From Kabul to California, the world was given a lecture on 'freedom and liberty'

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Indy Politics


SHAH MOHAMMED, The Bookseller of Kabul

Shah Mohammed was spending the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha at home in Kabul with his family yesterday. He was not interested in George Bush's inauguration. "I don't have an opinion about George Bush," said Shah Mohammed. "I don't like him and I don't hate him. I think most Afghans feel the same way."

Eid is a time to take stock, reflect on the past and consider the future, and the businessman was counting his blessings. But as he cradled his son Timur in his arms, Shah Mohammed, who became famous as "the Bookseller of Kabul" felt uneasy about his nation's future. "Corruption is out of control, there is so much poverty even though some are getting rich, and we wonder if we Afghans are really in control of our future. Drugs money is rebuilding Kabul and the mafias are stronger than ever. When I think about my son's future, I really don't know what it will be."

Shah Mohammed gained notoriety as a domestic tyrant in the 2003 bestseller by a Norwegian journalist who lived with his family for a while. He insists she misunderstood his culture and libelled him personally.

Years of seeing his countrymen destroy their land while foreigners meddled has made him cynical. "Sometimes I feel I am in the dark, watching a movie," he said."These warlords are players - they are like actors - and we don't know how the plot ends. We don't know who the director is. Perhaps it is the foreign powers who directs the film. First it was Russia, then Pakistan. Perhaps now it is the United States."


JASPAL SINGH, 46, Sikh taxi driver in Delhi

"It's a nice idea to spread freedom around the world, but I don't think it's possible. Bush cannot give freedom to Iraq when so many people in Iraq are against him. If he leaves, they will get freedom. I know some Afghan people and they like Bush because the Taliban were really bad. But in all Muslim countries it's very difficult to get freedom. Look at the Middle East, it's all dictatorships. And all the Muslims are against Bush. He says he wants to spread freedom, but I don't think it's true."


MARIE-ASTRID MARCETEC, from Binche, near Brussels

"Bush does not reflect on things. Terrorism exists but he doesn't consider the causes or long-term consequences. You have to monitor ... people who stir up hatred;and there may be limits to individual liberty. But do not bombard an entire country like Iraq. Measures should be better targeted and better thought through."


CHRIS BAYNES, 33, Mechanical engineer from Greenville, South Carolina

"It's the right thing [exporting freedom], but at its own pace - it shouldn't be forced. We shouldn't exactly go in and take countries over. I was for the war in Iraq, but now it's up to the Iraqis to do their own mopping up and take care of themselves. But if people are oppressed, we should do something.As for Iraq, we should have done it 10 years ago."


GEORGE NEY, 69, Kibbutz member and retired science librarian

"I don't think you can impose democracy on any Islamic country or even on China. It's a fallacy. Different cultures have different concepts of liberty. Bush should empower Israeli and Palestinian leaders to do what they say they want to do to achieve peace. He should encourage Ariel Sharon to take the settlements out of Gaza and help Mahmoud Abbas to control terrorism."



"What is Bush talking about? Doesn't he know we have been living with no liberty and freedom for more than 55 years? He supports [Ariel] Sharon and Sharon kills us with Bush's weapons. But now he has the chance to take steps to help the Palestinians without being afraid of the Zionist lobby in the United States. He has to prove what he said or otherwise his words do not mean anything to anybody."


VERA KARPOVA, 59, Newspaper seller, Moscow

"I am positive about Bush. He's the President of a country which I respect and where the people are good. A great deal that happens here and elsewhere depends on him but I don't agree with him when he says he wants to bring freedom to the world.

Every people and nation should develop at its own pace. Maybe some countries need help but that's different from pressure and dictatorship. Look what happened when the Americans went into Iraq - they began something that is going to drag on for years. The strong have always lorded it over the weak, that's the way it's always been."


STEFANIE ANGEL, 37, Psychology graduate from Carlsbad, California

"I don't think that Bush understands what compassion really means. It's America's way or the highway and I don't like that. It's all about his agenda and his ego - it's not about American society or the American people, it's just about him. When he talks about freedom around the world, he is really just thinking about his legacy as president. JFK had a legacy and he wants to leave one too. but his Dad didn't. Bush is doing all of this to prove something to his Dad, I think. I didn't support the war in Iraq and in fact I don't believe that war is justifiable in any circumstances."