Brown Man’s Burden?

Ali Eteraz is “severely hurt” by Western Muslim attitudes to Iraqi insurgency. Best let him explain his pain himself, from a post entitled Western Muslim Opinion On The War in Iraq:

I have to say, I am severely hurt by what Islam has become in Iraq. In fact, to say that this blatant murdering of civilians by the militants contains any remnants of Islam, is difficult if not impossible. The Islam of the Sunni militants is a theology of anarchy which has no respect for the rules of war, or the values of Islam. The Shi’a themselves are no less. Islam does not stand for total war, but the Sunni and Shi’a militants violate that prescription almost regularly (to the tune of thousands of murders of average Iraqi civilians). We Western Muslims can oppose the American occupation, but we also have to oppose the way the insurgents are brutalizing and defilling life and human dignity.

As someone who falls into the category of “Western Muslim” myself, I feel compelled to disagree with this nonsense. Not because the inhumanity of Iraqi insurgents doesn’t make me sick to the stomach but because Eteraz’s post is symptomatic of this widespread notion that suggests that Muslims (and Muslims specifically) who don’t oppose the sectarian violence in Iraq are a priori supporters of insurgents because they are “anti-USA” or are hardwired to view the conflict in terms of the oldest Islamic internecine dispute of them all: Sunni vs Shi’a.

There are other Muslim “readings” of the insurgency out there, believe it or not. A far more mature and reasoned ‘warts and all’ explanation of the insurgency and the sectarianism which begets it, which we now call “Civil war in Iraq”, can be found in this post by Mash of OHILTSW. Another Western Muslim, who, whilst he’s at it, does a good job of avoiding the silly strawman trap set by Eteraz:

The killing in Iraq right now has very little to do with “resistance” to the occupier. The killing of Shia by Sunnis is not meant to drive the Americans out of Iraq. The American presence in Iraq currently is almost irrelevant. The American invasion and occupation was the catalyst for the civil war, and to that end, it has succeeded spectacularly in destroying civil society in Iraq.

There are a number of conflicts going on in Iraq. There is first the sectarian civil war between the Shia and Sunni Arab communities. There is the struggle for Kirkuk taking place between the Iraqi Arabs and the Kurds (this in many ways is the most intractable of the conflicts facing Iraq). There is a fight emerging between the multiple factions within the Shia community - this is the bloody struggle between the Sadrists and the SCIRI. The government of al Maliki will be a casualty of the battle within the Shia community. There is an Iraqi nationalist insurgency going on against the Americans. And lastly, there is a battle between foreign Islamists and the American forces in Iraq. So, when Iraqis butcher Iraqi, they are settling their own scores - they are not killing Iraqis to expel the Americans. Only people like Dick Cheney in their narcissistic existence believe that Iraqis kill each other because they don’t like him or his boss.


So, in modern day Iraq, the fight between the Shia and the Sunni once again is over political power. To put it crudely, the dispute is over which tribe should rule Iraq after Saddam Hussein. The unresolved tribal dispute that has its origins in Islamic history, continues to rage in Iraq now that civil society has collapsed. In this fight, George W Bush’s “War on Terror” is irrelevant.

75 Responses to “Brown Man’s Burden?”

  1. Zeeshan Says:

    Nice one. I tire of people lamenting “the state of Islam” with respect to one or another messy political situation, without first looking at the underlying politics. It smacks of intellectual laziness.

  2. Chris Says:

    I’m not a Muslim, and I am generally critical of both my countries (USA) involvment in the Middle East and of the Arab pennisula’s inability to figure out what’s going on. This comment however is right on the money, the Western News agencies are painting a picture that simply is not true, when the british drew up lines in Araba they drew them through tribal territories. Europeans are only smug because there wasn’t 24 hours news broadcasting there disputes (using both chemical warfare and genocide). This conflicts generally peter out when natural barriars arise and the general communty gets tired of bloodshed. That being said I am very sorry for my countries roel in bringing this about and pray that Muslims will be ables to grant the average American a level of for forgiveness.


  3. M'Eddie Says:

    Thanks for pointing me to Marsh’s article. I was looking for and appreciated the nuanced analysis he brought to the conflictS in Iraq. One quibble I would have with him is the suggestion that the ‘debaathification” resulted in the destruction of Iraqi civil society. The removal of the Baathists merely allowed the conflicts seething beneath under Sadam’s repression to rise to the fore; its not as if there was any cohesive civil society then. Much like intrastate conflicts breaking out after the Cold War, centrist controlled regimes could only control civil conflicts, not quell them. Their resolution, unfortunately, requires clear winners, or a feat of collective humanitarian enlightenment that is currently beyond the Iraqis, or the Americans, or any of the so-called Coalition of Willing or Unwilling..

    Wassaaap Faisal Bhai! Happy New Year to you and all who read your Blog.

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