Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Heart of Darkness


From Little Green Footballs:


Heart of Darkness
BY FOUAD AJAMI


The remarkable thing about the terror in Iraq is the silence with which it is greeted in other Arab lands. Grant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi his due: He has been skilled at exposing the pitilessness on the loose in that fabled Arab street and the moral emptiness of so much of official Arab life. The extremist is never just a man of the fringe: He always works at the outer edges of mainstream life, playing out the hidden yearnings and defects of the dominant culture. Zarqawi is a bigot and a killer, but he did not descend from the sky. He emerged out of the Arab world's sins of omission and commission; in the way he rails against the Shiites (and the Kurds) he expresses that fatal Arab inability to take in "the other." A terrible condition afflicts the Arabs, and Zarqawi puts it on lethal display: an addiction to failure, and a desire to see this American project in Iraq come to a bloody end.

Zarqawi's war, it has to be conceded, is not his alone; he kills and maims, he labels the Shiites rafida (rejecters of Islam), he charges them with treason as "collaborators of the occupiers and the crusaders," but he can be forgiven the sense that he is a holy warrior on behalf of a wider Arab world that has averted its gaze from his crimes, that has given him its silent approval. He and the band of killers arrayed around him must know the meaning of this great Arab silence.

There is a cliché that distinguishes between cultures of shame and cultures of guilt, and by that crude distinction, it has always been said that the Arab world is a "shame culture." But in truth there is precious little shame in Arab life about the role of the Arabs in the great struggle for and within Iraq. What is one to make of the Damascus-based Union of Arab Writers that has refused to grant membership in its ranks to Iraqi authors? The pretext that Iraqi writers can't be "accredited" because their country is under American occupation is as good an illustration as it gets of the sordid condition of Arab culture. For more than three decades, Iraq's life was sheer and limitless terror, and the Union of Arab Writers never uttered a word. Through these terrible decades, Iraqis suffered alone, and still their poetry and literature adorn Arabic letters. They need no acknowledgment of their pain, or of their genius, from a literary union based in a city in the grip of a deadening autocracy.

A culture of shame would surely see into the shame of an Arab official class with no tradition of accountability granting itself the right to hack away at Iraq's constitution, dismissing it as the handiwork of the American regency. Unreason, an indifference to the most basic of facts, and a spirit of belligerence have settled upon the Arab world. Those who, in Arab lands beyond Iraq, have taken to describing the Iraqi constitution as an "American-Iranian constitution," give voice to a debilitating incoherence. At the heart of this incoherence lies an adamant determination to deny the Shiites of Iraq a claim to their rightful place in their country's political order.


(Mr. Ajami teaches International Relations at Johns Hopkins University.)


It goes on from there. Go read it.