The world press on the war

A Saudi Arabian newspaper defends the Dixie Chicks.

Published May 1, 2003 8:02PM (EDT)

Hong Kong, Paul Belden in Asia Times

"Call me Malik," he says, exhaling smoke into a slanting beam to set off a celebratory display of red-gold images that dance across the airborne screen. He's not trying to hide anything. Not anymore.

Far from it. The political slogans splashed across the front exterior wall of the building in which he sits - "Free Country, Happy People" and "Organize for the Unity of the People of Iraq", among others - are impossible to miss from the road out front. They're printed on posters tacked to the wall, and scrawled directly onto the yellow-brick facade in a cursive Arabic script that stretches as high and wide as the human arm can swing a can of spray paint.

Spray paint colored red, of course - for this is the Baghdad party headquarters of the Iraqi Communist Party, come home and back to life after decades of exile and disrepair, and now determined to snatch power from under the treads of American tanks....

"We already have headquarters set up in all the major cities," Malik says. "And we are ready to move." He sees his job over the next months and years as trying to persuade the people of Iraq that it is possible to forge a middle path between kick-the-poor capitalism American-style and kill-the-poor statism Saddam-style.

What he represents isn't really communism any more, but more a soft, leftward-leaning blend of principles deriving from a concern for society's weakest and specifics deriving from various West European socialist experiments-in-progress. The most important planks in his current platform, he says, would include an open, democratic process; a federal union; separation of church and state; and - most importantly, in his view - a ban on foreign financial support for Iraqi political parties. In fact, to enforce this ban, "there should be government funding for all parties and candidates in Iraq", he says.

Asked to point to a specific existing model that he would use as a guide for building a government, he mentions Sweden.

At the moment, it's a little difficult to look around this still-burning war-torn city of tanks and Kalashnikovs and imagine it ever turning into some kind of new Stockholm. But then, it's also a little difficult to look around and imagine it turning into a new Kansas City or a new Des Moines. If Jay Garner can dream big, so can Malik.

Canada, Julian Beltrame in Macleans

If you want to enter the heart of American triumphalism, there are few better places than Norfolk, VA.

Headquarters for the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, the town is little more than clusters of modest suburban bungalows, strip malls, fast-food joints and a surprising number of pawn shops, all wedged between and around the world's largest naval complex. Norfolk is proud of its armed forces these days. American flags are posted everywhere the eye turns -- on car antennas, in front of homes, in storefronts, on the roofs of restaurants and bowling alleys. Motorists are constantly bombarded by signs asking them to "Support our Troops," or declaring "God Bless America."

At the Dockside Bar and Grill, just a stone's throw from the base, it's pretty easy to bring the conversation around to the Iraq campaign. At first, the four baby-faced sailors standing by the bar caution that they are not permitted to talk to reporters about the war or politics. But they can't help themselves. "Nobody can stand up to us," says one, wearing a stick-on name tag with "Dave" scrawled on it. "Our navy, our air force, our smart bombs, there's no defence. To tell you the truth, I'm surprised it took three weeks." Greg, starting to feel the effects of three Budweisers, tries to make himself heard over the Georgia Satellites blaring from loudspeakers. "I'm right behind Bush," he shouts. "Clinton wouldn't have had the guts to do this." The others nod in agreement. "If the President said, tomorrow we're going after Syria or Korea," says one, "there's not one percent in the military that would be against it."

Bravado from fighting men is hardly a barometer of the national mood. But there is a strut in America's stride these days and a growing belief that it can remake the world in its own image. ...

At the White House, spokesman Ari Fleischer almost routinely issues veiled new threats. First on the list was Syria, accused of harbouring fleeing Iraqi Baath party officials, storing Iraqi chemical and biological weapons, and supplying military equipment to its neighbour during the war. But George W. Bush subsequently turned down the heat, saying Syria was showing new signs of co-operation. But the message -- "Don't mess with us" -- had been delivered, and likely received.

Saudi Arabia, Mohammed T. Al-Rasheed in the Arab News

There is nothing wrong with nationalism except the fact that it is a prime breeding ground for hate and prejudice. Smaller countries can justify their nationalism as fear of being swallowed by bigger and mightier states. The bigger the country, the harder it is to cling to such notions. In America, for example, nationalism has a code: Patriotism.

During this crisis patriotism as practiced in the United States reached alarming levels of intolerance and violence. ...If we take what happened to the Dixie Chicks as an example, one is hard-pressed to justify or even comprehend the incident. One of the ladies said she was ashamed of Bush being from her home state of Texas. ...Had the Chicks been living under Saddam, we know a priori what would have happened. But knowing they lived in the United States one thought that the debate would have maintained a semblance of civility.

Instead, they were attacked, taken off radio stations, and callers to the same stations spewed so much venom that it inevitably culminated in on-the-air death threats. ... I thought it was just foreigners like me who received death threats and viruses through their emails. I was wrong. This raises another issue: Could the Homeland security people tell the world why such people were not apprehended? Those who threaten to kill someone for reasons of ideology or a point of view are terrorists. No argument there. In this time of high security alert, it is amazing that such people get away with it. In all honesty, it is not very different from any petty dictatorship where the party clique and those close to power can do what they like when the rest are robbed of their basic rights.

I am not saying America is not a democracy. For better or worse, the system is the best available; but that does not mean it is faultless....

The silencing of dissent is the realm of the dictator and the weak. Dictators are weak because they do not have wide support. Elected officials should be immune to this. They should welcome dissent if they really want the world to see them as liberators. The world wants to see justice too: a public threat of murder should not go unpunished, especially when, at the same time, Arab Americans are being rounded up because of their names.

Ghana, Eric Gichira in the Accra Mail

As the Gulf War II raged on, the international media seemed to have forgotten the volatile situation that is the Democratic Republic of Congo. Even after it emerged that hundreds of innocent people had been hacked to death, not much of this story found space / coverage in the international media.

Weren't all eyes, after all, focused on the Big Story -- the Gulf War?

Disturbingly, thousands of people have been killed by pro-government soldiers and other militias in the five year, five nations war in the broader DRC that has cut off remote towns in the east from west, thus splitting the country into two. ...

The war that broke out in 1998 when Ugandan and Rwandan armies backed DRC's rebel groups to oust the then government, has since seen unabated cases of alleged cannibalism, rape, killing and torture. ...

According to Amnesty International, 200 people have been executed since 1997 by military court's orders. This, in a country that lacks a judicial appeal system.

In their part, media reports estimate the inter-nations war in DRC to have claimed at least 2.5 million people so far. ...

Warlords in search of farmland and accommodation have caused massive poaching of wildlife and devastating deforestation problems. Add to this the Ebola virus, poverty, increasing cases of fuel and food shortages, a stagnant economy and you begin to see why DR Congo, Africa's third largest country is a time bomb awaiting explosion.

This tension between Congolese Patriotic Union (UPC) rebels and Ugandan forces in the northeastern town of Bunia in Congo might lead to another fully-fledged war. It should not be left to happen. ...

The Inter-Congolese dialogue talks recently held in Pretoria, South Africa, reveal a level of commitment and progress towards solving Congo's crisis. Belgium has, fortunately, voiced her satisfaction for the peace initiative, offering to help if called upon. ...

This appalling situation is however expected to change when a new interim government and constitution materialises.

Israel, Daniel Sobelman in Haaretz

An Iraqi opposition figure interviewed on Wednesday evening by Al Jazeera television said that the symbolism of the smashing of the statue of Saddam Hussein proved "the Arab regimes ... are made of cardboard" and their fate will be the same as that of the Ba'ath regime. Indeed, both Iraqi regime supporters and opponents agree that other Arab regimes are next in line. ...

The Arab media are now full of interviews with confused Arabs. The impression is that none of the Arab capitals understand how the "invading forces" were greeted in Baghdad without any difficulties and with cheers, despite all the predictions in the Arab and Western world that the Iraqis would defend their capital with their lives. ...

It seems that Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the emirates, which gambled by following the American line, played it smart. ...

Meanwhile, all the Arab countries are conducting damage control. Topping their priorities is their demand that the new government in Baghdad be Iraqi. Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud Faisal called for a quick end to the Anglo-American presence in Iraq. And the Arab governments will compete over aid to the Iraqis. Jordan has the greatest interest in quickly conciliating pro-Iraqi public opinion in the kingdom, largely because Jordan provided aid to the Americans. All the senior Jordanian officials, including King Abdullah, keep reiterating that "a national effort" is needed on behalf of the Iraqi people.

And Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, admitting he was surprised by the speed with which the Iraqi government fell, says he wants to work with the U.S. to stabilize the situation inside Iraq.

India, Anita Pratap in Outlook India

As the US winds down its war in Iraq, our war hawks are getting wound up. "Pre-emptive strike", the new Pax Americana doctrine, rises like a phoenix in the subcontinent. Though we pioneered the concept after the December 13 attack on Parliament, the damn Americans stole our idea, stopped us from executing it -- then went ahead and did it themselves.

More than anyone else in the world, we have reasons to be maddened by America's blatant double standards. And perhaps more than anyone else, we have the justification to wage a preventive strike against Pakistan for backing cross-border terrorism in India.

But unfortunately, more than anyone else, we shouldn't do what we're itching to do.

It's tempting to look at problematic issues superficially and conjure quick-fix, macho solutions. Contrary to expert predictions, the US captured Iraq easily. The assumption is, so can we in Pakistan. Attack Pakistan and our terrorism problem will be over, once and for all. Sure, ordinary people don't want war, but they can be made to support it. During the Nuremberg trials, Hitler's Reich Marshal Hermann Goering disclosed a simple strategy: "All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country." And it works even today!

We can't ape the US simply because we are not the world's sole superpower. More importantly, Pakistan is not Iraq. Saddam Hussein's rag-tag regime had been crippled by two wars and then bled for 12 years through inhuman sanctions before America invaded. But in the last 20 years, Pakistan's army has consistently strengthened itself. And unlike Iraq, Pakistan has and will use weapons of mass destruction if attacked. So unless we are prepared to pay an exponentially higher price than what we are paying today for the ongoing terrorism, we have no choice but to rule out preventive strikes. Instead of preventing terrorism, it will provoke a catastrophic war....

In times of distress, our rishis taught us to look inwards. All problems and solutions lie within....It is tempting to blame outsiders for one's problems but that is being an escapist brat. There's much we can do to strengthen relationships, secure our home instead of blaming intruders. Outsiders can fish successfully only in troubled waters.

Pakistan, Iffat Idris Malik in Dawn

Desire to be rid of America pervades Iraqi society; close behind it is the desire to bring the clerics into government. The reasons for this are obvious: a deeply conservative society, pent-up religious passions, political vacuum (both are the result of suppression under Saddam Hussein) and the humiliation of occupation. For now, Islam is the only avenue through which Iraqis can express their feelings and sentiments. The end-result is equally obvious: should elections be held tomorrow, they will bring Islamists into power....

The Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979 was too extreme and non-Arab to inspire the Arab world: an Iraqi Islamic revolution in the post-9/11 world would be an infinitely more attractive role model. ...

How will Iraqis react if the U.S. denies them the right to choose a government of their own if they suspect it is likely to be predominantly clerical? There is every indication that they too will resort to violence - witness the passion on display in Karbala last week. ...

Subverting or denying democracy is not the way to curb populist Islam. Like every other political ideology - socialism, communism, free market capitalism and neo-conservatism - Islam as a political code has to be given the chance to prove or discredit itself. The yardstick for governmental success is universal: security, equity, justice and development. Islam in power will either deliver security, justice and development - in which case no one should have a problem with it - or it will be voted out by a disillusioned electorate.

Denying Islamists the right to contest elections both increases the allure of their ideology and drives them underground and towards extremism. Islam that comes in through the ballot box is less dangerous and more liable to be moderated than Islam that comes in through violence and coercion.

The U.S. has already failed to deliver on many of its pre-war promises in Iraq. It should not add democracy to the list.

By Compiled by Laura McClure

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