Saturday, June 10, 2006

Recent news reports from the Iraqi capital indicate radical Islamists are launching a campaign to prohibit the sale of … falafel. Yes, you heard right, falafel. While this is the sort of news you might expect to hear from a late-night stand-up comedian on television, sadly, this is not a joke, and a number of falafel vendors who failed to heed the warnings have paid with their lives.

Several vendors of the popular deep-fried chickpea sandwich were told they had just two weeks to change their profession or face death. And indeed, several vendors where shot and killed simply for selling falafel sandwiches. The logic offered by the religious zealots — if there is any — in imposing this inane diktat on the people is that there were no falafels in the time of the Prophet Muhammad.

Indeed there were no falafels in ancient Arabia. However, it might be worth pointing out to these same zealots — preferably with much tact — that in the days of the prophet there were no Kalashnikov automatic rifles with which to shoot those who did not follow orders. Neither were there any improvised explosive devices. In the days of the prophet there were no cars in which to make speedy getaways, or vans that could be packed with explosives to be detonated using a cellular telephone.

The same backward-minded fundamentalists who enacted stricter-than-medieval laws in Afghanistan when the Taliban controlled the country are now trying to do the same in Iraq and drag the country and its people back into a paleontologic existence.

It might also be well worth noting to these religious fundamentalists that in the Prophet Muhammad’s time, the Internet had not yet been invented. Therefore, by the same logic applied to the ban on falafels, all Internet sites maintained by radical Islamic groups ought to be shut down. Similarly, the videotaping of attacks on coalition forces by Islamist insurgents, which are quickly loaded onto propaganda Web sites, should stop.

And by the same token, any jihadist fighter wounded in action should not receive modern medical treatment. Antibiotics, painkillers, the use of all X-rays, MRIs, and all the benefits of modern medicine that over the centuries have saved countless of lives, should not be applied.

Baghdad, once the pride of the Arab world with its abundance of poets, writers, doctors, scientists and great thinkers, is being turned by religious fanatics into chaos and anarchy. Under Saddam Hussein and his Ba’ath Party, the country was often called “The Republic of Fear.” But given the lawlessness that now prevails there, with scores turning up dead everyday, the Republic of Fear has become the Killing Fields.

The liberation of Iraq by American and coalition troops came with a heavy price, especially for Iraqis. The invasion/liberation took the country away from the grips of the “Big Brother”-like regime of Saddam Hussein, where he ruled through fear and repression. But with the country’s security forces dissolved, Iraq entered into a chaotic period — a melange of chaos and anarchy. In Saddam’s Iraq, people were killed for political reasons. Today Iraqis are killed every day purely for their religious affiliation.

These fatwas, or religious edicts, enforced by faith-fanatics will only further undermine an already struggling economy in a country whose population has already greatly suffered by a war imposed upon them.

It is needless to say Saddam was evil. And it’s a good he is gone. But in the haste to remove him and dismantle the entire state apparatus he had constructed, including the country’s military, police and security forces, a great void was created. That proved a grave error of judgment, because the Islamists stepped into this very void.

If they are allowed to take hold, getting rid of them may prove to be far more difficult than getting rid of Saddam.

Claude Salhani is international editor for United Press International.

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