I mentioned Libyan dictator Muammar Khadafi’s speech before the UN General Assembly yesterday in my last post, but another one of his recent speeches was also interesting. Khadafi suggested that the artificial state of Switzerland should be abolished and its territory split between Germany, France and Italy.
The Swiss Confederation is comprised of numerous Cantons that are mostly German, but also French and Italian, and one small Canton that is Romansh. Some of the Cantons are Catholic, some are Protestant. In short, Switzerland represents a compromise on the Alpine frontier between three of Europe’s most powerful states, as well as between Western Europe’s two religions.
The discussion about Switzerland provides the opportunity to compare Iraq. Iraq, it is often stated, is comprised of three rival peoples, Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds, who could not reasonably be expected to form a nation-state together. Indeed, as a Senator, Joseph Biden, the Vice President of the United States, once proposed the partition of Iraq into three states comprised of the three groups.
But the theory that Iraq’s peoples cannot unite themselves into a state overlooks the example of Switzerland. Indeed, I submit that Switzerland is an even more improbable state than Iraq.
First of all, the view that Iraq is comprised mostly of three peoples, like Switzerland, is false. Iraq is comprised mostly of only two ethnic peoples: Arabs and Kurds. The reference to Iraq as comprised of “Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds” is misleading because it combines two religious groups with an ethnic group (See my post, Media Errors on Afghanistan and Iraq). However, Kurds are Sunni Muslims, too. The Sh’ites, like the rest of the Sunnis, are Arabs. Of course, as in Switzerland, there are other ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq, but Sunni Arabs, Shi’ite Arabs and Kurds are the three main groups.
Iraqis have a sense of national identity as The Cradle of Civilization and the land of Harun al-Rashid, whose age of wealth and culture gave rise to the legend of Sinbad. Kurds have been part of Iraq’s history for a long time. Saddam Hussein even fancied himself another Saladin, the Kurdish Sultan who led the Muslim forces that defeated the Crusaders. The Kurdish rebellion against him, like the Shi’ite rebellion, was more a reaction to his brutality than a reflection of division between Iraq’s peoples. In a sense, the Kurds and Shi’ites were already united – in opposition to Hussein’s regime. At the same time, Kurds and Sunni Arabs are united in opposition to Iranian influence.
Moreover, Islam unites the Kurds to Arabs more than Christianity unites the German, French and Italians in Switzerland. Christianity does not even unite the same ethnic group in Switzerland; Swiss Germans are especially divided between Catholicism and Protestantism. The split between Sunnis and Shi’ites is more one of schism than of heresy, unlike that between Catholics and Protestants. Sunnis and Shi’ites even worship at the same mosque, whereas Catholics and Protestants have separate churches. In fact, Sunnis and Shi’ites often live in proximity and sometimes even intermarry.
The argument advanced by liberals and isolationists opposed to the Liberation of Iraq, or realists skeptical of the success of any post-Hussein Iraqi state, that the Iraqi peoples hated each other represented a misunderstanding. The failure of the al-Qaeda strategy of trying to pit the groups against each other proved the falsehood of the argument. Al-Qaeda’s ruthless massacres only further united the Iraqi people in opposition to this foreign threat.
Iraqis face many challenges in establishing their state, but if an artificial state like Switzerland that is even more ethnically and religiously diverse than Iraq can peacefully exist, then so, too, can Iraq.