The print edition of the Observer newspaper in Britain carries a supplement of articles from the New York Times. I’ve never seen an explanation as to why this is. But it is.
This week the lead article in the section is headlined ‘Tilting Away From Strict Islam’. In it Tim Arango explores the relationship between Islam and democracy. The country, he tells us, is ‘a volatile laboratory for testing how Islamic a democracy can be, and vice versa‘. The struggle between social liberals and strict Islamists over bar culture provides him with his theme:
In January, bars and clubs, including the Writers Union, were raided in what many Iraqis saw as a government move toward a stricter interpretation of Islamic law. But soon after, as protests for reform began about other issues, the boozy haunts were allowed to reopen.
The reader might reasonably wonder what these other issues were, but the article, at least in its British incarnation, was remarkably unforthcoming. Arango tells us later that ‘inspired by uprisings by Arabs elsewhere, Iraqis held their own protests in Tahrir Square’ in late February. The authorities attacked the protesters and the protests did not ‘blossom nationally’. But apparently the government did decide to ‘dial back the crackdown on night-life’.
But why were the protesters taking to the streets in Iraq? The New York Times doesn’t give us much of a clue. But the Guardian, the Observer‘s sister paper in London, published a piece by Sami Ramadani that sheds light on their grievances. Ramadani quoted some of the slogans:
“Nouri al-Maliki is a liar.” … “The people’s oil is for the people not for the thieves”; “We want dignity, jobs and services”; “No to terrorism, no to Saddam’s dictatorship, and no to the dictatorship of thieves”; “No to the occupation”; “We are not Ba’athists, repression is Ba’athist”; … “Sunnis and Shia, this homeland we shall never sell”.
Thanks to government repression it is not easy to establish a clear picture of the protesters’ concerns. Amnesty International has ‘found disturbing evidence of targeted attacks on political activists, torture and other ill-treatment of people arrested in connection with the protests, and attacks or threats against journalists, media outlets, government critics, academics and students’. But for the New York Times to be so vague about the grievances of the Iraqi people in a country that is, after all, still occupied by 50,000 American troops seems to me to be extraordinary.
My guess is that Tim Arango could give us a pretty good idea of what these ‘other issues’ are. He is based in Baghdad and I am sure he is a diligent journalist. Perhaps the paper’s editors will allow him to do his job.
And if it refuses to publish stories that explain what is going on in Iraq, it can hardly be surprised if its writers seek solace in the Writers Union.