Epic and Apocalypse
In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate
Hast thou not seen how thy Lord did with the Men of the Elephant?
Did he not make their guile to go astray?
And he loosed upon them birds in flight,
Hurling against them stones of baked clay
and He made them like green blades devoured.
The Ba'th party differed from all its predecessors in that it came to power possessing a full-fledged doctrine it thought capable of guiding it unerringly through the maze of power. It began its rule resolved to make that doctrine into a firm guide applicable to each and every aspect of life in Iraq. Yet despite--or perhaps because of--the existence of such a set of cut-and-dried dogmas, its concepts clashed starkly with Iraqi realities. Ba'thi precepts and Ba'thi discourse were strange to large sectors of Iraqi society and alienated them. This was true in particular of the Kurds and the Shi'is. But neither did the Ba'th tenets of secularism and "leftism" elicit any real enthusiasm in the ranks of the party's natural reservoir of potential supporters. This applied even to some party members and certainly to many people whose interests prompted them to identify with the ruling elite. The Ba'th idiom was foreign to their life experience and their worldview. Speaking its language was usually no more than a ritual for them. The well-known slogans were repeated over and over again but failed to assume any personal significance.
The real test of the strength of Ba'th doctrine occurred at times of crisis and challenge, such as the Shi'i riots of 1977, the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, the war against Iran ( 1980-1988), and the formation of the international military coalition against Iraq in 1990. It was at such times that the doctrine was found wanting. Gradually, the party had to drop the political discourse with which it had come to power and replace it with, or at least range alongside it, a different kind of public language. The latter drew on themes of historical, above all Islamic, provenance. In some measure, this process was intentional and guided from above; in part it was forced on the regime by specific circumstances; and in part it sprang spontaneously from deep layers of the Iraqi collective experience.
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Publication information: Book title: Saddam's WordPolitical Discourse in Iraq. Contributors: Ofra Bengio - Author. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: Oxford. Publication year: 1998. Page number: 159.
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