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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat



    No go, Hugo

    On Sunday, Venezuela voters defeated a constitutional referendum put forward by President Hugo Chavez, 51 percent “”no”” to 49 percent “”yes.””. If passed, the reforms would have greatly expanded presidential power, eliminated the two term presidential limit, and formally defined the constitution as a “”socialist democracy.””

    As this weekend shows, socialism can be a jealous mistress. In what was expected to be a certain victory, the Chavez supporters were fatally splintered. Chavez’ tycoon cronies and poor benefitors certainly showed up in support, but so too did the poor and suffering who knew all too well the shortcomings of Chavez’ utopian promises.

    While Chavez’ petrodollars have been used to shore up Venezuela’s regional power, civil liberties have been eroding, angering even the most radical of university students. As this weekend shows, opposition has not completely died in Venezuela. Thanks in great part to vivacious student protests the weeks before the elections, the dangerously totalitarian constitutional changes were narrowly defeated.

    This next year, the midpoint of Chavez’ last presidential term, will see many more attempts to restrain the opposition media and undermine a unified opposition. Students, again, must play a central role in unifying an opposition that will be a voice for transparency, free press and executive restraint.

    -Matt Rolland is a junior majoring in economics and international studies.

    There’s plenty of reasons to be wary of Chavez. Pursuit of power isn’t a bad thing in itself, but he’s shown enough authoritarian impulses that any fan of democracy ought to regard him with a skeptical eye. As Orwell said, all saints should be presumed guilty until proven innocent.

    On the other hand, most of the proposed reforms looked pretty damned good: a free university education, a lowered voting age, a 36-hour work-week, expanded social security, and funds for local self-governing councils. It sounds more like Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal than Stalin’s Five-Year Plan.

    In fact, the only really troubling element was the term limit change. But plenty of countries don’t have term limits; our own didn’t for most of its history, and no one sees Roosevelt’s third and fourth terms as a blot on his record.

    That our media has obligingly portrayed Chavez as a Pinochet-like dictator is disgraceful, especially considering the softer treatment they dole out to other statesmen. How is Chavez a graver threat to the liberty of his countrymen than, say, Pakistani strongman Pervez Musharraf, who suspended his country’s constitution and declared martial law at the very possibility of losing his power? This is the same Musharraf, by the way, that our own president recently praised as “”someone who really believes in democracy.””

    -Justyn Dillingham is a senior majoring in history and political science.

    Besieged bear gets reprieve

    British teacher Gillian Gibbons was pardoned Monday by Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir, after being jailed 15 days for naming a class teddy bear “”Mohammad.”” Hundreds of Sudanese Muslims called for the schoolteacher to be executed for insulting their faith, escalating the arrest into an international incident. “”Mohammad,”” and its various transliterations, is widely cited as the most popular name in the world.

    The most recent teddy bear media frenzy is yet another example of the dangerous role of the mass media in amplifying localized cultural confrontations between the Islamic world and the West and turning them into stories which ostensibly demonstrate inviolable social and political divides between Islam and the West.

    Gibbons’ dilemma harkens back to the fanatic outrage faced by Salman Rushdie following the release of “”The Satanic Verses”” and Danish newspaper Politiken after the publication of a comic featuring Muhammed.

    The mass scrutiny of such isolated incidents inflicts the most harm on the popular understanding of Islam and perpetuates common false portrayals of Muslims which deviate from the attitudes of tolerance and forgiveness valued by the majority of those who practice the Islamic faith.

    -Christina Jelly is a senior majoring in biochemistry and philosophy.

    While the West is up in arms about a touchy teddy in Khartoum, conflict simmers on in western Sudan, where genocide in Darfur has already taken a terrible human toll. There are few winners in this case – Ms. Gibbons was held for days, traumatized and shipped back to England. Her schoolchildren lost a qualified teacher. Moderate Muslims everywhere were painted as extremists thanks to the actions of a few outraged individuals. Worst of all, for a few days, the most terrible thing going on in Sudan seemed to be an argument over a teddy bear – not the imminent failure of peacekeeping in Darfur.

    But one person comes out ahead in the teddy-bear tangle: Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir, who courageously swooped in at the last minute to rescue a schoolteacher in distress and publicly display his moderation and pragmatism. That ought to take the heat to stop the brutal slaughter of his people off for a while.

    -Connor Mendenhall is a sophomore majoring in economics and international studies and Opinions Editor for the Arizona Daily Wildcat.

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