You know relations between the Spanish central government and the Church are at an all-time low when Alfrdo Abián devotes his page two signed editorial in La Vanguardia to the subject on the day of the Iraqi elections. (La Vanguardia is considered to be closer to the Church than any other Catalan paper.) The Zap government and the Church have been wrangling for a good little while now on the question of whether religion should be an obligatory subject in the public schools and, if so, whether it should be graded and count as part of a student's total grade-average or not.
Iberian Notes, which is sympathetic toward what we view as basically honest mainstream religious groups like the Catholic Church, is nonetheless with the Zaptists on this one: if it's a 100% Church school, fine, religion can count for whatever they want it to, and that goes for whatever other religion wants to set up a school, too. If it's a 100% public school, though, no religion should be indoctrinated. Of course, religion will come up in classes like history and literature and philosophy, but it shouldn't be interpreted from merely one point of view. And if it's one of those "concerted schools", which are Church schools subsidized by the government, from what I can tell, then I figure it's fair enough to make Catholic religion an optional subject that shouldn't count for a real grade.
So, anyway, this fight has blown up into a mild controversy. Some elements of the Spanish Church, a few days ago, announced that they thought it was OK to use condoms. I have no idea what their motive was. The Pope slapped them down right away, of course, and they immediately recanted. The Pope then went on to say that he thought Spanish society was becoming too secular and pretty much called the Zap government on the carpet in order to lecture them for a while. Among the things the Pope mentioned was, of all things, the damn water plan that the Aznar government rammed through against Catalan and Aragonese opposition and that the Zapsters threw out the window right after they precipitatedly pulled out of Iraq. The Pope is for the water plan. I don't have the slightest idea why. So the Socialists and the anticlerical left and some of the Sardàesque late-night TV clowns have been bagging on the Church in general and the Pope in particular for being old-fashioned, out of touch, etc., etc. La Vanguardia is quick to remind them that nine million Spaniards go to mass every Sunday, which figure strikes me as correct because it would mean a little less than a quarter of the population, and that two million kids go to some kind of Catholic school, which is a hell of a lot, at least a third of those who are school-age, I'm guessing.
The Vangua's headline, though, is "Iraq votes today in fear amidst full offensive of attentats". Gee, which angle on the story do you think they're pushing?
Tikrit Tommy Alcoverro reports from safe at home in Beirut,
Baghdad, crushed by the dusty smog, with its streets deserted, under a curfew and patrols by occupying troops and soldiers of the provisional government, faces today's elections in Iraq with fear in its guts (entrañas). Election eve closed with fourteen dead, the victims of various attentats.
Secret, almost clandestine, are the names of the candidates; unknown, until the last few hours, the locations of the polling places; dangerous, the roads that the voters must take in order to deposit their ballots...The all-powerful American ambassador John Negroponte assured that both in the "Kurdish country" and in the "southern Shiite country", in 14 of the 18 provinces of this drifting republic, the atmosphere is one of relative order, unlike the predominantly Sunni provinces, shaken without pause by guerrilla actions. But 40% of the Iraqi population lives in that territory.
...Despite all the security measures imposed in the country, with the prohibition on traveling from one province to another, whith the Baghdad airport closed for several days, a dozen attacks were committed against polling places as well as against the US embassy in Baghdad...Of all these actions, the most serious, because of its symbolism, is without doubt that against the American headquarters, right in the heart of Baghdad. According to confirmations by the diplomatic legation, at least two Americans died and another four were wounded as the consequence of an attack with mortar grenades.
...The panic against deadly attacks and attentats, above all in areas of Sunni population, is causing Iraqies to flee from the ballot boxes. The possibility that suicide bombers might infiltrate among the voters, who would blow themselves up and create mass butchery, is a spine-chilling perspective. Last June the transfer of powers between the American administrator, Paul Bremer, and the provisional government, was advanced two days--a secret, almost shameful ceremony--in order to escape the announced catastrophes.
It is not easy for the Sunnis, who have dominated Iraq until now, to resign themselves to the political darkness before the expected victory of the Shiites. the violence will not stop, and it may even intensify, after this election which the Americans want to make historic, extracted with forceps. The day has not yet arrived in which the fourteen million potential voters can decide in Iraq.
You know, it surprises me how Tikrit Tommy knows so many details of what's really going on in Baghdad if his story is datelined Beirut. Also, I'll bet you can guess the answers Tikrit Tommy would give to these two questions: "Are these elections legitimate?" and "Who do you hope wins the war?" I don't think T.T. has been reading Chrenkoff. By the way, I love the pulling-a-baby-out-with-the-forceps metaphor.
Xavier Batalla cocks a snide little snook:
But now that democratization has become the main dish on the menu, Iraq won't be Bush's last test. Now, when allies like Putin, the president of Russia, or Musharraf, his equivalent in Pakistan, perform their habitual affronts to (note: this is a euphemism for "shit on") the democratic system, Bush will have to explain what he meant when he said that the United States did not believe that "imprisoned dissidents prefer their chains".
That's the habitual last resort of the anti-American, pointing that sometimes the United States does not live up to its own rhetoric. I can't deny it's a legitimate point. I do not especially like American support for such regimes as Putin's and Musharraf's, and even less regimes like that of the Saudis. Here's the point, though, and I am paraphrasing George Orwell here. At least the Americans are conscious of what their rhetoric means and attempt to take it seriously, though they often fail and are never completely perfect. The Americans (and the Brits and Aussies and the rest of the Anglosphere) at least have the decency to feel ashamed when raison d'etat forces us to compromise our principles. In addition, when principles must be compromised, the Americans and Brits and Aussies are pretty good at picking the lesser evil; better Musharraf or Putin than what might be running Pakistan or Russia with its hands on nuclear weapons. Better Pinochet or Franco or the Greek colonels or the South Vietnamese regime than anarchy or the Soviets, and, if we have to choose, as we did, better the Soviets than the Nazis. Better imperfect democracy and incomplete rule of law than totalitarianism.
Oh, by the way, there's a photo of two American soldiers hanging up a sign, apparently in an Iraqi polling place, that says "In case of attack move to basement or stay in your room" in English and Arabic. La Vanguardia translated it in the photo caption as "In case of attack move to most secure area of Baghdad (the Green Zone) or stay in your room". Terrific translation of "basement" there; I'm glad whoever's responsible wasn't on the scene there. I can just imagine: "There's an attack! What do we do?" "Why, flee the building, of course, and run down the streets with no protection through bomb blasts and sniper fire to the Green Zone, wherever that is! Or, wait, we could stay in our rooms."
Beirut Bob Fisk gets all of page six, I won't bother translating it, but just remember that the Vanguardia presents Beirut Bob to its readers as a reliable source. That should tell you about the journalistic standards that reign around here.
That's enough for today, but we'll be back later on with more journalistic atrocities!