THE MYOPIA OF THE MEDIA
By Samuel Blumenfeld
October 22, 2003
Trying to find out what ordinary life is like in post-Saddam Iraq is like looking for clues in a detective story. For example, Bay Fang, Senior Editor at U.S. News and World Report, has just completed a six-week visit to Iraq. In the October 13th report she begins by telling us about a dinner she had at a packed Baghdad restaurant with an Iraqi family. She tries her hardest to elicit from the family some complaints about the American occupation. But all her host will say is, "It's not so bad now, but it's still an occupation."
Ms. Fang tells us nothing about the food, where it came from, what kind of distribution system they have in Iraq, whether or not restaurants are flourishing in Baghdad. We are not even told if there are any supermarkets in Baghdad. She writes, "Baghdad streets are again clogged with cars." Apparently, gasoline is available, but where does it come from, and how much does it cost? No answers from Ms. Fang.
She mentions the "130-plus boisterous newspapers" but she doesn't bother to interview a single editor or publisher. What do these newspapers report, and what are the sources of their news? No answer, not even a hint of curiosity about the new free press in Iraq. Here's a country that hasn't had a free press in over thirty years, and suddenly there is an explosion of press freedom, and there isn't a single reporter in the U.S. media who has taken the time to find out how Iraqis are enjoying this great new freedom.
Ms. Fang would rather concentrate on "amazing examples of mismanagement, cultural insensitivity, and abuse of power." Of course, she could find those in practically any country on the globe. But what makes Iraq more interesting than any other country is the fact that it is a Muslim nation, enjoying the kind of intoxicating freedom no other Muslim nation enjoys, albeit under the protection of an American and British occupation. One could cite Turkey as an example of a Muslim nation enjoying civil freedom. But that freedom is constantly being monitored by a secular military force.
It might be said that Afghanistan is in a similar position as Iraq. But the difference between the two countries is immense. Afghanistan is much more primitive and isolated than Iraq. On the other hand, Iraq has a great cultural heritage going back to Biblical times, a strong interest in education, and a natural propensity toward Western values. That it was held prisoner by Saddam Hussein and his gangsters for thirty-five years accounts for its retarded growth. But cell-phone communication will soon be available throughout Iraq, and in a few years it will be caught up with the West in terms of communication technology.
The importance of free communication among Iraqis cannot be exaggerated. For thirty-five years Iraqis were afraid to speak to anyone about their private views, even their friends. Suspicion of dissent could land you in one of Saddam's torture chambers. Thus, the average Iraqi lived a very secluded, inward life, unable to enjoy intimate friendships for fear that even a friend, under torture, might name you. Thus, the cell phone will not only be welcomed as a technological wonder, but as a symbol of true freedom.
Ms. Fang tells us that she was invited to lunch with two trial court judges and a lawyer. "Though very articulate men," she writes, "they shifted uncomfortably in their seats as they munched on their salads [salads in Baghdad? What kind of salads?] and waited for me to start the conversation.." She says they were unsure how to act, because under Saddam they could never have had lunch with a foreign correspondent. "We were 35 years under the power of one man," said the lawyer, "and suddenly we see ourselves in total freedom, and we don't know what to do."
That's the real problem they have in Iraq: what to do with freedom. Living as free men takes a lot of practice. Americans have had over 200 years of practice, and many of us still can't get it right. The Iraqis don't know what to do because they don't know what it's like to live as free men. That specimen of human being simply did not exist in Iraq. Thus it will take time for Iraqis to learn not only how to live as free men, but to want to live as free men and accepting its responsibilities.
Certainly in the United States there are differences among us that could easily lead to violence. But we are restrained from doing so because of our strong tradition of living under the law, a tradition in constant need of vigilant attention. And that is why the Iraqis need a constitution. They need a set of laws that will permit them to live in a civil society without the need or desire to kill one another. And once that is achieved, they themselves will know how to deal with the terrorists who would enslave them once more.
© 2003 Samuel Blumenfeld - All Rights Reserved
Samuel L. Blumenfeld is the author of eight books on education, including “Is Public Education Necessary?” and “The Whole Language/OBE Fraud,” published by The Paradigm Company, 208-322-4440. His reading instruction program, “Alpha-Phonics,” is available by writing The Tutoring Company, P.O. Box 540111, Waltham, MA 02454-0111. www.alpha-phonics.com www.howtotutor.com
"The Iraqis don't know what to do because they don't know what it's like to live as free men. That specimen of human being simply did not exist in Iraq. Thus it will take time for Iraqis to learn not only how to live as free men, but to want to live as free men and accepting its responsibilities."