- The Washington Times - Friday, December 24, 2004

Excerpts of editorials from newspapers around the world:

Observer

British Sikhs block play

LONDON — A thousand Sikhs stormed the Birmingham Repertory Theatre last Saturday. They succeeded in preventing the performance of “Behzti” (“Dishonor”), a play that depicts rape and murder in a Sikh temple. The mob smashed windows, injured policemen and terrified the theatergoers, including children attending a show in another auditorium. …

The government, already running scared of the “Muslim vote,” took this none-too-subtle hint from the Sikhs. [On Tuesday] the Home Office minister for race equality, Fiona Mactaggart, refused to condemn the intimidation of the Birmingham Rep, insisting that Sikh protesters were merely exercising their right to freedom of speech “which is so much part of the British tradition … the free speech of the protesters is as important as the free speech of the artist.”

Later Miss Mactaggart condemned the violence, though only in the most mealy-mouthed manner. The arts minister, Estelle Morris, also said that she “fully supported” the decision to cancel, adding that “it is a cornerstone of our democracy that freedom of speech and artistic expression — within the law — should be defended at all times.” Miss Morris’ sophistry is not excused by the fact that she is a local MP. Both ministers are pandering to intolerance. …

The subject matter of the play is intended to shock Sikhs; indeed, most others, too, would find it offensive. But its merits are irrelevant to the principle at stake. …

A government in the right has nothing to fear from the mob. If fear of losing marginal seats in Birmingham deters politicians from defending our liberties, they are not fit to hold office.

Straits Times

Elections in Iraq

SINGAPORE — Iraq continues to be racked by violence. Officials tied to the interim government have been explicitly targeted; officials tied to international aid organizations as well as to companies involved in rebuilding Iraq’s infrastructure have been kidnapped; and election officials have been gunned down less than a mile from the so-called “Green Zone” in Baghdad. All this suggests jihadists — or at least a section of them — have precise political aims in mind. They wish to decapitate the incipient Iraqi state; they wish to frighten away foreigners trying to help that state; and they wish to disrupt the elections due to be held on Jan 30.

Should the United States and the United Nations go ahead with the elections under these circumstances? Would deeply flawed elections — with sizable numbers of Sunnis boycotting the elections, or people not going to the polls out of fear, or elections officials unable to conduct elections in certain areas — affect the credibility of the outcome? There are no clear answers to these questions: If elections are postponed, the jihadists would have scored a victory; but if they are held on schedule, and the result is chaos, that will not help the new state either. On balance, it would probably be wise to go ahead. Let Iraqis vote where they can; and where they can’t, let them vote later. The elections are bound to be messy, but it is best to press on with them despite the uncertainties. That would be preferable to giving way to jihadists and closing off the democratic option.

Dagens Nyheter

Elections in Iraq

STOCKHOLM — It is evident that the United States cannot remain an occupation power forever. Its forces must eventually leave the country and Iraq must be governed by Iraqis.

But an election should — at least in an ideal case — be an end and not a starting shot. The political reality will probably make it impossible to wait with the elections until there are democratic institutions in place, until there is a free press, independent courts and a working bureaucracy.

But a basic demand should be that it will not be associated with mortal danger to go to the polls — or plans to observe the process. A large part of the violence aims at making the election impossible and there is a good deal in the argument that a postponed election would be the same as giving in to the terrorists.

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