Life In Liberated Iraq Can Make You Feel Awful

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From the Washington Times:

Baghdad's falafel vendors had never imagined their snacks might be deemed a threat to public morality.

Now, though, their simple offerings of chickpeas fried in bread crumbs have gone the same way as alcohol, pop music and foreign films—labeled theologically impure by the country's growing number of Islamic zealots.

In a bizarre example of Iraq's creeping "Talibanization," militants visited falafel vendors a couple of weeks ago, telling them to pack up their stalls by today or be killed.

The ultimatum seemed so bizarre that, at first, most laughed it off—until two of them were fatally shot as they plied their trade.
………

Why Baghdad's falafel vendors should be blacklisted while their colleagues are allowed to continue selling kebabs or Western-style pizzas and burgers remains a mystery. Some suspect it is because a taste for falafels is one of the few things that unites Jewish and Arab communities in Israel.

It is, however, just one of many Islamic edicts to hit Baghdad in recent weeks, prohibiting everything from the growing of goatee beards to the sale of mayonnaise—because it is purportedly made in Israel.

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  1. Reminds me of something I read a couple of weeks ago:

    Beer bombers set tone for Islamist Baghdad

    In the latest attack against alcohol sellers in Baghdad, bombs on Tuesday damaged three shops that sold beer and other liquor in the central commercial district of Karrada. The explosions wrecked the stores’ frontages and an advertising display for beer but killed no one. But for the shop keepers, from Iraq’s Christian minority, the message was clear.

    “I shut down the shop last year after I received threats by gunmen to stop selling alcohol and just reopened last week,” Asaad Aziz, 56, owner of the Gazal liquor store told Reuters. “Armed gangs are now ruling Iraq. There is no rule of law. I used to feed two families with this store. What am I going to do now? Everybody is talking about banning alcohol sellers. The government doesn’t say anything but clearly it is their militias who are playing a role in a secret way.”

  2. Just nuts. Of course, just a couple weeks ago, two male tennis players, along with their coach, were killed in Iraq for the crime of wearing shorts. Obsessing over “root causes” with regards to nihilists like these seems like an exercise in futility, if not absurdity.

  3. “Baghdad’s falafel vendors had never imagined their snacks might be deemed a threat to public morality.”

    They’ve obviously never heard of Bill O’Reilly.

  4. Nonetheless, let’s all remind ourselves that the Iraqis are all much, much better off now that we’ve liberated them. Saddam is gone; ergo, anything which comes after must of course be an improvement.

  5. “I said I was just feeding the people, but they said there were no falafels in Muhammad the prophet’s time, so we shouldn’t have them either.

    “I felt like telling them there were no Kalashnikovs in Muhammad’s time either, but I wanted to keep my life.”

    He was right not to argue. Nothing needs to make any sense to a totalitarian-in fact, it may become less appealing the more sense it makes. There’s an Arabic PSA slogan in here somewhere: “When Arabs can’t eat falafal, the crazies have won.”

    Any self-styled experts want to comment on the detail that this is apparently only happening amont the Sunnites?

  6. “Any self-styled experts want to comment on the detail that this is apparently only happening among the Sunnites?”

    Tim – obviously the question you’ve posed is too complex for their typical google searches to become instant internet experts 🙂

    or it’s not listed as a talking point in the warhawk blogs 🙂

  7. …by the country’s growing number of Islamic zealots.

    Are they really growing or were they always there?

    Tim Cavanaugh,

    Any self-styled experts want to comment on the detail that this is apparently only happening amont [sic] the Sunnites?

    This is just a guess, but given the collapse of Ba’athism I’d say that there is some effort (one which largely ad hoc in nature) to create a new or modified social dynamic, anchor, etc. and part of that involves creating an “other” (e.g., Jews) by which to compare themselves to. Shi’ites don’t seem to have that particular problem because they weren’t tied to Ba’athism the way that Sunnis were and they have a core community of leaders or leadership profiles which don’t require this sort of casting about for bogeymen.

  8. Mayonnaise is Jewish now? And here I’ve gone all my life thinking you could identify the non-Jews in a deli by looking for who’s ordering mayo on corned beef and brisket sandwiches.

  9. I wonder how many iraquis now are pining for Saddam, under whose regime no one cared what you ate or drank….

    They did not realize how free they were until their freedom was taken away…

  10. And now that Iraq has held democratic elections, I guess we can say they have the government they deserve?

  11. “I said I was just feeding the people, but they said there were no falafels in Muhammad the prophet’s time, so we shouldn’t have them either.

    By that logic, shouldn’t everyone in the country be dead since they weren’t around in Muhammad’s time?

  12. First they came for the beer guys, then they came for the falafel men…

    Wow, that’s one alien culture we’re dealing with there. We need to send in Larry Flynt before it’s too late.

  13. “He was right not to argue. Nothing needs to make any sense to a totalitarian?in fact, it may become less appealing the more sense it makes.”

    Which begs the question: How do you deal with a patently irrational totalitarian?

  14. I’m no expert, but I think one clear possibility is that unlike Sunnis, Iraqi Shias have something resembling an established clerical hierarchy to defer to on religious matters. And while the hierarchy’s leaders certainly aren’t pallbearers for secular liberalism, they’re still a notch below Zarqawi and his ilk on the medieval lunacy scale.

    It’s not too different from how the greatest excesses in small-p puritanism during Europe’s religious wars generally came at the hands of Protestants rather than Catholics, simply because you had so many different Protestant religious leaders viewing themselves as the final authority on Biblical cannon.

    Also, I think the power vacuum created by the insurgency/civil war/general bloodbath has given more room for the lunatics on the Sunni side to indulge their theocratic pathologies. Even though the Sunni Arabs have been throwing their support behind Islamists of different stripes in large numbers, I’m willing to bet that a majority of them haven’t gotten extreme enough in their views to support falafel and ice cream bans. But in the current environment, a majority, or even 1/3 support, probably isn’t necessary.

  15. Any self-styled experts want to comment on the detail that this is apparently only happening amont the Sunnites?

    Eric II alludes to a good point – the Sunni areas are probably less likely to be homogenous than the Sunni areas, so you get the small number of Christians, Jews, and seculars who now have to be eradicated. It’s still an open question as to why those areas are now so intolerant of non-fundies.

  16. Naturally I make a typo. Correction:

    “… than the Shiite areas.”

  17. But in the current environment, a majority, or even 1/3 support, probably isn’t necessary.

    Right. All it takes is a fanatical few with AK-47s. It will stop when the majority starts fighting back, legally if possible, with deadly force if not.

  18. I have a cunning plan. Let’s arm the sane Kurds to the teeth and give them control of the whole country. Yes, I know, not democratic, but I’m kind of suspecting that democracy ain’t going to last much longer than the U.S. presence (I hope I’m wrong, of course). Our deal with the Kurds will be contingent on their government being pro-West, liberal, tolerant of minority interests, and open to the free market.

    I’m sure Turkey would be okay with this idea, too. Well, every plan has its weaknesses. . . .

  19. I think the problem for a while has been that the majority, though not supportive of everything that the fanatical few carries out, is willing to tolerate their presence as long as they’re seen as fighting for the cause of their religious-ethnic grouping.

  20. What is wrong with you people? Stop focusing on the negative aspects of the Iraq venture.

  21. Freedom is on the march.

  22. Maybe I misunderstand the situation, but it seems to me that there are no laws against alcohol/ice cream/falafel-selling; but just a bunch of pious thugs, unhindered by civil law enforcement, threatening anyone who makes it possible to do anything more fun than praying every waking second of every day. Why aren’t ordinary able-bodied Iraqis joining law enforcement agents in droves to fight these fanatics? I can’t imagine most people support zarqawi-types.

    Am I missing something? Is there some kind of “Well, as long as they oppose the Americans I won’t fight them” dynamic? Are people just too afraid of these terrorist thugs to join an organization fighting them? What is going on?

  23. Further guidance on which foods can be sold in the New Iraq and which can’t be:

    “Kool-Aid is goyish. Evaporated milk is goyish even if the Jews invented it. Chocolate is Jewish and fudge is goyish. Fruit salad is Jewish. Lime jello is goyish. Lime soda is very goyish.
    All Drake’s Cakes are goyish. Pumpernickel is Jewish and, as you know, white bread is very goyish. Instant potatoes, goyish. Black cherry soda’s very Jewish, macaroons are very Jewish.”–Lenny Bruce

  24. Tim’s post just gave me an idea. We should circulate some fatwa/edict/rumor that all machine guns and explosives were invented by Jews. Also, any weapons not available in Mohammed’s time should be forbidden to Muslims. The only true jihadi is one who fights with only swords, knives, and his bare hands.

  25. David T, I say this as someone who was seriously involved with a (practicing) Jewish girl not too long ago–the only people more confused and confusing than Muslims are Jews 🙂

    I remember spending Passover with her folks and almost getting crucified for not knowing (well, forgetting, anyway) that picking up the cheese in the middle of the table and picking up the meat in the middle of the table and combining them on the bread meant, well, DEATH! I was stopped just in time. That’s okay, because I was thinking about munching on shrimp during the whole Seder 🙂 I also remember very intelligently blurting out, “Hey, this is just like the Last Supper!” during the meal. I’m just guessing here, but I think they’re glad that she’s done with her goyim dating phase.

    If I ever get hyper-religious, I’ll be avoiding any and all religions with dietary restrictions. Unless those restrictions are ones that I agree with, that is. No haggis sushi–that’s right out!

  26. “Which begs the question: How do you deal with a patently irrational totalitarian?”

    Is that a question about the US or Iraq?

    “Why aren’t ordinary able-bodied Iraqis joining law enforcement agents in droves to fight these fanatics?”

    They are. And they get blown up a lot of the time. These people are dying for THEIR country.

    So the question is…
    Given the current situation, should (does) the Iraqi constitution contain a version of the 2nd? Not being a smart ass here. It just seems like a lot of guns around during Saddam’s rule, but he managed to keep power. And the armed-people things hasn’t been working out too well for them since he’s gone (in terms of self-defense), so what is the solution? It seems that the armed militias are asserting control in some areas, but are also the main oppressors. So how do you protect the right of an armed militia/citizen, while dealing with these thugs. It is just the use gun-crime problem writ large, I think. How does a well armed populace move towards the rule of law?

  27. That’s
    US gun-crime

  28. “…almost getting crucified…”

    Word Choice, Pro L. Word Choice.

    Here’s a guess on Tim’s question: the Sunni areas of the country, especially Baghdad, are the most modern, secular, and developed. A religious fanatic in Basra looks around and sees a city like Allah intended. A religious fanatic in Baghdad looks around and sees 1001 things that piss him off.

  29. Boy, the way that Saddam bade
    Killing those who disobeyed
    Guys like us we had it made
    Those were the days!

    We Sunni knew who we were then
    Shiites were shit, Kurds were turd-men
    Mister, we could use a man like Chemical Ali again!

    Didn?t need no burkha drape
    Only Saddam’s sons could rape
    Gee, who would want to escape?
    Those … were … the … dayyyyyys!

  30. It’s the best Islamic republic in the making that can be bought for the price of billions of dollars and thousands of American casualties-all is service to what the neocons in and out of the administration think is good for the Israeli state.

  31. A religious fanatic in Basra looks around and sees a city like Allah intended. A religious fanatic in Baghdad looks around and sees 1001 things that piss him off.

    No falafels in Basra? No ice machines either, I’m sure.

  32. Any self-styled experts want to comment on the detail that this is apparently only happening amont the Sunnites?

    What makes you think that it is sunnies doing this? Baghdad is a mixed city and most of the shiite there are followers of al-Sadr, who tend to be the puritan type. Also, the same shit is hapenning in Basra all the time.

    The ultimate repsonsibility for this is on the occupation forces (read: the US government) the minute they toppledd Sadda’s government. They are supposed to provide for the security of the civilian poulation and instead they appointed a bunch of thugs to be heads of the Iraqi government.

  33. joe,

    And I would’ve gotten away with it, too, if you hadn’t noticed 🙂

    Actually, her family was quite reasonable about my strange beliefs. It was an interesting experience. Not only did I get the whole Passover moment, but I also went to her brother’s wedding, which was fairly traditional. Of course, when we were down here, the religious differences came up maybe once every three months, if that often. Florida dilutes religion, I guess 🙂

  34. I don’t know about you guys, but this whole thing just makes me feel awful.

  35. Which begs the question: How do you deal with a patently irrational totalitarian?

    An AK-47 sounds good to me. Though in Iraq, you’d probably need something a little bigger.

    How does a well armed populace move towards the rule of law?

    It’ll happen when somebody is able to put together a cohesive enough, large enough group to impose it. Law and order occur only when somebody is able to impose it at gun point.

    Democracy is an unlikely candidate for making that happen in Iraq. Somebody really should have thought about that before hand, but hey, details.

  36. The ultimate repsonsibility for this is on the occupation forces (read: the US government) the minute they toppledd Sadda’s government. They are supposed to provide for the security of the civilian poulation and instead they appointed a bunch of thugs to be heads of the Iraqi government.

    That may be true, but OTOH, if we actually did start trying to impose better security, the world would be screaming about our colonialist oppression. Hell, the way we worry about civilian casualties, we’d be screaming at ourselves.

    The people of Iraq are not used to law and order, by and large, and the “criminal element” in Iraq is in a whole different class from what you find here State side. It will take more severe measures to bring them to heel. If we did try I predict we’d be accused to being horrible.

    Like I said, somebody should have thought about this before we invaded, but hey, details.

    I’ve always been surprised that Afghanistan hasn’t turned out much worse than it has. Not sure why there hasn’t been more unrest there’s been.

    So now that the Religious Right is rearing its head in Iraq, how many more decades do you suppose our fearless leaders will decide to keep US forces over there?

  37. More on this macabre story from the Healing Iraq blog (via Andrew Sullivan).

    The Shias are certainly guilty of their share of abuses in the name of pursuing theocratic bliss, particularly in Basra and Najaf (I’ve touched on Basra before). But it’s evident that what’s now being perpetrated by Sunni lunatics goes a step further.

  38. You all are conflating one bad neighborhood in Iraq with the whole country.

    Is this going on in Kurdish areas?

    BTW estimates from the Saddam era showed about 30K a year killed for politics. These days according to the most authoritive leftist site it runs about 10K a year and is declining.

    Is it an improvement? For the Sunnis – no. For the rest of the country? Yes.

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