Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Friday, January 02, 2009

Security for Whom in Iraq?

The Bush Administration has been talking about an "improved" security situation in Iraq since the "Surge". Really? Secure for whom? The Washington Post has been doing a series on the treatment of women in conflict zones. It is heart breaking.

In Iraq, the U.S. military has been supporting local tribal chieftains in an attempt to increase security. One of the negative results of this has been a huge upsurge in honor killings. For those readers who don't know, "honor killing" is the murder of a woman by the male members of her family for supposedly besmirching their honor in some way. Common methods are burning, stabling, and beating, drowning. A simple shot to the head would be too humane.

In Irbil (Kurdish ruled Iraq), the morgue sees at least 10 honor killings a week. (see Iraqi Women, Fighting for a Voice, Washington Post)

To be clear, honor killing is a tribal custom, not an Islamic one. However, Mohammed, for whom Islam was a civilizing force in tribal lands, had started to loose the battle with tribal chieftains in the years before his death. Islam as a religous faith was constantly compromising with tribal custom and this has not changed. It has become very hard to separate the two.

The problem o fhonor killings is becoming widespread across Iraq. These same tribal chiefs are objecting to the education of women, women working, appearing in public uncovered, and all of the other typical things their ilk object to. Acid is often thrown in the faces of those who are uncovered.

What you see in all places where there are honor killings is a pattern of legislation that forbids such acts, a lack of enforcement of this legislation, or lightly punishing those who commit such acts. In Turkey's Kurdish dominated Eastern Anatolian region, authorities have a hard time gathering evidence for trial because no one talks and those who do claim the death was accidental or a suicide.

At a conference two years ago, I attended a session on honor killings in Turkey. There, they said that there were only 30 women's shelters in the entire country and the largest shelters could only handle 25 women at a time. So women seeking to escape had little chance. They often leave children behind. If they can even get to a shelter, they cannot stay indefinitely. They have no money, and no place to go. They often have to return to their villages where they are eventually abused or killed. The lucky ones manage to resettle in the cities. But this is rare.

The same thing is going on in Iraq now. And the Bushies thought they could bring democracy to such a place? I hate to say it, but in some instances, a dictator may be the best bet.


Dr. Strangelove said...

These honor killings are appalling! But I have to wonder: are such things truly worse now than under Saddam Hussein, though? I looked for evidence that "honor killings" are more common now than under Saddam Hussein, when unfortunately they probably would have gone unreported in the state-run media. The article USWest cites in the Washington Post indicates that 2/3 of women surveyed thought that violence had increased, but the time period was not clear.

Anonymous said...

You really do need a dose of Ayn Rand or something. "Sometimes a dictator may be the best bet?"

Raised By Republicans said...

I don't have any clue about the empirical aspects Dr. S. brings up but I can imagine a theoretical explanation for a possible increase in honor killings in Iraq:

As the state authority erodes during the war and its aftermath and order breaks down, people turned increasingly to the tribal authorities that had been eroding under Baath Party Rule. This increasing importance of tribal authority brings with it a return to practices like honor killings of women.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I suspect we don't know much about tribal authority under the Ba'athists. I suspect we know a lot more about it now because we are there. Like Dr.S, I am very curious about whether there is empirically an increase. Also, the Iraqis themselves know more about such things because they have a free-ish press now.

All that being said, let's presume there is an increase. I think the source is the weakness of the state, more or less as RBR suggests. However, I don't think there had to be pre-existing tribal authorities at all for them to arise now. In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote "He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people. He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected. Whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within." The notion Jefferson is advancing is that the power to make rules to govern communities will always rest somewhere, and it is an awful thing if it rests in a monstrous government or in no government. It is not unique to Iraq.

USWest said...

I think it is a fair point to wonder what things were "really" like under Saddam. But one thing is for sure, things were more secular. And secular is better for women. Iraqi women pre-war, were working, going to school, and had, in many ways, more social freedom that is now denied to them. This is true of Afghan women before the Taliban. That is what I meant when I said that in some instances a dictator may be the best bet. There was, under Saddam, order. Granted, he was abusive, but there was order and people know the rules of the game.

The tribal lords were no doubt present under Saddam. And Saddam used those chiefs to his benefit and had them under his control. I don't know enough about the history of Iraq to know the details. But Saddam, like Tito in Yugoslavia, knew which buttons to push and when.

And now I will say something that will engender great debate, for sure. And I am surprised at my own evolution on this. I have become a bit more Machiavellian over time. The one thing that I have learned in dealing with all sort of people from all over the world is that not all of them respond well to positive motivation. Some groups, the Iraqis being one of them, appear to operate better under the arm of a strong authority- and authority that raises fear. As I said in my previous, there are benevolent dictators and the cruel kind. Iraqi would benefit greatly now from a benevolent dictator.

USWest said...

One more thing that comes to mind- Ataturk.

People like to point to the one nation that is both democratic and Islamic- Turkey. Well, how did Turkey get to be democratic and how well did that work?

Well it started with a Turkish General determined to turn Turkey into a modern, *secular* state. And he did that through dictatorial tactics. He used to be seen sitting in the bar, smoking, drinking, and coldly signing death warrants. This is not a man who lost sleep over killing political opponents. This was a man who knew very well that you would not arrive at a modern, democratic state in Turkey without fear and secularism. Secular democracy was foisted on Turkey through force and only maintained through force (i.e. successive military coups). Hardly an American model of doing things. Thus the raging debate in Turkey today about how much Islam you can afford to allow and still maintain your democracy. And, as I mentioned in my post, even Turkey has a tough time controlling such activities.

Turkey, to the extent that is has become successful as a democratic state straddling the East and the West, was fortunate to have a benevolent dictator. Iraq needs an Ataturk. Iraqi women desperately need an Ataturk. Even if you manage to get a stable government in Iraqi, if that government is beholden to tribal chiefs and religious fundamentalists, then women will suffer even more than they do now.