Amid huge obstacles, Iraqis see hope lighting the horizon

Thabit J. Abdullah Sam, a history professor with York’s Faculty of Arts and the author of A Short History of Iraq, described his thoughts and feelings about voting in the Iraqi election in a commentary in The Globe and Mail Feb. 3. Here are excerpts:

“No one in Iraq is under any illusion that this was an ideal electoral process. The insurgency, accusations of voter manipulation, the lack of sufficient international monitors, and questions about the integrity of the counting process all cast a cloud over the vote. And no one belittles the mammoth problems that could still prove this was a futile exercise. Iraq is occupied by what is believed to be an imperialistic United States bent on exploiting Iraq’s rich resources and establishing a power base in the Middle East. Regionally, we are surrounded by antagonistic neighbours, eager to extend their influence over a weak and fractured country. Internally, the wounds from 40 years of Baathist totalitarianism will not heal easily. Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, in particular, encouraged sectarianism and a tribal pecking order.

“And so, as I checked my ballot, my mind swirled between feelings of excited optimism and deep fears for the future. Yet, by Sunday afternoon, the large turnout in Iraq assuaged my fears. The single most important result of this vote is that, after decades of being brutalized and humiliated, the Iraqi people are beginning to fight back. It was as if, in a matter of hours, the shackles of fear that had paralyzed us for so long were broken.

“Notwithstanding the low turnout in the three provinces where the insurgents have been most active, the rest of the country came out in a united and festive show of defiance. Ignoring the endless sounds of explosions in the background, people tossed candy and flowers at the voters making their way to the polls. In some places, brides still in their wedding gowns came to vote, and dancers welcomed those entering the stations.”

“What can the new assembly realistically achieve? Its powers are severely limited by the U.S. presence, and it is crippled by questions of legitimacy due to the underrepresentation of certain areas, and by Iraq’s economic and security situation.

“But the voter turnout has guaranteed that the assembly will play a major role in shaping the country’s future. For the first time, I believe Iraqis have a chance. As one of our friends from Baghdad told us over the phone: ‘Only today did we overthrow Saddam.’”

  • Abdullah Sam also appeared on a panel on TVO’s “Studio 2” Feb. 2 to discuss President George Bush’s State of the Union address.

Robot Monster unleashed on guitar

Don Ross is one of today’s true innovators of guitar technique and composition, reported the News Leader of Duncan, BC, Feb. 2. “He’s a musician from Canada who is setting the standards for guitar-picking in the world,” said Longevity John Falkner of the Duncan Showroom. “If you’re a student of guitar, then Don Ross is a must-see.” Born in Montreal, Ross first started experimenting with the solo possibilities of the acoustic guitar at the age of eight. He was already exploring fingerstyle technique – a right-hand discipline similar to classical guitar playing – by age 10. Ross graduated with a BFA in music from York in 1983 and started pursuing a career as a performer in 1986.

Critics chew on $1,000 Liberal fundraiser

Liberal-friendly bankers and lobbyists are holding a $1,000-a-ticket fundraiser for Premier Dalton McGuinty next week as he remains vague on when he’ll proceed with promised election financing reforms, reported The Toronto Sun Feb. 3. The University Club cocktail reception in downtown Toronto is being co-hosted by longtime Liberals working for the Capital Hill Group and Pacific & Western Bank of Canada. Invitations include special thanks to both companies, including the use of their logos, for hosting the event. Political scientist Robert MacDermid, a professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, said the presence of corporate logos on an event held for the premier would likely raise eyebrows among people who couldn’t afford a ticket. “I wonder what people will think when a lobby group…and a bank are hosting a fundraiser that the premier is going to be at,” MacDermid said.