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« Murdoc says it’s a civil war, and has been | Main | 8th anniversary of Iraq Liberation Act »

October 30, 2006



I think that's a load of poppycock. Their problem is not diversity. It's a violent history, a history of screwed-up governance and a victimhood culture.

In fact Iraq isn't really all that diverse. It has three main groups, one of which is in the majority and all of which share a common religion (as I understand it) although there are different sects.

So what, though. There are different sects of Christianity and Judeaism. They get along fine. I suspect it's because they have healthier culture and weren't oppressed by a brutal dictator supported by one of those sects for the last 30 years or so, not to mention other governance problems right back through colonial times.

Once enough of the trouble-makers are dead or have left, and they can shift their culture in a more positive direction, they should be fine.


Also I've heard from Iraqis that the whole Sunni/Shia thing is way overblown by the media. It's not like they meet another Iraqi and the first question is "so.. are you Sunni or Shia?" A lot of them simply don't care. It's a minority that make a big deal out of it and commit violence. The majority must eventually triumph over that minority if they try hard enough and get the right support.

jj mollo

I agree with Nicholas completely on this. The differences in the original colonies of the US were probably greater. The important thing is the strength of the central government, and the sense of fair play. Small minorities of fanatics need to be suppressed forcefully and the rest need to be taught to live together. Any city in the US is probably more diverse than Iraq, and some of the people in the US are close to lunatic in their fanaticism. The only place more diverse might be the cities of India, and India is, for the most part, a peaceful democracy.

Problems occur when one group gets the idea that it can have the whole pie. In Northern Ireland, the IRA got the idea that the Manifest Destiny of Ireland was to be united and Catholic. They still have the idea, but the majority are willing to suppress the violent impulses of the few. Given the chance, people will fight to the death over which end of the egg to crack (Swift). They just have to be forced to compromise until they get in the habit, and they have to be forced to respect minorities and basic rights and abide by agreed upon process. The best catalyst for democracy in Afghanistan is the Loya Jurga (or whatever it's called), because it is the process that they respect. Iraq has a constitution and laws! It is absolutely necessary that they be forced to abide by their own agreements until they get in the habit. It's going to take a while, but it is their own choice! It cannot be surrendered to thugs, psychopaths and foreign agents.

Frank Warner

Nicholas, two of the three main groups in Iraq have spiritual leaders who tell their people they have the right to kill members of the other groups as infidels, just on principle. These Sunnis don't look at Shiites as the same religion, or even similar, and vice versa.

The actual killers certainly are a minority of each of those groups, but they're obviously a persistent and lethal minority, and they derive their zeal from their sense of separateness and superiority.

I disagree, JJ, that these groups can be considered less diverse than Americans of the Colonial period. The early Americans with European ties generally felt a common spirit. They had to work together to survive, and many of their differences faded in the process. They worked so closely that they became a nation.

They generally had one language, though at one point German made inroads enough into Pennsylvania to alarm Benjamin Franklin himself.

And yes, the estrangement between Sunni Arabs and Shiite Arabs in Iraq is aggravated by their history, a history of the minority abusing the majority. During the era of repression, some Shiites developed a righteous indignation and a thirst for vengeance. (And many did not.) At the same time, some Sunnis developed a permanent sense of elitism as a specially blessed people. (And some did not.)

Saddam's brutal force obviously did not compel all Iraqis to adopt a sense of unified Iraqi-ness. It had the opposite effect, because his preferential treatment was obvious. His brutality widened the divide.

It's not a problem that can't be overcome. But it's a pretty terrible problem.

Frank Warner

Just a follow-up. You know, I'm not sure exactly where we disagree on this one.

Nicholas and JJ, both of you seem adamant about something, and I think I've missed what it is. Please elaborate on your points.


I'm adamant that countries made up of different kinds of people CAN have a working democracy. There are plenty of examples. The differences between the people does not necessarily mean Iraq can't function normally.

I'd argue it's the fact that segments of these populations are radicalized is the problem. Remove the source of radicalization and they can learn to get along.

What is the source? There are several. Poor living standards due to the economy and education having been run into the ground under Saddam is one. Radical Immams is another. Media sensationalization, conspiracy theories and urban myths is another. Attack those things at the source and they have a chance.

There will probably be violence for a long time, just like there is in India and Pakistan and Thailand and many other such countries. But at least places like India function as normal countries, even if there are some crazy radicals running around.

I think it's about attitudes, not fundamental differences between peoples. Most Sunni and Shia want to get along. Therefore they can, if only the radicalized minorities can be marginalized. In other words it's the people who are exploiting the differences to incite violence which is the fundamental problem, not the differences themselves.


How about Ireland, as an example.

As I understand it, most of the violence in Ireland was Catholic vs. Protestants. However, there are plenty of countries where the two branches of Christianity get along OK. Why was there so much violence there?

I'm no expert on the situation, but I'm guessing the strong feelings of patriotism on the side of the Irish fighting off the English who invaded, got transferred onto the us vs. them attitude generate by the differing religions. The violence continued for around 100 years, I believe. It's mostly gone now, presumably because they've realized that they're much better off concentrating on doing something positive for their country, and for themselves.

The Iraqis need to realize the same thing. Many of them do, I think. They know that there are big opportunities now, and with hard work they can make a good life for themselves. It doesn't help that radicals from other countries (including those endorsed by the governments) are stirring up trouble. It doesn't help that people (including the media) glorify Saddam's reign, and some people want to go back to that. There are lots of problems. I don't see any that are insurmountable.

I think in fact Iraq may end up relatively peaceful much faster than Ireland did. However, I can't help but think that pessimism is only going to delay that day, if it's going to come. Iraqis need pride in themselves and they need support from us. They're more likely to get those things if we're truly committed to helping them sort it out. Some people may truly feel that the violence is intractible but they rarely explain their reasoning. I think it's mostly an emotional response and if you look back into history you'll see plenty of situations that looked just as bad but turned out OK in the end.

On top of all that, if we can defeat the terrorists in Iraq we'll set their cause back a long way. That makes it extra worth fighting for their freedom. Even if ultimately Iraq does break up or something, we could still have dealt a major blow to radical Islam in the process. But I think it will be much better if we can find a way to prevent them from getting another safe haven.

Frank Warner

Thanks, Nicholas. I think we agree. Iraq, despite its various groups, can succeed as a united democracy.

My guess is, you and JJ sensed some pessimism -- even defeatism -- in my post here. I wasn’t trying to imply that the divisions in Iraq had doomed that land to chaos forever.

In fact, I believe the Iraqis can start taming the murdering giant over the next year, and some Americans, British, Australians and Poles will be able to start coming home.

The ray of hope, for me, was that recent poll that found 53 percent of Iraqis believe that, within six months, Iraq’s security forces will be able to handle Iraq’s security on their own. More than half of Iraqis sense progress in their army and police. That's good.

My basic point in the original post is that, as much as we Americans welcome and accept differing groups, we have to constantly remind every one of us of our nation and future in common.

Of course it’s easiest to maintain one nation at peace when a free press and the other democratic institutions can expose suicidal and homicidal ideologies before they take root, and when one common language lets us all communicate with a minimum of confusion.


I'm a little careful with the predictions of when our troops can come home.

A year or so ago, Murdoc and I agreed that within three years or so, we'd see significant troop reductions. I think that's still possible. But personally, I think we should continue to provide security if necessary for a few years yet.

Of course there's the argument that they will never take their own security seriously unless we start forcing them to. I think there's some merit to that concept. But, we should at least make sure that they're in charge of the majority of their territory before we start any significant reductions - unless they ask us otherwise.

I didn't think you personnally were being overly pessimistic, nor even Sowell. I just didn't agree with his perception that any country with two or more groups (ethnic, religious, etc.) who are having problems getting along can not succeed at democracy. At least, that's what it sounds like he's saying.

Look, our respective countries have gone down a similar path to that which is necessary for Iraq to calm down, we just took hundreds more years doing it. It's no surprise that there's chaos there. But we're all humans with roughly the same hopes, desires and abilities. If we could do it they can too. They just have to acquire the group wisdom to do so. It doesn't come overnight.

Your last couple of paragraphs resonate with what I just said, I think. You point out that we have the institutions to keep our society peaceful. Well, the Iraqis do too now, but it's going to take a while for them to get used to it, and for the level of violence to drop low enough that those safeguards are sufficient. If ten thousand terrorists were suddenly deposited in the middle of our countries, we'd have problems too, but we'd eventually get back to normal I think.

Frank Warner

I think that, except in periods of deep chaos and confusion, everyone except madmen and mercenaries wants to be free.

And as President Clinton said eight years ago today:

"The United States favors an Iraq that offers its people freedom at home. I categorically reject arguments that this is unattainable due to Iraq's history or its ethnic or sectarian make-up. Iraqis deserve and desire freedom like everyone else."

jj mollo

When Tito was alive, Yugoslavia was a decent place with all the ethnicities and religions mixing peacefully. Even with a socialist economy it was doing pretty well.

Tito was a unifier who had the moral authority to crack down on nationalist separatism. After his death, there was the flowering of a thousand plots, cabals, militias and separatist movements. After that it became a miserable place.

Before he died, Tito had instituted a federalist constitution that should have been satisfactory to all. But some folks had the bright vision of the perfect ethnic paradise in their minds. Slovenia, which was more separate and prosperous than the rest of the country, much like modern Iraqi Kurdistan, was the first to break off. Weak-willed Europeans were willing to let it happen because they couldn't bear the sight of tanks enforcing the rule of a central government.

After that, demagogues became popular and ethnic cleansing started, first subtly, then, when there was no consequence, as overtly as Krystalnacht. The dominoes fell. Parts of Yugoslavia are at last back the the Tito level of economic development, but for the most part, it will never be the same. Many people died to accomplish nothing except uneasy separation. There will probably be complaints, recriminations and border disputes for the foreseeable future.

People in general hate the government and the force it must use to maintain central control, but even in a perfect democracy it would still be necessary. We should remember that democracy requires compromise, and the agreements must be enforced. The alternative to enforcement is chaos, as we have witnessed many times in many places.

jj mollo

On differences within the colonies: The Catholics in Maryland were very different from the Puritans in New England. The elitist southern slaveholders were unacceptable to most northerners. Georgia was colonized by debtors released from prison. The Germans in Pennsylvania spoke "Dutch". There were Swedes in Delaware and Indians everywhere. New York was already an international amalgam, with everything from real Dutchmen to Jews. And Scotch-Irish Calvinists were already pouring west as fast as they could land. Those guys made the Puritans seem easy-going.

Frank Warner

Around 1750, there were few Indians around left to bump into in the British American colonies. They were moving west or dying of smallpox.

The German language in Pennsylvania was one of the few differences that made a difference. And because the Germans were flowing in a little too fast, Ben Franklin and friends made sure Pennsylvania's counties were divided up in a way that made the Germans a minority everywhere. (The move saved English.)

But the biggest divider among the colonists, yes, was slavery. The acceptance of slaveholders turned out to be too much diversity for this new land of liberal idealists. What did this diversity cause? The Civil War.

jj mollo

The important lesson on slavery is not that it divided the nation and caused the Civil War. The important lesson is that we maintained the Union for 85 years while slavery existed. Surely Iraq's divisions are not one that scale.

Frank Warner

True, we maintained the Union. On one obvious level, that's a good achievement. But we maintained a Union that included slavery -- not a good thing. The bitterest fruit of this division was not fed the free, but to those who had no arms.

Because slavery didn't affect white Americans directly, those who saw slavery as a crime or sin nevertheless felt insufficiently inconvenienced or threatened to mobilize quickly against it.

Still, I tend to agree with you, JJ, that the divisions in Iraq are so pointless that they could be set aside with relatively little effort. But when fighting breaks out, things like ethnic pride, perceived threats, lust for vengeance, deadly ideologies and religious fanaticism are difficult to measure.

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