It is beginning to occur to military and civilian leaders alike that Iraq is not about to become a Western style democracy. Some are even saying they could live with a strong man (which is what Saddam was before we decided he was throwing too much weight around). But this recognition doesn’t do away with the fundamental problem of equality – as in the French “liberte, egalite, fraternite, or at least solidarity - as in the Polish solidarnosc that began the process of bringing the Soviet Union to an end.
The revival of religious fundamentalism that is sweeping the world is about insecurity – the bomb, in shorthand – violence, which how some people cope with insecurity, and others cope with inequality, and tribalism (our God is the only true God). But the most passionate cry of all fundamentalisms is reserved for the vulgarization of sex, which is a direct result of commercialization. Sex has always had a market price, but as blow-back to centuries of puritanism, the advent of Madison Avenue and TV took the U.S. to the opposite extreme, the trivialization and vulgarization of sex. When, in opposition to their assimilated parents, young American women of Arabic origin decide to wear the headscarf because, as Amanpour’s subject put it: “I don’t want other men to leer at me in the street”, that’s a sign that fundamentalism shares some important lifestyle concerns with many secular people. (The similarities in lifestyle, revolving around modesty and prayer, between young Islamic and Orthodox Jewish couples is striking.)
So much for sex, but what about equality? Apropos the enormous number of Iraqis who have taken refuge in neighboring countries, we learn that Syria has free health care and education – and subsidized bread. Syria is run by Ba’athists, Sunni Islam’s egalitarian political movement. Not surprisingly, it supports Hezbollah, Lebanon’s Shia militia, which has made and kept its reputation by helping the poor.
Washington policymakers would do well to learn once and for all that the hallmark of all egalitarian militias has been and continues to be strict discipline with respect to money and sex, and the provision of health care and education to the poor, whether they be Marxist and secular or religious fundamentalist.
It’s sad to see presidential candidates talking about their relation to God and prayer from the point of view of a privileged class that cannot identify with the need for equality felt by the world’s majority and who, if they are fundamentally inclined, will use their power to further inequality in pursuit of a hierarchical vision of society that starts with God on top.