Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Sunni from Shinola

Though usually the purview of our assistant editor, I bring you Christopher Hitchens from yesterday's piece at Slate. Straight and to the point:

When it comes to Iraq, one of the most boring and philistine habits of our media is the insistence on using partitionist and segregationist language that most journalists would (I hope) scorn to employ if they were discussing a society they actually knew.

To be a Sunni or a Shiite is to follow one or another Muslim obedience, but to be a Kurd is to be a member of a large non-Arab ethnicity as well as to be, in the vast majority of cases, a Sunni. Thus, by any measure of accuracy, the "Sunni" turnout in the weekend's referendum on the constitution was impressively large, very well-organized, and quite strongly in favor of a "yes" vote. Is that the way you remember it being reported? I thought not. Well, then, learn to think for yourself.

This same tribal habit of mind—tribal on our part, I mean, not on the part of the Iraqis—allows some people to make the lazy assumption that the liberation of Iraq has created these differences, or intensified them, rather than sought to compose and heal them.

As usual, Hitchens saves the best barbs for last: When Syrian Baathism implodes, and when the many Arab and Kurdish Muslims it has oppressed take revenge, and when its killers prowl the streets of Beirut as well as Damascus and Aleppo in the hope of saving what they can, will we hear again that this chaos and misery would never have happened if it were not for American imperialism?

Actually, we are already hearing rehearsals of this stupidity. Discussing the possibility of cross-border tussles to deal with Syria's wretched, spiteful sabotage of the new Iraq, the New York Times kept tight hold of its only historical analogy and announced—in a news story, not a sidebar—that this was Cambodia all over again. And so it might just possibly be, if we were fighting the Vietcong in Iraq and if Assad were the cynical but neutralist Prince Sihanouk. As it is, our foes in Iraq are much more like the Khmer Rouge, and Assad's regime is more like the aggressive and corrupt minority rulers of South Vietnam, so the analogy is at the expense of those who repeat it parrot-fashion, and who mostly cannot tell Sunni from Shinola.

Garbage in...garbage out, as they say.

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