IraqInshallah, I'll be writing about some my experiences in Iraq over the next few weeks. Having just returned, I was curious about the US press coverage of Arbaeen - and going through some of my e-mails I came across this recent article by the otherwise highly respected independent journalist Dahr Jamail. The article discusses women's concerns in present day US occupied Iraq - his opening statement raised some red flags for me that I'll address:
WASHINGTON, Mar 6 (IPS) - Iraq, where women once had more rights and freedom than most others in the Arab world, has turned deadly for women who dream of education and a professional career.
Former dictator Saddam Hussein maintained a relatively secular society, where it was common for women to take up jobs as professors, doctors and government officials. In today's Iraq, women are being killed by militia groups for not conforming to strict Islamist ways.
A couple of things I've learnt over the past few years is to critically read left-progressive-liberal sources of news, that more than often promote a particular ideological slant. In this case, as is the case of most other left-liberal sources, the slant is towards making it appear that secularism is superior to Islam - and, even if unintended, a glossing over of the crimes of Saddam - because he was a secularist.
This, however, should not be taken to mean that US occupied Iraq is any better, it is not, but this fact also should not make anyone romanticise Saddam's hated rule.
La la Amreeka, la la Saddam
1. It is utterly bogus to make statements about women's rights and "freedoms" under Saddam, when he had a large majority of the country (primarily Shi'a) living in utter and dire poverty. And then to not even mention the fact that so many tens of thousands of Shi'a men and women, and scholars who chose to even barely speak up, were either killed off or shipped off to torture chambers. The higher "education" that was available, was only for a select elite group who were willing to shed their religious and cultural identity and take on Saddamism. Infact, if we look at some stats, only 25% of females got to even attend secondary school (37% male).
2. Estimates about those who attended the Arbaeen commemoration in Karbala vary between 6-8 million. Whatever the number, this year was the biggest gathering - and I can safely say that 90% of those who attended were Iraqis themselves. And I can also safely say that a significant majority of those millions who walked for miles, slept outdoors, in tents, or inside the compound of the shrine of Imam Hussein (AS) were Iraqi women.
I find it very difficult to assume that all of these millions of Iraqi women are now being forced to wear the chador/hijaab etc. I think what took place is that as much as Saddam wanted to erase Islam - and specifically Shi'a Islam from the character of Iraqis - the traditions just went underground, and that too not very far from the surface. In this respect, Iraq's former US puppet Saddam has a lot in common with another former US puppet, the so-called "shah" of Iran.
If indeed Iraq had been successfully secularized, then perhaps one might have seen an outpouring of emotion the first year of post-Sadaam Arabaeen, but now for the fifth year - and with ever increasing numbers of millions of Iraqi women, men, and children --- that would not have been the case. Fact is, a very large segment of Iraqi society places a very deep value on Islam, and this is obviously true in the large Shi'a areas of southern Iraq, and large sections of Baghdad.
The issue for large majority areas of Iraq is not about "secularism" vs. Islam --- that is a useless debate to get trapped into, and that one finds all too often in the liberal-left-progressive sections of Americans. The issue in Iraq, that should concern all Muslims, is how will this majority of Iraqis implement Islamic principles in their society and in their lives. The question is about if this is going to be just full of sectarianism and tribalism albeit with an Islamic face, or will Iraqis be able to overcome their numerous divisions - as they seem to do (at least on the surface) during Arbaeen and Ashura. A divided Iraq will remain America's booty, a more or less united federated Islamic Iraq will have far more beneficial consequences both for Iraq, and for the people of the region...