Saturday, August 13, 2005

Friends of Democracy

Michael Totten while subbing for Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit tells us about the Friends of Democracy website, which is billed as providing translations of some of the Arabic to Arabic blogging conversations going on. He writes:
Iraqis who blog in English are aware that their audience is primarily Western. Iraqis who blog in Arabic are talking to each other in their own language. Reading Friends of Democracy is your chance to eavesdrop.
OK, so let's go over to FOD and check it out. I'll take three posts at random and see how they hit me. The logical place is to start with the first post:

By the way, I heard an exchange between a citizen and a food ration distributor the other day. The citizen asked if the monthly rations had arrived yet.

"Yes," the distributor said. “We received two items, beans and soap!"

The poor citizen angrily responded: "No wonder everything is upside down when our trade minister is a Kurd."

Keep in mind that the Iraqi bloggers who are reporting this are, compared to most people who are going to participate in the proposed Iraqi democracy, better educated than most. The people complaining about a minister because he is a Kurd will comprise most of the people who are going to call the shots. (It's like that in India, too, BTW.) I'm reminded of the scene in Peter O'Toole's rendition of Col. T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia trying to bring democracy to the Bedouin tribes. It's really like that in much of Asia.

Scrolling down a little (we're still in the first post, BTW), there is this tidbit:

To the Minister of Housing,

We wish to offer our sincere thanks and appreciation for your ministry's plans to build apartment complexes in Najaf exclusively for exiles and expatriates who suffered from full bellies and from stacking Euros and Dollars while enduring the extremely difficult living conditions in Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and... Iran.

They did not enjoy the pleasures of eating bread made from black (unrefined) flour or drinking muddy water during the reign of Saddam.

Resentment against affluent expatriate outsiders who did not rough it with the rest. If some of the reins of power are being handed over to some of these expatriates, then that would explain this reaction.

Then there is this quip that is tangentially about gender:

To Sayyid Ammar Al-Hakim,

The people of Najaf sincerely appreciate your educational efforts during your repeated visits to girls' high schools and colleges. We wish you would extend this honor to male high schools and colleges and not to limit it to members of the fair sex.

It is difficult to me to read much into this, but parda, or separation of the sexes, is still a social virtue there. Without more information I don't think any more can be read into it. My assessment of the first post is positive: people have time to worry about social triffles rather than worry about whether or not they will be living the next moment. That could mean things on the ground are getting marginally better.

The next post is a report of a lecture and round table discussion about women and the constitution. Nice pictures of beautifully dressed women in attendence, most of them wearing the hijab, head scarf. Here's the money quote that points to exacerbating the conflict between the sacred and secular within Iraqi society:
The Personal Affairs Law’s undermining of women's rights was a hot topic. So were the issues of a woman’s freedom to travel without a sibling male escort, “honor killings,” and the rights of women to assume high posts in government. The participants also condemned the suggestion to call Iraq an Islamic country.
Under Saddam there was a considerable degree of secularism, so it's likely this conflict will pick up where it left off. The big difference will be that without Saddam religious groups will feel less restrained in opposing the more secular leaning people. It will be interesting to see where this goes. To early to tell yet.

The third post at the very bottom is about religious conspiracy theories (that's its title, too). This post examines some stories of irreligious girls who were transformed into an animal because of defiling the Quran, concludes these stories are hoaxes, and the author wonders why Muslims are trying to deceive other Muslims.

I do not understand these childish attempts to fool Islam and Muslims by other Muslims.

Is it an attempt to glorify God, as if He were sitting there waiting for us to fabricate some illusionary divine victory in order to prove His power?

To me it just looks like another conspiracy theory where everyone is supposedly out there to get Islam and Muslims - only we discover yet again that the real conspiracy was actually plotted by other Muslims.
I guess these things probably started with a fraud, and it is things like this which eventually serve to discredit religious leaders themselves. The author of the post seems to believe that this is not something good in the sense that it unnecessarily discredits religious leaders.
The strangest thing about this incident is that many mosques helped spread the story without making any effort made to confirm it, as should have been the responsibility of the mosque's Imam and preacher.
It appears that this poster is concerned that Islam maintain a good repuation among its adherents; the poster does not seem to be as concerned with outsiders. And indeed, it is the insiders, not the outsiders, who matter in creating the acceptability of religion and the authority of religious leaders.

From this sampling, my take on things in Iraq are that they aren't so different from things over here. We also have problems with our politicians, public gender issues are hotly debated, and at any one time half of America thinks we have a jerk in the White House. The big difference seems to be that enough Iraqis have heavy weapons and no compunction about using them to settle social and political disputes. Aside from that, we seem to be on the same page.

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