By Christopher McCollum
The L.A. Times reports on alcohol crackdowns in Baghdad.
With Saddam Hussein removed as the Dictator in charge of Iraq, hope was sprung for millions of people to enjoy freedoms that were unimaginable up to that point. People cheered, and savvy businessmen opened clubs and bars all around the downtown district of Baghdad. Alcohol flowed freely, and the people of Iraq had a real taste of the west. Unfortunately, militia activity began rising and pushing against alcohol, and many places stopped carrying it for fear of invoking the wrath of the Islamic extremists. Still, many brave business owners continued with the practice of selling alcoholic beverages to their patrons, and they seemed to endure through the hardships of insurgent violence, but even having succeeded in that environment, they are finding an even tougher challenge ahead.
Recently, there have been many police raids on bars, restaurants, and clubs that serve alcohol, and bottles are being confiscated at alarming rates. Not even politicians are immune to the crackdowns, as they are being stopped at checkpoints and having their supplies of alcohol seized by Iraqi police officers. Many critics of these moves believe that they are politically motivated, and that Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nouri Maliki, is trying to garner hardline support for the upcoming election by taking an extreme stance against the adult beverages. However, on the flipside, many people, even those not dominated by religious views, believe that the seizures of alcohol and closures of bars and nightclubs are a good thing. Peaceful neighborhoods have turned into night time hot spots, with rambunctious youngsters running am muck, drinking in public, engaging in prostitution, and urinating on houses. Many residents are afraid, and one must be forced to wonder if the extreme change in lifestyle is NOT for the better.
When Hussein was in power, only 55 businesses had the proper licensing to sell alcohol. It was a very strict law, without engaging in pure prohibition. After the regime fell, extremists forced many of the businesses out, and destroyed others. It took until 2007 for the business owners to feel secure enough to re-engage in the act of selling alcohol. But rather than just the original 55 going back into business, there has been an additional 300 open their doors, many of which do not have the proper licensing required by the Baghdad government, according to officials.
For most Iraqis, the influx of debauchery that came with these store, restaurant, and club openings, has simply proven to be too much. Perhaps this move to shut down many locations is a good one; Not because of instilling a potential form of prohibition, but because of safe guarding the minds of those whom are directly affected. This kind of change is good in regards to freedom, but it should go a bit slower. A period of adjustment, and alcohol awareness social programs should follow, and then a gradual re-opening of a few establishments at a time, so as not to overload the mindsets of people who have been stuck in a certain way of life for generations. Most people of Iraq have lived their entire lives under the thumb of a brutal dictator, and while they should enjoy every freedom that we in America do, they also should not be forced to take those freedoms before they are ready.
Here’s hoping that it’s soon, so I can have a toast with my Baghdad brethren.