Monday, March 22, 2010

Iraq's culture of the qundara

Anthony Shadid wrote an interesting article in which he discusses the culture of the qundara (shoe) in Iraq. It is sad how easily some Iraqis resort to violence.

A friend once called it the culture of the “kundara,” the word here for shoe.

“When anyone is against you, when anyone has differences with me, I will put a kundara in his mouth, I will shove a kundara down his throat, I will hit him with a kundara,” he said in 2006, long before the spectacle of President Bush’s visit to Baghdad.

“We live in a kundara culture,” he said.

The roots of political violence run deep in Iraq, long a turbulent frontier between Romans and Persians, Ottomans and Safavids and, now, Americans and Iranians.

The Lebanese American journalist did not mention the role of the Arabs in the history of sectarian conflict in Iraq, even though thousands of "mujahideen" from Morocco to Salt to KSA volunteered to become suicide bombers in Iraq and ended up killing mostly Iraqis. Nevertheless Shadid wrote a brutally honest article:

In late-night musings, some here will find a metaphor for it in the rivers. For Egypt, with its reputation for humor and revelry, the Nile was that country’s good fortune, surging waters bringing farms to the desert. The Tigris, an artist once told me, destroyed when it flooded, reckless and unpredictable as it was. It left hard personalities in its wake, delivering Iraqis their well-deserved reputation for toughness.

Others are quick to volunteer the words of al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf, the medieval governor of Iraq, who infamously called his subjects “people of discord and hypocrisy.” “I see heads before me that are ripe and ready for the plucking,” he told them, “and I am the one to pluck them, and I see blood glistening between the turban and the beards.”

People of discord and hypocrisy? Sounds like the Arabs in general. Are there bigger hypocrites than the people who inhabit the heart of the Arabian peninsula? I doubt it. I have written much about Arab hypocrisy on my blog, and yes many Iraqis are hypocrites too. Shadid goes on to quote Joost Hiltermann, who said correctly that Iraq's culture of political violence was inculcated by Saddam's regime:

The medieval governor had a modern incarnation in Saddam Hussein, whose lieutenants once executed a scholarly dissident by driving nails into his forehead. But even Mr. Hussein’s tyranny, with its traumatic legacy, goes only so far in capturing the reflexive pivot to violence.

Before he took power, politics were still existential. In 1963, when the Baath Party overthrew Abdel-Karim Qassem, who himself toppled the monarchy, Baathists sought to eradicate his Communist allies, killing and torturing thousands in a three-day frenzy whose legacy, even now, colors sentiments between Sunni Arabs and Shiite Arabs. After Mr. Hussein’s fall, the country still reeled from the aftermath of war with Iran in the 1980s, when more than a million Iraqi men bore arms and 600,000 others served in militias. In all, a tenth of Iraq’s population became soldiers, schooled in violence.

In vastly asymmetrical ways, Mr. Hussein’s opponents in exile practiced a style of politics the dictator himself honed — the insularity and secrecy of a clandestine movement — and the dissident leaders brought it with them when they returned after the American invasion.

Time has to pass, the optimists say. But even the hopeful will lament that generosity is sparse across a landscape haunted by its traumas and still demarcated by their legacies.

“There is a desire for open politics,” said Joost Hiltermann, a director at the International Crisis Group. “But there is a tendency to intolerance that is deeply ingrained by the former regime and by the reality of opponents fighting that regime.”

“It’s very much the political culture inculcated by the former regime,” he added.

Iraq Pundit did not like Shadid's article, but he concedes there is some truth to it. He points out there is political corruption and violence in every country. It is a good point. Iraq Pundit:

It's hard for me to see western analysis as anything but the western reporters and other experts looking down their noses at Iraqis. If they had respect for Iraqi people, they would not focus on the anger of some who are justifiably angry at the violence of recent years. Of course one can and should mention that violence. But there is so much more to Iraq than some murderous thugs kidnapping and killing civilians.

Even in America corruption exists in high levels of government. Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich is a good example. But I think it's ok to admit that Iraq is in general much worse on the scale of corruption and political violence.

Iraq's culture of the qundara is the primary reason I did not write about my father's run for Parliament in this year's election. My father returned from Iraq over the weekend. His party did not receive enough votes to win a single seat in Parliament. He is naturally disappointed.

I thought about the possible consequences of publicly endorsing my dad. Most readers of my blog are not Iraqi anyway, and I would guess that at least half of the Iraqis who read my blog disagree with my opinions. A commenter who calls himself "Saddam Hussein" has encouraged another (Jordanian American) commenter to go to my house and "kick my ass". These are the kind of idiots who contribute to the culture of the qundara. These are the kind of people who killed Mithal al Alusi's sons and continue to attack government employees, including Iraqi judges. These are the kind of people who would attack my father just because he is my father. So in the end I decided that posting about my father's campaign would not have helped him and I thought it may even hurt him.

My dad is disappointed in his loss, but he wishes the best for Iraq. Yesterday I talked with my dad and we agreed that a win for Allawi would hopefully appease the Baathists, at least, and hopefully there will be less violence and less shoe-throwing so that Iraq can return to normalcy and economic growth.


Saddam Hussein said...

You are the kundara and your father is beneath the kundara. He was a traitor and an agent of the state department as we found out recently. And he did not run for the puppet parliament. He went looking to work for the occupation. Maybe he wanted his old job back. He deserves a kundara in his mouth just like you deserve a kundara in your mouth. In a liberated Iraq he would be captured put on trial and executed for being a traitor and a collaborator. People like you and your father are the kundaras and hopefully the jordanian brother will find you and kick your ass. You need a good ass kicking you kundara ibn kundara

Iraqi Mojo said...

What was actually revealed: "In 2003, my father was invited by the Iraqi Reconstruction and Development Council (a US Administration sponsored organization) to join teams of professional Iraqi expatriates to oversee Iraq's reconstruction. He arrived in Baghdad two weeks after the fall of the regime as a CPA oil advisor, but after working for four months on a plan for oil industry reconstruction, he resigned out of deep disappointment. Disbanding the Iraqi army and police and creating a serious security vacuum in the country, allowing looting and destruction all over the place, and the consequent spread of rampant crime, corruption and the ensuing lack of security were intolerable to him."

Iraqi Mojo said...

Saddam, it seems the Iraqi people have voted for Ayad Allawi, the ex-CIA guy (like you) who was appointed as PM by the Americans after they toppled you and your khanazeer.

Iraqi Mojo said...

It was also revealed that Habis el Urduni admires your balls, Saddam. But that wasn't surprising.

|3run0 said...

I'm sorry your Dad lost, Mojo. It seems the smaller parties fared very badly in general, and that voting consolidated in a few large blocks.

David All said...

Thanks for posting Anthony Shadid's article. Iraq's history of violence and repression has to be acknowledged and remembered if it is ever to be overcome. It may take a generation or more before the habits formed under generations of oppression that climaxed with Saddam's brutal regime are overcome. If this election is accepted by the Iraqi People as free and fair, a good step will have been made in the right direction. Sorry that your father lost Mojo, maybe in the next election he will win.

OT and not directly related to Irag:
"Report: Blackwater Execs may be charged" for illegally having automatic weapons at their company's North Carolina headquarters. Link to