In 1981, at least 17 (and maybe as many as 35) Iraqi high school students were pulled from their homes and were never seen again. Their crime? Anti-government graffiti.
“No one expected this would lead to execution,” said Jamal Latif Ridha, whose 17-year-old brother, Sattar, was sent to the gallows at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad. “We thought Sattar would be imprisoned for just two or three months. They were just being students.”
Not even commented on is the fact that Ridha seemed to accept a prison sentence for “just two or three months” as expected. Yet, when someone is criticized for speaking out against Bush or the invasion of Iraq, they’re being oppressed and their right to free speech is threatened.
Remember that next time Martin Sheen marches with duct tape over his mouth.
To be sure, not everyone in Iraq at the time agrees that dissident students were killed.
The deputy principal in 1981, Abdul Razaq Ameen, said: “I don’t know anything about it. I never heard of any students being executed.” In initial interviews, both the principal and the registrar also denied any students were executed, but later conceded that there may have been arrests away from the school grounds.
But when parents, family, friends, and teachers all claim that it happened, it makes it hard to believe a few who claim that it didn’t. Especially when they’re the ones that should have been counted on speak out against it. Those few could have been collaborators, or at least willfully blind to what was going on.
This brings up a point that is often lost on the anti-war crowd. I’ve been asked several times why non-violent demonstrations and peaceful protest, a la Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr., wouldn’t have been a better approach to the human rights issues in Iraq. (In fact, someone mentioned that Iraq was on the verge of sweeping revolution because the people were fed up with Saddam, and that our invasion probably ended any hope of that happening.)
The reason that the Gandhi approach hasn’t worked in Iraq (or in Iran or in the USSR or in DPRK etc. etc.) is that the potential Gandhis are usually killed off immediately. MLK and Gandhi staged their campaigns in areas oppressed by the United Stated and Great Britain. As oppressive regimes go, we’re softies. There probably were hundreds of Gandhis in the days after the Russian revolution. Those that survived (and their families, friends, and distant acquaintances) ended up in Siberia. Lech Walesa and others were able to achieve success at times, but only because they managed to survive long enough to get the spotlight onto them and world opinion on their side. For every Lech Walesa, there have been thousands that tried. Not cases of tried and failed. Cases of tried and died. If the US government really was as oppressive as demonstrators want you to believe, the Stryker brigade wouldn’t be preparing to go to Iraq. It would be on the streets of San Francisco, and the few whispered rumors that got out of the city would hint at the deaths of hundreds or thousands of dissidents, shot down on the streets or killed in their homes. Get a little perspective, here, folks.
For peaceful protests to work, there needs to be a least a modicum of justice and morality in the oppressing power. It was there in India and in the US South. It wasn’t there in Iraq. At least not before 2003.