Here Comes the Election!
by Stephen Schwartz
Blood continues to flow as Iraqis prepare to answer bullets with ballots. Americans must mourn the losses in the ranks of our uniformed forces. But the enemies of Iraqi democracy have made clear that for them the Western media paradigm posing American invaders against Iraqi "resistance" is merely background noise. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the lead murderer in Iraq, issued a diatribe on Monday, January 24, denouncing the very concept of "democracy," and reinforcing his followers' longstanding commitment to one principle: permanent massacre of Shia Muslims, the majority in the country.
Zarqawi railed against democracy as illegitimate because it is based on majority rule and pluralism. He further accused the United States of plotting to establish Shia rule over Iraq, declaring that the Shias "will spread their insidious beliefs, and Baghdad and all the Sunni areas will become Shiite. Even now," he continued, "unbelief and polytheism" are increasingly visible. His rhetoric, allegedly in defense of Sunni Islam, was replete with hate speech against Shias, referring to them as "rafidah" or "rejectors of religion." Amusingly, Zarqawi echoed the claim voiced by Westerners suffering a fear of Shiism, charging that four million Iranians had crossed the border to subvert the process.
But the real threat to the Iraqi balloting comes more from across the country's southern border, than from its eastern frontier. Zarqawi's bombast reflects the origins of the Iraqi terror campaign in the Wahhabi ideology that is the ruling Islamic sect in the country's giant southern neighbor, Saudi Arabia. Wahhabis loathe democracy; they teach Sunni Muslims living in the U.S. and other Western nations to abstain from voting in local elections. By contrast, Iraqi Shia Ayatollah Ali Sistani urges Muslims living abroad to participate in local politics, and even the clerical dictatorship in Shia Iran makes concessions to principles of popular sovereignty.
In addition, the Saudi schools and state-subsidized Wahhabi clerics habitually employ the term "rafidah" to refer to the Shia minority in their own country. And Wahhabis are infamous for their claim that Shia Muslims have fallen away from Islam, into unbelief and the worship of multiple divinities. The Baathist regime in Syria, which stands accused of assisting Iraqi Baathists, never uses such a vocabulary; it is headed by Alawites, an Islamic sect even more unorthodox, from the Sunni perspective, than the Shias.
The ideology of Zarqawi and his acolytes has a brief history in Islam. The Prophet Muhammad himself never predicted that his community of faith, or umma, would fall back into unbelief. Until the rise of Wahhabism in the desert wastelands of central Arabia 250 years ago, such accusations, as well as allegations that Muslims had surrendered to polytheism or apostasy, were exceedingly rare in the Islamic world. For Wahhabis, however, they are standard theological practice, since Wahhabism aims, above all, at control.
The jihadists in Iraq come from as far away as Uzbekistan -- and even include some American Muslims. But Saudi Wahhabis are especially fearful of a successful election in Iraq, because a Shia-led protodemocratic regime on their northern border spells the inevitable end of the repressive Saudi autocracy. Post-election Iraq, with its economic and cultural resources, will inspire the large Shia minority in Saudi Arabia to press for their rights; it will stir the Shia majority in Bahrein, which is ruled by Sunnis, in the same direction -- and it will encourage a transition in Iran. It may even stimulate political change in Syria.
That has, of course, been the essence of the Bush administration's strategy throughout the intervention in Iraq. The Iraqi Shias have reacted with limitless joy to the possibility that the voting box will ensure their control over their holy sites in Karbala and Najaf, and Iraqi Kurds have called for the erection of a Western-style constitutional regime for years. But it is now clear that the majority of able-bodied Iraqis, men and women alike, wish to exercise their voting rights. Iraqis outside the country have the right to vote, and although media report low registration rates among those resident in the U.S., nearly half of the 25,000 Iraqi Canadians have signed up; some 280,000 Iraqis living abroad, out of about a million, have registered. Iraqi voting registries are open in Detroit, Nashville, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, and for many Iraqis in America these locations are too few and too distant for them to easily register, and then return to cast their votes. But in Iraq itself, citizens do not need to register; they can vote if their names appeared on the Saddam-era "Oil for Food" rosters.
I believe with President Bush that the election will be successful, and that Iraq will soon have a sovereign government. As I have written repeatedly, the most dismaying aspect of the entire proceeding, aside from the terrible loss of human life brought about by the terrorists, is the adoption of an idiom contemptuous of democracy by Western, and especially American advocacy groups, media, and "liberal" politicians. The same activists, commentators and elected officials who clamored for democracy in the "underdeveloped" countries in the radical '60s, and against numerous right wing regimes in Asia, Latin America, and Africa, now express a deep loathing for the globalization of democracy. The liberals and left have reached a point of corruption below which it is difficult to imagine them going.
Perhaps they are merely jealous, because President Bush has brilliantly and eloquently seized the moment, returning the Republican party -- the party of Lincoln -- to its origins as a force for global liberation. The liberal agenda has been freed from the clutches of racial and economic demagogues. Bush, in his Wednesday press conference, repeated his prior commitments to
"a bold, new goal for the future... I believe this country is best when it heads toward an ideal world... And in doing so, we're reflecting universal values and universal ideas that honor each man and woman, that recognize [that] human rights and human dignity depend upon human liberty. I'm looking forward to the challenge, and I'm looking forward to reaching out to our friends and allies to convince them of the necessity to continue to work together to help liberate people."
With these eloquent phrases, President Bush appropriately echoed our national poet, Walt Whitman, in the aftermath of our civil war, and words I quoted much earlier in the Iraq epic, and which I quote again, with even greater optimism:
-- Then turn, and be not alarm'd, O Libertad -- turn your undying face,
The success of the vote in Iraq will be a victory for America, and for every freedom-loving man and woman on earth.