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Facing reality
The elections in Iraq, and cartoon politics

SENATOR JOHN KERRY put his finger on it this Sunday on Meet the Press when he suggested that successful elections in Iraq could provide an opening for the international community ó shunned and alienated by the Bush administration ó to rally around bringing peace and stability to the nation that for almost 25 years lived under the heel of Saddam Hussein. Letís hope that George W. Bush does not squander this opportunity.

Even those of us who disdain the Bush presidency and opposed his reckless adventure in Iraq must grant that the elections were a success. They are not an end in themselves. But they are a beginning, a step toward hope ó even if that hope is fraught with complexity.

At the root of the complexity is the fact that the Sunni minority, which essentially supported Saddam (certainly not to the man and woman), is home base to Saddamís Baathist party, rooted as it still is in the doctrines of Stalin and Hitler. And it is the Baathists, supplemented by an influx of Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists, who wage the insurrection that plagues the occupying forces and terrorizes the Iraqi populace.

Remarkably, the turnout among eligible Shia voters was an estimated 60 percent; while the number of Sunnis who went to the polls was small, what courage it took to risk death and future retribution for the sake of the ballot. Indeed, it was courageous for anyone to vote ó Shia, Sunni, or Kurd. We who take our right to vote for granted should not take these acts of bravery lightly. But neither should Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld exploit this expression of hope, and thereby squander it.

The realities of a destabilized post-Saddam Iraq teetering on the brink of wholesale civil war are sobering.

The Kurdish population, which inhabits the northern portion of Iraq, and the Shiites who constitute the nationís vast majority, voted in great numbers, but they hardly share a single vision of what Iraq should become. The Kurds will tolerate, and maybe even welcome, a long American occupation. The Shia will not. As a nation, Iraq craves peace. It longs for stability. And it wants America gone. President Bush, take note. You ignore this reality at our peril.

THE PUBLIC Broadcasting System and Bostonís WGBH-TV learned a nasty lesson last week about doing business with the Bush administration: if you take its money, youíll be forced to follow its extremist agenda ó including the most primitive forms of homophobia.

In only her second day on the job, George W. Bushís new secretary of education, Margaret Spellings, denounced an upcoming episode of Postcards from Buster, a spin-off from the wildly popular Arthur series which shows how kids grow up in different kinds of families. The reason: Buster, an animated rabbit, pays a visit to two real-life families in Vermont to learn about maple-sugaring ó and the families are headed by lesbian couples. In a letter to PBS, Spellings wrote that "many parents would not want their young children exposed to the life-styles portrayed in this episode."

PBS announced that it would not distribute the episode to its 349 member stations. Network officials said they had made that decision even before receiving Spellingsís letter, which shows they already know the price of dealing with the White House. And though one wishes that the publicly owned network and its CEO, former Boston newswoman Pat Mitchell, had stood up to the hate expressed by Spellings, they really didnít have any choice, given that Postcards from Buster was funded with $5 million from the Department of Educationís Ready-To-Learn program. Fortunately WGBH, which produces the series, said it would go ahead and air the episode locally on February 2, and offer it to any other public stations that wish to air it. Still, the hypocrisy and intolerance expressed in Spellingsís letter are outrageous ó especially given that one of the stated purposes of the federal grant was to promote "diversity."

And what is it about these self-appointed moral guardians and cartoon characters anyway? Word of Spellingsís letter came just several days after an outburst by James Dobson, head of the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family, who complained that SpongeBob SquarePants had participated in a video aimed at promoting homosexuality. It turned out that Dobson was wrong, but even if he were right, so what? And letís not forget the Reverend Jerry Falwell, who made a fool of himself a few years ago when he complained that Tinky Winky, one of the Teletubbies, was gay. Of course, Falwell makes a fool of himself every time he opens his mouth.

Such idiocy demonstrates that homophobia is a disease. Programs like Postcards from Buster are the cure. Too bad Spellings and other officials of the Bush administration refuse to take their medicine.

What do you think? Send an e-mail to letters[a]phx.com

Issue Date: February 4 - 10, 2005
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