and the djerijians, who wanted nothing done to upset anyone. There was the belief that Harold Rhode, so uncritically worshipful of Bernard Lewis, see Douglas Feith -- so dependent on Harold Rhode, see Cheney, who was so certain about so many things, and similarly thought Lewis the last word on everything to do with Islam, and Iraq -- not a hint of any consulting with the live J. B. Kelly, or the writings of the dead Kedourie. or for that matter with others, including Bat Ye'or -- it was apparently a false polarity: either Lewis, or the likes of such apologists as Esposito, or just as bad, that fake "old Iraq" hand William Polk, with his predictable appeasements. No other conceivable alternatives.  There is a good deal that Bernard Lewis is able to forget, or didn't know -- (look at his enthusiasm for the Oslo Accords, and his grotesque minimizing of the menace of Islam and the mistreatment of the dhimmis, quite unlike his two coevals S. D. Goitein and Gustave von Grunebaum on the mistreatment of non-Muslims under Islam) and what would almost certainly happen once the despotism of the Sunni Saddam Hussein was removed? And wouldn't a knowledge of Islam have told them something about the prospects for real "democracy" as opposed to the vote-counting (that the Shi'a were happy to participate in, and voted for whomever their leaders told them to vote lemming-like for?). In other words, isn't a knowledge both of Islam and of the history of Iraq essential, so as not to engage in the kind of folly that is being engaged in.

The Americans, had they informed themselves, would then most likely either have

1) left Saddam Hussein in place, if indeed there was no real reason to suspect his possession, or his being able to acquire, weapons of mass destruction or,

2) if there was indeed sufficient reason to believe [we still do not know that, do but those of us who were long willing to believe that the government was reasonable in fearing the existence of WMDs or of the ability of the regime to acquire them -- I was one of them -- are looking more abashed every day] that he either had or was attempting to acquire, or could soon start acquiring or making, such weapons.

What are the most important things to study to figure out what makes sense, for the wellbeing of Infidels, at this moment, in Iraq, given the instruments of Jihad as we can now identify them, and the behavior, ignorant and often pusillanimous, of much of the Western world?

It is history. The history of Islam, both doctrine and practice. The history of Iraq, especially of Iraq since 1920.

Not "psychoanalysis." Not the "generally applicable rules of counter-insurgency" such as "insurgencies tend, on average, to last 10 years."

As Ibn Warraq noted in his brilliant essay, comparing Islam and Fascism, both are belief-systems fixed on past glories. Compare Mussolini on "Mare Nostrum" (the Mediterranean) and the greatness of Rome, or for that matter, Hitler on the supposedly bottled-up greatness of the Aryan or Germanic peoples, and his dithyrambs, and that of his ideological collaborators, on the past greatness of Deutschland, and even more than Germany, of the Germanic peoples, with that natural energy and life-force, so different from the Slavs and Latins and everyone else.

You didn't have to psychoanalyze anyone to comprehend that living in the past is essential to Islam. And that helps to explain something: the significance of Iraq and Baghdad to Sunni Arabs everywhere. Because they live in that Muslim mythology, and because Baghdad was for 500 years the most important city in Islam, at the time of Islam's greatest glory (for Arabs Constantinople doesn't count -- it was the center for their oppressors, the Ottoman Turks, not for Arab Islam), they simply cannot allow it to be controlled by those "Rafidite dogs" the Shi'a.

When historians write about the years 2000-2008, they will gasp at the expense, at the squandering, at the obstinate naiveté and failures of intelligence (of every kind) and of imagination. They will be amazed at the lack of ability of the people in charge to comprehend, to articulate, to instruct, and to protect. They will be flabbergasted at the trillion dollars wasted, at the great damage done to the morale of the military and to its capability, at a time of peril. They will not understand why nothing started to be done, then, about the campaigns of Daw'a and the slow but seemingly inexorable (it is not inexorable, it can be halted, and it can be reversed, but this requires a recognition of the problem and an intelligent awareness of what is at stake, and what is permissible – (see the Benes Decree of 1946 for a guide) considering the demographic conquest of the heart of the West -- Europe.

The historians will compare the failure of our leaders, or rather, of those "taking a leadership role" -- with the intelligent awareness, and acts of mass auto-didacticism, whereby many, including those who come to this website, have begun to undertake their own study of Islam, because they sense the discrepancy between what they are told in the press and on television and by their "taking-leadership-role" leaders, and what they see all about them, if they are not deaf, and dumb, and blind.

The political class, the ruling classes, the elites all over the West have failed. They failed when, without study or thought, they began some thirty years ago to let in Muslim migrants. They failed when they continued to avert their eyes from what such migration meant for the indigenous Infidels, their legal and political institutions, their freedoms, their art, their free inquiry, their physical safety. They failed for all kinds of reasons. Stupidity, cupidity, timidity - the Esdrujula Explanation that has been put up here many times. They will not be forgiven by posterity. So many things, now so difficult to deal with, could have been so easily avoided in the first place, had intelligence been properly applied.

Future historians will sum it up this way:

Never have so few done so much damage to so many.

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