Apr 10, 2013
Dr. Azmi Bishara, General Director of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, gave the opening remarks at the Center's conference commemorating the first ten years since the invasion. Bishara began by describing the Anglo-American invasion as a "pivotal incident which changed the course of history" in the region. According to Bishara, the invasion and occupation of Iraq left an indelible mark on the Arabs' understanding of global politics. He further stressed that the invasion did more than any other event to push back the advancement of democracy in the Arab Levant, by creating hysterical fear of change amongst the population. Examining the chaos and sectarian conflicts brought in the wake of the invasion of Iraq, the populations of the Arab Levant felt that there was nothing to be gained from democracy. The invasion also bred, amongst those populations, a revulsion and disgust towards the elites who were aligned with the colonizers, said Bishara, further hindering social change.
Bishara also made a distinction between the tasks which lay before Arab intellectuals, and those which European and American intellectuals faced. While American and European intellectuals, he said, may have opted to concern themselves with a media and political discourse which promoted lies to mislead public opinion in the run-up to the war, Arab scholars were faced with a different set of questions. "How can we honestly demand that those accused of crimes carried out in ... Iraq," asked Bishara, "be brought to justice while the very same criminals are received with open arms in other Arab countries?" Setting a tone followed by later speakers at the conference, Bishara devoted a large part of his address to the impunity which individual politicians enjoyed, specifically Tony Blair. Focusing on the former British Prime Minister, the ACRPS Director pointed out that it was "doubly ironic ... that Blair, whom enlightened sections of the British body politic want to bring to trial, was the Quartet's peace envoy and has been appointed a consultant to several Arab governments including the previous regime in Libya." Mentioning how Arab governments, in complete contrast to their populations, had stood shamelessly on the side of the invasion, Bishara's address was a call to arms to the Arab revolutions. The real lesson which the experience of the invasion and occupation of Iraq could teach the revolutionaries, said Bishara, isthe importance of a democracy founded on the twin concepts of citizenship and national sovereignty. Arab intellectuals, he said, were duty-bound to face these questions.
According to the ACRPS Director, it was the Arab cultural identity shared by the majority of the Iraqi population which would provide a bulwark in defense of democracy for Iraq, as well as linking it to the wider Arab environment. The challenge which Bishara suggested faced Arab societies, was balancing the need for social integration through a common cultural identity against the cultural specificity and national rights of the minorities. Another important point which, as Bishara pointed out was especially pressing given the sectarian pluralism of the Arab Levant, was not to confuse the pluralism of identity groups with the pluralism of liberal, representative democracies. The risk was that Arab nation-states would rid themselves of the cloak of an Arab national identity, and replace it with sectarianism as the bond tying citizens to the state. "The Iraqi experience has taught all of us very much in this respect and the hope is that Syria might learn from Iraq's experience."
Bishara closed this speech by bridging the various themes which he touched on. "To combat the consequences of the US invasion of Iraq is to acknowledge the existence of our shared citizenship on which national loyalty, and a rejection of sectarian loyalty to foreign powers, is based. It also means the acknowledgment of the majority's Arab identity which binds the entire country to the surrounding environment. It further implies a refusal of the sectarian system whilst never losing sight of the religious and confessional pluralism in Arab societies."