Via Basel: War, Peace and Responsibility- Part 2

Art by Valerie Patterson

Before I go any further, a bit on my background on this subject:

Born and raised in Iraq for over two decades, mostly 1950s and 1960s, I was a firsthand witness to the rise of a small determined band of the Ba’ath political party to take over the reins of power even though they most likely did not represent more than a small fraction of the population. They gradually infiltrated all the major governing institutions by what I term “creeping substitution.” Following that, the party leadership which included educated idealists was taken over by a ruthless crass psychopathic autocrat called Saddam Hussein. Over the next three decades he eliminated all opposition and led Iraq to three major devastating wars that left the country in shambles.

I opine that this homegrown terrorist was allowed to take over a flawed but functioning country due to apathy, passivity, and lack of courage of a large percentage of the population. The few who did resist perished, but the majority were spineless as the atrocities mounted. It was named “Republic of Fear” in the book by the same name by the Iraqi expatriate Kanan Makiya in 1988. For me it’s basically a matter of numbers or percentages of the governed people. Even the most ruthless of dictators can’t stay in power unless a significant number are either apathetic or so afraid that no protests, violent or non-violent, materialize. So are we to blame Saddam Hussein mainly for Iraq’s misfortune and human toll, or is there a more collective responsibility of the Iraqi people?

The same question can be posed for Nazi Germany’s responsibility for the horrors of WW II and the Holocaust. Was it merely Hitler, or the German people, who were definitely well aware of the mass murders but kept quiet if not supportive of the genocide?

The examples go on and on, some clearer than others. We will never get to the root cause of such evil if we limit the blame to a few groups or individuals. I believe that irrespective of indoctrination and false propaganda, deep in our hearts we can tell right from wrong, truth from false, and love from hate. These inner struggles are present in every human being, and we can choose to nurture one or the other.  A lack of reflection and introspection makes insight into these conflicts difficult and dulls the moral imperatives. I admit that issues like nationality, ethnicity, religion, and race can be a factor in all these conflicts on an individual or communal level. I may be naïve, but I still believe in a common humanity and the values of cooperation and kindness that have helped our species to evolve and prosper in harsh conditions on this planet.

Back to my question from my previous column on this topic, as to where responsibility lies in the present war in Ukraine:

I am not engaging in a geopolitical discussion, but the fact is that Putin, the leader of Russia, started it. But, without indicting the whole nation, major responsibility does fall on the Russian people, just as the rise of Hussein in Iraq or Hitler in Germany was the communal responsibility of Iraqis and Germans. There is a collective consciousness that springs from the multitudes of individual ones and in the same way collective accountability is a sum total of the many individual ones. The fact that the Ukraine is united, fighting and sacrificing and pushing the invaders back in spite of the theoretical  imbalances in the military power, is a testament that it is nearly impossible to subdue a people, a nation, or a community that is involved, alert, and courageous. This may not have applied in the past as much, where extermination of the other was possible without the whole world knowing about it. In this era of global connectivity I don’t see how it can be done without major consequences for the aggressor.

Freedom and liberty come at a price, a steep one, with lots of sacrifice. It is unfortunate but necessary and essential. We seem to have forgotten that fact in this country and others in the so called “democratic liberal world.” A reminder, as in Ukraine, is what we need. Vigilance and clarity born out of introspection and awareness, along with courage, are the best antidotes for holding on to these precious gems.

Basel Al-Aswad, father of EIL founder Christopher Al-Aswad, is a yogi trapped in an Orthopedic Surgeon’s body. His loves in life include reading, writing, hiking, enjoying nature, meditation, and spending time with his large Iraqi family, and now, semi-retired, he is exploring new avenues in medicine, education, public speaking, and social engagement.

War, Peace, and Responsibility (Part 1)

Republic of Fear at University of California Press


3 responses to “Via Basel: War, Peace and Responsibility- Part 2”

  1. Scott Anderson says:

    Basal I always admire your experience, incite and intellect in sharing your views on things that matter!

  2. Muyeol says:

    As years go by it feels like more of us are silent. It feels that we’re willing to tolerate more bull. I don’t know what to make of it to be honest.

  3. basela says:

    I know how you feel Muyeol and I agree, but believe the arc of history is long and volatile. We are going thru a period of contraction of the human spirit & only when enough of us develop the qualities I mention above will there be a shift to a brighter future.
    I really enjoyed the undergrad BFA show and meeting you was a pleasure.

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