Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Sectarian violence, sectarian dating

WaPo had an interesting story up yesterday on how the ravages of war in Iraq are affecting, of all things, Baghdad's dating scene. Didn't think Baghdad had much of a dating scene? Well, it does, and it makes sense that the vicious sectarian divide between Sunnis and Shiites, the one that sends so many bodies to the morgue, often so many more than reported, would produce casualties of love:

For decades, marriages between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq were as ordinary as the daily call to prayer. But the sectarian warfare gripping the country has created a powerful barrier to Sunni-Shiite romances.Married couples have filed for divorce rather than face the scorn of their neighbors. Fiances have split up as a result of death threats. And, increasingly, young single Iraqis have concluded that it is simply easier to stick to their own kind when it comes to love and family.

In a country where intermarriage was long considered the glue that held a fragile multi-ethnic society together, the romantic segregation of Sunnis and Shiites is more than just a reflection of the ever more hate-filled chasm between the two groups. It is also a grim foreboding of the future.

And it isn't just dating:

The new taboo on Sunni-Shiite romances is only one of many impediments to love in this war-ravaged country. Religious authorities have forbidden casual dating. Women fearful of the bloodshed have become prisoners in their own homes. Couples have shunned posh restaurants once filled with lovebirds because they fear suicide bombers or kidnappers.

Don't misunderstand me. This is not an argument in favour of Saddam-style tyranny, nor an argument that life for Iraqis was so much better under Saddam than it is today. After all, like Tito in Yugoslavia, Saddam controlled long-standing sectarian strife with heavy-handed brutality. That is hardly the desired alternative to the chaotic retribalization that has gripped Iraq since Saddam's fall.

No, what this is is just one more facet — and on a socio-cultural level a deeply important one — of the seemingly insurmountable obstacle, rejuvenated sectarianism, that threatens to block the "new" Iraq's progress towards anything even remotely resembling liberal democracy.

I wonder if President Bush worries about Baghdad's dating scene. It may not cross his mind, but he might want to think about the deeper problem its recent transformation reflects.

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