Former Iraqi Parliamentarian Mithal al-Alusi contacted me last Friday to report that major protests are taking place across Iraq. While there have been some news reports, Alusi says the Iraqi government has banned videotaping and most reporting on the protests--and that journalists and protestors have been killed by government forces.
Alusi believes the protests themselves are positive and decries the actions of Iraq's government in suppressing them.
In my numerous interviews with him through the years, Alusi has emphasized to me that the majority of people in Iraq are moderates who "want to be normal." What this means, he has explained to me, is that, while Islamist parties have dominated in recent Iraqi elections, the average Iraqi is more moderate than the government that represents him or her: in day-to-day life, in attitudes about gender relations, and even in attitudes towards Israel.
A champion of classically liberal values, Alusi's political party, the Iraq Nation Party, stands for human (including women's) rights, free speech, and counter-terrorism cooperation between democracies. In 2004, after he traveled to Israel to promote normalized relations between Iraq and the Jewish state, terrorists murdered his two grown sons, who had come to Iraq to help him build his political party.
Alusi says recent Iraqi elections have been heavily corrupted--both through direct tampering and via massive infusions of money to Iraqi political parties from Iran.
"[The Islamists] are weak," he has told me. "But if we do nothing, they are dangerous. If we stand up and if we tell the truth, more and more people will stand up against them."
Recent days' demonstrations--in Baghdad, Anbar, Basra, and in Diwaniya--show that the people of Iraq recognize the corruption and moreover, that they do not want to be dominated by Islamist parties, Alusi says. He estimates that the number of demonstrators in Baghdad last week reached 50,000.
A living example of the kind of individual former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky has written about in his numerous books including, The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror, Alusi has continually maintained that only when enough nations and people stand up to the world's dictators and extremists will those forces lose their power. Like Sharansky, he stresses that the terrifying power of dictators, tyrants, and terrorists is very much the same as that of the classic bully--magnified and empowered by the fears of others.
Dreadful as tyrants and terrorists may be, they are so for as long as the majority allows itself to be intimidated, he insists. Stand up to them, and the terrifying tyrants will bring on their worst--then collapse. The more terrifying they were, the harder they will fall, exposing their rule as the fragile house of cards it is. Where there is no moral underpinning or legitimacy to a ruler's power, he or she is forced to resort to brutality and manipulation to maintain power. That is why, according to Alusi and Sharansky, the recipe for bringing down dictators is so simple. When the majority cowers before them and is terrorized, and the dictators of the world continue to rule unchecked and their rule will seem eternal; stand up to them, and they will fall, perhaps not immediately, but eventually.
Appeasement is--on the macro level--the equivalent of catering to the bully. That is why, when a major power like the U.S. appeases a dictator, there is little that citizens within a fear society can do.
Alusi sees the protests across the mideast and even in Iraq as a refutation of the unchecked power and fear the region's dictators and Islamist extremists have used as a means of control for decades.
For that reason--and because he sees the Islamist parties in control in Iraq as an extension of Iran's tyranny--he is rejoicing and believes these demonstrations are a healthy sign of a freer, more democratic middle east to come.
"These are Iraqi normal human beings," he says. "Their voice is strong, it is the real Iraqi liberal voice."
He added in an e-mail message: "Today, Iraq and Iraqis are free. Iraqis are heading toward liberation, which proves that the extremists in Iran are merely 'a paper tiger' that cannot affect the Iraqi will and values."
He tells me the government, however, is cracking down on the demonstrators: "Despite the fact that the protests were peaceful in nature, orders were given to the military forces, commanded by the prime minister, to shoot the protesting citizens, which has led to kill[ing] more than twenty citizens across the country, as well as a lot of injured people, including the journalists," he said in an e-mail.
Ironically, although protestors are at present rebelling against the new government, it can be argued that the effort to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq--however problematic that process has been--has rippled throughout the region, giving people hope for more out of life, and now they are in the streets, risking their lives to stand up for their freedom.
Alusi thanks the U.S. for these developments.
"Americans must be proud--this is result of your work," Alusi told me last week. "The extremists are not strong--they are very weak--people are not so scared now--[Iraqi] militias' order was do not go to the demonstrations, and the people they went anyway."
He again stressed his understanding that the protestors are anti-Islamist-extremism.
"This was standing up against religious leaders, against all of the system," he said.
He says the government, in addition to shooting unarmed protestors, is using hot water and sending helicopters overhead to scare the protestors.
Alusi says more protests are set to take place across Iraq next Friday March 4. Again, he views this as a positive development, a sign that the "normal" people of Iraq--the moderates--are trying to assert themselves over extremist forces that have hijacked Iraq's government.
"This is our chance to prove that the Islamic fascists are coming to an end," he says.