As Iraq struggles to establish the basic institutions for democracy and recover from decades of Saddam's looting and oppression, we have the following kinds of arguments being made:
Sen. Hillary Clinton said this week that Iraqi women were better off under Saddam Hussein, arguing that when the brutal dictator ran the country women were at least assured the right to participate in Iraq's public life.
In comments that went unreported by the mainstream press, the former first lady told the Brookings Institution on Wednesday that since Saddam's removal from power, Iraq's post war governing councils had engaged in "pullbacks in the rights [women] were given under Saddam Hussein."
Sen. Clinton noted that while Saddam had been "an equal opportunity oppressor," women were at least assured certain constitutional guarantees.
While ignoring reports about the brutal dictator's rape rooms and other forms of persecution that were routine for women under his regime, Sen. Clinton insisted: "On paper, women had rights."
And for Iraqi women, those paper promises translated into real benefits, she claimed.
"They went to school; they participated in the professions, they participated in the government and business and, as long as they stayed out of [Saddam's] way, they had considerable freedom of movement," Clinton insisted.
But since Saddam's removal, the plight of Iraq's women has taken a significant turn for the worse, she contended.
Or, how about the always useful U.N. (useful to dictators anyway):
Despite widespread reports of Iraqi women being brutalized in rape rooms before the U.S. liberation, the United Nations is now claiming that women were better off when Saddam Hussein was in power.Howard Dean:
In a report issued this week, the Integrated Regional Information Networks, a U.N. news agency covering sub-Saharan Africa, maintains:
"Women's basic rights under the Hussein regime were guaranteed in the constitution and more importantly [they were] respected, with women often occupying important government positions. Now, although their rights are still enshrined in the national constitution, activists complain that, in practice, they have lost almost all of their rights."
Howard Dean, the Democratic National Committee chairman who was the hero of his party's anti-war wing before his gaffe-prone 2004 presidential candidacy crashed and burned in Iowa, still doesn't think the Iraqis are better off with dictator Saddam Hussein out of power and in prison.
Appearing on CBS' "Face the Nation" yesterday, the fiery former Vermont governor said, "It looks like today, and this could change, as of today it looks like women will be worse off in Iraq than they were when Saddam Hussein was president of Iraq."
I could go on as there are a lot of leftist organizations that continue to insist on how progressive and pro-women Saddam's regime was; and that now--because of the evil Bush's oppressive policies, women are being forced to take the veil by their menfolk; and that Iraqi women will never have equal rights in Iraq etc. etc. etc. blah blah blah.
I certainly can't predict what will happen in Iraq over the next decade; or how women's lot will evolve within an Iraqi democracy (after all, we know that people can vote against their own best interest--look at the Palestinians who would rather kill Jews than have their own functioning state); but at least we can go back and look at the real history of Iraq under Saddam and his thugs, where the lives of women were far from idyllic, no matter how much Clinton, Dean and others pretend now that it wasn't.
Yasmine Rassan has something of to say about that history:
Some radical feminists and anti-war liberals have very short memories. It's just three years after Saddam Hussein's ouster and some would have us believe the tyrant was in fact a protector of women's rights in Iraq. That Iraq under Saddam actually had progressive, pro-women policies that are now being "rolled back" thanks to the Bush administration.Betsy also notes that Saddam Hussein was hardly a feminist--even as he is defended now by feminists.
A recent report by "Global Exchange" and "Code Pink" entitled "Iraqi Women Under Siege" concluded that "the occupation of Iraq has not resulted in greater equality and freedom for women" than they had under Saddam Hussein. Published by two radical feminist anti-war groups whose primary activities include protesting military recruiting stations, organizing anti-WTO protests and sympathizing with the regimes in North Korea and Cuba, this report echoes a long line of blatant pronouncements. Hillary Clinton who once said that after liberation there were "pullbacks in the rights that [women] were given under Saddam Hussein" and Howard Dean's infamous remark that "Iraqi women were better off under Saddam Hussein."
Anti-war revisionist liberals and radical feminists alike are trying their best to come up with comparisons of the Saddamist and post-Saddamist eras in Iraq with the aim of discrediting the historic liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein in 2003. With Iraqi women they think they have found a seemingly incontrovertible argument since Saddam, according to his apologists, was a "secular" ruler who gave liberal rights to women.
In a complex society like Iraq's, with its labyrinthine political and social development over the past 40 years, it is foolhardy to make simplistic comparisons based on a mere three years of post-Saddam liberation. Still, it is worth setting the record straight on how women really fared under the rule of this allegedly "benign" dictatorship. Revisionist history-writing must not prevail.
Much of the anti-war propagandists' defense of Saddam as a champion of women's rights rests on his willingness to allow women to vote (for him), drive cars, own property, get an education and work. What they choose to ignore, however, is the systematic rapes, torture, beheadings, honor killings, forced fertility programs, and declining literacy rates that also characterized Saddam's regime. A few examples can only begin to illustrate the cruelty and suffering endured by thousands of Iraqi women.
One torture technique favored by Saddam's henchman and his sons involved raping a detainee's mother or sister in front of him until he talked. In Saddam's torture chambers women, when not tortured and raped, spent years in dark jails. If lucky, their suckling children were allowed to be with them. In most cases, however, these children were considered a nuisance to be disposed of; mass graves currently being uncovered contain many corpses of children buried alive with their mothers.
During Saddam's war with Iran, nearly an entire generation of Iraqi men were killed, injured or captured, leaving a dearth of men of military age in Iraqi society. As a result, Saddam launched "fertility campaigns" that forcibly administered fertility drugs to school girls as young as 10 in an effort to drive up the population rate.
After the Gulf War--particularly after crushing the Shiite and Kurdish uprisings of 1991--Saddam reverted to tribal and "Islamic" traditions as a means to consolidate power. Iraqi women paid the heaviest price for his new-found piety. Many women were removed from government jobs and were not allowed to travel without the permission of a male relative. Men were exempted from punishment for "honor" killings--killings carried out on female relatives who had supposedly "shamed" their family. An estimated 4,000 women died from honor killings in the ensuing years. By 2000, Iraqi women, once considered the most highly educated in the Middle East, had literacy levels of only 23%.
Under the pretext of fighting prostitution in 2000, Saddam's Fedayeen forces beheaded 200 women "dissidents" and dumped their head on their families doorsteps for public display. These women obviously lost whatever "rights" granted to them once they got in Saddam's way.
Saddam Hussein was an equal opportunity killer who tortured, raped and gassed men, women and children alike. From Dujail in the South (the murder of hundreds of villagers for which he is on trial now) to the chemical obliteration of Halabja in the North, all Iraqis bore the brunt of the tyrant's wrath.
The revisionist history offered by those opposed to the Bush administration--whether it comes from bad judgment, a lack of information or a desire for political advantage--has grave consequences. A brutal dictator who tortures his own people cannot be a champion of women's rights. To pretend otherwise is to dishonor the memory of the thousands of innocent Iraqi women who died in a senseless brutal reign of terror. It also does a grave disservice to the men and women of this country who died or were injured to liberate Iraq.
The purpose of distorting history in the way that Clinton, the Democrats and the left are doing is simple. They want to undermine any possibility that Bush or his policies are working. It is not in their interest that the U.S. be successful in the Middle East. It is not in their interest that women be free to determine their own destiny. It is not in their interest that Iraq succeed in finding a path that combines democracy with their religious beliefs.
How did we come to the point where one of our major political party's only strategy to regain power is--not through rational argument or developing alternative strategies to solve problems--but by making sure that people believe the U.S. is run by a tyrant ("BusHitler") worse than the most brutal dictator in generations? Worse than the man who coldly and ruthlessly killed millions of his own people? How did it come to be "patriotic" to ensure your country lose a war on the battlefield of public perception; even as we achieve victory in reality?
As citizens of the old Soviet Union frequently joked, they were certain of the future. It was the past that kept changing. This dry humor reflected the communists' tendency to simply keep revising history as they went along in order to give support to their present policies and attitudes. As it is in most totalitarian regimes, reality was viewed a fluid, flexible thing to be altered in order to conform to the dogma of their ideology.
That is, of course, the hallmark of the true ideologue and fanatic. Reality be damned! History must make room for the ideologic rhetoric du jour.