I woke up this morning to headlines in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on Iraq's critical elections of the "Damning But" variety: "Initial turnout light" and "Minnesotans not optimistic about Iraq's prospects" and feared the worst. But of course, the turnout numbers were from the first hour of polling and the opinions of my fellow Minneostans, while interesting, were not really relevant here. What mattered was: what had the Iraqis done in the hours since the newspaper had published its downbeat assessment? Were they turning their backs on the elections as just another made-in-the-USA artifact of the Bush administration's occupation, or were they viewing their first real vote in over 30 years as an historic opportunity to defy the terrorists and take control of their own country and destiny?
So naturally I took to the Internet to find out the latest, both from MSM sources and bloggers whose perspectives I value. And what did I find? A 72% turnout, despite death threats. I'd say that's a pretty resounding vote of confidence by the Iraqis in their electoral process. Here's a first-hand account from bloggers Omar and Mohammad of Iraq the Model:
We had all kinds of feelings in our minds while we were on our way to the ballot box except one feeling that never came to us, that was fear.
We could smell pride in the atmosphere this morning; everyone we saw was holding up his blue tipped finger with broad smiles on the faces while walking out of the center.
I couldn't think of a scene more beautiful than that.
From the early hours of the morning, People filled the street to the voting center in my neighborhood; youths, elders, women and men. Women's turn out was higher by the way. And by 11 am the boxes where I live were almost full!
Anyone watching that scene cannot but have tears of happiness, hope, pride and triumph.
The sounds of explosions and gunfire were clearly heard, some were far away but some were close enough to make the windows of the center shake but no one seemed to care about them as if the people weren't hearing these sounds at all.
I saw an old woman that I thought would get startled by the loud sound of a close explosion but she didn't seem to care, instead she was busy verifying her voting station's location as she found out that her name wasn't listed in this center.
How can I describe it!? Take my eyes and look through them my friends, you have supported the day of Iraq's freedom and today, Iraqis have proven that they're not going to disappoint their country or their friends.
Is there a bigger victory than this? I believe not.
And here's Alaa of The Mesopotamian:
I bow in respect and awe to the men and women of our people who, armed only with faith and hope are going to the polls under the very real threats of being blown to pieces. These are the real braves; not the miserable creatures of hate who are attacking one of the noblest things that has ever happened to us. Have you ever seen anything like this? Iraq will be O.K. with so many brave people, it will certainly O.K.; I can say no more just now; I am just filled with pride and moved beyond words. People are turning up not only under the present threat to polling stations but also under future threats to themselves and their families; yet they are coming, and keep coming. Behold the Iraqi people; now you know their true metal.
I had suspected as much, based on the pattern we saw last October in Afghanistan. Despite the naysayers and fear-mongers, the Afghans demonstrated that, given the opportunity - even in the face of bloodthirsty thugs bent on denying that opportunity - people will turn out in droves to assert their right to self-determination.
It's almost as if the Iraqis take all that Bush rhetoric about democracy seriously, and are willing to risk their lives for those ideals. Now, if only we who are fortunate enough to live in democratic societies would start taking them at their word and support their efforts to build a free society on the ruins of Saddam's nightmarish police state.
UPDATE: For ongoing posts on the Iraqi elections and follow-up, see Friends of Democracy.