the assumption of responsibility for the welfare of the world











2005 October 3


“Mine!” is an expression best left to five-year-olds. They have the ability to look cute even when they are screaming it, over an object whose ownership is at best dubious, confronting a person whose claim is at least as good. When adults scream “Mine!” over a disputed object, it is not especially cute. It is, in fact, one of the ugliest things that humans do.

It is for this reason, among others, that I strongly hope that Iraqis endorse the proposed constitution this month. I think that it is, while far from perfect, quite an improvement over what I expected. Objections that it is a step backwards from the Baathist constitution come from the ignorant, and mostly the willfully ignorant, since a constitutional protection under Saddam was utterly meaningless, as all informed persons know. There was certainly no enlightened treatment of women or religious minorities under Saddam, and to suggest so is to make excuses for murderous fascism, and to insult the intelligence of anyone who has ever bothered to read about Saddam’s Iraq, to say nothing of insulting those who lived through it. The Shiite electoral majority in Iraq has behaved largely like the Christian electoral majorities in the West, who show repeatedly that people are largely conservative and will support social liberalization only gradually. Would that it were otherwise, surely; but we cannot wish for a Baathist return on the grounds that on paper (and only so long as it was convenient), the Baathists were secular moderns. The Baathists were, in fact, medieval barbarians.

Some of those opposed to the constitution are offended, in fact, by the liberality of it. This includes the Shiite radicals and the foreign jihadis, who are sworn enemies of each other in most areas but sound quite similar in their insistence on a theocratic state, to be based on their own backwards interpretation of God’s will and securing their own power therein. It is recognized that their demands are hideously illiberal, and to appease the jihadis in particular by granting them a theocracy is conventionally viewed as unacceptable.

What I like most about the constitution, and what so many seem willing to sacrifice to the demands of terrorists, is federalism. In fact, I believe in the immediate dismemberment of Iraq, since the longevity of a bad idea does not make it any less bad. Iraq was a bad idea. Those who have benefitted most from it are fighting hardest to preserve it; but these are not individuals we should be obliging under any circumstances, and certainly not under the threat of continued butchery of the innocent. I understand that people the world over, educated and not educated, open-minded and not open-minded, believe that there is something inherently good and worth preserving about the status quo, and in this case the status quo in international relations. But to insist that Iraq remain united just because it has been so in the past is thoughtless. To insist so to appease terrorists is something I would not expect to hear from a world that claims to be at war with these terrorists.

In any case, the Shiites and the Kurds have agreed on a federal Iraq, and the Kurds in particular are giving up independence de facto to join this federal Iraq, while the Shiites would dominate a democratic and centralized Iraq and are thus seen to be making a sacrifice as well. The faction in Iraq that is opposing this, to one extent or another, is the Sunni Arab faction; though, needless to say, the opposition of rank-and-file Sunni Arabs is taken for granted, when in fact all we know is that self-appointed leaders and distraught fanatics are opposed to a federal Iraq. Why so? They benefitted most from Saddam’s rule and from centralization, and have the most to lose under a federal system. And yet the constitution provides for a sharing of the natural wealth that comes from areas dominated by Shiites and Kurds. There it is: the Shiites and Kurds have agreed among themselves to share the oil of Iraq with the Sunni Arabs, who, when in power under Saddam, were content to share this wealth entirely with themselves. The only exceptional provision is one for limited redress of past deprivations, targeted towards Shiite communities who were most left behind under Saddam’s policies. That would be hard to argue with, as it is impossible to argue that Sunni Arab communities were privileged by Saddam, were developed with relative largesse while the Shiites and Kurds were punished. The Sunni Arabs are not content with past economic favoritism and their present freedom from Saddam’s totalitarian state. They demand an equal or even disproportionate share of Iraq’s future wealth, too. And, it seems clear, some of them simply want the Baathists back. At their most vile, they want to tyrannize Iraq again, and have the whole pie for themselves. “Mine!”

Extremists in both Palestinian nations have suffered recently. Ariel Sharon, formerly no one’s idea of a moderate, has beaten off a challenge by the demagogue Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been looking to take the leadership of Likud and the premiership of Israel from Sharon on the strength of anger over Israel’s abandonment of Gaza. Netanyahu was counting on support from those fanatics who screamed the loudest as the Israeli colonists were removed from Gaza. These fanatics expect the rest of us to believe, first, that there really is a God, second, that this God has a special place in His heart for one specific ethnic group, and third, that in promising them the land of Canaan He was particularly including an obscure Mediterranean coastal strip near the Sinai peninsula. That is one fancy too many, I fear.

Fatah has outpolled Hamas two to one in local elections in the West Bank. Fatah is corrupt to the core, and if Fatah is moderate it is only relatively so, since its policies regarding Israel are rightist and nationalist by Israeli or Western standards. But at least it is no Hamas. Hamas is crediting the Israeli pullout to its policy of slaughtering Israeli innocents, and while that may be a justifiable claim, it is a despicable act to be claiming at all. Hamas are intolerable radicals, and they are, by and large, terrorists. Those who are not actually practicing suicide bombing (since those individuals are, by definition, dead) are strong supporters of suicide bombing by others. They are religious radicals and Jew-haters, and having a Hamas government drawn from its present composition would make it difficult even for the most determinedly pro-Arab Western states and citizens to stand by them. But then it takes a fairly virulent form of Jew-hating to put off those in the West who are themselves not too keen on Jews.

It is important to remember, as I have pointed out before, that the Palestinian Arabs are not a distinct people. They are Arabs. To the extent that there is anything distinct about them, they are already a majority in another state, Jordan. But the Palestinian Arabs are culturally more or less the same as the other Arabs in Jordan, as well as those in Lebanon and Syria. Their local dialect may differ from that in Cairo or Algiers, but their lingua franca does not, their history does not, their religion does not, and their race does not. And the Arabs, we must remember, are not aboriginal to Palestine, while the Jews are. The Arabs are aboriginal to the Arabian peninsula, and their presence in Palestine, as well as Cairo and Algiers, is a result of, if we could all say this together, occupation and colonization. Yes, that was a long time ago. But in principle the Arabs have no greater right to the Gaza strip than those weeping brainwashed children who were dragged out of Jewish settlements by the Israeli army.

The truth is that no one has a right to the Gaza strip, or the West Bank, or Jerusalem, or any other piece of land. And no race, nation, or sect has a right to any piece of land either. So to decide between competing claims of that sort is impossible. That has not stopped insufferable zealots on both sides of the concrete wall from rending their shirts over the great injustice of being denied absolute control over all land within an arbitrary boundary. “Mine!”

Greek Cyprus and Greece have succeeded in what ought to be impossible: making Turkey look like a victim. The Turkish nation is nearly united in its apparent desire to oppress the Kurds forever, to deny them self-determination and even a distinct identity. Turks are nearly united in denying the truth of the Armenian genocide committed by Turks. Powerful elements of the Turkish nation have fought even an attempt to discuss the issue, even as the government tries to convince the West that it is ready to be admitted to the Western club. Turkey is no Italy, not by a long shot, but it is suffering political turmoil; and there are many backwards forces of nationalism and bigotry that could yet emerge from that turmoil in power, particularly given the popular sentiment for nationalism and bigotry that is apparent.

But the admission of Greece and, more recently and more offensively, Greek Cyprus to the European Union have done exactly what was predicted, giving Greek chauvinism the force of Western policy. The Greek Cypriots rejected a Cypriot-reunification plan that favored them, because it did not favor them enough. They have the numbers to dominate in a reunified state, and they are demanding to be allowed the privilege. In the meantime, they are pleased with the status quo, in which the Turkish Cypriots are excluded from international life, even though they embraced the reunification plan that sacrificed their legitimate right to self-determination on the altar of geopolitical myth. The Greeks are in, the Greek Cypriots are in, and they will use their insider power to keep out the Turks until the Turks accept Greek superiority. That is the deal on the table, say the Greeks; take it or leave it.

The other European Union states are not tragically bound by the consequences of their own mistakes in the admission of Greece and Greek Cyprus. The consequences were not merely predictable; they were frequently predicted. The Europeans embrace the Greek argument for self-serving reasons. First, they, too, have an investment in geopolitical myth; they all have some minority whom they would deprive of self-determination. They all have some territorial claim that they would not see compromised by countervailing precedent. Second, Turkey is large and underdeveloped, and would, they suspect, be a huge drag on western Europe financially, as well as populous enough to carry great demographic and democratic weight. Third, they are not overly fond of Muslims. Harmless and cuddly Muslims getting massacred in Srebrenica causes much handwringing and perhaps some genuine regret. But the prospect of diluting the Christian nature of Europe is unthinkable to many of the Christians in power in the West. Those who are nationalist and sectarian do not want such an alien presence in their midst. Those who are internationalist and mostly secular will have less on which to build their common European home, if Christian heritage is removed from the equation. In a sense, then, the Greeks are merely fronting for European chauvinism, holding the Green Line for Christendom against the eastern hordes. That is the bargain; the Greeks have to look selfish, but their Western allies will assure their success. They will get the Turks to submit, and they will get northern Cyprus, or there will not even be talks about Turkey joining the European Union. “Mine!”

I hate to avoid responsibility. I hate to be the sort of person who gives up in exasperation. But being human, like the exhausted parent, I am occasionally tempted to throw my hands in the air and exclaim: “Fine! Take it! I don’t care anymore.” But this is a sad temptation, and like the exhausted parent, I would soon come to regret it. We must resist the idea that these insistent groups should be given what they unjustly and unreasonably demand. We know that by taking it, they are taking it from the rest of us; they are taking it, more immediately, from someone else nearby whose claim is probably just as good. If we let them have it, they will just demand more, as always happens. They will seize more and more until there is nothing left to seize. In the end, we must establish the principle of collective ownership, that the planet belongs to all of us and that as the collective owners we tolerate its use by some on condition of responsible stewardship in the interests of all.

In the near term, though, we must divide the world as minutely as necessary to give as many as possible a sense of self-determination. That means that Kosovo, in the upcoming final status talks, should have the full range of options, including independence and merger with Albania. It means that Sahrawis in the Western Sahara should get their long-promised referendum for independence from Morocco. It means that Turks in Cyprus should be given the freedom to live on their own or as a part of Turkey, without either one being therefore excluded from the European Union. It means that Kurds in Turkey, Iraq, and elsewhere should be free to leave their respective states without leaving the lands on which they have lived for so long, and should be able to form a greater Kurdistan if that is what suits them. It means that an Arab state should be established on the West Bank, in Gaza, and in East Jerusalem, but that it should not expect to reclaim lands in Israel or even the whole of the West Bank. It means that the Sunni Arabs in Iraq should accept their status as a minority in an oil-rich Iraq, or settle for dominating a poor, insignificant desert country north and west of Baghdad. It means potential independence for the Basque Country, Tibet, Puerto Rico, Greenland, Tatarstan, Hong Kong, and Québec; the recognition of the independence of Tamil Eelam and Taiwan; the partition of northern Ireland, the Ukraine, and Kashmir. It means lots of other changes to the state of the world, but all of them following from one big change in principle. We must assert, as loving parents would, that the world’s children can scream “Mine!” as much as they like, but that they will still be required to share, and anyone who won’t share can just go without. That usually gets their attention.


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