Saturday, July 15, 2006


Evil-doers or democracy lovers? Which is it?

I admit it. I'm perplexed. I seem to be hearing two messages from the right about Middle Easterners, especially Iraqis. They hate us and everything we stand for. They're evil and they wish to destroy us. No wait. They're freedom loving people, and our troops are dying so they can sculpt the democratic republic they so long for.

Which is it?

I consider this as polling data comes forth from the Pew Research Center showing that we Americans and Westerners in general hold a pretty negative view of Middle Easterners and especially Muslims. According to the poll:

*69 percent of Americans think Muslims are disrespectful of women.
*Americans are almost evenly split on whether devout Islam can ever be conducive to life in a modern society.
*More than 40 percent of us think that Muslims are violent and fanatical.

And listen to what some conservatives say about the people they allegedly seek to liberate. Southern Baptist leader Jerry Vines called Mohammed a "deomn-possessed pedophile," and said, "Allah is not Jehovah. Jehovah's not going to turn you into a terrorist that will try to bomb people and take the lives of thousands and thousands of people."

Asked Pat Robertson, "Whoever heard of such a bloody, bloody, brutal type of religion? But that's what it is. It is not a religion of peace."

Michael Savage had a few words about what he'd like to do to Muslims: "So, kill 100 million of them, then there'd be 900 million of them. I mean ... would you rather us die than them? Would you rather we disappear or we die? Or would you rather they disappear and they die? Because you're going to have to make that choice sooner rather than later."

Remember, these are people who strongly support this war.

At the same time an entire World region is branded as antithetical to everything we hold dear, Republicans, conservatives and war supporters insist that Iraqis are freedom-loving peaceful folks who urgently need our help in transforming their nation into a vibrant democracy.

"The vast majority of Iraqis do not want to live under an Iranian-style theocracy and want Syria to stop allowing the transit of terrorists," states a White House fact sheet on the progress of installing democratic institutions in Iraq.

President Bush himself said in a 2003 speech, "And the questions arise: Are the peoples of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of liberty? Are millions of men and women and children condemned by history or culture to live in despotism? Are they alone never to know freedom, and never even to have a choice in the matter? I, for one, do not believe it. I believe every person has the ability and the right to be free."

Certainly, conservatives cheered on all those blue thumbs held up for the media during last year's elections in Iraq, presented as proof that Iraqis love freedom and democracy and that the war is producing the results we seek.

So which is it? Are Iraqis freedom-haters who despise everything we cherish? Or are they big-hearted lovers of freedom and progressive values? It appears war supporters want it both ways. I know how they would probably answer those questions. The terrorists are different from the average Iraqis, they'd say, who simply seek peace and freedom.

But I'm not so sure that's true. What's becoming increasingly apparent is that most attacks on our troops in Iraq are carried out by locals. We also see that most recent terrorist plots from last year's bombimgs to this summers uncovered plot to attack the Canadian Parliament have been the work of folks from the local mosque, not the work of some worldwide terrorist army. Recent polling data indicates that a large percentage of Iraqis think that attacking U.S. troops is OK and that acts of terrorism might indeed be permissible under some circumstances.

I'm not going to wade in today to fathom attitudes of the average Iraqi. Attempting to ascertain the "goodness" or "badness" of an entire religion or nation is quite a tricky undertaking. Their perceptions of the world and America, right or wrong, often color their attitudes. I would bet that most are just trying to survive and are no better or worse than the society around them.

In the end, I suspect that the folks we wish to liberate are really the same people we Americans label as intolerant terrorists. Somewhere between those two characterizations, I'm sure, lies the truth.

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