Saturday, April 12, 2003

‘Off with her head!’ the Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved.
’Who cares for you?’ said Alice (she had grown to her full size by this time). ‘You're nothing but a pack of cards!’
At this the whole pack rose up into the air, and came flying down upon her: she gave a little scream, half of fright and half of anger, and tried to beat them off, and found herself lying on the bank, with her head in the lap of her sister, who was gently brushing away some dead leaves that had fluttered down from the trees upon her face.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll, Chapter XII

A week ago, it looked like conquering Baghdad was going to take weeks of bloody hell. Amid shouts of “This is just what we said would happen” and the old favorite “Quagmire!”, Israelis suddenly noticed all eyes were on us, glaring menacingly. What? What? It wasn’t us, honest. But someone always has to pay the price, after all. Round up the usual suspect. The Quartet’s nearly forgotten “Road Map” was dug up and dusted off. That’ll do just fine.

Only a week has passed and everything has changed. Only a week, and some are sitting up and taking notice, trying to work out what happened while they were busy dancing to a tune that played only in their heads. France, Germany, Russia, the Arabs, countless misguided western do-gooders (Well, maybe not them, they don’t watch TV, it’s a corrupting influence, especially if it offers any other truth than their own) are all discovering too late that they put all their money on the wrong horse (even though the right one had “Winner” written all over it in flashing neon lights).

This week has seen looting and lawlessness in Iraq. Some have chosen to emphasize this, although experts say it is a regrettable but common phenomenon in war and subsides when things stabilize. But this week has also seen the unbelievably rapid fall of Baghdad which few, if any, in the media foresaw. We saw historic pictures of Saddam’s giant statue being pulled down by Iraqis in the center of Baghdad and of ecstatic Iraqis kissing U.S. soldiers and shouting “Thank you Bush”. You just can’t ignore those powerful pictures. The story they tell is of a nation sighing with relief. This seems to have been played down, though, by various communication media for their own reasons.

Smadar Peri wrote in Yediot Aharonot that Al-Jazeera repeatedly aired a video of a mob in Basra stringing up Baath militants. You won’t be seeing that on your TV screen. Bodies of men swinging from makeshift gallows don’t make for very pleasant viewing.

What will Al-Jazeera viewers make of it all? How will they react to the realization that they believed without questioning the lies they were fed, systematically, culminating in the award-winning performance of one Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, who entered history by denying again and again with conviction and talent what was happening right next to him (but whom only the Arabs believed)? Will they learn any lessons? Will they begin questioning other things Al-Jazeera and other Arab media tell them? Or will they continue to sooth the pain of their humility and embarrassment with ridiculous conspiracy theories?

Suddenly, somehow, the Road Map doesn’t seem so threatening anymore. Maybe it’s time, anyway. We’ve really had enough, haven’t we?

A week down the road and it looks like a few more people have realized that things are changing, that the world is going to come out of all this looking different. Maybe, just maybe, the result will be that this sad little country of ours will also come out at the other end of this tunnel of uncertainty looking better than when it went in.