Fear Makes Enemies from Allies

The purpose of terror is to affect disproportionate change, to enlist emotions in recruiting unnecessary armies


The world is a complicated place.

Freddie Gray dies in the back of a police van after being picked up for nothing. No one is seemingly held accountable. Maryland a black state attorney, Baltimore has a black mayor, a substantial minority presence in their police force, a majority-minority city council, and has basically been run by local Democrats for fifty+ years.
There are issues here of accountability, but they run all over the place. If they belong to any political party, they belong to the local Democrats. They certainly appear to transcend easy racial narratives on the side of any oppressor, though personally I find it easy enough to imagine the state being a tool of minority/poor oppression regardless of who’s in charge.
We know that, for example, police use of force is disproportionately applied to minorities. There’s some ongoing discussion of shootings – most research indicates a bias, there’s at least one recent study (though only examining incidents in Houston) which counter that conclusion – but personally I think it’s enough to point out that minorities get beat more often than whites in similar incidences to say that there’s smoke.
But what now?
The panacea of “better government” is not enough. Government is, by-and-large, a manifestation of society at large and for good reason. The downside is that transformation in government comes after transformation in society at large, and American society at large is struggling with itself: Black Lives Matter against All Lives Matter, awareness of the state’s largely out-of-sight minority oppression against a struggle to maintain deference to law and order. The good news is that the civil rights movements of the 60s were decried in their time for being disruptive, and that Black Lives Matter being considered similarly is at least a reminder that struggles can tip quickly.
The new, ugly wrinkle in all of this is the string of murders of police officers.That is the wedge, the worst fears of All Lives Matter come to manifest, an erosion of the ideal that it is possible to be both aware of the minority experience of the state’s violence and power, as well as aware that minority and poor communities in general require the help and aid of police. Just as any kind of terror attack is designed to drive rifts between populations, to make estranged allies and neutral parties into enemies, these shootings are terror attacks. If they work, they will erode the social capital required for change, and everyone will come out lesser.
I hope it doesn’t go that way.

Occupy Baghdad is Democracy on Hard Mode

These folks can’t just go back to getting their film theory degrees from Swarthmore when this is over.

Muqtada al-Sadr is a Shi’ite cleric in Baghdad, and a generally popular leader there. He’s been active and saying provocative things for a decade: how post-war looting was okay so long as you tithed to his religious movement, how the US needed to get out of Iraq, and how Iraq needed to run its own business. Oh. I should also mention his massive armed militia and how he’s been in and out of Iran, organizing folks, calling for jihad on the American occupation, getting his militia to call up and stand down as needed in order to massage events within Iraq, and generally being the most important figure in Iraq that doesn’t hold official office.

665003303001_4873386662001_vs-57265a53e4b0bc854365986d-782203293001He had announced he was stepping out of politics in 2014, but recently marched his way into Iraq’s Green Zone in order to call for the end of the existing government structure in Iraq. The Green Zone is basically an old-school imperial structure, a $1B fortress within Baghdad that the coalition forces kept dumping money into until they decided it was safe. It’s now used by the Iraqis and whoever has an embassy out there.

Well, Sadr – here’s another interesting aside, the attendees at Saddam Hussein’s hanging execution chanted “Muqtada! Muqtada! Muqtada!” at Hussein’s death because the guy really is that popular – when he entered the Green Zone, the local Iraqi army general greeted him with a few kisses and a chair. Sadr showed up, gave some speeches about corruption, and everyone decided to camp out and occupy the Green Zone.

They were Occupying because corruption in Iraq (along with most every other Middle Eastern country) is endemic, and the current prime minister Haider Jawad Kadhim Al-Abadi has been totally unsuccessful in de-corrupting the current governmental structure, largely because the only way the US could create a stable government in Iraq was to basically bake in the corruption beforehand by giving every major ethnic group a bounty and telling the co-opted leaders of each group to run that bounty. Now, that really was probably the only way they could’ve done it and “baking in corruption” wasn’t the primary purpose, but it sure as hell was a second-order effect that was necessary. Patronage is a thing and if you don’t have money and titles to dole out then F your democracy is basically how things go out there.

So, Sadr is out there telling the leadership to start listening to Abadi. And if they don’t, well… they’re chanting “Peaceful” from the walls of the Green Zone but I bet those voices don’t carry too far past the blast walls.

And now, they’ve moved into the Parliament building. There are real stakes here, and the country is once again teetering toward collapse. It hasn’t fallen yet, and maybe never will – just going on like a shambling zombie.

Iraq has been torn apart by its ongoing sectarian crisis. The Kurds are ready to bolt. The Shi’ite masses are tired of being pushed around by corrupt officials. The Sunnis are tired of getting shot at and burned out by the Iraqi army and Shi’ite militias’ purposefully over-eager and trigger-happy pursuit of ISIL.

Keep this place in mind the next time someone in Washington tells you that we need to liberate somewhere, because you know what? Iraq is still more functional than Libya.

UPDATE: I beat the Atlantic by a day! Also the author is also a better writer than me. 🙂