Friday, June 27, 2003

Zainab is a woman blogging from Iraq

I hope she keeps on writing. She seems to have one entry thus far.

One of the things she suggests is that what people care about is being able to live their lives in a normal way, which no one can currently do. If that is impossible then they would rather have Saddam. She claims there will be a revolution.

This reminds me of several times Iraqis were interviewed before the war. I remember several people said--both of them women--that Iraq was a powder keg waiting to blow and that Saddam or someone like him was the only person who could keep control over the place. This might have been alarmist or simply wrong. Or it might be true of anyplace that there needs to be either a fairly efficient web of working social institutions OR a fairly scary system of punishments for those who step out of line. Or maybe I've been too influenced by Hobbes.

I hate to say it, but it makes sense to me that some people in Iraq might want to return to the way things were given the current state of affairs. And it should make sense to anyone who's read oh, Hobbes, Rousseau, Locke--but especially Hobbes of course. The main reason anyone gives up their personal complete freedom for a government is because anarchy makes life nearly impossible. It is virtually a war of all against all in Iraq it sounds. The strangest part of course is you have the American army intruding and restraining movement, etc. Yet not creating social order or harmony or a sense of security. Sort of the worst of both worlds--like the West Bank or Beirut more than Cleveland. They were promising Cleveland with the fall of Saddam but what has been delivered so far is quite different.

I think Americans have a difficult time imagining what it is like to actually live under another form of government or under radically different economic or social circumstances. This probably isn't unique to us--People in the U.S. are slammed not for travelling but many people throughout the world don't travel or know much about the rest of the world--besides the U.S., that is. In fact, it's from travelling that I found out everyone is just as ignorant as we are, for the most part and has pretty kooky ideas about the rest of the world.

This lack of wide experience combined with an ideological perspective that interprets all other places through a U.S. value system makes the choices others make unintelligible to the U.S.--and to those in power in the U.S. Why wouldn't everyone prefer to live as we do? But I think the people who jabber this rhetoric don't in fact know much about how people truly live in other countries or what they would want. This explains their simple mindedness about how the Iraqis would respond to the current situation and their failure to anticipate what would happen.

(I really, really don't think people in other advanced industrial democracies are all that more broad minded or knowledgable in spite of their contempt for Americans. In my experience Germans or Brits are sometimes appalled by cultural, political, economic, culinary differences--even when you run into them when travelling. Just different ones.)

There's an incredible amount of rhetoric about freedom in the U.S. that got its flavor from the cold war--First, the idea that Americans are free and second, the idea that no one else is--that we are the 'freest.' Finally, the idea that because it is so great that we are free very little else matters--like social equality. There's even this hint that we are lucky because the government 'gives' us our freedom. But of course, the government doesn't 'give' us our freedom. Human beings have a right to be free. I don' t have to be grateful to the U.S. government for 'giving' me my freedom. Any unreasonable encroachments they make on my freedom are unjustified and I am completely in the right to resist them.

But it is also hard to imagine for many after all this talk about freedom why some people would trade their freedom for security or for economic reasons--or why dictators could be popular (Saddam wasn't but Pinochet and others have been in certain sectors of society. Castro is reasonably popular in some important sectors of Cuban society.) I think it is disturbing for people to relinquish freedom or have it taken from them. But there are conditions under which no one's freedom means all that much--i.e., dire poverty, economic or social chaos.

The Iraqis don't sound much 'freer' now to me than they were before and it seems unlikely that most people could handle that level of economic and physical insecurity before acting--particularly when they were used to a much more orderly situation (albeit a very unjust and dangerous one). So maybe the powers that be should read Zainab's blog. Unfortunately, they'd probably just respond with more repression rather than working harder to improve conditions.

Link from Salam Pax


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