Imagine children rushing to their presents on Christmas morning and then being stopped and scolded by a parent reminding them that their vacation will be over soon enough and then there will be school to go to again and lots of homework.
“Wipe those silly grins off your faces,” this stern dad or mom will say, as the chastened young ones unwrap their gifts with the joy gone from their hearts.
It would be true, of course, that the children would indeed have to return to the discipline of learning in not so many days, just as it is true that the Iraqis have only just begun to build their democracy. Sunday’s incredible election success is only the beginning, for there is now a government to put in place, a constitution to write, an economy to construct, a stable social order to maintain against determined enemies, all sorts of institutions to create practically from scratch.
But what should not be lost is that the Sunday experience for millions of Iraqis was as Christmas to many children, a precious time filled with promise and hope and good cheer. While there’s nothing amiss about reminders of difficulties ahead, the many voices emphasizing those difficulties over the miracle of the moment demonstrate either a blindly partisan agenda (see remarks by John Kerry and Ted Kennedy) or else a failure to appreciate the display of something awesomely powerful in the human spirit. That something is a craving for liberation.
In Iraq, the craving was so great as to produce a large, enthusiastic voter turnout overriding an autocratic past that some have thought is fixed not just as a social and cultural fact in the Mideast, but as a psychic fact, a way of thinking that could not be overcome by even decades of refashioned education. It was not fixed, after all. It was gossamer, this supposed allegiance to having others rule your lives. Iraqis walked right through it, and also through threats of violence that were more than threats.
Several dozen people were killed on this election day, but the voters kept coming, the smiles big on their faces, dancing alive in their feet, their purpose undeterred by the blasts of suicide bombers who must not have counted on this kind of courage.
To better marvel at what was at work here, contrast this courage with that of those American politicians who have refused to vote for republic-serving reform of such a program as Social Security or against bloated, republic-damaging budgets for fear that there then might be someone somewhere who will dislike them and that, heaven forfend, their careers might be ended. Not their lives, which was the risk of voting in much of Iraq. Their careers.
Democracy does have its enemies in Iraq, of course _ the people doing the bombing, such as Iraq’s terrorist-in-chief, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
“We have declared a fierce war on this evil principle of democracy and those who follow this wrong ideology,” he has said, giving the lie to such people as Ward Churchill, an ethnic studies professor at the University of Colorado who maintains that the 9/11 attack was justified retaliation for such actions as U.N. sanctions that he believes cost 500,000 Iraqi children their lives. The sanctions did no such thing, as past research and more recent information about Saddam Hussein’s manipulation of oil-for-food money amply demonstrate. The larger point, noted by others, is that terrorist leaders have no fear greater than to see freedom stand tall, shoving aside the Islamic-fascism they wish to impose on everyone. Their chief objective is to strike down this “evil” of letting people themselves choose their government.
America has much to be proud of in Iraq. Some of those who think differently actually help make the case against themselves through the senselessness of their arguments _ for instance, Eugene Jarecki, a film director whose militarism-alleging documentary, “Why We Fight,” just received the highest award in its category at the Sundance Film Festival. He is quoted by the Associated Press as saying that America “as a beacon of freedom has now been eclipsed by our role as an empire” and that “democracy at the point of a gun has never worked.”
But our imperial ambitions in Iraq are zero; as soon as we can leave without imperiling hope for a humane future there, we will. And we are making democracy possible through our military intervention, not forcing it on anyone. If you think we are, say so to one of those Iraqis proudly waving fingers dabbed in purple to show simply that they voted, whether those they favor win or not. It could get them killed, this finger-waving, but photos show them doing it with eyes full of pride. This is not democracy at the point of a gun, but democracy despite guns pointed at those who want self-rule and liberty. This is democracy as an expression of a profound thirst in the soul.
Let’s cheer the historic turn of events in Iraq loudly and emphatically, knowing that this initial triumph will help provide the energy and self-confidence for the hard work to come.
(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard Newspapers and editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is now a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)aol.com.)