IRAQ: Banning Baghdad falafel
Claude Salhani

Washington, June 6, 2006

Recent news reports from the Iraqi capital indicate that radical Islamists are launching a campaign to prohibit the sale of ... falafel. Yes, you heard right, falafel.

While this is the sort of news you might expect to hear from a late night stand-up comedian on television, sadly, this is not a joke, and a number of falafel vendors who failed to heed the warnings have paid with their lives.

Several vendors of the popular deep-fried chickpea sandwich were told they had just two weeks to change their profession or face death. And indeed, several vendors where shot and killed simply for selling falafel sandwiches. The logic offered by the religious zealots - if there is any - in imposing this inane diktat on the people is that there were no falafels in the time of the Prophet Mohammed.

Indeed there were no falafels in ancient Arabia. However, it might be worth pointing out to these same zealots - preferably with much tact - that in the days of the prophet there were no Kalashnikov automatic rifles with which to shoot those who did not follow orders.

Neither were there any improvised explosive devices. In the days of the prophet there were no cars in which to make speedy getaways in, or vans that could be packed with explosives to be detonated using a mobile phone.

The same backward-minded fundamentalists who enacted stricter than medieval laws in Afghanistan when the Taliban were in control of the country are now trying to do the same in Iraq and drag the country and its people back into a paleontologic existence.

It might also be well worth pointing out to these religious fundamentalists that in the time of the Prophet Mohammed, the Internet had not yet been invented. Therefore, by the same logic applied to the ban on falafels, all Internet sites maintained by radical Islamic groups ought to be shut down. Similarly, the video taping of attacks on coalition forces by Islamist insurgents, which are then quickly loaded onto propaganda Websites, should stop.

And by the same token, any jihadist fighter wounded in action should not receive modern medical treatment.

Antibiotics, painkillers, the use of all X-rays, MRIs, and all the benefits of modern medicine that over the centuries have saved countless of lives, should not be applied.

Baghdad, once the pride of the Arab world with its abundance of poets, writers, doctors, scientists and great thinkers, is being turned by religious fanatics into a place of chaos and anarchy.

Under Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party, the country was often called the `republic of fear.` But given the lawlessness that now prevails throughout the country, with scores of people turning up dead everyday, the republic of fear has become the `killing fields.`

The liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein by American and coalition troops came with a heavy price, especially for Iraqis. The invasion took the country away from the grips of Saddam`s `big brother`-like regime by which he ruled through fear and repression.

But with the country`s security forces dissolved, Iraq entered into a chaotic period - a mélange of chaos and anarchy. In Saddam`s Iraq, people were killed for political reasons. Today Iraqis are being killed every day based purely on their religious affiliation.

These fatwas, or religious edicts, enforced by religious fanatics will only serve to further undermine an already struggling economy in a country whose population has already greatly suffered by a war imposed upon them.

It is needless to state that Saddam was an evil man. And it`s a good thing that he is gone. But in the haste to remove him and dismantle the entire state apparatus he had constructed, including the country`s military, police and security forces, a great void was created.

That proved to be a grave error of judgment. Because it is this very void that the Islamists are filling. If they are allowed to take hold, getting rid of them may prove to be far more difficult than getting rid of Saddam.

Claude Salhani is International Editor at United Press International