Friday, April 11, 2003

A dirge for freedom on the eve of victory!

On the morning of 10 Apr 2003, back home in Abu Dhabi, I was particularly struck by the front page of the Gulf News. Under the huge headlines END OF SADDAM there was a large picture of the statue being hauled down in Firdous Square and in a column to the right of that, so that it was the first prose you would read on the front page, an editorial by Abdul Hamid Ahmad, Editor-in-Chief of Gulf News. The article was entitled Iraq for Iraqis and it essentially expressed two views, sadness at the impotence of Arabs at the sight of US Marines walking in the streets of one of the most ancient, historic and holy capitals in the Arab world, and secondly of course relief that the tyrant had gone and acknowledgement that he had brought this spectacle on Iraq in full view of the televised world, thus returning to the first point and so on.

Now there are two interesting things here:

(1) Whereas the coverage in the rest of the paper was largely in line with world media in expressing relief and appreciation for the rapid assured victory in Baghdad, the editor chose to lead with his own article rather than bury that away in an Opinion column somewhere. Therefore though the bottom one-third of the front page reported the facts more straightforwardly, the top two thirds had this statement of Arab ambivalence toward foreign involvment and impotence at being forced to view the event, which is important to bear in mind as we watch events unfold from now on.

Keep in mind also that prior to three weeks ago, Arab television audiences had been getting a steady stream of video depicting similar scenes of systematic Israeli destruction of the West Bank and Gaza. The Israelis don't take embedded reporters with them, but BBC and Al Jazeera frequently show footage from populous city centers in which crowds scatter in panic in the face of helicopter gunship attacks, or as firemen attempting to staunch blazes drop their hoses and run for cover when tank shells land close by, or even tanks picking off civilians in the streets (a blast that killed two boys scurrying to get home was aimed at the car of a doctor who was wounded but drove on and was interviewed later in hospital). And scenes of residents picking themselves despairingly from the rubble of apartment blocks devastated in Janin in efforts to assassinate the one single terrorist who lived there with his family are painfully similar to the scenes at Masouria, where the US dropped four bombs at once in its most recent attempt to get rid of Saddam and his entourage.

(2) The article itself contained two countervaling views, and the second interesting thing is that the editor chose to lead with the one he did, so that the first thing you read under the headline and bylines is "This is a heart-breaking moment for any Arab seeing Marines roaming the streets of Baghdad, the capital of Caliph Al Rashid." He could easily have lead with the more positive view and presented the heartbreak in a subordinate clause, as he does in his third paragraph. His choice was not random.

Due to these two choices by the editor (leading coverage with his column and starting that column on the heartbreak note) the overall impression from today's newspaper is that yesterday's events in Baghdad weren't
an entirely good for the hearts and minds of the Arabs. I'm not sure what controls there are on editorship of the newspapers here - my impression is that the news is largely balanced and impartial which, unlike American local papers, does tend to present the Arab view now and again, and it is healthy to know what the Arab view is.

The article itself, even though it was on the front page of today's paper, is not easy to locate. Here is the url for the search that eventually turned it up:

On that page it was the fifth item down today. It does not seem possible in Netscape or IE to get a new window with a url for the article itself. Here it is in case you can't locate it or to save you the trouble:

Iraq for Iraqis By Abdul Hamid Ahmad

This is a heart-breaking moment for any Arab seeing Marines roaming the streets of Baghdad, the capital of Caliph Al Rashid.

The city presented to the world sciences, literature, art and philosophical thought during the reign of the glorious Abbasid empire.

As much as an Arab is pleased to see his Iraqi brothers free from the yoke of dictatorship which humiliated and tortured them for more than 20 years, his heart breaks from depression and pain seeing this sad end to Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, collapsing under the chains of Marines' tanks. The Arabs' forefathers were also sad one day when hooves of Mongol and Tartar horses wrecked the minaret of science, desecrated its libraries and shed the blood of Baghdad's children.

Should we laugh or cry today? Cry on seeing an Arab capital sway and fall without resistance live on air. At the same time, we are unable to do anything - even sadness has become difficult for us to feel. Or laugh because an Arab country is eventually getting rid of the yoke and shackles of slavery by which a tyrant of this age fettered it.

Should we cry for the humiliation which a dictator of Iraq put us through, or should we laugh for his imminent end as it happened one day to other tyrants like Hitler, Stalin and Ceaucescu.

This is a tough, sad and painful moment with our feelings leaving us speechless. This is a moment we did not wish to live through or see. However, the ruler of Iraq led us to it, and insisted that we live through it as he led his people and Arabs before to other painful moments when he invaded Kuwait, causing the biggest rift among Arabs and weakening their power for the interests of their foes led by Israel.

He and his propaganda machinery, until yesterday, were heaping lies about his power and greatness. But today, he is shattered - and no expert expected it to happen so fast.

We say nothing, but this is the end of any dictator or tyrant who does not pay attention to his people and governs by iron and fire, not love and justice, and wastes the resources of his country on oppression and tyranny.

His people yesterday seized the opportunity thrown up by the war and revolted, tearing his pictures and destroying his statues.

We wished that this end would have come at the hands of his own people, not at the hands of the Marines. But, again, the sins of dictatorship, as practised by Saddam Hussain, brought the Marines to the Gulf with his invasion of Kuwait in 1990. And today he brought them to the capital Iraq, Baghdad of Al Rashid and Al Mutanabbi.

We have no relief but in seeing Iraqis regain their freedom and rising to build their country and govern themselves, cooperating with Arabs and peace and justice-loving peoples to fight tyranny, illness, hunger and ignorance and other foes of humankind.

Iraq should be for the Iraqis, free, glorious and sovereign.

Other URLs:

More interesting Arab and Muslim Media Reactions to the Fall of Baghdad

A heartfelt thanks to the people of America from a good friend in Kuwait

Mark Warschauer's Mabruk to the people of Iraq!

The New York Times on the Web
Thursday, April 10, 2003


Hussein Statue Is Toppled — Rumsfeld Urges Caution
Much of Baghdad tumbled into American hands as Saddam Hussein's image was pulled down from pedestals and
portraiture in the city.

... and this back page stuff ...

American Air Attack Mistakenly Kills 11 Afghans
An American warplane mistakenly bombed a house in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing 11 civilians and wounding one.


Israelis Kill Five Palestinians in Gaza Strip
Israeli tanks and armored vehicles rolled into the Gaza Strip on Wednesday and killed five Palestinians after
Palestinian rocket fire on an Israeli town.