Programming Note

This Sunday I’m going to Puerto Rico for ten days. I’ve been travelling more than ever lately. I went to both Europe and North Africa twice in three months, and I went to the East Coast twice in one week. But this time Shelly and I are going on an actual vacation. You know, sun, sand, sleeping in, dining out, hiking, snorkeling, that sort of thing.

Mary Madigan and Jeremy Brown will guest-blog while I’m lounging around on the beach. They’re welcome to post before I leave, too, so watch for their bylines.




(Photos by Lonely Planet and PuertoRicoPhotoStock.com.)

The Post He Never Wanted to Write

Those of us who supported regime-change in Iraq are obligated to go on record in opposition to torture — assuming we really do oppose torture, that is. Anti-war liberals can’t be expected to fight it all by themselves.

Republicans have a partly overlapping, but also somewhat unique, obligation. Sebastian Holsclaw, who calls himself a conservative, explains that obligation over at Red State. If you’re a Republican, this is today’s required reading. I know I’m telling you to eat your peas here, but this is important.

Reality-Check Time

Steve Silver posted a must-read essay in defense of the dreaded three-letter acronym known as the “MSM.” He has been a professional journalist for five years and a blogger for three. He knows both worlds well, and what makes his defense of the mainstream media better than most is that he knows very well what really is wrong with it. In other words, this ain’t no whitewash.

Purple Finger, Worthy Cause

Posted by Jeremy Brown

Following up on a previous post of mine, you can now get yourself some merchandise bearing that “give fascism the finger” logo.

“Proceeds ($2 per mug, and $1 per badge/magnet) will be split between the IFTU and the Iraqi Pro-Democracy Party.”

Ayatollah Sistani and His List

The United Iraqi Alliance will most likely be the winner in Iraq’s election once the votes are all counted. The party (or “list” of candidates) was endorsed by Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric Ayatollah Sistani.

The nature of this political party is crucial. It can help us determine what the majority of Iraqis really want, as well as the direction the country is likely to take during the next couple of years.

I’m hardly an expert on the United Iraqi Alliance. Far from it. Iraq has as many political parties as it has opinions, and I’m nowhere near being able to keep all of them straight.

On that note, here are a few articles that suggest in broad brushstrokes what we might expect.

The first is an AP article from Hamza Hendawi that appeared just before the election. Much of this is encouraging.

The candidate list endorsed by Iraq’s top Shiite cleric is likely to emerge as the dominant political group in Sunday’s election. But his followers said Monday they aren’t looking to create a cleric-led Islamic state, and expectations are they won’t be strong enough to govern on their own.

The bloc backed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani probably will have to negotiate a governing coalition with other political groups, including rival Sunni Arabs, a minority that long dominated Iraq’s Shiite majority.

At a news conference, politicians running on the al-Sistani-endorsed ticket, the United Iraqi Alliance, sought to ease any fears the bloc wants to install an Iranian-style Shiite state. Hanin Mohammed Qaddou, a Sunni Muslim on the ticket, said the issue of religious government was “not part of the program and it will not be in the near future.”

Humam Hammoudi, a Shiite cleric allied with al-Sistani, said the United Iraqi Alliance has many members who oppose mixing Islam and politics. “Had this been our intention we wouldn’t have let them join our list,” he said.

Al-Sistani, whose views are influential with most Shiites in Iraq, is known to oppose the idea that clergy have a right to rule. He is, however, expected to insist that the constitution drawn up by the new National Assembly upholds Iraq’s Muslim traditions and not include freedoms or practices violating the faith’s basic tenets.

Alliance leaders also vowed not to seek revenge for violence by Sunni extremists, who make up most of the country’s insurgency.

Emphasis added by me.

If what the article says is indeed true, our two biggest concerns can be laid to rest. 1) The majority of Iraqis did not wish to establish theocracy. 2) The majority of Shi’ites do not want a civil war with the Sunni Arab minority.

So far so good.

One of the Iraqis I spoke to in Washington last weekend (I’m sorry, but I don’t remember exactly who it was) said he thought Ayatollah Sistani’s endorsement of one list over the others is bad for both Iraq and Sistani himself. That may be. It tells us something useful, even so. Since Sistani endorsed who appear to be the victors, knowing who Sistani himself is tells us something about the likely victors, as well. I think it’s reasonable to assume he endorsed people who share his basic philosophy.

Now is a good time to revisit an article Johann Hari published a few months ago in Britain’s Independent.

A democratic ayatollah? At first, the idea sounds preposterous, like a black Ku Klux Klansman, a Jewish Nazi or an intellectual member of the Bush family. The Ayatollah Khomeini is still the West’s mental template, a tyrannical theocrat who slaughtered more than a million Iranians and issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie.

But democratic instincts spring up in the strangest of places. Many Shias insisted that Khomeini was an anomaly, a radical departure from the millennium-old Shia tradition of “quietist” clerics who did not seek personal political power. I was always pretty sceptical, and I’m instinctively hostile to religious authorities – but the behaviour of Sistani since the fall of Saddam has proved them right. From his home in Najaf, Sistani has been an absolutely consistent campaigner for a free and democratic Iraq, while scrupulously avoiding any temptation to seek power for himself.


Read his book A Code of Practice For Muslims in the West. It is – in Muslim terms – a startlingly progressive text. Sistani stresses the importance of respecting democracy, arguing that Muslims should participate in electoral politics – as voters and candidates – on an equal basis with non-Muslims. This might sound like a platitude, but compare it with the message preached across the Arab world by Islamofascist groups like al-Muhajaroun, who argue, “Muslims must not vote for anyone in elections… It is idol-worship. There is no legislator but Allah, and the only law should be Sharia”.

Before the war, some of us argued that, in a Saddam-free Iraq, democratic strains of Islamic thought would begin to emerge. We were right – but the violence has been so terrible that nobody noticed. Reuel Marc Gerecht, an expert in Shia political thought, says that Sistani’s philosophical arguments for democracy are “almost unprecedented in their scope. He speaks the language of inalienable rights: one man, one vote, and a constitution written by elected representatives and approved by popular referendum. Sistani has managed to launch a project that Muslim progressives have only ever dreamed of: establishing a democratic political order sanctioned and even protected by the clergy.” Here are the slow, tentative roots of the Islamic Reformation so badly needed in the Middle East.

Thank Allah for Ayatollah Sistani. I didn’t know what to make of him for some time. But I’ve slowly come to trust him, and he hasn’t let me down yet.

If I were Iraqi I almost certainly would vote for a more secular party to the left of the United Iraqi Alliance. I’m instinctively distrustful of religious parties, even when they’re democratic. Still, Iraq can do a lot worse than having a democratic small-c conservative party like Ayatollah Sistani’s running the show. Iraqis could have voted for war and dictatorship — and they didn’t.

Besides, it’s none of my business how they choose to govern themselves — as long as they really do choose how to govern themselves and don’t opt for anti-American war-mongering tyrants to make the decisions for them instead. It looks like they probably cleared that hurdle, and the case for optimism is now higher than it recently was.

UPDATE: Mary Madigan thinks Sistani might be an Islamist. She cites evidence from her archives (1, 2, 3, 4), but it’s all older than what I cited. Hmm. I wish I knew more about him than I do.

Activistists Revisited

My new Tech Central Station column is up: They March for Themselves.

UPDATE: After you read my piece, read Patrick Lasswell. He was standing right next to me during one of the incidents I recall in the article.

Drinking with Christopher Hitchens and the Iraqis

As many of you already know, I was on TV with Christopher Hitchens last weekend. Jim Hake of Spirit of America asked me to come out to Washington DC at the very last minute to be a part of the Iraqi election coverage program on C-SPAN. I had no idea until I got there that the Hitch was scheduled to be a part of it, too.

Christopher Hitchens.jpg

(If you missed the broadcast, you can still watch it here.)

I’ve received a whole gaggle of emails asking for details and stories about what happened at dinner after the show. So for all of you who asked, here we go. (CAVEAT: I did not take notes. This is all from memory, and I was drunk part of the time.)

We went to The Palm in downtown Washington. “We” included the following big-shots, along with little-shot me: Christopher Hitchens, author, journalist, and cantankerous polemicist; Andrew Apostolou, Director of Research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies; Ahman Al Rikaby, former Director of Radio Free Iraq and current Director of Iraq’s Radio Dijla; Entifadh Qanbar, Special Envoy from the Iraqi National Alliance; Ghassan Atiyyah, Director of the Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy; and Hassan Mneimneh, Director of the Iraq Memory Foundation.

Andrew Apostolou wasn’t part of our news program, but he’s been a long-distance friend of mine for a while now. I had never actually met him in person, and I had to invite him. I figured he’d fit right in, and he did. Andrew is a bona fide expert on Iraq who seems to know just about everybody. The minute he showed up nearly all the Iraqis recognized him on sight and wanted to shake his hand. He gave me a little lapel pin in the shape of the Kurdistan flag. I stuck it on my collar. When Hitch showed up he was wearing one, too. And he noticed mine.

We all met in the bar while the restaurant staff prepared the big table. It was a tense scene from the get-go. Ghassan Atiyyah was none too impressed with Christopher Hitchens and his gung-ho enthusiasm. And let’s just say he didn’t keep that to himself. (Dr. Atiyyah was the notoriously doom-and-gloom grouch who pissed all over the election on camera.) He hated Hitchens on sight. And when I say “hate,” I mean white-hot, wide-eyed hate with flaring-nostrils.

Hitchens took it in stride. When the staff moved us all to our table, he addressed Atiyyah politely. “Sir,” he said. “Perhaps there is something in your personal story that some of us here don’t know about that might help explain where you’re coming from.”

Atiyyah just sat there, smoldering, and gave Hitchens the evil eye.

I had little interest in him. I had coffee with him that morning and he seemed like a reasonable, if slightly patronizing, person. But now he was distinctly unpleasant. He had no defenders at the table.

I’m not sure what happened next. I didn’t show up at that dinner to fight, nor did I feel like watching a fight. I get enough of that in my comments section. So I struck up a conversation with Hitchens’ wife who sat next to me.

We talked about Marc Cooper because he’s a friend we both have in common. She has been friends with him for a very long time — most of her life if I remember correctly. I’ve been friends with him for only a short time. But he worked as a conversation starter. As it turns out, Marc and I were considering hanging out in Las Vegas together that very weekend, but neither of us were actually able to be there. (I went to Washington on short notice, and he had to move his own Vegas trip up a couple of days.) She said Marc taught her how to play blackjack, and that she later won some big-shot tournament as a result. Marc loves Vegas and blackjack, and his latest book, The Last Honest Place in America: Paradise and Perdition in the New Las Vegas, is a terrific read even if you’re the type of person who can’t stand the city. He knows how to make the place fun and seem slightly less ridiculous than it actually is.

Despite my little sidetrack discussion, I was drawn back into the argument at the table.

Christopher Hitchens said to Ghassan Atiyyah: “If the Iraqis were to elect either a Sunni or Shia Taliban, we would not let them take power.” And of course he was right. We didn’t invade Iraq so we could midwife the birth of yet another despicable tyranny. “One man, one vote, one time” isn’t anything remotely like a democracy.

But Atiyyah would have none of that. He exploded in furious rage. “So you’re my colonial master now, eh?!” You have to understand — this man’s voice really carries.

Suddenly, Atiyyah did have defenders at the table. I could see that coming in the shocked expressions on the faces of the other Iraqis when they heard what Hitchens said. Ahman al Rikaby, intriguingly, was an exception. He just looked at Atiyyah with a cold and sober stoicism. But Hitchens had a defender, too. He had me.

“I agree with Christopher,” I said. “We didn’t invade Iraq to let it turn into another Iran.” I knew damn well all the Iraqis at the table were staunch opponents of religious fascism. This shouldn’t have been a point of contention. But, boy, was it ever.

“Who the hell are you?” Atiyyah said to Hitchens as if I weren’t the last one to speak. “Some Brit who lives in New York!”

“I beg your pardon, sir, but it wasn’t up to me where I was born,” Hitchens said.

“What do you mean when you say we?” Hassan Mneimneh said to me.

“I mean the US and Britain,” I said, “along with — hopefully — everyone here at this table.”

“Who are you to tell us what to do!?”

I didn’t like this one bit. It wasn’t an argument. Hell, I love an argument. This was a fight. And it was a fight between Americans and Iraqis who were all supposed to be on the same side. The merest slip and/or misunderstanding instantly fractured our happy alliance. Believe me, you don’t know what a tense political fight feels like until the person yelling at you is from a country you recently bombed and currently occupy. The Bush versus Kerry arguments got nothin’ on this. It was really quite horrible and I desperately wanted to make it stop. I had to answer Mneimneh’s question honestly and — hopefully — in a way that he could understand.

This, basically, is what I said to him: “First of all, it is our business if Iraqis or anyone else wants to put a Taliban government into power. People like that murdered thousands in our country and thousands more in countries all over the world – including Iraq. Second, I can assure that you Christopher and I would do everything we possibly could to prevent any Taliban-like force from taking power in our own country, as well as in yours. This has nothing to do with us telling you what to do and everything to do with fighting fascism wherever in the world it exists. And as long as Iraqis aren’t our enemy, I don’t care what they do. It’s none of my business. I certainly don’t want to rule over you or anyone else.”

There was so much yelling and interrupting and cross-talk going on I’m not sure Mneimneh heard even half of what I said. Nor do I remember what he said next. But I do remember that his facial expression and body language softened dramatically. Something I said must have got through to him, and thank God for that. He and I — truly — were on the same side. I knew it, and I’m pretty certain he knew it too. I did not want to fight with him, and I don’t think he enjoyed the experience any more than I did.

I looked over at Hitchens, who was sitting right next to me. He wasn’t rattled at all. He sat with his arms crossed and his legs sticking straight out in front of him, still battling it out with Dr. Atiyyah. He literally, physically, dug his heels into the floor.

“If you wanted more Iraqi support,” Atiyyah bellowed at Hitchens,” you should have given us more money and food once you got there!”

“So you’re saying, sir, that you can be bought,” Hitchens shot back.

I put my face in my hands. None of this was what I wanted to hear, and it dragged on longer than I’m making it seem in the re-telling.

Eventually, Jim Hake’s indispensable Web developer Donovan Janus pulled up a chair and had a long, quiet one-on-one talk with Dr. Atiyyah. I have no idea what they talked about. Donovan is an eminently reasonable person (he grew up in Holland), and whatever he said did the trick. The fight was diffused. The night’s tense opening was finished and we spent the rest of the evening as friends. We all could eat, drink, and smoke while genuinely enjoying each other’s company and learning from our different perspectives. Solidarity was back, and I felt certain it would not crack again. (I was right.)

Perhaps that fight needed to happen. Maybe there was no way to avoid the tension wrought by invasion and occupation, and the air just had to be cleared. Perhaps our Iraqi guests felt, on a subconscious level, like they needed to test us. Maybe they really didn’t (and don’t) completely understand how we differ from the colonialists and imperialists of the past. Perhaps their pride really is wounded, not just by Saddam but also by us. Maybe all these things are true at the same time. And surely there is more to it than that, things I might never be in a position to understand.

Friendly Arabs are the easiest people to bond with I’ve ever met. It takes no time at all to forge friendship if they’re willing — and they so often are. Despite our spat with the Iraqis (and who knows, perhaps in part because of that fight) I felt like those of us at the table were like old friends. Thank God and Allah for that. It gave me hope for the future, not only for our individual countries, but also hope for a future Iraqi-American alliance untainted by any distorted neo-imperial arrangement.

I respected them more, too, because they stood up to me and Christopher Hitchens. They are not servile people. They will never, ever, be anyone’s puppets. They are gentle and decent, and at the same time fierce and formidable. You really do not want to mess with them. And they’re great to have on your side.

We raised our glasses in a toast to the new free Iraq.


One-by-one people left.

Entifadh Qanbar asked me to please email him the photo of the veiled Iraqi voter with a tear in her eye. “I saw that picture and wept,” he said. “It is incredibly moving.”


On his way out the door I invited Andrew Apostolou to breakfast the next morning, where he showed up and had French toast and coffee with my bleary-eyed hung-over self.

Eventually it was down to just five of us — Christopher Hitchens, Ahman al-Rikaby, Jim Hake, Donovan Janus, and me.

Our waiter kindly gave us the boot at 11:00 p.m.

“Well,” Hitchens said. “I’m off. I have to get up in the morning and continue the fight on CNN.”

“Oh, come on, Christopher,” I said. “You’re the one who’s supposed to keep us up all night.”

I could almost see the good angel on one shoulder getting the crap kicked out of him by the devil hovering over the other. It was the world’s shortest fight ever.

“Okay,” he said. “But this is downtown Washington on a Sunday. Nothing is open. We have to go back to my house. It never closes.”

“You left New York City for this?” I said.

He nodded and rolled his eyes.

“The bar at our hotel is open,” Jim said. “It stays open until 2:00.”

“Are you sure?” Hitchens said. He was highly suspicious.

I went to New York two weeks ago and wished I lived there instead of in Portland. But Washington made me happy as hell that I live where I live. There is absolutely no shortage of things to do and places to hang out in at 11:00 p.m. on a Sunday.

Jim turned out to be right. Our hotel bar was open, and it was a fine one — dim lighting, cozy tables, warm wood paneling, the works.

“Shall we get a bottle of wine?” someone (I think it was Jim) asked.

“Absolutely,” I said.

“Red or white,” he asked.

“Wine. Is. Red!” Hitchens said, and I couldn’t agree more. I had a 24-hour hangover from cheap white wine in a box when I was 14 years old. I haven’t been able to touch the stuff since. Even the thought of the taste of white wine makes my stomach do somersaults.

What a treat it is to talk politics and shop with Christopher Hitchens. When I yak about politics with most people we can’t get past fundamentals. But if Hitchens says “Kurdistan” or “Kissinger” I know exactly what he means and where he’s coming from. He needs say no more. We’re instantly on the same page on multiple levels all at once. We can talk about the finer points without getting bogged down in spats about imperialism, pacifism, and Bush.

But I did argue with him. And, no, I couldn’t beat him. I was too drunk and he was too smart and prepared.

Ahman al-Rikaby mentioned capital punishment. “I’m against it,” he said. “But at least for the next few months I will hope we execute Saddam Hussein.”

“Here’s to that,” I said.

Hitchens said no, as I knew he would.

“The core of the insurgency,” Ahman said, “are his Baathists. We have to defeat them. And we have to kill Saddam Hussein so they know there is no way they can go back.”

“Yes,” I said. “That’s the difference between Saddam and Ted Bundy. Bundy didn’t have fanatical killers running around loose in the streets cutting off heads in his name. He was harmless there in his cage. Saddam Hussein isn’t harmless as long as he’s breathing.”

“When the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia,” Hitchens said, “they murdered the czar, his wife, and his children…so there would be no going back. Are you sure that’s what you want?”

I sighed. It was a hell of a point, and I was too drunk to come up with a response. But for the most part I was able to keep up with the conversation. Usually when I’m drunk – which doesn’t happen too often – I can hardly manage a sentence without being stupid. That night I felt like if the conversation reached a lull for even ten seconds I would be finished. Whatever tenuous grip I still had on logic and clarity would just evaporate and I’d float hopelessly away in a drunken fog for the rest of the night. I got up to use the restroom and felt like an utter fool when I nearly fell into Jim Hake’s lap. When I came back I stepped ever so gingerly back to my seat.

At one point, apropos of something I can’t remember, Ahman said to me: “I can tell you in one sentence how my country feels about your country.”

“Really?” I said. “Can you really boil it down to one sentence?”

“Yes,” he said. “And it is this: Thank you for coming, now please leave and take us with you.”

I laughed because it seemed totally contradictory and totally right.

The bartender came by and asked Hitchens if he wanted another drink. “Thank you so much,” Hitchens said, “you’re a perfect gentleman.” It’s funny. He’s exactly the same in person as he is on TV. The only difference is that he has a drink in one hand and a Rothmans cigarette in the other. What you see on TV is what you get. His persona isn’t a shtick, it’s his real personality.

I asked him if he reads blogs.

“No,” he said. “Not really. I could spend all day reading blogs and not get anything done.”

“You can’t afford not to read blogs,” I said. “Because of who you are and what you do for a living, you’ll be hopelessly behind if you don’t.”

“Yes,” he said. “I know, I know,” but I wasn’t sure he really meant it.

Later he told me he recently saw “that little weasel” Juan Cole speak in public.

“You know about that flap he had with Omar and Mohammed from Friends of Democracy?” (I am referring here to Omar and Mohammed of Iraq the Model. They also founded Friends of Democracy.)

I could tell by the look on his face that he didn’t.

“He floated some conspiracy theory about how Omar and Mohammed, whom you spoke to over the phone on C-SPAN today, are possibly CIA plants.”

He stared at me gape-mouthed.

“He completely disgraced himself,” I said. “Most of the blogosphere piled on. You should have seen it.”

“You mean I stood right there in front of both him and his fans without that ammunition?”

He looked despondent. I felt triumphant.

“Like I said, Christopher,” I told him. “You can’t afford to be unplugged from the blogosphere.”

“Angel,” he said. “Can I call you angel?”

“Of course,” I said. (Did he actually say that? — ed. I think so, but keep in mind I was drunk.)

“I want to exploit your knowledge of blogs,” he said.

“Email me,” I said. “You know where to find me.”

(He did email me. I showed him all of my favorites. And I showed him Juan Cole’s lunatic post.)

After the bar closed he gave Ahman al-Rikaby a bear hug.

He shook my hand. “Well met,” he said. “Well met.” I was the one who was supposed to say that.

Jim Hake’s cell phone rang. It was his wife.

“Christopher,” he said. “Will you talk to my wife for a second? She really wished she could meet you tonight.”

“Of course,” he said as Jim handed the phone over to him.

“Hello, my dear,” Hitchens said. “We missed you this evening.”

He may be a ruthless and scrappy polemicist. But he is also a perfect gentleman.

Hypocrisy by hypocrites

Posted by Mary Madigan

Writing for Open Democracy, Dominic Hilton explains why anti-Americanism is “as derisorily fashionable as those ludicrous woolly boots everyone’s presently sporting”.

Biggest reason – deriding evil capitalist America is profitable:

Unlike back in ‘68, “I hate America” is now “organised”. Not organised in the leftist sense, I mean organised in the Ben and Jerry’s sense. Attractively-packaged, nice tasting, creamy, chocolaty, cookie-dough anti-Americanism that clogs the arteries and numbs the brain.

Fashion trumps sophistication. America’s insignia are ubiquitous — from Ralph Lauren jumpers to Primal Scream album covers to the end of a flaming match in the Arab Street, looking modish even when being burned. I’ve seen kids on TV in Osama bin Laden t-shirts and New York Yankees’ baseball caps (Hello? You don’t see the irony?). I’ve watched young British men in the nondescript north-of-London town of Luton clad in “New York” sweatshirts holding up banners of the extremist Islamic group al-Muhajiroun.

Our rebels are American. So are our anti-Americans. Michael Moore is one of America’s biggest exports. America makes anti-Americanism profitable for America. What a country!

After all, it’s hard to make a buck in a Euro-socialist paradise.

What can we do about it? More ‘we’re sorry’ photos? More parodies of ‘we’re sorry’ photos?

Hilton says it best:

America is not the panacea, nor is it the devil. Our problems are generally our problems. The world would do well to be a little more like America, a tad more insular, self-involved.

Good idea. Europe, for example, has a few problems of its own to work on. Let’s make it a new trend for the summer season; something to replace those ludicrous woolly boots.

[link thanks to Harry at Harry’s Place]

A Long Hard Look in the Funhouse Mirror

Posted by Jeremy Brown

Sometimes a journalist gets so homesick for the truth he’s willing to meet it half way, as narrated in this case by Tina Brown in the Washington Post (via Judith Weiss):

Even reporters on the ground in Iraq could hardly believe what they were living through as they watched the power of an idea transmute into the living, breathing form of black-clad women, Marsh Arabs and throngs of Kurdish mountaineers festively making their way to the polls. The father of a young reporter who has spent most of the last two years in Iraq shared with me his son’s e-mail from Baghdad. “We journalists are all sitting round and asking each other how we missed what’s clearly a far deeper drive for political and societal change than we realized.

Baby steps. But we’ll refrain from answering what, unfortunately, seems to be a rhetorical question. The point is, this guy got there. Or did he, exactly?

“It is a measure of our isolation here — and also, I think, a measure of how the violence and humiliation of the occupation has masked people’s very genuine feelings.”

Oh brother. Tina Brown is noticing a trend, for the moment, wherein anti-Bush liberals, seeing the touching success of the Iraqi election are trying to find ways to not be so angry. Or something. Where’s it going to lead? I think the best we can hope for is that it will lead toward that place where, in the event of a successful Iraqi journey toward stability and increasing democratic freedom, the anti-war crowd will stop saying the word (you know, ‘Iraq.’)

I think Judith has it right:

“…Iraqis’ desires for freedom and national unity were right there in front of you, not masked at all, ready to be noticed and reported on.

But you didn’t want to see it.

The full picture?

Posted by Mary Madigan

In October 2002, CNN’s news chief Eason Jordan told Franklin Foer of The New Republic that his network gave “a full picture” of Saddam’s regime.” He challenged Foer to find instances of CNN neglecting stories about Saddam’s horrors.

In April 2003, Jordan admitted in a New York Times op-ed that CNN had learned some “awful things” about the Saddam’s regime that they were afraid to print for fear of losing access to live camera feeds.

Jordan, who downplayed the crimes of Saddam’s regime, is now speculating, without any proof, in a very public forum, that members of the American military targeted and murdered a dozen journalists.

According to Rony Abovitz

During one of the discussions about the number of journalists killed in the Iraq War, Eason Jordan asserted that he knew of 12 journalists who had not only been killed by US troops in Iraq, but they had in fact been targeted. He repeated the assertion a few times, which seemed to win favor in parts of the audience (the anti-US crowd) and cause great strain on others.

Due to the nature of the forum, I was able to directly challenge Eason, asking if he had any objective and clear evidence to backup these claims, because if what he said was true, it would make Abu Ghraib look like a walk in the park. David Gergen was also clearly disturbed and shocked by the allegation that the U.S. would target journalists, foreign or U.S. He had always seen the U.S. military as the providers of safety and rescue for all reporters.

Eason seemed to backpedal quickly, but his initial statements were backed by other members of the audience (one in particular who represented a worldwide journalist group). The ensuing debate was (for lack of better words) a real “sh–storm”. What intensified the problem was the fact that the session was a public forum being taped on camera, in front of an international crowd.

Hugh Hewitt has more..

While Jordan’s statement may not cause as much damage as Noam Chomsky’s statement that the U.S. intended to ‘casually starve’ a million Afghans to death in a “silent genocide”, it seems to come from the same impulse. Downplaying the crimes of dictators while exaggerating, or making up ‘facts’ about crimes committed by the United States is passive aggressive form of attack that some seem to find habit-forming.

UPDATE: According to Instapundit, foreign journalists aren’t corroborating Jordan.

Of course, the Guardian has a history of repeating what Jordan says, verbatim, but they’ll believe anything.

As to the question of why established professionals like Eason feel that they have to make stuff up, commenter ZF says:

The common thread, it seems to me, is that these are all 60′s liberal white males having some sort of mid-life crisis which has impelled them to invent a grandiose, exaggerated and heroic version of their past. Maybe we should look at this as a male version of cosmetic surgery?

Sounds about right..

Reclaiming the Word ‘Martyr’

Posted by Jeremy Brown

Salim Yacoubi bent over to kiss the purple ink stain on his twin brother’s right index finger, gone cold with death.

“You can see the finger with which he voted,” Shukur Jasim, a friend of the dead man, said as he cast a tearful gaze on the body, sprawled across a washer’s concrete slab. “He’s a martyr now.”


“It’s not the man who exploded himself who’s a martyr,” Mr. Jasim said as the body washer wiped away dried blood. “He wasn’t a true Muslim. This is the martyr. What religion asks people to blow themselves up? It’s not written in the Koran.”

Mr. Aziz, the neighbor, nodded.

“This is the courage of Iraqis,” he said of Mr. Yacoubi’s decision to vote, “and we will change the face of history. This is our message to the countries of the world, especially those that are still under a dictatorship and want to walk the same road as the Iraqis.”


In the dusty lot outside the washing rooms, another family strapped a coffin holding the body of a policeman, Adil al-Nassar, onto the roof of a blue minivan. He had just been cleaned. Now it was time to take him to the golden-domed Shrine of Ali for his final blessings. He was not the first policeman to be brought here.

Officer Nassar, 40, died after tackling a man who had leapt into a line of women waiting to vote at Osama bin Zaid Primary School, said Kadhum al-Hashim, the officer’s father-in-law.

“There were many people, and Adil was just guiding the voters into the school when the terrorist jumped into the line of women,” Mr. Hashim said. Several others died in the explosion, he added.

The victim’s brother, Muhammad al-Nassar, wiped away tears with a white scarf.

Adil al-Nassar had joined the new police force just a year ago, his brother said. He had a family to feed: a wife and three children, the eldest an 8-year-old son.

“He’s a martyr now,” Mr. Nassar said. “He saved many lives for the greater good.”

(By Edward Wong, New York Times)

Fun With Polls

Posted by Michael J. Totten

You’re going to war. Who do you want next to you in the trench?
George W. Bush, Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Tony Blair, and Christopher Hitchens
John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Dennis Kucinich, Jacques Chirac, and Maureen Dowd

Free polls from Pollhost.com

It ought to go without saying that this poll is as unscientific as creationism, astrology, and Miss Cleo all roled into one.

Still Celebrating

by Jeremy Brown

Yes, I know; it’s been a couple of days since the Iraqi election. It’s time for people like me to tone down our unseemly enthusiasm and give the slouching, frowning pessimists, cynics, and tut-tutters their chance to sit up tall, straighten their lapels and give us their side of the story. Actually, they’ve been pretty much doing that all along, haven’t they? Then I guess you won’t mind that I’m still celebrating. Just one more post before I wipe this naive smile off my face and reacquaint myself with ‘reality.’

I’ve been reading blogs across the political spectrum and I would like to share some of my findings with you.

My thesis is this: separating things into Left and Right tells you less than dividing them between ‘them what gets it’ and ‘them what don’t.’

What Don’t:

I won’t dwell on these, frankly, but here’s a taste. Take my word that there are plenty on the ostensible Right who feel this way too (hat tip: Todd Pearson)

Eric Alterman: “I don’t have a lot to say about the Iraqi elections . . .”

Tom Tomorrow: “I don’t have a lot to say about the elections right now . . .”

What Do:

Don’t let them tell you you’re a fascist for wanting to celebrate Iraqi liberation or that you’re a Stalinist because you have hope for a better world and will not tolerate tyranny from either the Left or the Right:

People who live in countries where liberal democracy is far too easily taken for granted – and even, appallingly, sneered at by the converging elitists of the right and the pseudo-left, who imagine that they could do much better if only the masses would turn to them – are in no position to carp at the courage and determination of those who voted in Iraq on Sunday, a day that will be right up there in the history of political progress with Christmas Day 1989, when Romanians risked their lives to get rid of their own Stalinist dictatorship. It’s one more nail in the coffin of dictatorship, and, for the deranged apologists of fascism and terrorism, who have read too little Marx and not understood even what they have read, one more kick up the backside (where their brains appear to be located). (-SIAW)

And post this on your site, courtesy of a Lefty black cat from Australia:


And let’s start saving the word “progressive” for those who are truly interested in the progress of democratic freedom in the world:

Today the bigots lost. The bigots that say that “Arabs don’t want to vote” or “Islam cant support Democracy” are now scratching their heads like the bigots did when they confronted in the 1940′s with the reality of “lowly black men” flying P-51′s with great proficiency. 10 years after Tuskeegee, those same black men wanted not only to vote but that their sons and daughters should go to school on an equal basis with the sons and daughters of white men. 40 years later in the same week that Iraqis became citizens overcoming 5,000 years of oppression, a black mans daughter became Secretary of State in the most powerful country the world has ever seen (Varifrank)

And then there’s this from Zeyad:

Hold your head up high, Remember that you are Iraqi.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled depressive resignation (or perhaps, when the voice of defeatism tries to reclaim our fealty, we’ll give it the old purple finger).

Tied to one thought

by Mary Madigan

One of Friends of Democracy’s Questions for Our Readers asked:

Do you think the American people have a good understanding of what is happening in Iraq?

I don’t think Americans understand what is happening in Iraq now because we don’t understand what life was like in Iraq under Saddam’s regime.

We don’t understand what it’s like to live in a state where neighbors and co-workers will inform on you for cash, where the threat that your leadership could inflict another genocidal attack like Halabja is always present. We don’t understand how the combination of state control and constant fear can deaden the lives of millions. We also don’t understand what happens when that regime ends.

Mohammed of Iraq the Model expressed it this way:

2003; the year of freedom.

Before you I was mute, and here goes my tongue praying for the best,

Before you I was hand-cuffed, and here are my hands free to write,

Before you my mind was tied to one thought and here I find wide horizons and greater thoughts,

Before you I was isolated, and here I join the wide universe.

I will never forget you; you broke the chains for my people, and rid us from the big jail.

“A mind tied to one thought”; most Americans don’t know what that’s like, nor do most understand the source of what we vaguely call ‘oppression.’

As David Brooks said, Saddam’s Baath Party slogan was “Unity, Freedom, Socialism.” Saddam was, first and foremost, a party man. His regime was part of a larger ideology that still thrives.

Immigrants to America who have lived under similar regimes, like Ceausescu’s Romania, Soviet Russia or China understand. Many are willing to talk about lives lived in fear, but not everyone is willing to listen.

At Kesher Talk, Judith Weiss describes the reaction when these immigrants tried to speak their minds on Inauguration day.

At least half of those who called on the “Republican line” [for C-SPAN's Congressional Inaugural Luncheon & Presidential Review of Honor Guard] are immigrants, from Eastern Europe, Cuba, the Middle East. They are all fervent Bush supporters and understand and approve of his foreign policy ideals.

One person who called in on the “Democrat line” believed that these immigrants should have “stayed in their own countries and demonstrated and marched for their civil rights there, like we did here, instead of coming here and criticizing.”

Judith points out that “Of course many immigrants did exactly that and ended up tortured or imprisoned without trial, or had to flee for their lives.”

People around the world suffer from a less obvious form of oppression. Activists will blame this suffering on ‘poverty’ or, of course, capitalism, but from Zimbabwe to Libya, it’s clear that even the worst corporate villains can’t impoverish and oppress a population with the efficiency of a socialist-inspired regime.

In photographs, Michael Totten shows us a Libya where 99% of the people on the street are men, where even the mountains are plastered with state propaganda, where history is being erased and portraits of the great leader are everywhere. Despite Ghaddafi’s apparent flakiness, his regime is very efficient.

Oppressive regimes are responsible for most of the starvation in the third world. According to Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, “Africa could grow food for the world if its people were politically free to do so.” Tyrants are responsible for the twin scourges of poverty and starvation.

Although they claim to be anti-poverty and anti-oppression most Left-leaning activists don’t seem to be able to handle the truth – or they actively suppress it. Amir Taheri describes this incident at a peace rally:

We managed to reach some of the stars of the show, including Reverend Jesse Jackson, the self-styled champion of American civil rights. One of our group, Salima Kazim, an Iraqi grandmother, managed to attract the reverend’s attention and told him how Saddam Hussein had murdered her three sons because they had been dissidents in the Baath Party; and how one of her grandsons had died in the war Saddam had launched against Kuwait in 1990.

“Could I have the microphone for one minute to tell the people about my life?” 78-year-old Salima demanded.

The reverend was not pleased.

“Today is not about Saddam Hussein,” he snapped. “Today is about Bush and Blair and the massacre they plan in Iraq.” Salima had to beat a retreat, with all of us following, as the reverend’s gorillas closed in to protect his holiness.

We next spotted former film star Glenda Jackson, apparently manning a stand where “antiwar” characters could sign up to become “human shields” to protect Saddam’s military installations against American air attacks.

“These people are mad,” said Awad Nasser, one of Iraq’s most famous modernist poets. “They are actually signing up to sacrifice their lives to protect a tyrant’s death machine.”

Others, like anti-war Democrat Ramsey “Free Slobodan Milosevic!!” Clark devote their lives to the defense of oppression.

Yesterday, Iraqis finally got their chance to have the microphone. We saw them weeping with joy at the ballot box, we saw them defy terror for their chance to be heard. Critics complain about Bush and the neo-con conspiracy, but they can’t deny the power of those images. They can’t deny the power that the once-mute feel when they’re finally allowed to speak.

Friends of Democracy Iraqi Election Broadcast

by Jeremy Brown

Are you watching? It’s on CSPAN. You can watch it online via this page (if you missed the live broadcast you can watch the archived stream here).


The first panel, pictured below, listens to phone calls from Omar and Mohammed of Iraq the Model. Body-language quiz: can you spot the pessimist who, by all appearances, doesn’t appreciate the brothers’ enthusiasm? Cigars will be awarded for correct answers:




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