Just another day in the life of freedom

Posted: Jun 20, 2003 12:00 AM

The United States, as every child educated in a public school knows, is guilty of terrible sins against minorities, women and the Third World. When these kids reach college, they are taught even more tendentious nonsense about the rest of the world -- about how peace loving and benevolent other nations are compared with us.

So, let's just take a typical day in the life of freedom around the world. In Kuwait, criminal charges have been filed against a leading journalist, Mohammed Jassem, editor of al-Watan and, according to The Washington Post, "an outspoken advocate of political reform in the wealthy Persian Gulf state."

Jassem's crime? He criticized the royal family. He did it, by the way, at a private gathering, not in the newspaper.

For two years, Jassem has been lobbying against a proposal to give the government more power to close newspapers. A 1970 law prescribes prison for anyone who "objects to the rights and powers of the emir publicly" or "utters abusive statements against the emir personally or reviles the regime of the emirate." Advocating freedom can get you arrested in Kuwait.

This charge pairs with another last month in Saudi Arabia, where an editor, Jamal Khashoggi, was stripped of his post after he argued in print that Saudi clerics bore some responsibility for the spread of Islamic extremism around the globe.

In the People's Republic of Vietnam, Pham Hong Son was sentenced to 13 years in prison after a one-day closed trial. His crime? The regime declared him guilty of contacts with "political opportunists" and "reactionary forces overseas." If you think those reactionary forces might be us, you'd be right. Apparently, Pham Hong Son pulled an article titled "What is Democracy" from the U.S. State Department's website, translated it and posted it on the Internet.

In Nigeria, The Center for Law Enforcement Education has sued the Nigerian Customs Service for confiscating a book. In September 2002, 2,000 copies of a book titled Hope Betrayed were confiscated by the customs service at Murtal Muhammed International Airport without explanation. The book detailed state-sponsored violence and human rights abuses in Nigeria.

In Morocco, an appeals court upheld the conviction of a Moroccan editor found guilty of libeling King Mohammed VI. Ali Lamrabet was sentenced to four years in prison for publishing four articles in satirical magazines. Lamrabet has taken aim at the King's personal budget, as well as the history of slavery in Morocco.

And in Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has called out the thugs to deal with student and other protests against his despotic and brutal regime. The regime's enforcers attacked students in Tehran with Kalashnikov rifles, pistols, chains, razors and clubs. Despite this, protesters continue to throng Iran's streets hoping to topple the theocrats who rule there.

Against this backdrop arrives news of a new poll by the British Broadcasting Corp.n testing attitudes toward the United States in 11 countries: Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, France, Indonesia, Israel, Jordan, Russia, South Korea and the United States itself.

Fifty-eight percent had a "fairly unfavorable" or "very unfavorable" view of George W. Bush. Sixty-seven percent said they would not like their country to emulate U.S. economic policies. Only 25 percent (with American responses excluded) thought the U.S. was making the world a safer place. Sixty-five percent characterized the United States as "arrogant." Fifty-six percent thought the United States was wrong to attack Iraq, and America was viewed as a greater threat to peace than Russia, China, Syria, Iran or North Korea.

What's the relation of the poll to the stories of repression around the world? It's this: Most of the world undervalues the United States. Perhaps that's the result of envy, or perfidy, or something else. But too often we join in the general condemnation.

We've certainly got our faults. But just a cursory glance at the state of freedom in the rest of the world on any given day should remind us of how lucky we are to be Americans.