Finally, a man who can tell the Iraqi people what they really want, and help the U.S. give it to them. John F. Burns, in his October 15th article in the New York Times, describes, with some contempt, the scene in Baghdad–on the evening before the referendum, a soccer match attended by 30,000 is treated to “parachutists descending through the dusk” clutching portraits of their leader, and throngs of spectators unfurling banners with “the same relentlessly adoring theme.” Can you believe it? They CAMPAIGN.
Perhaps Burns’ scorn emanates from knowing what a stadium propaganda event should look like–last year’s Super Bowl seems THE event to beat–or maybe he’s jealous that Iraqis have whittled their election down to just one candidate, when the U.S. is merely down to two. Either way, finger-thrusted, Burns’ piece critiques what has many parallels in the U.S.
Iraq, according to Burns, teems with enthusiasm for Saddam Hussein, but underneath it all, the people are aching for a regime change. Despite their ostensible endorsements, Burns detects the Iraqi people as giving him signals to the contrary. So, based on these signals, his article attempts to undermine the Iraqi sentiment and cast its most recent referendum as fraudulent. To his credit, we can certainly empathize with how destructive a fraudulent election can be. However, Burns’ article is not about a fair election: it is about personally interpreting the signs of Iraqi dissidence. And, according to his interpretation, the Iraqi people are asking for it.
“Minders,” Burns’ scary sci-fi term for the more normative “military escorts,” seem to stifle Iraqis from speaking freely to him wherever he goes. Thus, he draws his evidence for Iraqi unhappiness from the sturdy Baghdad handshakes and the occasional utterance “America good.” Speculation follows from these suggestive encounters, that in fact, despite the frenzied enthusiasm he witnesses, there is political unrest in Iraq. So, things are not exactly as they appear on TV? Or in the New York Times? Burns’ logic mirrors that of a dumbfounded sex offender– “Look, she said no, but I could tell she really wanted it by the way she looked at me.”
Iraqis, when asked about Bush or Blair, “respond in terms strikingly similar to the diatribes that run daily in the state-run television and radio, or the government-controlled newspapers.” These remarks on the media are curious, and the utter beauty of them is their location: the New York Times. The insinuation is, of course, the people of Iraq are brainwashed, while the American freedom of press steers clear of governmental influence. What, then, is the function of Burns’ empty contemptuousness, other than to reinforce punctured arguments for war in this thinly veiled propaganda? That non-Iraqis are free-thinking creatures able to dislodge themselves from the automation CNN inspires…perhaps Burns needs a flight back to New York to take a listen.
TREY SAGER is a poet and writer in NYC. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org