Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
2005.02.02 : "Iraq, Home of the Brave"

"Defying the suicide bombers and head-hackers, courageous Iraqis went to the polls in huge numbers. Before the vote, the naysayers told us that the indelible purple dye on each voter's finger would mark them out for punishment by 'insurgents'. Instead, it became a defiant symbol of the country's freedom.

"Musically speaking, I'm not really a big fan of Francis Scott Key's Star-Spangled Banner . . . but the lyric does contain one big idea - that a 'land of the free' has to be also, at some level, a 'home of the brave'.

"I liked the picture of some grizzled beaming Arab so proud of his purple finger that he dipped a second one and then raised both to the camera - flipping the V sign, or so I like to think, to the BBC, to Sir Simon Jenkins, to Do-Nothing Doug Hurd, to those Spanish protesters and the rest of the quagmire fetishists. Even the most benign liberator can't 'give' liberty to someone: you have to want it, and take it for yourself. This Sunday, Shia and Kurds and even the savvier Sunnis seized it.

"Iraq was a home of the brave this weekend and will be a land of the free.

"Three years ago, Jonathan Kay of Canada's National Post observed that if Robert Mugabe turned up at an Arab League meeting he'd be the most democratically legitimate leader in the room. That's no longer true. And that's the real significance of what's been happening in Iraq, from the municipal elections last year to this vote to the constitutional assembly . . . The most fascinating detail in the big picture was this: Iraqi expats weren't voting just in Sydney and London and Los Angeles, but also in Syria. Think about that. If you're an Iraqi in Syria, you can vote for the political party of your choice. If you're a Syrian in Syria, you have no choice at all. Which of those arrangements is the one with a future?

"In Europe and North America, the western Left have got on the wrong side of this movement. Shame on them . . . marching in the streets against Muslim democracy and insisting that Arabs much prefer the 'security' of dictatorship."

         - Mark Steyn, in The Telegraph

"WHO WON the Iraqi elections? The formal counting won’t be over for days. But the result’s already clear. Iraq won. And who lost? Well, a full list would take up all this column, but, for starters, I would say that the people who seemed a little glum yesterday morning include Saddam Hussein, Robin Cook, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, George Galloway, Osama bin Laden, Douglas Hurd, Bashar al-Assad, Menzies Campbell, Jacques Chirac, BBC News and Current Affairs, Robert Fisk and Sean Penn.

"On Sunday Iraq enjoyed freedom. And enjoy seems to be the mot juste. Iraqis celebrated their chance to vote, revelled in it, embraced it. But for Robin, George, Douglas, Menzies, Jacques, Sean and those who joined them in opposition to the Iraq war there can’t be any great cause for celebration, can there? For none of this happened in their name.

"Women in an Arab nation taking their place as free individuals alongside men, their voices and votes at last given equal weight. But not in your name, Robin. The Kurdish people, victims of chemical attack, ethnic cleansing, savage repression, at last voting to take their equal, respected, place in a new Iraq. But not in your name, George. The Shias of the south, after years in which their culture was marginalised, their lives held cheap, their faith mocked and their relatives tortured, now, at last, assuming a share of power in their own land, through the ballot box. But not in your name, Douglas. And an Arab nation, defying the racist stereotypes of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s camel corps, shows itself not just ready but enthusiatic for democracy. It is a victory for the principle that human rights can have a universal application. But not in your name, Menzies.

"For the past few months, whenever discussion has turned to the wisdom of the Iraq war, or the prospects for Iraq’s future, in our newspapers and on our airwaves, the critics’ voices have been dominant. And their opposition to what has been happening doom-laden. But there are other voices who were not heard, indeed had not been heard for many years. On Sunday they spoke at last. The people of Iraq told Robin, Menzies, Douglas and George something I had been longing to hear. Their message was simple. When you tell us that it was wrong to get rid of Saddam, foolish to press ahead with an election, naive to believe in Arab democracy, you exercise a valuable, cherishable freedom. But not in our name."

         - Michael Gove, in The Times

"The day-after euphoria of many Iraqis and the relief, surprise and admiration of the outside world at the resounding success of Iraq’s first democratic elections in half a century are the latest astonishing testimony to the power of democracy. In Indonesia, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories, voters have turned out in their millions to prove wrong those cynics who insisted that any ballot would be unrepresentative, irrelevant or merely a prelude to further conflict. The support of Washington for these first steps in empowering millions with the basic rights of freedom was taken as proof that 'Western' democracy was either incompatible with Islam or a plot to further Western interests.

"Iraq has now vibrantly demonstrated that these theories are false. Millions risked their lives to vote. Neither the violence, the campaign of intimidation nor the corrosive denunciation of those posing as nationalists and freedom fighters deterred Iraqis, young and old, the infirm, the destitute and those who had lost family to terrorism and repression from waiting their turn to choose a representative.

"The sight of so many people so determined to make their voices heard came as a shock to many. Those tired governments in the region that fear the Iraqi example or have colluded with thugs to keep themselves in power will find it hard to explain away these elections. Those Islamists who insisted that any vote supported by the Americans would be invalid have been exposed for what they are: bigots who can terrorise but never convince. Those governments, including several Nato and EU members, itching to embarrass the Bush Administration, have now had to voice formulaic congratulations to cover their confusion."

         - Board edit, in The Times

"The pictures are extraordinary . . . The images of women especially moved me - because of what this election represents for the future of women's dignity and equality in the Middle East. Then the general merriment all round. Even from this distance, it appears that Iraqis were celebrating their common citizenship, a moment when their civic and national space just got larger. Look at these photos and re-read the president's Inaugural. This is real. Freedom is advancing. Out of chaos and fear. Maybe it took staring into the abyss to bring Iraq back from a form of hell."

         - Andrew Sullivan, in andrewsullivan.com

"But wait - not everyone is wearing a smiley face after the Iraqi elections, and that is good, considering who is unhappy. Let's start with the mullahs in Iran . . . I just want to be around for Iran's next election, when the ayatollahs try to veto reform candidates and Iranian Shiites ask, Why can't we vote for anyone, like Iraqi Shiites did? Oh, boy, that's going to be pay-per-view.

"Then there is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. This Charles-Manson-with-a-turban who heads the insurgency in Iraq had a bad hair day on Sunday. I wonder whether anyone told him about the suicide bomber who managed to blow up only himself outside a Baghdad polling station and how Iraqi voters walked around his body, spitting on it as they went by.

"By voting the way they did, in the face of real danger, Iraqis have earned the right to ask everyone now to put aside their squabbles and focus on what is no longer just a pipe dream but a real opportunity to implant decent, consensual government in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world."

         - Tom Friedman, in The New York Times

"It was the moment in which individual Iraqi citizens, by risking their lives to cast their votes, finally began to make their own history.

"The election was an experiment, and until Sunday nobody could be sure how it would turn out. Would Iraqis defy suicide bombers and mortar attacks to get to the polls? Did the people of Iraq want a new, democratic nation enough to die for it? In braving 109 separate attacks on polling places Sunday, a majority of Iraqis gave their answer.

"The stories of election day courage should become part of the narrative of the new Iraq. Karl Vick of The Post described a man who voted at a girls high school in Baghdad where a suicide bomber had attacked just a few hours before. 'I would have been happy to have died voting at the time of this explosion,' the man said. The Post's Anthony Shadid quoted the director of a polling place in a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad who described the election as a wedding for Iraq: 'For a half-century, no one has seen anything like it. And we did it ourselves.'"

         - David Ignatius, in The Washington Post

  politics     excerpts     freedom     iraq  
close photo of Michael Stephen Fuchs

Fuchs is the author of the novels The Manuscript and Pandora's Sisters, both published worldwide by Macmillan in hardback, paperback and all e-book formats (and in translation); the D-Boys series of high-tech, high-concept, spec-ops military adventure novels – D-Boys, Counter-Assault, and Close Quarters Battle (coming in 2016); and is co-author, with Glynn James, of the bestselling Arisen series of special-operations military ZA novels. The second nicest thing anyone has ever said about his work was: "Fuchs seems to operate on the narrative principle of 'when in doubt put in a firefight'." (Kirkus Reviews, more here.)

Fuchs was born in New York; schooled in Virginia (UVa); and later emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lived through the dot-com boom. Subsequently he decamped for an extended period of tramping before finally rocking up in London, where he now makes his home. He does a lot of travel blogging, most recently of some very  long  walks around the British Isles. He's been writing and developing for the web since 1994 and shows no particularly hopeful signs of stopping.

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