Today, Iraq. Tomorrow … Democracy?

Today, Iraq. Tomorrow … Democracy?

The one good argument for war against Iraq is evoked by Christopher Hitchens: The majority of Iraqis are Saddam’s victims, and they would be really glad to be rid of him. He is such a catastrophe for his country that an American occupation in whatever form is a much brighter prospect for Iraqi citizens. We are not talking here of “bringing Western democracy to Iraq,” but of just getting rid of the nightmare called Saddam. To this majority, the caution expressed by Western liberals cannot but appear deeply hypocritical. Do they really care about how the Iraqi people feel?

In the same vein, I remember dozens of Western leftists in the early ‘90s who proudly crowed that “Yugoslavia still exists,” and reproached me for betraying the unique chance of maintaining Milosevic’s Yugoslavia—to which I always answered that I am not yet ready to lead my life so that it will not disappoint Western leftist dreams. Few attitudes are more crassly ideological than a tenured Western academic arrogantly dismissing (or, even worse, “understanding”) an Eastern European from an ex-communist country who longs for Western liberal democracy and some consumer goods.

However, it is all too easy to slip from this recognition to the notion that “under their skin, Iraqis are just like us, and really want the same as we do.” All we need to do is just give people a chance, liberate them from their imposed constraints, and they will join us in our ideological dream. No wonder an American official used the term “capitalist revolution” to describe what Americans are now doing: exporting their revolution all around the world. They have moved from “containing” the enemy to a more aggressive stance. Like the defunct Soviet Union decades ago, the United States is now the country subversively fomenting world revolution. Bush recently declared: “The liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to humanity.” Indeed, and the United States just happens to be the chosen instrument for distributing this gift.

Abstract pacifism is intellectually stupid and morally wrong—one has to stand up against a threat. Of course the fall of Saddam would be a relief to a large majority of Iraqi people, and a whiff of liberal hypocrisy does taint many of the stated reasons against war. But the impending invasion and occupation of Iraq is still wrong—because who is leading it makes it wrong. This is not a question of war or peace in the short term, but of the “gut feeling” that something is terribly wrong with this war, that something will irretrievably change with it.

[Extract. Appeared in In These Times, on March 18th, 2003. (full text).]


Slavoj Žižek

Slavoj Žižek is a Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst, and a senior researcher at the Institute for Humanities, Birkbeck College, University of London. He has also been a visiting professor at more than 10 universities around the world. Žižek is the author of many books; his latest are Against the Double Blackmail and Disparities.

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