Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Tyranny of the Majority

"Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." So the oft-repeated maxim sometimes attributed to George Santayana tells us. I'm pretty sure that history is being repeated in the Sunni areas of Iraq this week. Many Sunnis decided to boycott the Iraqi national assembly elections earlier this year to focus on fighting an insurgency. They are now left with little representation in the assembly writing the draft constitution. The Kurdish and Shia majority seem intent on punishing the Sunnis for their long support for, and benefits from, the reign of Saddam Hussein. This reminds me of the economic punishment of Germany after World War I, which is widely regarded to have proximately resulted in the nationalism that in turn gave us World War Two, at least in Europe.

George Wilhelm Hegel, while I'm quoting others, reminds us, "What experience and history teach is this -- that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on its principles.", so we should hardly be surprised.

The Sunnis are very likely to be left with little natural resources, an angry populous and a continued strong US military presence. Under such conditions, the insurgency will surely get worse, not better.

Making the economic punishment worse is the religious tension. Joseph Campbell (writing way back in 1964!) correctly identified the source of such tension:

"Now it is signally a fact, signally illustrated in the history of the Levant and particularly in Judaism and Islam, that when religion is identified with a community (or, as we have expressed the idea, with a consensus), and this community, in turn, is not identified with an actual land-based socio-political organism, but with a transcendental principle embodied in the laws of a church or sect, its effects on the local secular body politic, within which it thrives but which it does does identify itself, are inevitable and predictably destructive."[1] (Emphasis mine, to make the central point easier to spot)

Almost everyone will disagree with me on this, but I think we should just admit that the UN charter, which provided the world with the idea that failed states be forced to keep their boundaries, is wrong. This admission is necessary to fix Palestine, the former Yugoslavia, probably Darfor in Sudan and definitely Afghanistan. There is nothing wrong with breaking up Iraq into smaller, stable states. If we admit that such an option exists, we can be part of the solution. We can instigate a process which leaves the Sunnis stable instead of desperate. Desperation breeds violence, more than poverty.

[1] Campbell, Joseph. Occidental Mythology, The Masks of God Volume 4, Penguin Arkana edition, 1991, page 277

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