The world press on democracy in America

The Lebanese Daily Star: "Death interrupted Edward Said; despite his great achievements, his job was not done yet."


Salon Staff
October 1, 2003 1:22AM (UTC)

Lebanon, Tamim al-Barghouti in the Daily Star

An ancient Arab poet said that death was an old blind woman randomly waving her stick: "Those she hits die and those she misses get old." Therefore the words for "blind" and "random" in Arabic are synonyms. ... Yet, today, I realized the poet was wrong.

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The death that came to Edward Said on Thursday, Sept. 25, was not a blind, dark architect of coincidences; this death knew what it was doing.

For 30 years Edward Said was holding the one non-skewed mirror in the face of the colonial West ... Said was digging out the colonialism hidden in novels, poems, speeches and media coverage. Yet he dies when colonialism grows out of those hideouts, and declares itself the religion embraced by America and imposed on the world ...

Naturally, like great men, Said was respected by his foes and friends alike; this well-deserved strength rendered him vital and rare in the intellectual struggle between the oppressed and their oppressors ...

He was an icon to many in the Arab world, many of whom never even read all his works. Yet, his main argument, set forth since Orientalism, turned into some sort of popular culture among many university students and young intellectuals ...

For his readers in the West, Said was an eye opener; he allowed them to see the contradictions in their own culture, the illusions they create of "the other" and the reality of domination those illusions help to create, consolidate and eternalize. To his readers in the Arab world, and in many other places in the Third World in general, Said was a granter of words; he said what all of us were trying to say for the last two centuries. The meanings were held in many hearts and minds for long: Said knew how to express them in the language of the enemy and to his face.

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Sometimes death comes on time, sometimes people even go asking for it. To martyrs, prophets, crescents and daylights, death is the most powerful line ending the crescendo of the poem that is their life.

But this time, death interrupted Said; despite his great achievements, his job was not done yet. And when the job is done, no Palestinian born in Jerusalem will have to die in New York.

Hong Kong, Ehsan Ahrari in Asia Times

Watching President George W. Bush at the United Nations ... I was reminded of the foreign policy behavior of two major personalities of the United States: John Foster Dulles and Lyndon B Johnson. Dulles, who served as secretary of state during the Eisenhower administration, viewed the Cold War as essentially a struggle between "good" and "evil".

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By so portraying the international struggle of the Cold War, he was scornful of the non-aligned nations as essentially immoral for not joining the "good guys" in that epochal struggle. Even though president Johnson inherited the Vietnam War from John F Kennedy, the former's obsession of winning it, never mind the cost, became an albatross around his neck. He could not defeat the North Vietnamese because of domestic political reasons. The worsening Vietnamese imbroglio then drove him to the painful decision of not seeking re-election ...

Addressing the international community on September 23 this year, Bush posited the "clearest of the divides" ... between those who seek order and those who spread chaos; between those who work for peaceful change and those who adopt the methods of gangsters ... Then he concluded, "Between these alternatives there is no neutral ground."

As the American occupation of Iraq is becoming increasingly bloody, one wonders what Bush is talking about when he stated, "Success of Iraq will be watched and noted throughout the region. Millions will see that freedom, equality and material progress are possible at the heart of the Middle East." The suggestion that his administration is "successful" in transforming Iraq is dangerous in the sense that it is not at all connected to the realities on the ground ...

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It is not clear at this point how far the U.S. is willing to go in abandoning the Manichean rhetoric of Bush's speech and incorporating the demands of the international community for giving the U.N. and multilateralism a chance before the security situation in Iraq becomes hopeless. Bush has much to think about the legacies of Dulles and Johnson. The U.S. won the Cold War by replacing the simplistic Manichean worldview of Dulles with policies that were based on hardcore and highly nuanced realism. The U.S. lost in Vietnam largely because Johnson failed to realize at what point he should have cut his losses and extricated his country from it. The U.S. may not have reached that point in Iraq yet. That is precisely why it should give its options in that country a steely-eyed scrutiny.

Lebanon, Abdelwahab El-Affendi in the Daily Star

I am in receipt of three different invitations to join American academic institutions ... In this era where Muslims are faced with a widening intellectual desert at home, such opportunities to conduct serious work are more than welcome.

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But it would now appear that I am not going to spend even a single day in the U.S. this year -- indeed, I may never. Four months after lodging a visa application at the U.S. Embassy in London, I have yet to receive a reply. And following news last week about how two prominent Muslim intellectuals living in the U.S. (both of them friends of mine) were arbitrarily detained and questioned by American security agencies, I am no longer that eager to take up the academic positions I was offered ...

I visited the country four times in 2002. My first visit coincided with the commemoration of the passage of six months after the 9/11 attacks, and I undertook the trip with some trepidation, worried that the America I had known and loved would no longer be there. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that not all had been lost. I was able to witness ample evidence of a thriving democracy in the run-up to congressional and gubernatorial elections, and found no problems in the attitudes of officials or ordinary citizens. Later, I sensed some alarm in academic circles about the status of civil rights, but I was convinced that their worries were exaggerated.

Today, I no longer believe so. There are countries I would not visit under any circumstances. I was never tempted to visit Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and over the past two years I have declined a number of invitations to visit Libya. Egypt, Syria and Tunisia I also consider no-go areas ... Visiting those countries is like venturing into an uncharted jungle where dangers lurk behind every shadow.

That is now the feeling Muslim visitors get when traveling to America ...

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If this situation persists, America could become a lost continent, giving the 9/11 terrorists their greatest success by blowing America off the face of the earth and replacing it with an alien entity that bears only a passing resemblance to its former self. Under those circumstances, the terrorists would have received plenty of help from those in Congress, the White House and the media, not to mention triumphant right-wing hard-liners, who like the new America much more than the old.

We beg to differ.

Canada, Jonathon Gatehouse in Maclean's

When the [California recall] campaign started on Aug. 7, and the ranks of gubernatorial hopefuls began to swell, the conventional wisdom was that in such a circus, the biggest and best-known clown was bound to triumph. But a funny thing has happened on the way to the striped tent. In a country where politics has been dominated by two parties, more names on the ballot has translated into more ideas and real debate. Democracy in America might be more robust than the talk-radio foamers, well-heeled pundits and backroom strategists had dared to imagine ...

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Neither is there anything particularly new or astounding about the notion of a celebrity politician. Marty Kaplan, the former White House speech writer and Disney executive who now heads the University of Southern California's Norman Lear Center, says the line between politics and entertainment completely disappeared almost a generation ago. "In the U.S., celebrity has triumphed over all other values, even experience or gravitas." George Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John Glenn, now Schwarzenegger and Wesley Clark, have all traded on their past in one way or another. In fact, Kaplan argues, the pendulum has almost swung the other way -- Schwarzenegger's stagnant poll numbers suggest fame will only get you to the front door; a candidate still has to convince voters to invite him in ...

In the end, the most remarkable thing about the campaign is the one subject that hardly ever comes up -- 9/11. Two years later, Californians, at least, seem ready to move on. The issues that people want most to talk about are schools, health care, the lagging economy. If that's a trend spreading elsewhere, it's bad news for George W. Bush and a Republican party that is looking increasingly vulnerable in 2004. But maybe it's not such a bad thing for everyone else.

United Kingdom, Peter Preston in the Guardian

The aftermath of 9/11 produced the illusion of unity. Its fading reveals that the basic splits in American opinion are as stark as ever in this half and half society. What do the papers say? Take a brisk weekend spin around Texas.

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The Dallas Morning News, by some distance the state's lone journalistic star, leads with a poignant story on the families of the 19 soldiers from Fort Hood, Texas, who've died in Iraq. "So much more than statistics". The Houston Chronicle has a brusque editorial taking the Bush boys to task over the WMDs that will probably "never be found". Not only will the administration not admit the truth, it snarls, "it repeats claims demonstrably proved false and recanted by the president, as if patriotism had no need of facts". And if you want to wade through the gathering storm involving Dick Cheney, his old Halliburton corporation and its billions of contracts in Iraq, then welcome to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

These issues -- issues of violent death, confusion and alleged corruption -- aren't like, say, foundation hospitals. They are simple and inferential. They grind away, even in Mr. Bush's own ranch backyard. They presage 13 rough, raw months to come. They should also, in prospect, give us pause.

We've become too glibly used, over the last couple of years, to lumping American policy and this American president together in a bumper bundle called "anti-Americanism", leader and country coated in identical opprobrium. It was always simplistic rubbish. It stands exposed as such now. There are many Americas and many churnings to its democracy. There are also many facets of specialness to any relationship. Maybe we didn't remember that when we plunged heedlessly into supportive action last spring. But what goes around comes around: and those polls are right around this morning, jogging an open wound of memory.

United Arab Emirates, M.J. Akbar in the Gulf News

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Canada's Iraq policy is a manifestation of not what America has become as about what Canada has become ... Its Iraq policy is driven by an internal dynamic.

But here also lies an extraordinary opportunity, for Canada can become the bridge between Washington and the world that Washington has lost through haste, ignorance and overreach ...

Ottawa watches with perplexed anxiety as a traditional friend and neighbour is trapped by misconceptions, and the best and brightest in Washington take recourse to inanity as policy begins to crumble. On more than one occasion I hear a reference to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's "evidence" for the return of normalcy to Iraq: He claimed that Parent-Teacher Associations were opening up in schools in Baghdad!

Even more outlandish is the fact that some $8 billion, or nearly one third of the reconstruction budget that U.S. President George Bush seeks for Iraq, is slotted to be spent on Iraq's postal service. I wonder who thought up the formula: if you keep the Iraqis busy writing letters they won't shoot.

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One of Frank Sinatra's most famous songs was My way. George Bush has a remix version titled: "My way, or take the highway."

Lebanon, Ghassan Charbel in Al-Hayat

In spite of being experts in cruelty, journalists sometimes reserve some tenderness and some of the news touch their hearts and move their feelings. I experienced that when I read a story reported by Agence France Press from Iraq. It said that depression is overwhelming the soldiers of the 101st American airborne division deployed in Mosul. It quoted one of the officers: "the time is really long. If they just set a date (of return) for us. We are tensed; there is a huge pressure. When we go out in the city, we feel what is like the persecution complex." Others expressed their sorrow for staying for a long time away from their families, and because the citizens do not understand the truth of the humanitarian mission that they have come for.

I felt ashamed as much as I felt angry. The fundamentals of the Arab hospitality require that the visitor feels at home and among his family ...

It is necessary to dispose of the despair that is striking those who came to inject our veins with the serum of democracy, elections and ballot boxes ...

If only the soldiers of the airborne division know that their depression is just a passing season. It comes for a while and then they go, they leave for their country. If only they know the depression of the Middle East people ... that of living in nations that look like prisons, and whose constitutions, parliaments, laws and universities are nothing like any normal one, that of the long lines in front of the embassies, that of those running from the death trucks or the killing emigration boats, and finally that of living amidst economic failure, corruption and reform.

If only the soldiers of the airborne division knew that their leadership pushed them to pass a season of depression in a region where its people die under the long season of depression.


Salon Staff

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