Michael Yon has another wonderful dispatch from Iraq, following up on the story of how a group of local Iraqis are welcoming back Iraq’s Christian diaspora:
Today, Muslims mostly filled the front pews of St John’s. Muslims who want their Christian friends and neighbors to come home. The Christians who might see these photos likely will recognize their friends here. The Muslims in this neighborhood worry that other people will take the homes of their Christian neighbors, and that the Christians will never come back. And so they came to St John’s today in force, and they showed their faces, and they said, “Come back to Iraq. Come home.” They wanted the cameras to catch it. They wanted to spread the word: Come home. Muslims keep telling me to get it on the news. “Tell the Christians to come home to their country Iraq.”
I constantly hear many people here in America and elsewhere keep saying that Iraq simply can’t be democratic. The line usually goes about how you can’t change 4,000 years of culture. That argument never sits right with me: is Iraqi “culture” synonymous with terrorism and oppression? Are Iraqis somehow unable to accept others? It always seemed a bit like the arguments used to justify racism in the Deep South: since part of Southern “culture” had been corrosive racism, how could we expect that to change?
The Iraqi people keep proving their critics wrong. They say that democracy can’t take in Iraqi culture: yet Iraq had a larger turnout in their election than most American elections that don’t involve death threats against voters. We keep hearing how Iraqi Sunnis and Shi’ites hate each other and can never get along: yet most Iraqi tribes and families were mixed Sunni and Shi’ite before al-Qaeda began their brutal campaign of divide and conquer. We keep hearing about how Iraq will inevitably become a fundamentalist Muslim state: yet here we have Iraqi Muslims in a Catholic Church asking their Christian friends to come back home—for they will protect them.
Pictures like the ones that Yon brings from Baghdad remind me of the why I’m proud to stand in solidarity with the people of Iraq. I am offended by those arguments precisely because I see them as being tinged with a subtle yet corrosive racism: the argument that Iraqis can’t be free and democratic because of “culture” diminishes the notion that human rights are universal and innate. The arguments that Iraqis can’t be free because they haven’t “earned” their democracy diminishes the unimaginable suffering and the incredible bravery of many Iraqis. Even though these arguments are usually made without the intention of being arrogant, they ultimately are arrogant: they suggest that somehow we in the West are better than the people of Iraq. That we’re evolved enough to support democracy and the Iraqis are not.
We live in a sheltered culture of comfort, and yet we have the audacity to criticize people who have faced 30 years of utter tyranny followed by 4 years of terrorism. If any of us were to walk in the shoes of a typical Iraqi, would we be willing to do what they have done? We can barely get off the couch on Election Day, no less face terrorists who threaten to kill anyone who votes. Would we be as brave? Is our commitment to our democracy as strong as theirs?
The Iraqis have suffered greatly, but ultimately they are building a better future for themselves. Far from being a backwards culture doomed to fundamentalism and sectarianism, the people of Iraq demonstrate, hidden from our view, that their belief in democracy and freedom may sometimes be greater than our own.