Saturday, January 14, 2006

Support the Iraqi Resistance?

I wrote this in reply to a fellow activist and am posting a slightly edited version here.

In my opinion, supporting the Iraqi resistance is decidedly problematic. The secret British military poll referred to also mentions that: "Forty-five per cent of Iraqis believe attacks against British and American troops are justified - rising to 65 per cent in the British-controlled Maysan province;"

That might well rise to a majority if Kurdish areas were removed from the data but the point is it's not at all clear that the insurgency (or resistance if you prefer) is firmly supported by Iraqis, especially when we keep in mind that the poll above asked a much narrower question that would presumably get more support because it removes the issue of sectarian attacks.

There's nothing that makes our anti-imperial credentials stronger by supporting unpleasant characters. As you note, the resistance is diverse. If one could identify some group that was relatively sane and decent group (for instance, Islamic, supportive of democracy and some minimal rights for women) that enjoyed widespread support, I might consider saying I supported it. There may well be groups that have politics similar to those I mention above; certainly there are no doubt many such individuals in the resistance. Using a slogan like "support the resistance" obscures the complexity and includes the groups we're all aware of that are both fundamentalist and in some cases, viciously sectarian.

It becomes that much more problematic when the phrase of dubious ethics is also very unpopular. Taking unpopular stances is very worthwhile but only when the stance is right in the first place. It's clear that it's not feasible to materially support the resistance anyway. It can only be verbal support, which means supporters of this line of thinking are concerned with persuading people to the correct (as they see it) politics. This would have some value if indeed I agreed with the politics but of course I don't.

One could make a plausible case that it would be a courageous and worthy thing for an American (or anyone else) who finds him/herself in Iraq to take up arms against the occupation forces - to join the resistance in some form. That's a far easier case to make than saying one should support the resistance, which implies that one doesn't just support the act of resistance but the general tenor of the resistance groups' programs.

Imagine if the US was about to invade Iraq and polls showed a majority of Iraqis backing the defense of their country. [To make the case stronger let's assume - as was indeed that case by the time of the 2003 invasion, though not in the 1980s when the U.S. supported him - that Saddam is not killing huge numbers of Kurds or some other minority, a special {and very rare in the real world} case which could in some cases justify supporting intervention.] Would our slogan be "victory to Saddam's army" or "support the Iraqi army"? Clearly not - because the program of the forces actively defending Iraq would be maintaining Saddam in power and continuing his crimes. Rather we would say "support Iraqi self defense" or "support Iraqi self-determination." This is true despite the fact that in this hypothetical scenario, we (along with the Iraqi people) would technically be supporting (passively) Saddam's Iraqi military against the US - but all the while despising them as the vilest scum. We wouldn't say we support the Iraqi military, even though we would support their victory (in the narrow, restricted sense of expelling an unpopular invasion), because it conveys a very distorted meaning that naturally implies some degree of support above and beyond a defense of their country. It is because the programs of the largest organized resistance groups are reactionary that it is impossible to support them per se.


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