Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The stars that dare not speak their name

Hardly anyone with the slightest interest in Iraq has failed to note the new Iraqi flag. The new flag is interim, and a final flag will eventually be adopted through a vote in the National Assembly, but it's interesting to note the changes already made to the flag.

When I lived in Iraq, Saddam had added the Takbir (the Islamic assertion that "God Is Greater") in his own handwriting to the flag. Tucked in between the three green stars, the flag at once radiated with Arabism and Islamism, a political move which must have been perceived as important at the time, yet who really knows what Saddam was thinking.

In the new flag, however, the stars have been erased, but Saddam's imposition of the Takbir has remained, although his handwriting has been replaced with the more elegant kufic Arabic script. I've looked at the flag a few times, and it looks quite nice, but I keep returning to those three stars. It seems that their vanishing has a more political charge than the superimposition of a religious proclamation on the nation's new flag.

Of course, anyone who has some grasp of middle eastern politics also knows that the stars were the stars of the Ba'ath party, born in Syria and still present in that country's flag. The green stars symbolized political Arabism, the belief in a united and independent Arab world, an Arab world of socialism.

Yet to many, the stars may also represent years of tyrannic rule by a despotic leader. The outlawing of the Ba'ath part and the subsequent process of de-ba'athification is sure to eliminate the memory of the green stars.

Given America's involvment in Iraq, it is not difficult to see why the green stars would pose a threat - not so much for the distorted Ba'th "values" of Saddam, but for the deeper socialist and Arabist inflection through which the stars speak. Americans in general fear socialism like nothing else. Indeed, socialism - what a horrible thought; to have a strong welfare state, to oppose the privatization of healthcare and education, to have equitable distribution of resources - NO WAY!

What's left of Iraqi politics is a tired reaffirmation of God's superiority. Perhaps the same reaffirmation that secured American and Western access to oil and foreign investment in the Gulf, with McDonald's, Dunkin Donuts, Trump Towers, and "The American University of this and that...", all while the locals are praying at the mosque.

The green stars of Arabism and socialism may have been confined to history, and perhaps for good reasons - but it would be tragic if their disappearance were to be substituted by an Islamic religious passivity of docile Muslims that love Gucci and Mercedes.

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