Saturday, December 06, 2003


One of my regular readers writes:

As I write this I am amazed how big yet how small the Blog world is. I am writing in reference to your link "Surprise Surprise The NYT uses Gestapo tactics" The women who wrote the original email and the letters to the NYT is Ghayda Al Ali. As I write this email she is sitting in the next room. Ghayda is my fiancée and I am her host during her visit to the States. We are surprised and heartened by the way her difficultly with the NY times has been noticed by blogs around the world and from the offers of help and concern she has received.

The situation between her family and the NY Times is continuing to unfold. Yesterday her brother Ali had a meeting with the NYT Baghdad bureau chief that was less than completely satisfactory. The NYT understands Ali cannot be denied access to his property and they are anxious to put the incident behind them. But nothing more was mentioned other than recognition Ali will not be barred from his property. There are clearly some loose ends that need taken care of here. As the NY Times seems to think the issue has been resolved with nothing left to be done, Ali will be taking additional action elsewhere. I apologize for being deliberately vague but there are some things going on in the background that are not yet appropriate for public discussion.

The Al Ali family needs full access to their property including access for potential customers to the attached store fronts. Interestingly, this property was taken from the Al Ali family by Saddam twenty five years ago. After the recent war, the family regained title to the property only to be denied it's residential and commercial use by an American newspaper. It must be said the Ali family has acknowledged at every turn of this situation that the NY Times has legitimate concerns for the security of their staff yet these concerns do not justify unlawful acts on the part of their private security force or their agents.

Ghayda and her brother are determined to see this to its conclusion. There is more at stake here than family finances.

Rebuilding Iraqi will be a huge task. The mechanical aspects such as oil, water, sewage, banking, electricity and the like are immense yet in some sense straight forward. Even more important is the establishment of the rule of law, an understanding among all Iraqi citizens that laws apply equally to all. Those with power, money, or a AK-47, are not exempt. Nor does a powerful American corporate entity have the right to act as an power unto themselves. These things seem obvious to those of us born into freedom. They are by no means obvious to the Iraqi people as a whole.

Remember for a generation, even a mild complaint against those in power could bring death to you and your family. Ghayda tells a story of a boy in her junior high school who in a fit of anger tore a newspaper photo of Saddam in pieces. He was reported and a few days later he and his family disappeared. In this context it is unfortunately understandable why the Al-Karada police and judge are willing to look the other way when the actions of a powerful American newspaper are called into question.

Many Iraqis are frustrated. They wonder if Americans really care at all about them. Do we as Americans really believe in the universal rights we so easily banter about? Do they belong to all or only to those with power and the influence?

It is not sufficient to dispose of Saddam and his followers and leave the rest to hasty elections. Democracy and the rights and responsibilities of freedom must be learned. America as the provisional authority needs to teach by example. A proper resolution of conflict between the New York Times and the Al Ali family would be a small but important step in the right direction.

Today Ghayda received email from an American print journalist currently in Baghdad. This journalist will be looking into this incident and there is some reason to think it may appear in the mainstream American media in the not too distant future. Of course the hope is a little public exposure will help bring this incident to an acceptable resolution.

One ironic component of this situation is Ghayda is putting the final touches on her Ph.D. dissertation in English Translation. She is looking at the ideological and informational shifts that occur as English language news headlines are translated into Arabic for the Arab press. It is one thing to see ideological acrobatics in an academic context, and another to see them unfold as family news.

So on Ghayda's behalf I thank you for the link. If you would like to correspond with Ghayda directly, let me know and I will put her in touch with you.

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