April 2, 2005


What Set Loose the Voice of the People (DEXTER FILKINS, 3/27/05, NY Times)

In memory, the two scenes are linked by their silence. Last week in downtown Beirut, Lebanese by the hundreds filed past the tomb of Rafik Hariri, the fallen national leader, each pausing to offer some unspoken tribute. The only audible sound was a murmured prayer for the dead.

In Baghdad two months before, Iraqis in similar numbers had waited in line outside a high school to cast their ballots. Mortar shells were exploding in the distance, yet hardly anyone uttered a sound.

Amid such overwhelming displays of popular will, it seemed that words were hardly necessary.

Only weeks apart and a few hundred miles away, the popular demonstrations in Lebanon and Iraq offer themselves up for such comparisons. Their proximity suggests a connection, possibly one of cause and effect, like the revolutions that swept Eastern Europe in 1989. As went Berlin, Prague and Bucharest; so goes Baghdad, Beirut and Cairo.

President Bush has asserted as much, arguing that the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the holding of elections in Iraq set loose the democratic idea and sent the tyrannies reeling. From a distance, Lebanon looks like a domino.

Up close, though, it seems like something far more complex. For a correspondent who has spent much of the past two years inside Iraq, arriving in the seaside capital of Beirut is a bracing and abrupt experience. For all the glories of election day, Iraq is still a grim and deadly place, where the traumas of the past 30 years are imprinted in the permanent frowns of ordinary Iraqis. Lebanon, by contrast, seems Iraq's sunny, breezy cousin, where young men arrive at demonstrations wearing blazers and hair gel, and the women high heels and navel rings. When the protest is finished, they drive off together in their BMW's.

How could Iraq have inspired this?


Posted by Orrin Judd at April 2, 2005 8:46 PM


Posted by: cjm at April 2, 2005 10:46 PM