Tuesday, June 17, 2003

"Dear Michael, no one here will say that the Americans liberated Iraq as they did Germany, despite the many similarities", writes Abbas Beydoun, Lebanese writer, in his final letter to his German colleague Michael Kleeberg.

Dear Michael,

No one here will say that the Americans liberated Iraq as they did Germany, despite the many similarities. The reason is that the Americans themselves do not want it to be thus. Bush speaks of democracy, but he speaks more of God’s will, of Christ’s will, of the war against evil. The Iraqis have heard this kind of talk before, in one way or another. They have heard it from Saddam, who also thought that he had been assigned a mission by God, and they have heard it from the clergymen and the fundamentalist movements. They know it is meaningless talk, and they are surprised to hear it coming from a man who derives all his power from science and technology. To put it in a nutshell, Bush’s discourse did not convince anyone of the necessity of war, and will not convince anyone of his explanations of the war. However, the significant event is that the Iraqis are rid of Saddam Hussein.

The graves that are being discovered every day show the extent to which that is a real victory. It is an orphaned victory that has no owner, but it is wonderful. The Iraqis did not participate in the most important event of their lives. It came to them as a gift, and that is very confusing. They do not know what to do with that gift. They tried their first lesson in democracy by directing it against the Americans themselves. It was necessary for them to shout, protest and resist through demonstrations, and they have done this profusely, as though they could not be satisfied by this new game to which they were unaccustomed. They shouted against unemployment and hunger; protested against the looting and went in their millions to the Shi’ite holy capital, weeping and lamenting. They cried and they shouted. Freedom, as we know, is not bestowed. It is cruel, it criticises and it curses. Actually, the cursing and the token violence have begun. Following Saddam’s Stalinist cruelty, counter-violence springs up, and it is also repressed and searching for a victim.

It is frightening that the cycle of violence is not ending. It is more frightening that there are those amongst the victims and the exiles who want the vicious circle of violence to continue. Iraq has not experienced true democracy since it was established. Saddam Hussein and his regime destroyed the state and society from within. During the last decade of his rule, Iraq was a jungle, and all forms of assault were permissible and perpetrated by the Ba’thists, the intelligence services and the president’s relatives. There was no law. Today’s Iraq, which is seething, is the Iraq from which Saddam Hussein banished any authoritative reference or law. Therefore, no one knows what must be done. As the answer is awaited, people are distracted by their rancour and resentment. Strangely, the other Arabs do not understand this. They are starting to talk about armed resistance against the Americans, as though it were not enough for the Iraqis to have experienced fifty years of bloodshed, killing and graves and as though they must start another cycle of bloodshed and violence.

Dear Michael . . .

The situation is confusing. No one wants to understand what is going on. Everyone is holding on to their preconceived ideologies as though they were afraid that a new era would begin. They speak once again of colonialism and resistance. They do not want to understand that the demise of 50 years of dictatorship is a new life, merely because this was brought about by the hated Americans. There is a very great separation from reality taking place. I fear that we will live in an intentional and deliberate state of separation from reality. We simply do not want to begin. There is an invitation that we do not want to accept. We are hesitating and no one is actually interested in helping us. The Americans have won the war, but they think that the victor is allowed to commit all kinds of stupidities. People received them as liberators, but they have ended up hating them. In any case, that is not a big issue. Perhaps the Iraqis, who inhabit almost the oldest Arab country, are finding ways of defending their character. Ways other than armed resistance, of course. If they find those ways, it will be possible for the rest of the Arabs to learn from them. It will be possible for the rest of the Arabs be rid of their shame, of their deep-seated guilt and of their impotence so that they can find a historic moment for themselves.

Saddam Hussein’s regime has ended and the regimes that resemble it are threatened. An era has ended. We may experience a huge vacuum for a time, but we are hopeful of another beginning.

If something serious happens in Iraq, we will stop being ashamed of ourselves for allowing the Americans to undertake on our behalf what we were unable to do. We will start thinking of the future. And perhaps we will think that freedom is also a wealth, like oil, and that we can take advantage of it for the sake of a new era.

Translation from Arabic: Samira Kawer

If you're interested in the complete six letter correspondence of Beydoun and Kleeberg, click here.