The demise of Saddam Hussein's killing regime offers the West an opportunity to open a window of freedom and prosperity in Iraq. But the window will not be open long before political and religious opportunists try to close it.
For a new Iraq to rise from the ruins of Hussein's genocidal and maniacal rule, at least three institutions must be immediately changed.
The first is the media. Iraqi state television will be gone with Saddam, but much of the Arab media -- from Al Jazeera to state-run media in virtually every Arab country -- continue to present an inaccurate image of the West. The United States and Britain need to replace Iraqi media with a balanced and accurate news and information service modeled on the Voice of America. For three decades, Saddam Hussein has presented to Iraqis a litany of lies. This must change or whatever else that might be done in Iraq will count for little.
Media distortions are not limited to Iraq. In one Egyptian newspaper (in a nation that is supposedly America's friend), President Bush is shown on each page of war coverage dressed in a Nazi uniform. American and British forces are called "allies of the devil." Rare civilian casualties are frequently reported as "massacres," or, as another Egyptian paper put it, an "American Holocaust." There is little, if any, commentary, and less reporting on the discovery by coalition forces of human remains and coffins in a makeshift morgue in southern Iraq, some bodies with evidence of execution-style slaying. The United States may not be able to influence Egyptian media right now, but it can influence Iraqi media.
The second Iraqi institution that must be changed is education. Children's textbooks and other teaching tools in Iraq and throughout the Middle East present a propagandistic view of the world that is angry, hostile and negative. Instead of learning about enemies and how to kill them, or the way of martyrdom, Iraqi children should be taught about friendship and how to lead good and productive lives. This may require a Peace Corps-like army of teachers from many national and religious backgrounds, but it must be done if the next generation of children is to have something to live for.
Education change also needs to take place in some parts of the United States.
The New York Daily News reported last week that textbooks used in Islamic schools in New York City contain "passages that are blatantly anti-Semitic" and repeat "old canards" about Jews. The newspaper conducted a three-month investigation of a half-dozen textbooks used in Islamic schools. In one, "What Islam Is All About," used in grades 3-6, Jews and Christians are said to lead "such decadent and immoral lives that lying, alcohol, nudity, pornography, racism, foul language, premarital sex, homosexuality and everything else are accepted in their society, churches and synagogues."
Elsewhere the book asserts that "Jews subscribe to a belief in racial superiority." According to the newspaper, the book has sold more than 40,000 copies and is used in more than half of the city's Muslim schools.
American Muslim schools that teach such things should have whatever tax and other breaks they receive revoked and the schools should be closed. Sedition cannot be allowed to flourish on our own soil.
The third and possibly most important institution in need of change is religion. Not all Muslims and their clergy believe in the forceful obliteration and domination of those with whom they might disagree theologically or politically. Let's find them and help them to reshape the theology and worldview of Iraqis.
Sermons throughout the Middle East regularly condemn all things Western and most Western leaders. Typical was a March 14 sermon by Sheikh Abd al-Razzak Al-Sa'adi, at the Umm al-Ma'arek (Mother of All Battles) mosque in Baghdad: "Oh God, curse upon the face of the Americans. Oh Allah, curse upon the face of the British .... Oh Allah, strike the oppressors with each other and let us come out of it safely .... Oh Allah, sink their ships .... " and so on.
There is nothing about Saddam Hussein torturing and murdering more Muslims than American and British troops who have diligently tried to protect Iraqi civilians.
The transformation of Iraq may be a greater task than the war of liberation. But the effort must be made, otherwise we risk another Saddam Hussein and another war, neither of which anyone wants.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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