Thursday, February 27, 2003

# Posted 10:39 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE ARAB BACKLASH: Martin Kimel has responded in detail to my thoughts on whether or not there will be an Arab backlash in the event of a US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. (I can't figure out where to find permalinks on Martin's page, so if you don't mind, just hit CTRL+F and search for OxBlog.)

Martin's first point is that the projected length of the US occupation will be at least two years, a fact which might reinforce impressions of imperialism. If the occupation of Iraq follows the German and Japanese precedents, however, there will be municipal and provincial elections after around a year of occupation. Thus Iraqis will have considerable control of their own lives even if a US general has the final say on issues of national importance. As such, Muslims in neighboring states will probably recognize that the occupation is not an imperialist venture.

Martin next raises the issue of whether Muslims will perceive the US as anti-Islamic if -- or perhaps because -- it has chosen to bring democracy to Iraq. To support that point, Martin refers to bin Laden's statement that the war on terror is an anti-Islamic crusade regardless of whether or not it topples dictators such as Saddam. My guess is that most Muslims don't really buy into that sort of underhanded logic. Even if Muslims have their doubts about democracy, I don't think there is any reason they should see it as fundamentally un-Islamic, provided their views on having a good time are less strict than those of the Taliban.

The most interesting point Martin makes is one about the psychology of perception. Whereas I figure that most Muslims are either somewhat open-minded about the US or fully convinced that it is an imperialist power, Martin suggests that any given individual may have a tipping point at which one more American insult send them over the edge.

While I have some background in political psychology, I don't think I can offer decisive statements about how the average human being thinks, let alone how Arabs and Muslims form their political perceptions. Even so, the tipping-point model seems somewhat improbable. It essentially posits that certain classes of events transform open-minded individuals into closed-minded ones.

Regardless of the fact that such a transformation doesn't really fit with what I know about the psychology of persuasion (let alone common sense), I'm enough of a novice at this to be less than sure about my position. Still, even if one grants that individuals may have tipping points, is the invasion of Iraq the sort of event that might send people over the edge?

I tend to doubt it. First of all, the impact of an invasion on non-Iraqis will be much less direct than it is on the people of Iraq. As such, it is hard to imagine that it would affect their psychology so dramatically. Second, another invasion of Iraq would not be all that different from the first one, even though Saddam had more directly provoked his neighbors in 1991.

To support the tipping point logic, Martin provided the example of Yusuf Qaradawi, a Muslim televangelist who has long supported suicide bombing, but then supported the US war in Afghanistan, while now denouncing the prospective invasion of Iraq. Leaving aside my previous argument that the US can work with men such as Qaradawi to reform Arab governments (an argument Martin strongly disagrees with), I'd have to say Qaradawi is not a likely to have a tipping point.

First of all, Qaradawi is an intellectual, and thus much less likely to have impulsive views about politics. If there is an uprising in response to the US invasion of Iraq, it will come from below, not above (although those above will take advantage of it). Moreover, the simple fact that Qaradawi could back an American war against an Islamic state suggests that he is far too open-minded to be thrown over the age by American aggression against a secular dictator like Saddam.

So those are my thoughts. As someone with only a primitive knowledge of Middle Eastern politics, I won't stand by them without reservations, especially when confronted with solid arguments like Martin's. But I think I've made a logical case and one that does pretty well on the facts. Let me know what you think.
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