Agam's Gecko
Thursday, May 26, 2005

ust as I was leaving town last Friday, the kerfuffle over the Saddam Hussein "unplugged" photo was beginning to erupt. Hot on the heels of the Newsweak fiasco, I thought here comes another excuse for the jihadis to get worked up all over again. Never mind the magazine's full and unconditional retraction of the flushed Koran story (which in fact had been published more than two years earlier, with an equal amount of verification: i.e. none -- and resulting in no riots, death or destruction by offended jihadis at that time). People who want to kill over a rumour are not interested in paying attention to such things as retractions anyway. They don't need a reason to go wild, they just need an excuse. Any excuse will do, and Saddam in his undies on the front page of a British tabloid would seem to fit the bill.

But it seems that Iraqis -- who one would expect to be the ones to take greatest offense, at least some of them -- just yawned and shrugged. Imran Khan was silent too, while much of the western media pundits and human rights organisations were absolutely shocked at the outrage. Geneva conventions and all that (Saddam is not a POW, but under the jurisdiction of the sovereign Iraq government and about to stand trial on crimes against humanity). When I got back to connectivity this week, I thought I'd check out how some of the old tyrant's previous subjects viewed this tacky invasion of his privacy rights.

Omar wrote:
I actually don't think Saddam would mind being seen this way at all; back in the 1990s he appeared on the state TV wearing a swim suit smaller than the underwear he was wearing in the recent photos. And not only that, he was dancing in that "out fit"!
The tyrant used to do a bikini show for his annual swim in the Tigris, to mark the day of his heroic escape across the river after attempting to assassinate Iraq's first president in 1959. Every year, a swim and a bikini dance of the dictator. Omar continues:
Many video clips of "patriotic songs" used snap shots from that dance to remind the people of how strong and fit their leader was, so it's never a new scene for us here.
Omar feels that the photo will impact more outside Iraq than inside, and carried a strong message for the other tiny dictators of the neighbourhood:
I won't be surprised to hear that someone from Egypt or Syria used photoshop to edit these photos and fit Mubarak's or Asad's face on Saddam's body.
Heh, heh.

Kurdo of Kurdo's World (a blog from Iraqi Kurdistan, check him out) liked the photo too, calling it the "greatest photo of the year" -- and telling of rather more poignant effects upon the accumulated decades of fear. The (ex-) emperor actually is (almost) naked:
I personally was scared from Saddam even in my dreams. I have seen this guy in my dreams and I have started to shiver.

To see this man (Sa'ed Al-Ra'es) (Mr. President) as he used to call himself like that in a pair of Iraqi underwear, is the strongest message for all his victims that it is time to live in peace for ever.
Wai to Gateway Pundit for that one.

And two more wais to Glenn Reynolds for having pointed out two good pieces in the Weekly Standard. The first, by Stephen Hayes, is a very readable overview of what is known so far on the web of collusion between certain prominent Security Council member states (coincidentally, the ones who fought hardest to save the Saddam regime), as well as certain United Nations officials, and the Oil for Palaces humanitarian relief program. It appears very much the case that when Kofi Annan uttered his famous line after a trip to Baghdad, that Saddam was "a man I could do business with," he wasn't necessarily speaking figuratively. If you're wondering what all this UNSCAM fuss is about, most of what is known is sketched out in this piece.

The other essay is a delicious piece about Gorgeous George Galloway from someone who knows his history better than most, namely Christopher Hitchens, whom Galloway once described, writing in a Communist party newspaper, as "that great British man of letters" and "the greatest polemicist of our age." More recently upon their chance meeting on a Washington sidewalk (just prior to Galloway's recent bombastic performance), when Hitch asked him about his endorsement of Saddam's payment for Palestinians who murdered Israelis, the radical literary critic had a slightly different view. Such impertinent questions were just what one would expect from a "drink-sodden ex-Trotskyist popinjay." Heh. George had admitted in the past, that the worst day of his life was the day the Soviet Union fell.

The article goes into some detail regarding Galloway's background with the Ba'athists, the strange story of his Mariam Appeal ("something, easily confused with a charity"), how the Iraqi left experienced Saddam's tyranny over the years, the British left's once-upon-a-time valiant opposition to fascism, and more. It's rather longish, but well worth reading.


es I know, I keep using that bi-polar phraseology, the left - right thing, even though I've written many times that I find this one-dimensional scale to be quite seriously inadequate for describing political viewpoints. Speaking only for myself, I don't feel I could place myself anywhere on that limited continuum, but rather imagine that I've stepped off it altogether. That imaginary line, strangely enough, can be awfully confining -- something I was unaware of until I decided to stop self-locating anywhere on it.

But it can still be useful sometimes to use the term as shorthand. Although these days I think, to say that someone is "on the right" is much less specifically meaningful than it once was. But say that someone else is "on the left", and one can usually know fairly accurately what their position will be on a whole range of issues. That's what I mean by confining.

I would encourage anyone who has the time, to follow the excellent blog article series which I've mentioned recently, by neo-neocon, called "A Mind is a Difficult Thing to Change". There are new installments being added periodically, several since I last mentioned it, and all are linked from her sidebar on the main page. Now I must draw readers' attention to another very powerful essay on Leaving the Left (or How the Left Left Me, perhaps?). Keith Thompson's article in the San Francisco Chronicle contained more that a bit of deja vu for me, although he clearly has a much bigger resume for his credentials as a bona fide "progressive". From his earliest awakening to politics as a boy through the inspirational voice of Martin Luther King, his long committment to progressive causes, and his recent evolution away from the traditional "left" (a necessity in order to actually remain true to those very same progressive ideals), I heard many echoes of my own life's journey. If anyone out there is still wondering, "What the heck has gotten into that Agam, anyway?" -- take 10 or 15 minutes to read Keith. He can probably explain it all much better than I can anyway.

He marks his turning point very specifically, at the outset of his essay:
Nightfall, Jan. 30. Eight-million Iraqi voters have finished risking their lives to endorse freedom and defy fascism. Three things happen in rapid succession. The right cheers. The left demurs. I walk away from a long-term intimate relationship. I'm separating not from a person but a cause: the political philosophy that for more than three decades has shaped my character and consciousness, my sense of self and community, even my sense of cosmos.
Like so many of the other like-minded writers I've cited before (including many of the blogs linked on the roll), Keith describes his change of mind as leaving the left "in the name of liberalism".

As a longtime professional writer, Keith has a "writer's website" which carries a lot of his published work. But just earlier this month, he began writing a blog (what else?!) which he calls Sane Nation. He's a very talented writer, and I plan to be reading him regularly. Added to the blogroll (along with Daily Demarche and New Sisyphus, two foreign service blogs).


he answer to that question, is actually that they are all around us, if we can hear them. I certainly don't discount the difficulty that anybody -- Muslim or not -- experiences if they attempt to voice politically incorrect stuff like condemning Michael Moore's Minutemen, or any of the other entities at work who've attempted to hijack an entire religion for their various purposes.

Via Newsbeat 1, I was directed to this article by Toronto Sun columnist Salim Mansur, on the damage that the extremist minority within Islam is doing to Muslims as a whole. He laments the silence of Muslim leaders regarding this long list of self-desecrations, and calls on Muslims to take responsibility for defending the good name of their religion -- which will mean unambiguous condemnation of the brutal acts of the few (who are still getting all the publicity, unfortunately).

It was a great encouragement in this regard, to read a recent piece by Fouad Ajami on Opinion Journal, which he titled Bush Country. (Feature articles at Opinion Journal require free registration, but if you're shy you can read it also at Across the Bay, a very fine blog focussing on the Lebanon and Syria region).

Ajami journeys around the Middle East, and finds -- surprisingly -- that, "To venture into the Arab world, as I did recently over four weeks in Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan and Iraq, is to travel into Bush Country. I was to encounter people from practically all Arab lands, to listen in on a great debate about the possibility of freedom and liberty."

With the current happenings in Cairo (demonstrators demanding reform and openness with a cry of Kifaya ["Enough!"], were yesterday violently beaten back by the apparatus of the state), it seems timely to quote a little bit on Egypt here:
For decades, the intellectual classes in the Arab world bemoaned the indifference of American power to the cause of their liberty. Now a conservative American president had come bearing the gift of Wilsonian redemption. For a quarter century the Pax Americana had sustained the autocracy of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak: He had posed as America's man on the Nile, a bulwark against the Islamists. He was sly and cunning, running afoul of our purposes in Iraq and over Israeli-Palestinian matters. He had nurtured a culture of antimodernism and anti-Americanism, and had gotten away with it. Now the wind from Washington brought tidings: America had wearied of Mr. Mubarak, and was willing to bet on an open political process, with all its attendant risks and possibilities. The brave oppositional movement in Cairo that stepped forth under the banner of Kifaya ("Enough!") wanted the end of his reign: It had had enough of his mediocrity, enough of the despotism of an aging officer who had risen out of the military bureaucracy to entertain dynastic dreams of succession for his son. Egyptians challenging the quiescence of an old land may have had no kind words to say about America in the past. But they were sure that the play between them and the regime was unfolding under Mr. Bush's eyes.
Ajami quotes the views of many people of all walks of life, whom he met on his journey, and the result is a picture far different from the "boiling anger of the Arab street" which is proffered regularly by the majority of mainstream pundits, media and conventional wisdom.

While I watch the very positive coverage of Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's visit to Washington today, and the very warm reception he's receiving at Congress, the White House, and at several public functions, the freaky minority of haters make their presence felt back home with credible threats against US embassies and consulates there resulting in the temporary closure of several facilities. They'd love nothing better than to embarrass him during his trip. Instead, their timing during a very successful presidential trip (expressing mutual friendship and respect between the two countries, and despite some remaining problem issues), simply brings into stark relief, just how marginal these groups really are.

Fouad Ajami finally reflects on the wave of revolutions which swept Europe in the mid 19th century -- the "springime of peoples" -- and on the words of an aristocrat of the day who embraced that spring awakening.
"The gift of liberty is like that of a horse, handsome, strong, and high-spirited. In some it arouses a wish to ride; in many others, on the contrary, it increases the desire to walk." It would be fair to say that there are many Arabs today keen to walk--frightened as they are by the prospect of the Islamists coming to power and curtailing personal liberties, snuffing out freedoms gained at such great effort and pain. But more Arabs, I hazard to guess, now have the wish to ride. It is a powerful temptation that George W. Bush has brought to their doorstep.
I think that quoted meditation from an earlier era is probably universal, and probably always will be. As Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma famously said: "It is not power that corrupts, but fear."

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