The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Reconsider attitude toward Iraq war

Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, November 6, 2003

If we view the war in Iraq with a monolithic approach, i.e. “American Democracy” versus “Islamic Fundamentalism,” then we do not do justice to the political realities and complex truths of recent history. I must respectfully disagree with Greg Parnell’s Nov. 3 column, but this is not solely a response to him.

I did not and still do not believe we should have gone to war with Iraq. I do recognize, though, the fact that we are over there now, and we must remain until the job is completed. And neither the Republicans nor the Democrats should use the rising military death toll to their political advantage.

At the very same time, however, we must examine the reasons given for this war so that over-simplistic generalizations do not feed further clashes; this must be done even at the risk of being labeled “unpatriotic” or part of the “anti-war left.”

It is safe to say that America sought to usurp Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath regime, for good or bad reasons. But what exactly is Ba’athism? It is a romantic, secular, radical Arab nationalism; it literally means “resurrection.” The party was founded in 1946 by Michel Aflaq – a Christian – and Salah al-Din al-Bitar. Arab civilization will always be tied to Islam, but Ba’athism’s focus is secular and has proven to be quite hostile to Islamist goals.

Let us think, then, how could Saddam Hussein, perhaps the least Islamic of any Arab ruler, have used God as a rallying point in 1991 and in 2003? How come we tacitly supported his regime in the 1980s to contain a rising Islamic state, Iran? If recent guerilla attacks in Iraq are by Hussein loyalists, then are the attackers “fundamentalists”?

My questions do not aim to convert anybody’s opinions about the war, and I realize I have not made substantive arguments here. Rather, I am worried about a recent American tendency. You see, the Ba’athists and other Arab nationalists were very good at manipulating history. They toyed with academic curriculums, simplified past events and immersed students in a selective glorified account of Arab history, all in the name of awakening or sustaining the “Arab nation.”

I do not suggest that Americans have gone that far.

However, this “good/free v. evil/oppressed” approach of ours is dangerous and completely false because it ignores a shared history, shared responsibilities and, more importantly, commonalities, and it is tiresomely self-glorifying. If our only understandings of this history come from the news networks and The Observer, I am wary that we might take on characteristics of a regime we were supposed to destroy.

Terence Fitzgibbonssenior Alumni HallNov. 4