JUAN COLE: Parliamentary leaders meet, but in the Green Zone, which is to say behind concrete barriers and behind Marine guards. In this summer, Grand Ayatollah Sistani complained bitterly that 60% of them were out of the country. It was just safer to be in London. He said you can't run a legislature like that. And so, the meetings of parliament often have a hundred parliamentarians missing. That’s par for the course.Fracturing? Well, yeah:
And they do meet. They do try to hammer out agreements, but they don't have much power. They don't have the ability to give commands and have them obeyed, for the most part. Some of them are party leaders or militia leaders in their own right, and they have a little more power. But apparently they're losing control of the grassroots. There was fighting in the city of Diwania not so long ago by Mahdi Army militiamen against the local Shiite government. Moqtada al-Sadr’s people say he didn’t order it. That was something that the local leader decided to get into. Well, it means he's not in control of the Mahdi Army in Diwania. And I think that's typical now. Iraq is becoming more and more fractured.
...Kurdistan increasingly is not operating under Iraqi law. They give out their own visas. They invite foreign companies to come and do prospecting without telling Baghdad. They recently have decided they're not going to fly the Iraqi flag anymore. I mean, you have an independent country here that has its own army. It says the federal troops may never step foot on Kurdish soil. So Iraq has become, for the Kurds, a mere fig leaf. They are doing whatever they want to do, and they don't want to anger Iran and Turkey to the extent of provoking hostilities, so they don't declare independence, but they are operating as though they are independent in all but name.And, again, there is that question of justice:
JUAN COLE: Well, the term “Islamofascism” is a form of bigotry. It is an attempt to tie a great religious tradition, to which a very substantial portion of humanity belongs, and has belonged through the last millennium, to a Western secular political tendency, the fascist movement of the 1930s, which, by the way, wasn't influential in the Middle East among the Middle Eastern masses, and the intellectuals in Cairo denounced it. And it's just horrible to tie Islam and the Koran and the ideals of the Islamic religion, to try to tie them to Hitler and Mussolini. You know, if somebody were to do this to Christianity or Judaism, there would be an enormous outcry, but it's alright to do it to Muslims.And what's justice got to do with it? Why can't we just ask these people to be reasonable?
In the Arab world, the first value people are looking for is local independence, and they judge everything that happens by how it affects their local independence. It's kind of an analogy to people who are concerned about state’s rights in the United States, so they don't want the federal government being in their business in a big way. Well, for the Arab world and for the Middle East generally, the United States is like the federal government. I mean, it is a presence in everybody's lives. It shapes people's policies; it shapes their lives, their culture and so forth.And it's not just for the Middle East:
And so, from their point of view, there was never any question, for the most part, in the Arab world, outside Iraq, that the American presence in Iraq would be bad for people. The opinion polls all showed this. And they felt, you know -- they had had a long experience with European powers coming in and ruling them, the French in Algeria and the British in Egypt, and so forth. And it always seemed to them a bad deal. So they had no question that the Iraq misadventure would go bad, and so they're not surprised at all that it has.
And from their point of view, the Lebanon war was an act of naked, unbridled Israeli unprovoked aggression on the whole country of Lebanon. It wasn't, as the western press depicts it, you know, the natural reaction of the Israelis to their soldiers being attacked and kidnapped.
AMY GOODMAN: A lot was made of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez talking about President Bush as a devil. Can you talk about President Bush's language over time?I don't agree, by the way, that "evil" is a strictly theological term, or that such terms are forbidden in public discourse or by public officials. But the problem of demonizing a nation is obvious. And justice, as a fundamental, has to take into account how actions affect all parties, not just the nation that likes to throw accusations around.
JUAN COLE: Well, my argument is that Bush started this, with his use of the phrase “axis of evil” in his 2002 State of the Union address, and I think it's shameful. I think that we are a secular country. Our law does not -- in fact, our law forbids the government from favoring any particular religion or for favoring religion over secular people. And the use of the word "evil" or "devil," these are theological terms. Personally, I don't believe in a personal Satan, and I resent my elected officials dragging me into a discourse about the world, in which whole countries are made satanic.
And what does that mean? It means you can't talk to them. They're evil. You can't sit down with them and negotiate. It takes diplomacy off the table. And once you take diplomacy off the table, what's left? Ultimatums and war. So this absolutist language, this theological language drags the secular republic into being a warmongering theological state, just in the essence of it. And Bush, when he starts calling other countries and leaders “evil,” well, aren’t they going to do the same thing to him? The immaturity and the clownishness of Hugo Chavez's comments were widely commented on, but nobody in the American mainstream press seems to think that Bush was being immature and clownish in talking about Iran as part of an axis of evil.