Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Not Funny…Trivializing Saddam’s Horrors




The Washington Post ran this cartoon by Tom Toles on its editorial page today. It has the ‘lawyer’ asking Saddam: “Tell us about your death squads and secret police and torture and executions…We need some tips on getting this country under control…[bottom-right] If you cooperate, we may let you off with the presidency.”

I got to thinking that the Washington Post would never run a flippant cartoon featuring Adolph Hitler, but somehow with Saddam—even with all the mass graves and chemical weapons attacks—it would be okay. Tolerable. Allowable. Uncontroversial.

How did it get to this point whereby Saddam’s crimes against humanity are glossed over? Do we have enough distance between our times and his that makes the mention of Saddam’s evil reign in a humorous context just the same as making light of the crimes of Ghenkiz Khan? Or the Spanish Inquisition? Or Ivan the Terrible?

But it’s only been less than three years. And we’re finding ‘fresh’ mass graves every day. Why is the American public not outraged about this Washington Post cartoon? Why is Saddam’s regime epitomized—in the American psyche—by ‘Baghdad Bob’ (Muhammad Said Al-Sahhaf) and not ‘Chemical Ali’ (Ali Hassan Al-Majid)?

Is this the responsibility of the Bush administration? Partly, but mostly it is the failure of the Iraqi government to make its case. Do people know that Iraq has not had an ambassador representing it in Washington since the handover of sovereignty on June 28, 2004? For over a year now, nobody has claimed Iraq’s voice in the most important political capital in the world. Rend Rahim did not deign renounce her American citizenship, so the job went vacant. And what did Allawi’s government, and then Jaafari’s, do about it? Nothing.

A certain member of Iraq’s diplomatic mission to the United Nations in New York rents a residential apartment in a Manhattan landmark for $23,000 a month. This same person used to be an anti-sanctions campaigner, and very critical of US meddling in Iraq. Liberation has increased his waistline. And what do we have to show for it? Nothing.

Even international pariah Muammar Kaddafi gets away with whole-page advertisements in the Washington Post. Kazakhstan recently took four full page ads in the New York Times just to counter Borat (character played by comedian Sacha Cohen of ‘The Ali G Show’ fame). But the Iraqi government can’t get it act together and get its message out.

There needs to be a department in every Iraqi embassy, on par with an attaché office, whose sole purpose would be to publicize the crimes of Saddam’s regime and what the Iraqi people went through. These offices should double as ‘Democracy Centers’ in all the Iraqi diplomatic representations throughout the Middle East. Public Relations firms should be hired and money—which seems plentiful enough to pay over a quarter of a million dollars in annual rent for a single second-tier diplomat—should be thrown around to ‘buy’ public opinion in both America and Europe.

This current amnesia and apathy about what happened under Saddam is shameful. Something needs to be done about it. Hey, Hoshyar Zebari: Saddam killed four of your brothers, do you find the above cartoon funny?

A mass grave near Najaf...Isn't it HILARIOUS?

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