Give You Liberty or Give You Death

“The people of Iraq are free,” said President Bush in his State of the Union speech. A few days later, a terrible problem presented itself. It seems that the best-selling popular music in Iraq heralds the resistance and condemns the occupation.

Here’s a sample lyric: “America has come and occupied Baghdad. The army and people have weapons and ammunition. Let’s go fight and call out the name of God.”

CD shops around the country admit, when pressed, that this music is far more popular than the American and Arabic tunes that the US occupation forces stations to play. The US may call it terrorist music, but its message is enormously popular.

So what’s the problem? Well, the censors don’t know how to deal with the issue of commercial music sales. If the same music were on the radio or television, their answer would be easy. The US has strict censorship against “any sort of public expression used in an institutionalized sense” that would “incite violence against the coalition.” This was spelled out in an Orwellian news conference in which Daniel Senor was trying to figure out if the US would crack down on those who sold the music.

The problem, as Senor pointed out, is that the edict against unapproved politics:

“does not reference music specifically. But I could talk to our lawyers and find out if music would apply. You can follow up with me after that. But I would think that any sort of public expression used in sort of an institutionalized sense, in some sort of institutionalized media that would incite violence against the coalition, incite violence against the Iraqis, would be subjected to this decree. But I can check on that.”

The Iraqi people are free so long as they say and do only what the occupation military government tells them to do. Between 10,000 and 20,000 people being detained (the low number claimed by the US, the high number by human rights groups) for engaging in anti-coalition thoughts, words, or deeds. If you think that is striking enough — and what American doesn’t shudder at the thought of his own government becoming someone else’s despotism? — consider something even more alarming: the US doesn’t consider this abnormal.

Listen to these words in defense of military censorship in Iraq: “That is a decree that was modeled after similar policies and similar standards and guidelines in the United States, in the United Kingdom, Australia, and elsewhere.” It might be bad enough to hear extraordinary violations of human rights justified on the basis of some trumped up war power. But it is surely the lowest of the low for them to claim that this is perfectly normal, exactly the kind of thing that exists in the US today.

In short, the US is claiming that it could round up 10,000 to 20,000 Americans and hold them without trial on the mere suspicion of wrongdoing — which could consist only of writing and selling a popular song that takes an anti-regime political view. Many people warn that this is precisely what the administration’s Patriot Act makes possible. It criminalizes speech and permits the government to round people up without trial solely on grounds that they are saying things the government doesn’t like.

Just so we are clear: an official spokesman has said that what is going on right now in Iraq is based wholly on laws currently in effect in the US. You might point this out the next time someone calls you an alarmist for saying that the Bush administration is ushering in tyranny. What is even more troubling is that the Bush administration calls what is happening in Iraq freedom itself.

Let us examine how this freedom works, thanks to the report filed by Kevin Sites for NBC. He was there when a squadron drove up at dawn in a rural neighborhood of Baghdad. A soldier stood atop a Humvee with a megaphone and told everyone that they had better report insurgent activity or else face a continued cutoff of basic services like water and electricity. The men present began to complain about the searches of their homes and the lack of kerosene and propane. The soldier speaking got nervous and pops off the cover of his scope on his M4 rifle.

About that time, jet fighters and helicopters began to buzz overhead, in a sound that grew deafening. This is what they call a “show of force.” Essentially, it comes down to this: the US demands total obedience and threatens to kill anyone who resists. This is freedom in Iraq. And what is the option? The US is making more and more concessions to the Shiite majority, permitting them to control family law, which means far less freedom for women in Iraq than they had under Saddam.

Why is the US doing this? Because its despotism isn’t working. Because of the 500 dead soldiers. Because of the expense. Because the enlisted have lost heart. The occupation has been a failure. The US knows no way out, however, so it improvises from day to day, switching between fascist chic and appearing to benignly withdraw. Administration spokesmen continue to speak as if any attack on “the coalition” is an attack on “the Iraqi people.”

Reading all this recalls scenes from the Black Book of Communism, as the Soviets were attempting to politically subdue Ukraine. What began mildly grew ever more severe once the communists were faced with resistance. You threaten, arrest, reward traitors, deny basic services, use propaganda, exact severe punishments, but in the end, the Soviets discovered the only real way to ensure compliance: holocaust.

You might have heard that the US has recently leaned on Russia. It seems that Powell is worried that Putin is acting in autocratic fashion — and we all know that the US is against that kind of thing. After all, Iraq is free. The US is free. So long as we obey, we are all free.

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