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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.”

Tears_of_Joy.jpg

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:

finger.gif

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).

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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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Questions for Readers

by Michael J. Totten

I have a cantankerous Wild West of a comments section. And that’s great. Today I’m going to put it to productive use for a change. Actually, I’m going to channel it somewhere else.

As most of you already know, Friends of Democracy and Spirit of America are filming a live Iraqi election coverage TV show on C-SPAN Sunday from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm Eastern Standard Time. (That’s 11:00 to 1:00 for you late-sleeping laggards on the West Coast.)

This will not be the C-SPAN you know and love (or loathe). It’s going to be pretty slick compared to that channel’s usual fare. It’s being professionally produced and shot in the National Geographic studio, which I can tell you is a very cool place. I spent most of Saturday there getting ready for this thing. Here’s a photo our tech guy Donovan took with his digital Nikon:

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Part of what we want to do is solicit feedback from readers of the site. I am going to sift through that feedback and read some of it (live and on camera) to our guests and panelists. We have a pretty good lineup. It includes: Christopher Hitchens, author and journalist; 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; Hassan Mneimneh, Director of the Iraq Memory Foundation; and Jim Hake, Founder and CEO of Spirit of America.

If you have your own questions, please ask them and we’ll see if we can incorporate them into our programming. If you prefer to answer some of our questions instead, here is the place to start:

1. Was the Iraqi election successful?

2. Who are the terrorists and insurgents? What do you think they hope to accomplish through violence?

3. Do you think the American people have a good understanding of what is happening in Iraq? If yes, why? If not, why not?

4. People in America see that there is a great deal of violence in Iraq. Is there hope?

These aren’t essay questions, and you don’t have to answer all of them. A few sentences would be fine, although longer responses also are welcome. If you do ask or answer a question, be sure to tune in live on C-SPAN from 2:00 to 4:00 pm Eastern Standard Time and see if we use your material.

To make it easier for us on the show, please don’t respond in my comments section. Respond in the comments on the Friends of Democracy site instead. Here is the link to the post where the questions are asked. That’s where we need your comments. Not here. You can argue amongst yourselves all you want (as usual) here, but please don’t do it over there.

If you have a blog and you feel like throwing some of your reader feedback our way, please link to that post. Send your vast hordes. Give ‘em the chance to have a little C-SPAN fame of their own.

Thanks so much in advance.

Iraqi Exiles at the Polls

by Jeremy Brown

There was an article in today’s New York Times that gives a vivid picture of the intensity of emotion among so many of the Iraqi exiles who have been voting in this Iraqi election. It has been heartening to see that the American mainstream press, it so far appears, is going to be covering this election:

SOUTHGATE, Mich., Jan. 28 – Ali Mohammed, who spent eight years in the Abu Ghraib prison in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, called the owner of the grocery store where he is a stock clerk before sunup on Friday to say he was putting on his best suit, the charcoal pinstripe he usually saves for weddings.

Glowing like proud papas, Mr. Mohammed and his supervisor, Hussain al-Jebori, cast the first ballots of their lives and lingered at the polling place here for three hours, clapping for friends and strangers and searching for familiar names, including a former cellmate, on the daunting list of 7,700 Iraqi legislative candidates. Mr. Mohammed, 39, said he decided on Friday to start a family, “because now my children’s future is secure.”

[...]

“I wanted to keep the paper in my hand for long time,” Mr. Jebori said. “First thing I imagined how much the paper cost us as a country and a people. It cost us a million people’s deaths. Now we get the victory, just now when we elect our representatives. I want to touch the victory. I didn’t want to leave it.”

My only quibble with this and a great many of the articles on this election is the use of the term “expatriates” both in the headline and, once, in the article. Though the term in its generic sense — it refers to any person who has left his or her homeland whether willingly or not — may be technically accurate, it is too evocative of Bohemian enclaves of artists and writers in search of inspiration. There is a point beyond which I think you have to use the word ‘exile.’ Thus, those German Jews with numbers on their arms that I saw as a child in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, were exiles. The millions of people from all over the world who have emigrated to the United States because they are afforded the freedom to live where they please, are expatriates.

“They decided to vote even if they die,” Diaa al-Tamimi, 35, said of his relatives remaining in Iraq. “There’s danger. But if not to vote, they’re going to die anyway. Election, that’s the best weapon for us. Terrorists, they use car bombs. We use the election.”

[...]

“It’s not safe, but they will do it,” Mr. Aljayashi said. “We spent our life as a number on paper. Now we count as a people, a citizenship. This is worth a lot. This is worth even dying for.”

[...]

No lapel stickers declared, “I voted today.” But voters displayed ink-stained fingers as a sign of progress.

“I’m very happy to show everybody my finger now,” Mr. Jeburi, the grocery owner, said. “I wish it could stay there for years and years.”

These people have been a living embodiment of the bitter reality of exile. Let’s save the word ‘expatriate’ for a time when Iraqis, as we are seeing the start of now, have the freedom to choose.

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Mehsin al-Busaid, in tears, voting Friday in Southgate, Mich., in the election for 275 members of the new Iraqi national assembly. Mr. Busaid’s son was killed in the 1990-1991 uprising against Saddam Hussein. (photo by J. D. Pooley for The New York Times)

Who do they think they are?

by Mary Madigan

The trial of Mohammed Bouyeri, the alleged murderer of Theo Van Gogh, began yesterday. According to MSNBC:

  • A note impaled in van Gogh’s chest threatened prominent politicians and vowed Islamic holy war, or jihad, against nonbelievers.

    A bystander who witnessed the crime yelled at van Gogh’s killer “You can’t do that!” to which the suspect replied: “Oh, yes I can. … Now you know what’s coming for you.”

  • Bouyeri’s lawyer, Peter Plasman, said his client “wants to take responsibility for his actions” but gave no further explanation. He said Bouyeri agrees with the interpretation of Dutch Finance Minister Gerrit Zalm that van Gogh’s killing was a declaration of war.

According to the Globe and Mail, prosecuters said that Bouyeri dreamed of replacing the Dutch government with an Islamic theocracy. He wanted to be held accountable for his actions, and sees them as part of a religious war.

The Dutch media believe that Bouyeri attended the El Tawheed mosque, an institution that shared Bouyeri’s views. It is considered to be the epicenter of extremism in Amsterdam.

This mosque was previously associated with a Saudi-based charity, Al Haramain. Recently, the mosque has been criticized for selling books espousing extremist views, including female circumcision and the punishment of homosexuals by throwing them off tall buildings.

According to the IHT, “several legislators have called for the mosque to be shut down, but under the Dutch constitution it is difficult to do.”

According to the German publication, Der Spiegel, the killer’s actual target was Dutch legislator Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali immigrant. She and other legislators were so unable to ensure their security against extremist death threats, they had to leave the Netherlands to hide in the United States.

In short, a Western nation couldn’t defend its own legislators against an occupying paramilitary group.

Fortunately, Hirsi Ali has returned. According to Spiegel’s report:

Hirsi Ali made championing the cause of Muslim women her career and eventually got elected to parliament. When the ambassador of Saudi Arabia called for her to be removed from office because of her polemics against Islam she just scored even more points with Dutch voters. In a survey of the most-popular Dutch people in 2003, she landed in second place.

The Saudi ambassador felt he had the right to call for an elected legislator to be removed from office. Who does he think he is?

Hirsi Ali’s homeland of Somalia understands something about Saudi influence. Somali journalist Bashir Goth wrote about the influence of Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi Islam in Somalia:

“Nowadays, it is sad to see… that the ideal harmony between Islam and Somali culture is swept aside by a new brand of Islam that is being pushed down the throat of our people – Wahhabism. Anywhere one looks, one finds that alien, perverted version of Islam that depends on punctilious manners more than it depends on deep-rooted faith. A strange uniformity… has crept into the social manners of our people. The unique fashion and identity of our people has changed forever. We have become a people without fashion, without culture, and without identity…

“It is a pity… to see that, at a time when Saudi Arabia, the home of Wahhabism, is reassessing the damage that Wahhabism and extremism had done to their country’s name and to the reputation of Islam all over the world… that Wahhabism has to find a save-haven in our country.”

… “These people love to live in the dark. They thrive on the silence of the unwilling intellectuals and the gullibility of the ignorant majority. They hide under the cloak of religion and scare people with their indiscriminate use of terms such as blasphemous, infidels, apostates, sacrilegious, atheists, westernized minds and many others. They use the available democratic atmosphere to herd us towards the abyss.

They use the available democratic atmosphere, as they do in the Netherlands, in Beslan and in the Sudan

One result of the Wahhabi influence on the Somailis from the BBC:

Militias from the Islamic courts set up in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, are destroying a colonial Italian cemetery.

They are digging up the graves and dumping human remains near the airport.

The BBC’s Mohammed Olad Hassan says he was horrified to see a large number of abandoned human skulls. Young boys were playing with one as a toy.

According to Sufi scholar Stephen Schwartz, grave desecration is a Wahhabi tradition:

Saudi agents uprooted graveyards in Kosovo even before the war began there in the late 1990s, and Wahhabi missionaries have sought to demolish Sufi tombs in Kurdistan. Late in 2002, the Saudi government tore down the historic Ottoman fortress of Ajyad in Mecca, causing outrage in many Muslim countries.

Jill at Legacy Matters said that the horrific grave desecration in Somalia was “beyond the Pale”:

Deep in all of us is a revulsion at certain behavior – torture, beheadings and the physical abuse of the weak and powerless, for example. Whether it’s in our DNA or our souls, revulsion, I believe, makes us more human. By turning away with a feeling of violent disgust at certain acts, we shun the perpetrators. They are not recognizably part of anything with which we can identify. They are beyond the pale, outside the bounds of acceptable and civilized behavior.

In most cultures, beheading, amputation as punishment, spreading genocidal hatred and desecrating graveyards are beyond the pale.

In Saudi Arabia these activities are an established part of their culture and their laws. World leaders know about this, but they don’t turn away from them in disgust. Instead, they encourage these Wahhabis to join our society.

Wahhabi ‘charities’ still contribute heavily to American Universities, mosques, pacifist groups and Muslim special interest groups.

So, who do these Wahhabis think they are? Apparently they think they have the right to influence and attempt to overthrow established governments around the world. And the world is not doing enough to prove them wrong.

Going to D.C.

I’m flying out to Washington D.C. for the Spirit of America / Friends of Democracy post-election event on Sunday. It will be broadcast live on C-SPAN. More details to follow after I land, get settled into the hotel, and figure out exactly what’s going on. In the meantime, enjoy the guest-blogging by Mary and Jeremy.

Friends of Democracy on C-SPAN

Friends of Democracy will broadcast a live post-election event from 2:00 to 4:00 pm Eastern Standard Time this Sunday on C-SPAN. We’re holding the event in Washington DC’s National Geographic studio, so hopefully the production values will be a little higher than that of C-SPAN’s usual fare.

Jim Hake, founder and CEO of Spirit of America, describes our event this way.

This unique conference from Washington DC will provide a consolidated picture of Iraq’s elections featuring prominent Iraqis, selected guests (Cliff May from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Christopher Hitchens), live call ins from the Friends of Democracy correspondents and bloggers, photos, video and stories.

If you don’t get C-SPAN where you live, you can catch us on our live Web cast.

Thanks, Jim, for bringing me on board this great project. Thanks, also, for flying me out to Washington so I can be a part of it all.

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