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Some example of democracy

Matt Zalaznick

Quashing freedom of speech is the latest technique the Bush administration has used to teach Iraqis about the elixir of American democracy.

But it’s harder and harder to tell whether the neo-conservative cure-all to chronic anti-Americanism in the Middle East and elsewhere is going be a Jeffersonian-tinged regimen of Prozac or a massive, force-fed dose of laser-guided Ridalin to numb the riotous masses that have exploded in Fallujah this week.

At the end of March, American soldiers un-liberated the Baghdad offices of a reputedly “radical” Shiite weekly newspaper, Al Hawza, accusing the publishers not of inciting violence, but of printing lies.

The paper is closely linked to the Shiite cleric Moktada Al-Sadr, who has been called one of the most rabid opponents of the occupation of the willing and is now blamed for the small-scale revolution taking place in Fallujah. This latest eruption of violence exposes the mind-boggling move of shutting down the paper, a fiasco in the battle for hearts and minds.

L. Paul Bremer, the administrator of the occupation authority, ordered the paper closed because of false reporting, according to The New York Times. Fortunately for the administration, no one tried to padlock Colin Powell for false reporting to the American people and the United Nations about Iraq’s imminently threatening stockpiles of nuclear bombs, anthrax missiles, weather machines and laser death rays.

If veracity is the Bush bunch’s lofty standard, the administration should also clean up our own house. Attorney General John Ashcroft better hurry up and send out the truth troops to take every political pundit off the air – liberal and conservative – and shut down The New York Times and USA Today, along with that meddlesome Al Hawza, which is all of eight pages.

“Spreading democracy” became the administration’s newest cause-celebre-de-guerre when the administration’s own weapons inspector reported Saddam no longer had any doomsday devices.

And now the hawks have essentially told some already angry Iraqis whose ideas they don’t like to shut up. Perhaps readers of Al Hawza shouldn’t be surprised, though. A telegenically indignant administration and its most strident proponents on the air waves have also told any Americans who have criticized the war to shut up – or worse, if we happen to be undercover CIA agents or former counter-terrorism advisers.

So keep in mind as we’re setting an example for the Arab world that in the land of free, as Ari Fleischer said, we’re all supposed to watch what we say lest the vice president or that prattling patriot Sean Hannity deem us treasonous Dixie Chicks.

The Bremerian dynasty is battling anti-American sentiment with anti-American sentiments – a vaccine of sorts, but a strange one that’s likely to inflame the disease.

How can El Paul expect Iraqis to embrace the discount democracy we’re hawking if we tear it out of their arms? What credibility do we have to help them form a democracy when we violate one of its most fundamental precepts?

If Iraqis aren’t allowed to speak out in print – even if they’re fudging it – they will continue to speak out in violence and murder, such as the rampage unleashed this week by the same cleric whose newspaper was padlocked.

If the Americans keep swinging the padlocks around, Bremer and Bush won’t have to check any newspapers to see how things are going, they can just keep listening to the explosions of homemade bombs and the cries of revolution.

Assistant Editor for Local News Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or mzalaznick@vaildaily.com


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