Friedman on Alousi
In his column today, Thomas Friedman says that as long as there are people like Mithal Al-Alousi (I spell it Alusi) in Iraq then he won’t give up on the country. I often gauge the seriousness of those who support liberal democracy in Iraq and the wider Middle East by the case of Mr. Alusi.
These are the hoops that Alusi has already jumped through: he is from the Sunni Arab Alusi family of Anbar Province that gave Iraq and the Middle East some of its most prominent Sunni religious jurists of the last three centuries. He was a former Ba’athist in his youth who became Director General of the De-Ba’athification Commission upon returning to Iraq, and came to symbolize one of the country’s most ardent anti-Ba’athists. In December 2002, he organized the take-over of the Iraqi Embassy in Berlin in the name of “the Iraqi opposition” and claimed it as the first “liberated” territory of Iraq. For that, the Germans put in jail for over a year, and then under house arrest; he later broke the terms of his limited release by leaving for Iraq.
In September 2004, Alusi decided to take a stand on how Iraq should relate to the Middle East, and he did it by publicly visiting Israel. He believes that Iraq’s future lies in an alliance with other secular and democratic countries in the region such as Israel and Turkey. He was fired from his government job, thrown out of the Iraqi National Congress (that he joined in November 2003), and was left to the wolves. A few months later, his two sons, Ayman and Jamal, were killed in an ambush meant for him. At this moment of incredible sorrow, Alusi musters the strength to tell the Iraqi people, as well as the murderers who killed his sons, that he will continue the fight and will not be deterred.
Alusi then started a non-sectarian, secular party that advocates liberal democracy, and called it the Liberal Party of the Iraqi Nation. In the December elections of 2005, he ran on his own independent platform and managed to win a parliamentary seat against incredible odds and plenty of intimidation.
Alusi had a paltry campaign war chest, relying rather on getting face-time on Iraqi and Arab satellite stations. His charisma and strength of character would be projected to millions of homes around the Middle East, along with his provocative and taboo-breaking ideas.
Alusi did all this on his own with practically no support, either financial or political from interested parties that would supposedly see him for what he is: the new voice and face of fearless secularism and a champion of the democratic process. The Americans and Israelis would not understand what he is all about: they only understand those who hate them or those who will work under them. They cannot comprehend the status of an equal who addresses them as strategic allies.
By most conservative estimates, Iran spends something in the range of 30 million dollars a month to support its political acolytes in Iraq. The Sunni political parties are bankrolled by wealthy patrons in the Gulf, which is probably the case for Zarqawi and his ilk. The Allawi camp markets itself as the advocate of the good-ole’ authoritarian streak of Middle Eastern politics as a solution for Iraq’s ills; and at least some part of their election media campaign was financed directly by the Abu Dhabi’s ruling family.
But someone like Mithal Alusi is left to fend for himself. And even after standing his ground all this time, there is still no one willing to invest in his continuing success. Isn’t there something wrong with this picture?
Here is the relevant excerpt from the Friedman column:
The New York Times
May 26, 2006 Friday
Late Edition - Final
HEADLINE: Standing By Stand-Up Iraqis
BYLINE: By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
I am often asked why I don't just give up on Iraq and pronounce it a lost cause. It would certainly make my job (and marriage) easier.
What holds me back are scenes like the one related in last Sunday's Times story from Baghdad about the Iraqi Parliament's vote to approve the country's new cabinet. Our story noted that during the Iraqi parliamentary session, the Sunni party leader Saleh Mutlaq, a former Baathist, stood up and started denouncing the decision by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to have Parliament vote on the new cabinet even though he hadn't yet filled the key security posts.
At that point, another Sunni politician, Mithal al-Alousi, told Mr. Mutlaq to sit down. ''Iraqi blood is being spilled every day,'' Mr. Alousi said. It was time to move forward. When Mr. Mutlaq pressed on with his denunciations, Mr. Alousi ''pulled him down into his chair,'' The Times reported. That was a gutsy move -- live on Iraqi TV. Many Sunni insurgents may not like what Mr. Alousi did, but he did it anyway.
As long as I see Iraqis ready to take a stand like that, I think we have to stand with them. When we don't see Iraqis taking the risk to build a progressive Iraq, then it is indeed time to pack and go. That moment may come soon. It's hard to tell. I won't hesitate to say so -- but not yet.