Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Was 2005 really the annus horribilis you might think, if you trusted only certain news publications? Consider the Dec. 19 Time magazine cover, which advertised “The Best Photos of 2005.” “The pictures on the pages that follow are ones we were haunted by this year,” writes editor Richard Lacayo. In fact the images are so haunting that it takes a mental effort to remember the good things that also happened in 2005.

Time produces image after image of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina: a mother clutching her child in the rain, a violent scuffle at the New Orleans Superdome; a dead man indecently photographed floating through New Orleans.

After that, we move onto the earthquake in Pakistan and a reminder of the Indian Ocean tsunami (though that disaster actually belonged to 2004). We also get the London bombings, the French car-burning riots, and Israeli troops in violent struggle with a settler being evacuated from the West Bank.

Iraq, needless to say, looks overwhelmingly like a tragedy with an American soldier patrolling terrified Iraqis in Mosul, a crippled soldier back from Iraq, a flag-draped coffin returning home — and one small badly displayed photo of a woman returning from voting showing her blue finger.

With this unrelenting display of bad news — and yes, of course, it all has to be acknowledged — we miss the joys and the progress of 2005. Sometimes, good news arise from the way we deal with the bad. Time makes it easy to single out its negative coverage, but the attitude is very much that of the mainstream media. Could it be that if good news were reported, it would somehow redound to the benefit of the Bush White House? Heaven forbid.

How about the news that the U.S. economy grew at the highly respectable rate of 4 percent in 2005, while unemployment remained low at 5 percent? Maybe a picture of Americans hard at work would be in order? Or how about some picture from New Orleans of the U.S. Coast Guard evacuating more than 30,000 people, or of churches offering their services as relief-and-rescue centers, when the federal and local governments failed? Or a reminder that American cities throughout the country generously opened their doors and schools for the storm-hit refugees. As many as 11,000 evacuees still remain in Houston alone.

Showing that the spirit of generosity is alive and well in this country, Americans donated some $700 million within days of Katrina’s landfall. It all belies the idea that the American tradition of community is dying, and that this has become a nation that “bowls alone.” If we are to count the Indian Ocean tsunami as part of the news of 2005, consider that in many cases the U.S. military were the first signs of help many people saw. Privately, Americans donated almost $1 billion in record time. In Pakistan, U.S. help was equally swift, and in both Indonesia and Pakistan, anti-American sentiment took a nose dive as a result. In a poll just released by the group Terror Free Tomorrow, because of the earthquake aid, Pakistani favorable opinion of the United States has doubled since May 2005 to more than 46 percent. Support for Osama bin Laden, on the other hand, over the same period dropped from 51 percent to just 33 percent.

And let us not be shy about celebrating with the Iraqi people. Defying terrorist threats, they came out to vote three times in 2005, including an estimated 11 million of them in the Dec. 15 election. According to an ABC News poll, 70 percent of Iraqis now feel good about their lives, and 44 percent feel optimistic for their country. The United States, its allies and almost 200,000 newly trained Iraqi military have finally found a winning the strategy against terrorists and insurgents.

There was more good news in the Middle East as well. Lebanon is free of Syrian troops, owing to a combination of its political Cedar Revolution, and the unexpected success of international pressure from France and the United States working together. Palestinians, too, have been holding elections and are slowly moving forward toward statehood.

And, finally, on a local level, let’s not forget to celebrate the arrival of the baby panda, a creature of record-setting cuteness. Nor the fact that 2005 was the year we found the courage again to call a Christmas tree a Christmas tree in Washington.

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