Counter demo

Lebanese newspaper gets in the act

I’ll bet Harry wasn’t expecting a contribution to the counter-demonstration from a Lebanese newspaper. But this piece in the Lebanon Daily Star, by Beirut-based journalist Julie Flint, is downright fascinating.

After a routine denunciation of George W. Bush as “the head of a cabal that seeks to install a client regime in Iraq as a first step to extending American-Israeli control across the region,” Flint goes on to denounce opponents of the Iraq war in even stronger terms:

…Visceral distrust of Bush and his sidekick, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, has brought with it a disregard both for facts and for the victims of the Iraqi tyrant, Saddam Hussein. Arab commentators have had no shame in urging their Iraqi brothers, exhausted by three major wars and more than a decade of sanctions, to start a new war “of liberation” against their liberators. Western commentators critical of the war have luxuriated in the failures of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) ­ failures that condemn Iraqis to protracted hardship.

Disaster has been prophesied, self-servingly, at every turn: The war would be protracted (it wasn’t, and most Iraqis had no direct experience of it); tens of thousands would die in the battle for Baghdad (they didn’t); and now, in the words of a British Arabist, “even the most optimistic and moderate Iraqis fear the very real prospect of civil war.”

Not those I know. Not yet. Nor those polled in August by the American research company Zogby International, which found that 70 percent of Iraqis believe their country will be better ­ not worse ­ in five years’ time.

The voice of Iraqis who supported war over continued tyranny has been hushed from the very beginning. Organizers of the great anti-war demonstrations in Britain confiscated banners saying “Freedom for Iraq” and seized photographs of the victims of Halabja, the Kurdish town where Saddam’s army gassed 5,000 civilians. No space was given to people like Freshta Raper, who lost 21 relatives in Halabja and wanted to ask: “How many protestors have asked an Iraqi mother how she felt when she was forced to watch her son being executed? How many know that these mothers had to applaud as their sons died ­ or be executed themselves? What is more moral? Freeing an oppressed, brutalized people from a vicious tyrant or allowing millions to continue suffering indefinitely?”

Flint spent a month in Iraq this past summer. While she found problems, she also found a palpable sense of freedom, improvement and hope for a better future:

It is worth stating the obvious, so momentous is it: For the first time in almost half a century, Iraq has no executions, no political prisoners, no torture and no limits on freedom of expression. Having a satellite dish no longer means going to jail or being executed. There are over 167 newspapers and magazines that need no police permit and suffer no censorship, over 70 political parties and dozens of NGOs. Old professional associations have held elections and new associations have sprung up. People can demonstrate freely ­and do.

I can imagine Lebanon’s great protector, Bashar Assad, squirming if he happened to read those words while sipping his coffee in Damascus this morning. I said some unkind things a couple of days ago about the Daily Star’s executive editor Rami Khouri. If he had the courage to publish Flint’s piece, I’m pleased now to say some kind things about him. Good for you, Mr. Khouri.