Real war against ISIS

Pakistan Observer - - ED­I­TO­RIAL & COM­MENTS -

TO de­feat so- called Is­lamic State ( ISIS), the US and its al­lies are re­ly­ing on more than mil­i­tary means. Merely re­tak­ing ISIS ter­ri­tory, such as the key city of Mo­sul in Iraq, would not be enough. The US needs to also counter ISIS’ s core as­ser­tion: that only an elite clergy must rule peo­ple, one sup­pos­edly with undis­puted di­vine wis­dom. The best an­ti­dote to ISIS, there­fore, is the op­po­site idea: rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­racy based on equal­ity. It rests on the no­tion that wis­dom is ac­ces­si­ble to any in­di­vid­ual, not just self­ap­pointed rul­ing imams, and that open and fair elec­tions bring the best gov­er­nance.

The “front” for this war of ideas lies mainly in Bagh­dad. The suc­cess of Iraq’s elected govern­ment is as im­por­tant as any fighter jet or coali­tion of na­tions. The Iraqi Army’s abil­ity to de­feat ISIS re­quires that it op­er­ate on be­half of a broad- based and le­git­i­mate govern­ment. Yet in re­cent weeks, Haider al- Abadi, Iraq’s prime min­is­ter, has faced se­vere chal­lenges in his at­tempts to widen sup­port for the regime through anti- cor­rup­tion re­forms and ap­point­ments of a non­po­lit­i­cal cabi­net. On Satur­day, for ex­am­ple, pro­test­ers over­ran the leg­isla­tive build­ing out of the pop­u­lar frus­tra­tion over law­mak­ers not back­ing Mr. Abadi’s re­forms. The event was a vis­i­ble sym­bol of Iraq’s long strug­gle with democ­racy and the core need to treat all ci­ti­zens equally. Abadi’s re­forms are nec­es­sary be­cause the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, set up by the US af­ter its 2003 in­va­sion, is fail­ing. It relies on Iraq’s ma­jor in­ter­est groups, Shi­ites, Sun­nis, and Kurds, di­vid­ing up power. Each group’s lead­ers, how­ever, have be­come ad­dicted to the spoils of power. Cor­rup­tion is ram­pant. Ba­sic ser­vices, such as elec­tric­ity, are fal­ter­ing.

Abadi’s idea of neu­tral tech­nocrats is one way to re­flect the in­ter­ests of all Iraqis, not par­tic­u­lar reli­gious or eth­nic fac­tions. He is hardly alone in this idea. He is backed by Iraq’s most in­flu­en­tial Shi­ite cleric, Grand Ay­a­tol­lah Ali al- Sis­tani, who re­jects the no­tion of cler­ics run­ning sec­u­lar govern­ment, as is the case in neigh­bour­ing Iran. Ira­ni­ans, in fact, are at odds with their sys­tem. Prom­i­nent fig­ures are call­ing for full democ­racy and not what is known as “Ve­layat- i- Faqih” ( guardian­ship of the jurist). This is au­to­cratic per­sonal rule by a reli­gious scholar. The late Ay­a­tol­lah Ruhol­lah Khome­ini, who set him­self as the “Supreme Guide,” once wrote that uni­ver­sal rights are merely “opium for the masses.” In both Iraq and Iran, po­lit­i­cal events are largely be­ing driven by this strug­gle over the view that only a few in­di­vid­u­als can re­flect the truth needed to run so­ci­ety, and that they need not be held ac­count­able to the peo­ple. The fight against ISIS is as much on this bat­tle­field of ideas as in the skies and ter­ri­tory of its caliphate. — The Chris­tian Sci­ence Mon­i­tor

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