The Arena: Mar 05, AU edition

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THE ARENA
JAMES MORROW
Australians should be proud of the role they played bringing democracy to Iraq

From the moment John Howard committed troops to help the United States enforce the slew of U.N. resolutions violated by Saddam Hussein, Australians were told that they should feel badly about it. By focusing narrowly on the question of Saddam’s WMD programs (and by also conveniently forgetting his history of gassing Iranians and Kurds), anti-war groups were able to conveniently ignore the greater promise of ousting Saddam Hussein: not only would the overthrow of his sick and genocidal cult of personality give a measurably better life to Iraq’s citizens, but it would also have the knock-on effect of bringing political freedom to a region sorely in need of it.
This willful ignorance came to an end on the 30th of January, a day which will be remembered as a defining moment of the first decade of the 21st Century. That was the day when ordinary Iraqis went to the polls to elect their own government — and in the process defied armies of Islamists, insurgents, Ba’ath party holdouts, and much of the Western media, all of whom predicted that the exercise of democracy would cause bloodshed from one end of Mesopotamia to the other.
In fact, the turnout was better than anyone could have expected, with early estimates pegging at somewhere around 72 per cent (much better than, say, an American or British national election). Sure, there was some grumbling, but so what if the Sunnis didn’t vote in huge numbers? The fact that a segment of the population which had for decades happily exercised tyranny of the minority got pouty and decided to pick up their ball and go home should be of no consequence to the legitimacy of the overall election. As the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto pointed out, Afrikaners refusing to vote when blacks were given the franchise in South Africa didn’t cause reporters to heave heavy sighs and complain about the sudden illegitimacy of that country’s democracy.


As Iraqis streamed out of polling places across the country, proudly waving their blue ink-stained index fingers indicating they had voted, it was fascinating to watch the story of their country change in the eyes of the Western media. For months on end, Australians had been subjected to a relentless barrage of stories about how, since the invasion, Iraq had spun wildly out of control and that (for reporters, at least) Baghdad was suddenly a place where leaving one’s hotel room to buy a pack of smokes was about as risky as poking your head above ground level in 1916 Verdun.
Thus the media’s reaction to the election’s overwhelming success was every bit as amusing as the courage of the free Iraqis was touching. Remember that for months every bombing, every setback, and every act of brutality (especially if it was committed by a wayward American soldier) was front-page news, not just in Australia but around the world. And the message was subtle but clear: Iraq and the Iraqis were better off under Saddam, because at least then the state had a monopoly on killing and mayhem. Once the Americans came in, the chaos was privatized – a far worse state of affairs.
But almost as soon as polls opened the story changed. If they didn’t exactly become cheerleaders for Iraqi democracy, the media managed to, if just for a day, agree that the voting was a good thing.
International wire service Reuters, which since 9/11 has been notorious for throwing “scare quotes” around the word “terrorist” – lest anyone think the agency was taking sides – suddenly reported that “millions of Iraqis flocked to vote in a historic election Sunday, defying insurgents who killed 25 people in bloody attacks aimed at wrecking the poll. Iraqis, some ululating with joy, others hiding their faces in fear, voted in much higher-than-expected numbers in their first multi-party election in half a century”.
The New York Times got caught up in the excitement as well, declaring that “if the insurgents wanted to stop people in Baghdad from voting, they failed. If they wanted to cause chaos, they failed. The voters were completely defiant, and there was a feeling that the people of Baghdad, showing a new, positive attitude, had turned
a corner”.
And closer to home, the Sydney Morning Herald’s Paul McGeough admitted in his first dispatch after the election that “the ballot had prevailed over the bullets and the bombs”, and even conceded that “the provisional figures will be seen as a stunning victory for Washington’s policy of democratising the Middle East and will cause great anxiety among the region’s unelected leaders, who fear such an Iraqi outcome will spur demands for radical reform across the region”.
This was an incredible (if temporary) about-face for McGeough, who has spent the last two years tipping an Iraqi civil war and once went so far as to run a story accusing interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi of shooting six terrorist suspects at close range — a bit of unsubstantiated urban myth that allowed the correspondent to think aloud about “a return to the cold-blooded tactics of his predecessor”, i.e., Saddam.
In standing up to the naysayers, and the terrorists, and those who suffer from that peculiar neocolonial racism of the Left which says that some people just aren’t cut out for democracy, ordinary Iraqis took a brave stand for their future. Not only did they send a message to their foes at home and abroad that they were not going to let freedom’s enemies win, but they also told Australians, Americans, and everyone else involved in making 30 January possible that the life and treasure spent in Iraq were not in vain. As Iraqi weblogger Hammorabi put it the night before the election,
Our voting is:
No to the terrorists!
No to the dictatorships!
No to hate and racism!
No to the fascists!
No to the Nazis!
No to the mentally retarded tyrants!
No to the ossified, narrow-minded and intolerant!
The Iraqis are voting in few hours time for the new Iraq.
We are going to create our future by ourselves not by dictators.
We are going to say:
Yes for the freedom and democracy!
Yes for the civilized Iraq!
Yes for peace and prosperity!
Yes for coexistence!
Yes for the New Iraq!
Let them bomb and kill us. It will not deter us!
Let them send their dogs to suck our bones. We care not!
Let them bark. It will not frighten us.
Let them see how civilised to be free and democratic!
Let them die by our vote tomorrow! It is the magic bullet which will
kill them!
Welcome New Iraq.
Welcome freedom and democracy.
Welcome peace and prosperity for all nations with out exception but terrorists!
Amen to that.

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