Liberal Anguish

The disheartening news out of Afghanistan yesterday that Safia Ama Jan, the southern provincial head of Afghanistan’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs, was assassinated reminded me of a study released a few months back that has lingered in my mind ever since.

In June, the London-based Network for Education and Academic Rights issued a written statement saying that scientists, doctors, and university professors in Iraq were the targets of “a coordinated liquidation process.” Obviously, Iraq is not Afghanistan, but the targeting of Safia Ama Jan points to a larger issue: the systematic slaughter of liberal intellectuals in the two theatres of conflict where the United States is most aggressively engaged.

It must be said that the greatest threat to liberals in the Islamic world is the autocratic, thuggish, sometimes genocidal regimes who govern their societies. So, it is necessary to lament the “coordinated liquidation process” underway in Iraq, but it is equally important to remember that Saddam was the most fearsome enemy an Iraqi liberal could ever face. Simply put, he smothered, tortured, slaughtered, and damn-near completely extinguished any pulse of liberalism in Iraq.

The great hope was that with his toppling, liberalism would blosson in a far more hospitable, post-Saddam climate. The reality has been at best ghastly. One need look no further than the plight of Kenan Makiya, once thought of as the war’s great liberal hope, he now embodies the postwar debacle and the world’s abandonment of the promise of a liberal-democratic Iraq.

“It’s simply a nightmare,” an engineering professor at a Baghdad-area university told The Chronicle of Higher Education about the situation intellectuals face. “We are living in a jungle. You don’t know who is your enemy as you walk down the street. The idea is to exhaust Iraq of all its intellectuals. I’m planning to leave the country. I don’t want to leave this country; I love my people. But the situation is forcing me to do so.”

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