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As Long as We Remember...

April 28, 2003

Debate: The Thread That Binds Our Nation

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

I watch the emerging dialogue in Iraq every night on the networks, CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. Depending on the channel and the reporter/analyst, the protests, worship, and demonstrations are reported as either a cause for concern or a celebration of freedom.

In truth, the only opinion that truly counts is the opinion of the specific Iraqi citizen. Whether they carry a crudely made placard chastising the Saddam regime for pilfering their riches or a manufactured sign urging the American "invaders" to leave immediately, the Iraqi people are finally able to express these opinions freely and openly.

It was only a few months ago that a street protest that was not sanctioned by Saddam would have resulted in arrests and the disappearance of the organizers. In America, we hold elections and celebrate a 30% turnout. We couldn’t hold a candle to Saddam’s regime when it comes to voter motivation. Saddam won his most recent election with 99.9 percent of the popular vote!

Our voter incentive efforts include newspaper ads, radio spots, and subtle pressure to live up to our civic responsibilities. My personal favorites in the last election cycle were the MTV "Rock the Vote" and the WWF "Smackdown Your Vote" initiatives. Probably some measure of where we are as a society when we depend on music television and professional wrestling to reach our voters!

Saddam used more direct and personal measures to ensure a high turnout. Withholding food, abductions, rape and torture were the tools of choice for getting out the vote in Iraq.

I disagree with the pundits who express concern over the protests of the people of Iraq as they gather in public to ask us to leave or worship in the Shiite tradition. I see these demonstrations, most completely spontaneous, as a sign that the spirit of freedom is spreading throughout a country that has suffered under the worst possible conditions for so long that most know no other way of life. We should look upon these demonstrations as an affirmation of why our young soldiers risked their lives to liberate the citizens of Iraq. Even when the demonstration involves Iraqis asking us to leave them alone, we should see that this is a sign that democracy is taking hold.

Look at the park in Washington Square, across from the White House, for an example of what makes America the strongest nation on earth. Within the line of sight of the world’s most powerful leader, protesters hold up signs and placards calling him a murderer, a villain to peace-loving people, and the devil incarnate. While I doubt that President Bush reads the signs held by protesters, I can assure you he know that they’re there.

Opponents of the liberation of Iraq through forced regime change cite the fact that, to date, no weapons of mass destruction have been uncovered. I guess the fact that freeing children held in prison for no reason other than the fact that they refused to join Saddam’s youth movement, or ending the systematic torture and murder of thousands of innocents each year isn’t a good enough reason to justify the invasion and removal of the Baath Party from power.

I would hope that all of us would view the free expression of thought, even those thoughts we might not agree with, as the most powerful and compelling outcome of the "early retirement" of Saddam and his butchers.

I smile every time I see a protest. I felt a flutter in my heart when I watched the Shiite pilgrimage to the holy sites in Karbala. While I will never understand the religious symbols and behaviors (the church services I’ve attended never involved swordplay), I respect the fact that these religious activities are essential to the practice of their faith.

Feel free to disagree with the President on the war. Carry your sign, write your editorial letter, or march in your local demonstration. Just remember that today; thanks to the removal of the Baath Party and Saddam Hussein, the people of Iraq are free to do the same thing for the first time in over 30 years.

Debate and protest has served as the thread that binds our country throughout our history. I suspect that freedom of expression will serve the same purpose in Iraq, and that thread can be used to suture wounds that would have otherwise festered forever.

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