Jewish World Review Dec. 15, 2004/ 3 Teves 5765
American spirit takes root in Iraq
'Tis the season, and Americans deserve some holiday cheer. Herewith some of the good things happening in Iraq, beginning with Omar and Mohammed.
Regular travelers of the blogosphere, that rare and wonderful new universe on where bloggers post news, commentary and other ruminations on the Web, may be familiar with the names Omar and Mohammed.
They, too, are bloggers. In Iraq with brother Ali, they created a blog called Iraq The Model, through which they've kept the blogosphere abreast of events from their native, on-the-ground perspective.
Last week, Omar, 24, and Mohammed, 35, both dentists, came to the United States to meet their American blogging counterparts and to shake hands with someone they hold in high esteem - President George W. Bush. They wanted to thank him.
The two Iraqi brothers, who are Sunni, came to the United States under the sponsorship of Spirit of America, a nonprofit organization founded by technology entrepreneur Jim Hake that helps Americans serving abroad improve the lives of others.
Spirit of America, for example, supported the U.S. Marines and others in Afghanistan and Iraq by raising funds for needed supplies, prompting the Wall Street Journal to write: "Jim Hake and the Marines are a coalition of the can-do."
Several bloggers have posted reports of last week's historic human intersection that began in cyberspace. Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine wrote:
"They have tremendous courage doing what they are doing: They grab onto free speech like men dying of thirst who finally come upon the oasis. They use their free speech with a gusto we should all admire and aspire to. They use it improve their nation and their future."
Omar told a gathering that he and his brothers are trying to "bridge the gap between Iraq and the world," according to Jarvis' report.
"Iraqis are grateful for what America did. Iraqis are grateful for the liberation of Iraq. . They feel like they are not alone in their struggle." Mohammed said that his countrymen "had lived in the dark for 35 years," and he and his brothers want to "show the world a different story that they cannot see in the media."
"I am free and I am enjoying my freedom," he said.
Freedom is something Americans take for granted, but it's a new concept for Iraqis, a majority of whom have known life only under a despot. Their entire experience, from birth until present day, was dictated, organized, provided or withheld from above.
Think welfare state in the extreme. Thus, when coalition forces ousted Saddam, a void replaced him. How now to conduct life? Iraqis are learning freedom - and the personal responsibilities inherent therein - one day at a time. Men may yearn to be free, as Bush often puts it, but a populace accustomed to a nanny state, particularly one so malevolent, needs time to mature before embracing full autonomy.
Staff Sgt. Dan Lostotter, an Army intelligence analyst in Baghdad, explained in an e-mail that many Iraqis expected coalition forces to do everything for them. Such had been their experience, after all.
Instead, says Lostotter, "We hand the problem back and explain how they can solve it themselves. We are winning this 'clash of cultures,' but in a SASO (Stability and Support Operations) environment, it is sometimes hard to measure."
Lostotter sent me the first five issues of a relatively new public-affairs publication, "Eye on Iraq," that is distributed to the media and to military personnel in Iraq. These are strictly "good news" items of the "plane lands safely" variety. Non-news, in other words, if you're an American reporter.
The issue dated Nov. 27-Dec. 3, for example, features summaries and photos of: Iraqi National Guard soldiers practicing new search-and-seizure techniques, students at a secondary girl's school with new school bags filled with supplies, and an Iraqi municipal council meeting where members were briefed on various projects.
For most reporters, these are the sort of photo-ops - the news equivalent of ribbon-cuttings - that cause spontaneous eye rolling. The U.S. media don't cover ribbon cuttings, which are routine and matter only to those commemorating the moment.
To the Omars, Mohammeds and Alis of the world, however, ribbon-cuttings and grand openings and new book bags and town meetings are of a different species. They're the first stirrings of a newly birthed nation imbued with the soul of democracy.
In an Iraq of mass graves, suicide bombings and terrorists, that's big news.
(All contributions to Spirit of America go directly the project of one's choice. For more information, visit www.spiritofamerica.net or call 1-800-691-2209)
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