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Good Intentions Perhaps, But What Were They Thinking? September 14, 2007

Posted by ummahonline in Islam Bi La Hudud, Kolum.

By: Farish A. Noor

There are blunders and there are blunders. There are blunders that are done out of ignorance and are, upon hindsight, pardonable. But there are also blunders that tell us more about the blunderers themselves and are at best laughable and at worse deplorable.

The recent fiasco to come out of the deserts of Iraq falls in the latter category and tells us a lot about the thinking going on among the real powers-that-be in Iraq today; namely the Americans. When American soldiers dropped footballs to Iraqi children from their attack helicopters, few of them realised what the repercussions might be. Little did they realise that not every Iraqi – football crazy some of them might be – would be all that happy to receive free footballs with the flags of the world on them, when one of those flags happen to be that of Saudi Arabia with the Kalimah, or Muslim declaration of faith, on it.

Needless to say, some of the less tolerant Iraqi clerics were not about to take the matter lightly as they pointed out that the footballs would have been kicked around, and at some point or another an Iraqi child was more than likely to kick the Saudi flag and thus the Kalimah as well. Tempers flared, the footballs were confiscated by irate Muslims and the Americans have once again had to flee the scene with egg on their face.

One should not go so far as to accept the claim that this was yet another deliberate attack on Islam and insult to Muslims. After all if the Americans wanted to insult Muslims they have other means to do so, like bombing their countries back to the middle-ages and reducing their capitals to burning embers. The likelihood was that this was a public relations move that went embarrassingly wrong, to the detriment of all concerned- not least the children of Iraq who could do with some decent toys to play with after more than half a decade of civil strife and the daily horror of having to live in a country torn apart first by a foreign invasion and now by increasing sectarian violence.

However one needs to ask the obvious question: Who on earth advised the Americans on this move, and did nobody check to see if the Saudi flag was on the ball itself? This leads one to suspect that the grand plan to bring about regime change and stability to Iraq is and has always been an in-house matter, where all decisions from grandest to the most trivial are the exclusive purview of the self-proclaimed ‘liberators’ of Iraq. Was not a single Muslim consulted on the matter, or do the opinions and advice of Muslims no longer count in the calculation of the Americans when dealing with the Iraq issue?

Faced with this latest debacle, one can only sympathise with the plight of the Iraqi government and the leader of Iraq Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, who in his latest outburst has asked the Americans to come to their senses and realise the limits to America’s own power in the region.

The leaders of Iraq have asked again and again for the USA and the International community to heed their advice and opinions, and have warned that by encouraging the political activism of the component groups and religious communities of the country they risk tearing Iraq apart. Now, with a government that is almost devoid of support from the Arab Sunni communities, it would appear as if Prime Minister Maliki’s warnings have come home to roost and the situation in Iraq can only deteriorate further.

The ridiculous farce that is the so-called ‘football controversy’ is just another instance in a long catalogue of blunders and errors that could have been avoided had the USA and international community give a modicum of credit to the ground-level intelligence and experience of the politicians of Iraq, who have, after all, been living in the country long before the Americans were flown in by helicopters. Yet as many observers have noted, empires with long-term overreach ambitions seldom heed the advice of others, and seldom still learn from their own mistakes in the past.

One is reminded of the sentence from the film ‘Apocalypse Now’, when the narrator wryly notes: “We shoot them up and bomb them, then we give them band-aids”. Dropping footballs from helicopters can only serve as a PR stunt at best when the Iraqis know that those very same helicopters can also rain death to the enemies of the United States. How many more blunders will it take before the administration in Washington realises that it can only bring about a peaceful solution and a safe exit from Iraq if and when it takes the Iraqis themselves into confidence? Free footballs do not a liberation movement make, and when those footballs carry the Kalimah on them as well then the stakes in the game can only be raised higher.



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