Sunday, November 19, 2006

I have a cunning plan...

The BBC reports that an Iraqi government minister has now been kidnapped from his home. Clearly, whether the British and the American stay in Iraq or not, the violence is showing no signs of abating.

Elsewhere (video footage), in Buenos Aires, Argentina, thousands of the city's inhabitants stage a pillow fight.

It seems to me that Porteños have the right idea about this: If you want to take your aggression out on someone, do it in a way that's harmless and fun. Maybe we should be urging the Iraqis to stage fights in which bed linen is the only permitted weapon, in mosques if necessary.

That may sound flippant, but there is a serious point. In the early 1900's Argentina was one of the richest countries in the world - with a per capita income comparable to that of France and Germany at the time. The arrival of immigrants to the then sparsely-inhabited country (simultaneously the eighth-largest in the world by area) contributed to its economic boom.

But then it all went wrong. Dictatorship after dictatorship following one economic disaster after another. Sounds a little like Iraq (or what Iraq could have been).

But there is a crucial difference: Since the return of democracy in 1983, and despite (a) a 22-year long amnesty against the perpetrators of the last dictatorship, and (b) an economic crash in the early 2000's, Argentina has been a peaceful country.

Now, I'm not one of those people who is going to tell you that it's because Arabs or Muslims are violent and can't get on well with others (strange source for that accusation, there). I'm also not one of those who is going to tell you that it's all our - the West's - or worse, Israel's fault. After all, it isn't so very long ago that it seemed that violence in Ulster would never end. But there is cause for hope. Many people were worried that after the introduction of multi-party democracy in South Africa, the ANC's commanding lead in the polls would lead to the kind of dictatorship now imposed by the one-time destroyer of white-minority rule in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe); a few were even worried that SA's spiralling crime rate would destroy the ability of Pretoria to administer law and order.

And let's not forget that Christian (not to mention Jewish) history has not been entirely blameless. In the Middle Ages, some of the conquerors of the New World threatened the native inhabitants of the continent with death if they refused to convert to Christianity - and made their threats in their (the conquerors') native language. How stupid is that? In the good ol' US of A, so-called "pro-lifers" threaten and commit violence against those who have abortions or those who aid them. Finally, in one episode all the more disgusting for its rarity, during the contested kingship of John Hyrcanus, the Idumeans were forcibly converted to Judaism and assimilated into the general Jewish population.

There's a lot of mud to sling on all sides. Maybe it's time to concentrate on what we have in common more than on what separates us. Blair and Bush's belated initiative to involve Syria and Iran in the future of their Iraqi co-religionists might just be the best chance we've seen to do that in ages.

But don't expect the jihadists - who, like all criminals, spoil it for the law-abiding majority - to turn their swords into pillows any time soon.

No comments: