Saturday, May 27, 2006

Fearful Society, Corrupt Society

A society that is immersed in corruption is a society that experiences constant fear. If fear and corruption have long been a part of society, they will not automatically be removed when the major sources of fear and corruption are removed. Patience is required as the society transforms itself to one of integrity and hope.

If you lived in a society where corruption were the norm and nothing could be achieved except for corruption, would you personally become corrupt in order to get along? Would you give and take bribes and come to understand them as simply the way things are done? If something that you wanted were available for the taking, and nobody was watching, would you have become accustomed to just taking it, because after all, anyone else would? And besides, would you think to yourself, even the normal things in life are hard to come by, so I think I deserve this? What if your society taught you that everything is the will of God—would this affect your decision?

If you lived in a society where every day was filled with a constant dread would you really ever learn to live with it? If you had one or more family members who were rounded up by the government and were never heard from again, how would you feel? What if you were sure that those by whom your family members were unjustly arrested belonged to a different race or religion? If the government mocked you by squandering all its receipts for its own aggrandizement, would you be angry? What’s more, how would you feel if you knew that any expression of your anger would be a punishable affront to the government?

I’ve never lived in a society that has been that way, so I’m not sure how I would react (I would probably be too afraid to act out), but I know how I would feel—day after day after day. No matter how long I lived, I would know that something was wrong with my society. But I cannot rule out that I would probably compensate for what was wrong by becoming ‘just like them’. Like I say, I’ve never lived in such a society, but I know someone who has.

What if the major sources of corruption were suddenly removed? What if, for a few fleeting moments, you suddenly had nothing more to fear?

You don’t really have to imagine this, even if all you’ve been watching of the news is the major news media for the past couple of years. You saw the looks of euphoria on the faces of thousands of Iraqis as Saddam Hussein’s statue was toppled in April of 2003. You saw tears of joy, spontaneous parades, and weapons fired into the air in exultant joy in December of that year as it was confirmed that Saddam Hussein had been captured.

The major source of corruption had been removed, but the veneer remained. (Mission accomplished, right? That’s what heartless haters of everyone’s liberty but their own would have you believe George W. Bush thinks.) If my grandpa were a thief, and my father were a thief, chances are high that they would have taught me how to be a thief.

From the first days after our entry into Baghdad, we saw through the chaos and looting that took place a systemic corruption that we could scarcely comprehend, and that would be difficult to unlearn. Corruption is still a problem in 2006 as in certain cases, insurgents infiltrate the Iraqi military and police, and as police and military occasionally abscond with public property and release insurgent prisoners because to them tribal loyalties or fear still trump integrity.

On the bright side, it is clear that corruption is becoming a much smaller part of the whole as stability replaces fear and men and women who can see the Iraqi dream before them step forward into the breach to help shore up the transition to hope and integrity.

The insurgent terrorists know what fear is. Whether from Iraq or another Middle Eastern country, chances are they have lived in a fear society. They know that fear is a powerful weapon, one which they are now not afraid to use to their personal aggrandizement. Contrarily, after the initial euphoria that freedom brought to the broad majority of Iraqis, it’s not surprising that some of these Iraqis are exacting reprisal killings against those they see as being the descendents of the creators of their fears of the past fifty years. And this especially after thinking for a fleeting moment that they no longer had anything to fear, only to have this hope temporarily but suddenly shattered by the desecrations of the terrorist insurgency.

A society mired in fear and corruption cannot be expected to stop on a dime and make a 180-degree turn in the direction of hope and integrity. Anyone telling you otherwise likely is either an insurgent or simply wants ‘George Bush and the Republicans’ to fail in Iraq. Millions of Iraqis felt the euphoria that a glimpse of liberty can bring. Liberty, enjoyed before the modern era by nearly no one else on the planet, has always been hard fought, but thereby all the more appreciated in its ultimate achievement.

Little by little, day by day, more and more Iraqis are signing on to the dream. Policemen, students, government officials, soldiers, and entrepreneurs are casting their lot for free thought and free markets. Is there still corruption here? Yes. Do people still live in fear? Many do. But gradually the Iraqi populace is approaching that critical mass where corruption and fear will be looked on in derision and as an aberration rather than the rule.

Do we have the patience to keep the faith while waiting for that day? I do, and I hope you do, too.


Elizabeth said...

I've been thinking a lot about the Sunni-Shiite conflict in Iraq and in one way it reminds me of what happened in Rwanda--thus the carnage shouldn't be that much of a surprise. In Rwanda, an ethnic minority, the Tutsis, were supported by the colonial power (as we once supported Saddam Hussein). After colonialism the majority Hutus tried to slaughter the Tutsis because of their rage at living for years in a subordinate position despite being the majority. We can easily see the comparison with the Shiites in Iraq, another oppressed majority until Saddam Hussein's regime was ended.
But meanwhile, one can see where the fear and rage of the Sunnis comes from as well--not only are they reluctant to give up the power but they remember the carnage of the Iran-Iraq war (in which the U.S. supported Saddam Hussein in order to counter Iran's power). They thusly fear an Iraqi-Iranian Shiite alliance.

I think it's also not hard to see why there might be a lack of trust of the U.S. in the region. We oppressed the Shiites by supporting Saddam Hussein, then we removed Saddam and his regime and all the Sunni soldiers and many of the bureaucrats were suddenly out of work as well as out of power.

No wonder our best friends in Iraq are the Kurds!

Frank Staheli said...


You make some good points. I never understood why we had to play different Middle Eastern countries against each other in order to achieve some 'balance of power'. We would have been better off not having done that. Supporting dictatorships did not endear us to their Middle Eastern populaces. Noah Feldman talks about this in his book After Jihad.

I agree that we still have some trust rebuilding to do.