“Jerry Nachman, the late newsman, used to tell his anchorpersons to show ‘contempt for the camera.’ Would that someone had told Cindy Sheehan. Primitive peoples who refused to be photographed because they feared that the black box would take their souls were more right than the Western ethnographers who crouched behind it knew. Most Augusts, the beast of attention focuses on shark attacks. This August, it decided to focus on grieving-mother attacks.”
That is how Richard Brookhiser begins a piece headlined “Democracy Takes Root, Slowly,In Post-Saddam Iraq.” It responds to Cindy Sheehan, who has said that her son died for sharia–Islamic law–in Iraq.
The piece is well worth reading in its entirety, and here are two key paragraphs to whet your appetite for this appropriately cautious but guardedly optimistic column:
“It would be a black mark against us if we didn’t insist, as strongly as we could, that the rights of women be guaranteed. Saddam’s record where women were concerned was perverse. He took them out of their veils and put them to work, but the result of their integration into Saddamite society was that they were free to obey him, and to be raped by his sons whenever they caught Uday’s or Qusay’s eye. Baathism was an equal-opportunity oppressor. It would be sad indeed for Iraqi women to substitute the switchblade of dictatorship for the slow strangle of state-enforced religious norms. Dangerous, too, for Iraqi men–and, ultimately, perhaps, for New York office workers and London subway riders, since a culture of female enslavement is a culture of masculine fantasy and frustration. Honor breeds terror even more than grievance, since a steroidal sense of honor looks for grievances even where none exist.”
“We should insist, yet the Iraqis will ultimately do what they want (subject to their own later rethinking and horse-trading). That is what democracy means, and the Iraqis are enjoying a taste of it for the first time in decades–maybe ever–rather than submitting to the judgment of Baathists, Hashemites or Brits. Democracy is tough in the Middle East, where there is no culture of self-rule; Robert Strausz-Hupe, once our ambassador to Turkey, said that the Turks believe in democracy because Kemal Ataturk told them to. Democracy can be tough anywhere; H.L. Mencken defined it as giving people what they want, good and hard. Whatever ensues, we have the satisfaction of knowing that Saddam, who sought to harness W.M.D. programs with the world’s second-largest oil reserves and the world’s largest grudge against us, is gone; that the likes of Abu Nidal and the 1993 bombers of the World Trade Center will have to seek terror subsidies elsewhere; and that the Iraqis are better off than when he oppressed them and the oil-for-food program fleeced them. Those are achievements that are both noble and self-interested.”