Published on Monday, December 9, 2002 by The Standard Times (New Bedford, MA)
Message of Local Peace Rally Registers a World Away
by Steve Urbon
When 200 protesters chanted anti-war slogans on the steps of the Keith Federal Building in New Bedford two weeks ago, they found one of their most attentive audiences halfway around the world: in one of Iraq's five Saddam-sanctioned, state-run newspapers.
Al-Jumhuriya, published in Arabic, reported "a demonstration took place in New Bedford to protest the American threats of military aggression against Iraq."
Word of this bit of recycled American news filtered back in an Associated Press dispatch about the total control Saddam Hussein exerts over the flow of news and information in Iraq.
The AP story by Bassem Mroue said, "news events that barely register elsewhere can be big news in Iraq."
The protest, which took place on Monday, Nov. 25, received notice mainly in two places: The Standard-Times and its Web site, and a left-leaning news and opinion Web site of a group based in Portland, Maine, called Common Dreams.
Common Dreams simply reposted the Standard-Times' story, and both sites are quickly located by doing a search on any number of Web search engines. Such a search would have been easy for the Iraqi media, if not for the ordinary Iraqi citizen.
Marlene Pollock, a professor of history at Bristol Community College in Fall River and one of the rally organizers, was unfazed when she learned about the Iraqi Ministry of Information's move.
"We certainly did not do that for their benefit. We were not defending the Iraqi regime at all. Our whole point is to find another way to deal with these confrontations, rather than bomb innocent civilians and having our own people get killed," she said.
"Saddam Hussein is a vicious tyrant. No one has any love for him," she said.
Arthur Larrivee, a prominent local Republican who last week lashed out at Ms. Pollock, and her husband and colleague, Ben Gilbarg, for organizing the rally, shrugged off the fact that the Iraqis used it as a propaganda tool.
"A lot of people are very mad with us, and they want to burn us and kill us," he said. "It's awful how they feel under duress under this dictatorship. All it will do with those against us is to liven them up, give them more fodder. I don't see it as being eventful in any case."
The Iraqi newspaper's account of the rally added to the irony that Mr. Larrivee pointed out last week when he said, "I don't think Saddam would allow you to do this on the front steps of one of his palaces in Iraq."
If anyone had, it is doubtful it would have found its way into the official state-run Iraqi media, which can be sampled -- some of it in English -- at www.uruklink.net
Mr. Mroue of the AP wrote, "The news that the Iraqi people get in the government-controlled media is much different from that in the rest of the world, and exactly what President Saddam Hussein wants it to be."
While Iraqis can get international radio, such as the Arabic service of the British Broadcasting Corp. and the new U.S. government pop music station Radio Sawa, they have little choice in newspapers and television.
If Mr. Larrivee and Ms. Pollock have anything in common on this subject, it might be an acknowledgment that the Iraqi people are not the target. Whipping up anti-American sentiment, he said, is not a concern "as long as we're getting their top people."
But if Hussein's Ministry of Information thinks it is finding sympathy in protests in Massachusetts, it will soon find more to talk about. Ms. Pollock said rallies are being organized in Fall River and Taunton, and more are occurring across the nation. Al-Jumhuriya will have plenty to talk about.
Copyright 2002 The Standard-Times