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Wednesday, 12 February, 2003, 17:13 GMT
Viewpoint: Help us get our country back
BBC News Online has asked a range of contributors to comment on the Iraq crisis.

Here, Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi dissident, academic and author, argues that regime change in Iraq could become a force for democracy in the Arab and Muslim world.

Regime change in Iraq will provide a historic opportunity - one that is as large as anything that has happened in the Middle East since the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

Iraq is rich enough and developed enough and has the human resources to become a great force for democracy and economic reconstruction in the Arab and Muslim world.

The spectrum of what is politically possible to talk about in Arab politics runs from Palestine at one end to Palestine at the other, with no room for the plight of the Iraqi people

But most Arabs are in a state of denial. The gulf that opened up between Iraqis and the rest of the Arab world that began with the 1991 Gulf War has reached a kind of crescendo with the current crisis.

Out of the Iraqi opposition - as difficult and fractious as it may be - could emerge a new kind of Arab politics. One that I believe is far healthier than the politics that dominates the Arab world today.

Since 1967, Arab political culture has largely been dominated by Arab nationalism of one form and another. This has been an obsession to the exclusion of everything else.

And today, the spectrum of what is politically possible to talk about in Arab politics runs from Palestine at one end to Palestine at the other, with no room for the plight of the Iraqi people.

But, if you live in Iraq, Palestine is not the central question of your life - your home-grown tyrant is.

Part of the driving force of Arab politics since 1967 is the attribution of all of the ills of one's own world to either the great Satan America or Israel.

In the long run, however, how the US handles itself will determine the success of this liberation. Much depends on how willing Washington is to follow through with nation building

Arab and Muslim resentment of the West is grounded in many grievances, some legitimate, others less so. Without question, the West has blundered in its dealings with the Arab world.

But the kind of thinking in the Arab world today has led to an impasse, where people are blind to failures close to home - specifically the absence of democracy among Arab nations

Arabs politics is a self-destructive politics that has no way forward - it is epitomised by the Palestinian suicide bomber.

Arab fears

America's latest policy towards Iraq has sparked fear and criticism in the rest of the Arab world - almost all non-Iraqi Arabs seem to think military action will be an unmitigated disaster.

Some commentators warn that a US backed war in Iraq will cause the Arab street to rise up in anger. But this much vaunted 'Arab street' is a fiction - it doesn't exist. It is a creation of nationalist intellectuals of my generation, who lived through war in the Arab world and never learned from the mistakes of the past.

During the Gulf War and, more recently, the Afghan war nothing came of the fears of the Arab world.

All we saw in Afghanistan were people cheering in the streets. I expect Iraqis to do the same - to throw sweets and flowers at the American troops as they enter our towns and cities.

In the long run, however, how the US handles itself will determine the success of this liberation. Much depends on how willing Washington is to follow through with nation building.

We want to see America involved in Iraq for a very long time but I do not support the idea of an American military government, even for a short time. We Iraqis must take the responsibilities of our future into our own hands.

Professor Kanan Makiya, was born in Iraq and now teaches in the US. His books include Republic of Fear, about Iraq, and Cruelty and Silence: War, Tyranny, Uprising and the Arab World. He has been working with the US administration on a model for post-Saddam Iraq.

Professor Makiya was speaking to Kathryn Westcott from northern Iraq.

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Prof. Makiya is a sample of a genuine Iraqi who would like to see democracy thrive in Iraq after a long time of tyranny in the name of Arab nationalism; as an Iraqi I think Prof. Makiya is absolutely correct to call for a healthy democratic system in Iraq to allow all the factions of the Iraqi society to live in peace and prosperity after all the suffering we experienced on the hands of Arab nationalism tyrants.
Bahir, UK

It is refreshing to hear an intelligent Arab voice ... one who doesn't blame everything ill in the Arab countries and cultures on the Great Satan and Little Satan a/k/a Israel.

Any dissenting Arab voice has to speak from abroad rather than from their own country. Any dissenting Islamic voice (at least in the Middle East), any slightly critical or introspective Islamic voice, must speak from abroad, or risk being condemned to death for the temerity of having a contrary thought or point of view. The Arab world is not a particularly fertile field in which to plant the seeds of democracy, which thrives on an educated populace, dissent and respect for opposing views.

As to the secret goals of the US to make Iraq a puppet state, yes, I guess their history is clear. The Great Satan has a pretty good track record on that score. After all, after World War II the US occupied Japan ... and planted the seeds of Japan's democracy. And the U.S. occupied Germany ... and planted the seeds of Germany's democracy. And in South Korea - the US resisted the Communist hegemony and planted the seeds of ... Korean democracy. And in Taiwan ... democracy.

Yes, the US is an ally of Israel, the only country in the Middle East with a flourishing ... democracy. Are Germany, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Israel now vassal states of the US, being looted of their natural resources by their colonial master? Or are they examples of the fact that democracy can flourish in any soil where the people are educated to its blessings and finally permitted to drink from the well of freedom?

Do the Arab people want democracy and freedom? Or in the blindness of their nationalism, is it simply easier to blame the Great Satan and curse the darkness ... rather than light a candle.
Doug Humes, Philadelphia, PA, USA

Once again a Middle East academic and author speaks with authority on how Iraq should welcome more suffering.

We see what Edward Said wrote about recently: "The only 'good' Arabs are those who appear in the media decrying modern Arab culture and society without reservation."

As a 'dissident', I imagine any empathy with the people of Iraq is reduced to the distant memories of a childhood spent in Iraq. It is obvious that Mr Makiya believes that by cow towing the US line he is expecting some reward from his paymasters in the 'new' US controlled Iraqi regime. How can anyone claim to speak for the Iraqi people, while sitting comfortably in a US government office?

Anyone who is interested in a more objective interpretation of the Middle East and 'orientalism' should seek out the works of Professor Said.
Daood Khan, UK

As an Iraqi, I am sick and tired of the prominence given in Western media to the "Arab street", "Muslim street" and self-appointed Western "experts". Has anyone given any thought to what the people of Iraq want? They want this war and they are prepared to pay almost any price to be rid of Saddam. Makiya and millions of other Iraqis forced to flee their country are no different from assorted exiled Europeans during World War II yearning to rid their countries of fascism ...with direct American help!
Othman, UK

Have you noticed how the last two American attempts at regime change in the region have totally failed to bring about democracy. When the Kuwaiti government was restored to power after the Gulf War, no attempt was made to reign in the despotic monarchy and introduce democracy. And one thing notably absent from the "new Afghanistan" is elections.

The government has not even announced any plans for them. Secondly, it isn't just the Arab "street" that the American government needs to be concerned about. When Nelson Mandela says that George Bush wants to "plunge the world into a holocaust", and that America "has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world" (as reported by the BBC), the US Government should understand that the entire world will be angry.
Patrick, Bermuda

What Kanan Makiya and other 'liberal imperialists' such as Christopher Hitchens and Michael Ignatieff fail to realise is that the US has absolutely no intention of creating freedom and democracy in Iraq - still less letting the Iraqi people themselves determine their own future. The US will simply install a puppet regime of their own choosing, that will faithfully do the Americans' bidding
Daoud Fakhri, UK

Yes, Mr Makiya, I believe you're absolutely right. But when the oppressive governments in the Arab world are toppled, how to deal with religious fanaticism? How to prevent then from sizing power and making things far worst?
Ricardo, Brazil

Professor Kanan Makiya is exactly right. My only disagreement would be on the need for a period of military governance. The US military has to be in control for as long as it takes to remove Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
Paul M. Neville, Jackson, MS USA

Attacking Iraq is folly because of the Islamist backlash this will provoke across the region, where a lot of governments are fragile and may soon have to form coalitions with more Islamist groups. These may well be happy to give state support to anti-western terrorism - a bonanza for Al-Qaeda.

I would like to see a programme examining in detail the political and economic situation in all the countries of the region, moving systematically from India through every country right across to Algeria, to estimate the consequences of a western occupation of Iraq. None of our Western politicians have, in my view, shown any awareness of the long-term consequences of their actions. Personally, I think that attacking Iraq is the way to ensure that the West will suffer major terrorist attacks for the next decade at least. At the very least, it will increase mindless hatred for America, which can only destabilise the world.
Santha bhattacharji, England

Professor Kanan Makiya has hit the nail on the head! The Arab world is in a state of denial. A successful democratic government in Iraq could be the start of a bigger wave of democracy to rise in the Middle East. The end of the Ottoman empire was a massive change for the better for the Arab world, but unfortunately colonialism trampled any hopes for democracy to grow out of the ashes. Hopefully a regime change in Iraq to democracy will once again bring out the best of all the Arab people.
Wassim, UK

Now, if only Professor Makiya could have this article appear in Al-Jazeera and in his native tongue.
Alfred J. Gleason, USA

Well done, Kanan Makiya, it is refreshing to read an Arab who has progressive rather than reactionary views. Could I add though, that the obsession with Palestine does not date from 1967. At that time, the Arab rulers simply thought they could solve their obsession with Palestine - by destroying it.
Mende, England

I believe that Professor Makiya is absolutely right. Anyway if you have a fair and free democracy where the wealth is shared amongst the populace then you will not suffer so much from fundamentalism as the vast majority of people just want a safe and prosperous life.
Roman, England

Mr Mikiya must be in denial, if he thinks the US has any intention of allowing the Iraqis to have freedom. Iraq will become another puppet state and be economically plundered by the oil barons and their stooges in Washington. Mr Mikiya states clearly what the Arab community wants from the US, help, but don't hang around.
Ray, houston tx

No one can deny that Saddam Hussein is a murdering despot who deserves to be deposed.

That said no one in their right mind can want a war on Iraq that will end up with thousands of dead civilians and soldiers who do not deserve to die.

Our leaders will not put aside £50/£100million and sanction the assassination of Saddam, his "doppelgangers" and coterie of generals because democracies, under conventions of war, do not do that.

Also, if they did sanction his elimination that would make all leaders targets and neither George Bush nor Tony Blair would want that to happen.

Without a war Bush and Blair cannot get control of Iraq and it's OIL so they will do the wrong thing, make war.

This will lead to untold misery and more, not less, terrorist attacks. When will they realise this.
Alan Bowman, United Kingdom

I could not agree more with Professor Makiya. A new government in Iraq can take the lead for democracy in the region, and strengthen ties to the rest of the world.
Jason, USA

As an Iraqi, I agree a 100% with Prof. Makiya's article.

In fact, I would go further in saying that Iraq, as a country, is an invention of the British Empire. The Western democracies (Britain, the U.S., France and others)were glad to deal with a Saddam, a murderous tyrant.

In my view, it is now a moral duty and obligation on these democracies to admit their fault in perpetuating the horrific rule of this despot by removing him and his cronies, and help in the reconstruction of a free democratic and civil society in Iraq.

The Iraqi people deserver nothing less.
Lateef, Ireland

Professor Makiya is right...up to a point. I have lived in Qatar (benevolent Emirate with Western sympathies) Oman (ditto) and Egypt ('Socialist¿ autocracy) ...A totally different scenario. Do not underestimate the power of the Imam ...I have sat on my balcony on a Friday listening to the local mosque spewing out, over loudspeakers, anti 'Amriki' statements...quite capable of whipping the locals up into a frenzy. And they do.

And I've seen the results! And when the mobs take to the streets...we all know what happens! Group hysteria is a difficult force to contend with and there are thousands and thousands of unemployed and underemployed Egyptian youths only too ready to sack and plunder American or American franchised businesses.

Yes I can understand how Muslim society as a whole is suspicious of Western attitudes undermining their rigid codes of behaviour. Until Islam allows people to question their religion and open it to discussion beyond a narrow interpretation (where is the Martin Luther of Islam?) the adherents will be locked into a feudal world...and the rest of us will suffer the consequences.
Jan Goffey, US/UK

It's refreshing to actually hear a viewpoint that takes into account the long-term benefits to the Iraqi people of the overthrow of Saddam. That's the problem with the anti-war crowd: they're too short-sighted and are only thinking of the immediate term.
Tom, USA

Democracy must come from the people of Iraq, force and war only brings instability to the region, not democracy. Any successor after Saddam will not be elected by the people of Iraq but another US puppet regime in the region, which I believe is totally undemocratic.
ahmad, england

I don't understand why these people are justifying killing of countless children and women and the old and the innocents? There are several countries taken over by rulers who deserve nothing but a bullet, but why only Iraq? Can America give us assurance that their bombs can distinguish between the civilians and the Saddam's men?
khan_gul, pakistan

I am very pleased to read such an article after all the narrow-minded articles that have been published recently. This could be a starting point for the Arab world to create political stability through a proper democracy and thereafter stop oppressing a large part of their population. This is not about the US invading the middle east but its about getting rid of one of its dictatorships.
David, Luxembourg

I totally agree with the author. That said, however, I believe one reason that Saudi Arabia appears "not in favour" of democracy is they have a lot to loose if democracy ever hits the peninsula - namely their family power. I'm sure they do not wish to be relegated to the same level as the "Royal Family" of Great Britain.
Andrew, USA

Palestine is the root cause of the Middle East crisis. Israeli occupation has to end and that is the ONLY solution. We need to stop supporting and spoiling Israelis. We need to practice our own principals of justice & fairness!
Col. Daniel Smith, USA

You can have Iraq back and we will help you do it. Just help us end terrorism and WMD. We Americans love our freedom enough to help you win yours. You can never appreciate enough life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Don, New York, USA

As a former Iraqi who left the country over half a century ago, I do not believe that any regime will be successful in restoring democracy in Iraq. The term democracy is not understood there. What people find in democracy is the freedom of coffee shop squabble. What they need is paternalism - a regime that will respect the right of survival of all the various sects living in Iraq.

An American administration similar to the one established in Japan after World War II might help bring democracy to the area.
ms, US

I fully agree with the Prof - refreshing to read such an article in the midst of so much anti-Americanism. It poses the question, is the rhetoric/propaganda with regards to anti-Americanism a product of the Arab world's governments, created to stop the spread of democracy.

A true democracy in the region would create tension in the Arab monarchies as their own peoples would eventually strive for free thought, free speech, and other democratic freedoms.
j garcia, NYC, USA

So all of a sudden this is about a nasty regime that America has the right to single-handedly determine can no longer be allowed to exist is it?

What about the supposed reasons why America wants to go to war - the weapons (or apparent lack of them) of mass destruction, which Mr Makiya has totally failed to mention? Who are the US to decide when a regime must change if it does not pose a threat to international security?

And while it would undoubtedly be better for the vast majority of Iraqis were Saddam Hussein to be removed from power, how does it help them to bomb their civilians and create another generation of suicide bombers? Or is this what Tom from the USA describes as "short-sighted"?
Nick, England

I found this article very refreshing after having heard everyone else arguing against a war just for the sake of being anti-American. I welcome balanced viewpoints like this article.
Graeme Phillips, UK

Makiya is absolutely right. Iraq needs a guiding hand to get up from the years of Hussein's rule. It could make the country more open to outside world not just terrorists theories of Islam. Iraqis need to see that there is a world outside Baghdad that is quite beautiful and decent.

This should happen to all of the Arab world. They should become more accepting of other religions and culture, and stop calling non-Muslims infidels.

Arabs (taking example of IRAQ) have a lot to learn from others.
ken, UK

You are the biggest traitor. Going against your own country.
Sajid Chawdhary, UK

I am Socialist and Democrat and respect very much Profesor Kanan Makiya.

I am very sorry, that so called peace camp wont listen his and another excellent dissenters voices.

They listen only their own voices and that of Saddam Hussein`s Totalitarian Arab Socialist Baath-government. I express my full solidarity with Mr. Makiya and US-UK governments in liberating Iraq.
Aulis Kallio, Finland

Mr. Makiya, I believe that your thinking is more correct but perception is more powerful than a great deal of people accept. The situation regarding Iraq does not revolve around the issue of the despotic Saddam Hussein but the United States. No one doubts the record of Hussein and his abuses in human rights, flouting UN resolutions (present and/or past), etc. Even a few Arabs I know have the same view (three Palestinians) of Hussein.

Rather, the fact that the US seems to be acting the way the European powers acted not too long ago, brings about some bad memories. The matter isn't helped by perceptions of Europe here in the US as being steadily weak-willed except in opposition to the US.

I hope for a quick war and an equally quick rebuilding of Iraq funded by the United States and contracts for Syrian, Iranian, Turk, and Russian workers to do the hard work of rebuilding the infrastructure of Iraq.
Christopher Magee, USA

This is a wonderful and brilliant piece by prof makiya. I wish a lot of people in the Mid-East were of such a stance. who could foresee the joys in kabul after the fall of the Taleban? I think we are going to see such reactions from Baghdad, after a short and successful war. such 'intellectuals' point of view should be promoted in the Arab world
chux, leeds

This all sounds very nice, but it makes the grand assumption that the Arabic world wants democracy. Although the Western Culture allows mankind to make the rules for himself, Islam does not- the law of God is paramount.

Forcing democracy on those who do not want it is surely bound for failure?

The prospect of building good relations with non-democratic, distrustful nations will be difficult and take much time but this must be preferable to the 'easy' option which will not work and just add to the instability of the area.
Malcolm Edwards, UK

Prof. Makiya is quite a brave man for expressing such views. Would a post-Saddam government have the courage of Egypt's Sadat or Jordan's King Hussein and make peace with Israel??
Alfred Fiks, Ph.D., Costa Rica


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