The Collapse of the Republic of Fear

The Collapse of the Republic of Fear

The collapse of the tyrant in Baghdad is not the end of the matter, but it is the beginning of what must be done so that tyranny does not become worse in the fragile Arab system, and we become forced to pay that heavy price of repression and destruction.

This spectacle will remain hanging in the minds of all of us for a long time. It was a symbol of an awesome collapse, even if it was empty of glory. The statue used to stand tall, raising its hand as if it were ordering everyone. When the tank pulled it with a steel rope, the hand bent downwards as if it were pleading, trying to stop the deluge of shoes and stones. Then the statue fell to the ground, and everyone climbed onto it, dancing and cheering. The hand remained raised up high as if in supplication. This was the moment of the end for a regime which had lasted far too long with its oppression. Under its shadow a quantity of atrocities and crimes had accumulated that was more than any people or nation could bear. In spite of that, the statue of Saddam Hussein was hollow inside and was supported only by two metal rods, as if it were a title for the regime which it represented, extremely massive from the outside and absolutely hollow inside.

I do not want to go a great deal into the events of the end of the Iraqi regime. Everyone has done that extensively, and the matter has gone beyond journalists, analysts and retired Arab war commanders to psychiatrists, sociologists and Arab satellite channel television stars, both male and female. Nevertheless, only rarely has any of them diagnosed the cause of the wound which has been bleeding for more than thirty years of our lives, destroyed the greater part of our wealth, and brought us all as Arabs in spite of the differences in circumstances and ideas, to an impasse that we could well have done without. I do not want to deal with all this so much as to approach the phenomenon which, in my view, was the prime activating cause of this cycle of evils, the phenomenon of the tyrant , the sole ruler, the dictator, the head of the family, the leader, the necessity, the inspirer, the deliverer from error, and other descriptions which many Arab writers with such eloquence vied with each other to formulate and write in style.

Oriental Despotism

The way in which the lifespan of the rule of this tyrant who has fallen was extended may pose a question about what is called oriental despotism . This is not an innocent term, but the circumstances of things make it permissible to ask the question with the assumption of good intentions aimed at immunizing the present and the future.

Even those peoples who have lived for centuries under the shadow of "oriental despotism in Asia, the states which have experienced banana republics in Latin America and those which have been established on the basis of tribalism in the African continent, all these have developed towards more democracy, giving some political rights to the people and restricting the absolutist role of rule by one individual. But this has been delayed in our Arab East, for the duration of a period of history that is not short. Some regimes have continued to look as if they were an historical excavation, which not only obstructs the laws of human development, but also conflicts with it and erect around themselves a network of counter-laws to confront the movement of human development.

Maybe the answer is not as easy as we might expect, but humanity's long history, as well as the Iraqi experience of living under the shadow of tyranny for a long time, provides us with more specific answers.

In Western thinking the East has always been linked with despotism and oppression. Although Greek civilization witnessed several rulers who were called the tyrants of Athens , they were an exceptional phenomenon which everyone rejected and resisted. They were not part of the nature of Greek political life, nor did they acquire that religious sanctity which rulers assumed in some oriental civilizations. Pharaoh in ancient Egypt was a sanctified god. This was not a metaphorical expression in the words of Dr. Imam Abdulfattah in his book Al Taghiya (The Tyrant) but was part of a creed which indicated the absolute authority which this ruler enjoyed and which raised him above any human accountability.

The same thing applied to the civilizations of Babylon, Persia and China. The ruler of Babylon was the deputy of the god, with the Persians he was the king of kings, and in China he was the son of Heaven . All these are names which are extremely indicative of the interrelationship between the authority of the state and the use of religion which transforms the king into a demi-god or even a full god, and reduces the subjects to the level of slaves.

The Greeks did not know anything about this kind of oriental despotism until after the invasions of Alexander which opened the Asian world and the Western world to each other. Perhaps the clearest example of that was when Alexander the Great brought the crown and the throne from Persia, and brought the creed of the son of the god from Egypt and ordered everyone to bow down to him. His commanders immediately ridiculed him. Then they reached a compromise, that his followers from the eastern countries would bow down to him because they were used to that, but no one from Greece bowed down to him, because they were not used to that and did not wish to become used to it.

Plato and Aristotle after him diagnosed the phenomenon of the tyrannical ruler from early on. Plato considered it a national duty to kill him. He differentiated between two types of rulers: the king which is the name that should be applied to an honest and good ruler, whereas the tyrant is the name which is applied to a corrupt and evil ruler.

The Fading out of Arab Creativity

By God, no one should order me to be devout towards God after I have reached this position, or I will behead him.

These as related by Al-Suyuti - were the words of the Umayyad Caliph Abdulmalik Ibn Marwan as he stood on the pulpit of the mosque in Damascus. It was also a statement and an announcement not only of the beginning of his reign, but also of the beginning of successive ages of oppression by Muslim Arab rulers. Our history after Islam did not deviate from the rule of oriental despotism very much. The ruler who believed that he derived his authority from the god turned into the caliph of this god, that is he contented himself with being a shadow of God instead of being an embodiment of him. But this did not affect his absolute power, and never made him think of subjecting his conduct or that of those close to him to accountability or questioning. He who alleged that he was God s caliph did not pay much attention to God. And of course he also did not differentiate between his own money and the Muslims public money.

If we contemplate the period of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, during which Islamic society witnessed the seeds of democracy in the form of the ruler being chosen in accordance with the principle of consultation, we find that it was extremely short and full of disturbances.

It is astonishing that throughout this troubled history only a few groups of marginalized people rebelled against those tyrannical caliphs who transformed authority in Islam into strong hereditary rule.

It is correct to recognize that the Islamic state reached the zenith of its power in the age of some of these tyrannical caliphs, and spread its shadow over the Earth, extending from the borders of China to the Pyrennees, but the thinkers of that state did not produce the creative achievements appropriate to this power and this duration of time. They did not have sufficient freedom for intellectual creativity, and there also was not the right degree of other opinions for the world which it ruled to be filled with inventions, discoveries and currents of thought. It was the civilization of inventions which were not completed and ideas which were not influential. The world of Islam, thanks to the teachings it contained which encouraged intellect and thinking about the universe, and thanks to the races of the Earth and those from ancient civilizations who entered it and the amount of knowledge it inherited from Greek civilization, was in a position to offer a greater and more lasting yield than it did. But the strength, power and vigor of the state prevented the success of many advanced ideas, and revolutions which contained ideas that were ahead of their age and the time when they would be accepted by people.

Al-Kawakibi: the Writer of Freedom

The writers for freedom in Arab history are few. They are rare writers in general, and I mean by them those writers who reveal to people the extent of oppression that has befallen them, make them aware of those who are oppressing them and guide them to the road they should follow in order to rid themselves of this oppression. People without awareness can surrender to various types of humiliation and harm of which they are not aware. In the absence of the necessary awareness and without a clear vision of the way to save themselves, they can be in despair.

Our venerable elder Abdulrahman Al-Kawakibi was one of those rare writers. He was a schoolteacher in the city of Aleppo under the oppression of the Ottomans, and he saw and experienced the acts of injustice committed by the Turkish governors against his country. At that time, at the end of the nineteenth century, the Ottoman state was suffering from the symptoms of its death throes. An oppressive government is in its most ferocious condition when it is dying. The Turkish governor Jamal Pasha caused great suffering to freedom-loving people in Syria. Al-Kawakibi was imprisoned more than once, and all the newspapers which he published were suspended. Finally he ended up migrating to areas of the Islamic world, calling for freedom and resistance to oppression. His book Tabai al-Istibdad (The Characteristics of Oppression) has an important place in the history of our thought. He published it in Egypt after meeting with Sheikh Jamaluddin Al-Afghani and Imam Muhammad Abduh. It may have been the only book at that time which outlined the characteristics of a tyrannical ruler derived not only from his experience with despotic governors, but also from his review of Islamic history and his journeys all over the world of Islam. Al-Kawakibi considers that a tyrant is a man who comes to power in an illegitimate manner, and he pursues his path to power using conspiracies or assassination. That is, he would not have attained it had matters followed their natural course. He got there by his own will, not by the will of the people, and so this will is the law which rules, and the subjects can only hear and obey. Since there is no one to oppose him, he exploits all the resources of the country for his own interest and his personal greed. The inclinations of the ruler here may be sensual and lascivious, or his pleasure may be in invading his neighbors and expanding the area of his possessions. Of course he does not recognize any kind of supervision or accountability. He is not called to account whatever mistakes he makes, nor does he repent however deeply involved he may be in oppression and corruption. The last phase comes when he believes that he is higher than everybody around him. Because of the subjects' intense fear of him, they begin to flatter him and ingratiate themselves with him. He not only believes this flattery, but they also believe themselves, and gradually the absolute ruler turns into the ancient god with all the characteristics of oriental despotism. He is the benefactor, he is the wise, the absolute lord, the awe-inspiring, the only one, and other adjectives used only to describe God Almighty.

Al-Kawakibi may thereby have broken through the barrier of time and discerned from afar that pattern embodied by a savage regime like the defunct Saddam regime,

The Testimony of a Concealed Writer

I find here that I cannot banish Saddam Hussein from my mind, since he is the perfect example of what Al-Kawakibi was talking about, who combined all the characteristics that he mentioned. The book The Republic of Fear by the Iraqi writer Samir Al-Khalil gives a terrifying picture of Iraq under the shadow of this tyrant who exploited his people s potentials - which were immense in order to fulfill his own desires.

This book was published in English in 1989, one year before Saddam invaded Kuwait, and soon after the Iraq-Iran war had ended. The author presents not only a book about the horrifying regime headed by Saddam Hussein which ruled Iraq, but also wants to present a testimony about the implication and meaning of the political conduct of repressive regimes when they violate all laws and destroy all customs.

The pages of the book give us an indication of how precise Al-Kawakibi s diagnosis was. Nobody knows exactly the way in which Saddam Hussein reached the summit of power, but certainly it was not by legitimate means depending on ballot boxes.

However Saddam Hussein, who had long experience of clandestine activity, inaugurated his rule in 1979 with a notorious massacre of the party leaders a famous massacre which he recorded with sound on film in order to intimidate others with it, and whoever might come after them.

This massacre was the official announcement of the establishment of the state of fear which ruled Iraq.

The state of fear created by Saddam and his comrades depended on a long series of apparatuses for surveillance and clandestine action. Its beginning was the Janin apparatus, an obscure security unit whose preparation was supervised by Saddam himself before he reached the summit of power. It was chosen from strong, highly committed cadres with little culture, who were easily led and accepted the principle of carrying out orders without discussion, or at best, carrying out orders and then discussing them. After that they became specialists in intelligence matters. From this unit the other security units branched out, which used to watch Iraqi citizens in all aspects of their lives. There was a security unit in every residential quarter. One Western observer even said that it seemed as if there were three million Iraqis watching the other nine million.

The author of The Republic of Fear used to believe that the Saddam Hussein regime s war against Iran was the last catastrophe. It did not occur to him that the catastrophes in the regime s pouch did not cease. And indeed they did not cease until after they had led one of the most ancient and richest countries to a state of destruction and humiliation, the like of which our region has not known in modern times.

A tyrant not only establishes a deformed regime, but he also has a part in deforming groups of those whom he rules, even those of them who try to distance themselves from the machinery of repression. The writer Salam Abboud, in his book Thaqafat al Unf fi-l Iraq (The Culture of Violence in Iraq), shows the extent of the deformity that this regime caused to the nature of Iraqi society, which is based on ethnic, religious and sectarian diversity, as a result of the practices of the power structure that continued for three and a half decades playing off sects and ethnic groups against each other, separating each sect from the others and destroying them one by one. These measures gave the regime strength which helped it to stay in power, but finally, when the ruin became all-embracing, it confronted a new tragedy which led to the fragmentation of the unity of Iraqis, indeed the rapid collapse of this tyrannical regime itself.

Perception of the Future

I only wanted to take the case of Iraq as an example of the impasse which we are all facing. Arab tyranny is not a preordained destiny. The end of this regime must be a lesson and an example to us, both rulers and ruled. Blocking the way to the emergence of a tyrant of the size of Saddam requires serious action by the people so that small tyrants do not turn into tyrants of a larger size, and this can only be through democracy.

There is no point in claiming that we are still not capable of applying democracy, and not ready for it. This is also one of the phenomena of fake paternalism behind which despotic tendencies conceal themselves. Democracy is an experiment like many human experiments. It begins by stumbling, and is full of mistakes, then it is not long before it corrects itself by itself. We must not forget that we will begin in many instances from almost nothing. We begin from education inside the narrow environment of the family, so that a husband does not suppress his wife and children. And we begin from our educational system based on compulsion and indoctrination, and from the smaller institutions of government which conduct our daily lives, and by respecting the law collectively and never allowing anyone to emerge who is above the law. We must celebrate any step towards democracy, even if it is a limping one, because it is better than despotic rule or a tyrant.

Above all, we must get rid of this fear which is deeply rooted in our selves, and which colors the dual character of Arab individuals. We must think with an audible voice, criticize in one way, and kill that dual personality inside each one of us: that personality which secretly rejects everything and openly accepts everything. Otherwise, we will not be able to prevent the republic of fear from arising once again.


Sulaiman Al-Askary

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