Seminar presents bleak picture of Iraq

Philip Craig

A professor of Islamic Studies and native Iranian told students last Tuesday that America’s nation building efforts in Iraq will fail. The seminar was conducted by the Villanova Muslim Student Association, and the keynote speaker for the evening’s event was Dr. Farhang Erfani of the University.

Erfani painted a bleak picture of the current state of the war in Iraq and the chances of creating a successful and peaceful democracy. The majority of his lecture was dedicated to the idea of nation building in Iraq.

A self-described political junkie, Erfani spends the first three to four hours of each day catching up on the situation in the Middle East by listening to radio broadcasts from the region over the internet.

From his perch atop the desk Erfani was at once both self-effacing and confident, humble yet full of conviction. When he spoke, the room was silent, as everyone seemed to be captivated by his words and conclusions.

Erfani noted that the United States is moving to create an Office of Nation Building, whose sole function would be to oversee the creation of new, sovereign nations in war-torn, or otherwise unstable regions of the world. Philosophical ideologies aside, Erfani believes this to be an impossible goal in Iraq.

Erfani argues that nations cannot be “created.” They must be formed out of legitimate, historically united entities with common, unifying characteristics such as language, culture, ethnicity or religion. He contends that Iraq possesses none of these unifying ingredients. The land is wrought with factions and warring religious and ethnic groups such as the Shiites, Kurds, Sunnis, Arabs and Muslims.

“The only way these factions have survived all this time is because they had a ruthless dictator scaring them all at the same time,” Erfani said. “One thing that brings nations together is a common enemy. The problem is, the only thing they all feel united about now is their dislike of America.”

When asked about the impact of Saddam Hussein on the Iraqi people, Erfani said that one of the biggest fallacies of the last few years was the assumption that if you were against the war in Iraq it meant you were in support of Saddam. He rejected this claim.

“You cannot even imagine how much I hate the man. You also cannot imagine how much I oppose this war,” Erfani said.

He does not see the changes in the region as an improvement over the Saddam regime. Erfani fears that a dangerous form of fundamentalist Islam will take over instead.

He is upset that people view the recent elections in Iraq as a great success and proof of the victory of democracy.

“Democracy is not about voting,” Erfani said. “It has little to do with voting. If the five seconds it takes to vote is all we are fighting for, that is very sad.”

He points out that in the previous election Saddam received an astounding 100 percent of the popular vote, breaking Communist dictator Joseph Stalin’s record of 99.5 percent. Clearly, the vote here had little to do with people’s real opinion and much more to do with social and political pressures.

Instead, Erfani says democracy is a way of life rooted in legitimacy, a legitimacy he claims these last month’s elections were sorely lacking.

He felt they were contrived and almost force-fed upon the Iraqi people, without taking the necessary steps to allow democratic ideals and lifestyles to fully congeal.

He fears that given the United States’ track record of double standards and failed interventions, it will be hard to establish the necessary legitimacy.

The United States has a negative reputation in the region and he says the best they can hope for in Iraqi government is one that will be viewed throughout the Arab world as nothing more than an “American puppet.”

He also points out that there is no longer even the semblance of a coalition in Iraq. By the fall, 150,000 out of 160,000 troops will be American.

As an example of American incompetence he points out that America’s main allies in the region, the Sunnis of South Iraq, are fighting alongside American soldiers against Iraqi resistance. For their support, President Bush is considering placing their leader in the position of prime minister. Thus, one of the leaders of Iraq will be the former leader of the group aiding the Americans in killing other Iraqis. Erfani said this absolutely will not stand in the region.

Erfani believes kinds of inconsistencies and shortsightedness will undo any nation building efforts. “If you don’t play by the rules, you can’t export the rules,” he said.