``At polling centers hit by explosions, survivors refused to go home, steadfastly waiting to cast their votes as policemen swept away bits of flesh.''
-- New York Times, Feb. 2, on the Iraqi election.
WASHINGTON -- Iraqis turned out to vote in great numbers, with great enthusiasm and determination. Surprise. The media have not been as surprised, noted a friend of mine, since the Nicaraguans turned out in their 1990 election to kick out the Sandinistas.
These two elections were 15 years apart, but the herd mentality of the liberal establishment never changes. They were shocked when those revolutionary darlings in Managua, magnet for long-haired Western ``sandalistas'' on revolutionary holiday, lost a free election -- to the candidate supported by the contras.
The liberal cliche of the time was that Third World people care more about food than about freedom. This kind of contempt for the political and spiritual dignity of people who live in different circumstances never goes away. It simply gets applied serially to different sets of patronized foreigners. Today we are assured with confidence that Arabs, consumed by tribe or religion or whatever, don't really care about freedom either.
On Jan. 30, millions of Iraqis said otherwise. They really do care about the right to speak freely and to vote secretly, the ordinary elements of democratic citizenship.
Why weren't Iraqis dancing in the streets on the day Saddam fell, the critics have asked sneeringly? Some Iraqis, the young and more reckless, did dance. Others, I suspect, were too scared, waiting to see how things turned out. Would the U.S. leave them hanging as in 1991? Would it leave behind a ``moderate'' Baathist thug in its place?
Nearly 22 months later, Iraqis seemed convinced that there would indeed be a new day. And that is when the dancing started -- voters dancing and singing and celebrating, thrusting into the air their ink-stained fingers, symbol of their initiation into democracy. It was an undeniable, if delayed, feeling of liberation. Said one prominent Shiite spokesman: ``We are celebrating the end of tyranny.''
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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