Bush's 'Axis' Phrase Still Reverberates
CHARLES J. HANLEY
Jan. 28, 2003
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Birds and reptiles. A ``triangle'' and an ``empire.'' One year after it was conceived, the ``axis of evil'' has spawned offspring worldwide _ rhetorically speaking, that is.
From the pulpits of Tehran, to Pyongyang newspapers, to the presidential palaces here in Baghdad, the ``axis'' countries and others have turned the fire-and-brimstone language of George W. Bush's 2002 State of the Union address against the U.S. president and his White House team.
As another State of the Union speech approached, Iraq's President Saddam Hussein himself plunged into the verbal crossfire in his own keystone address, on the anniversary of the 1991 U.S.-Iraq war.
``The crows and crocodiles of evil still have evil in their hearts for you,'' he told Iraqis on Jan. 17. ``Tell him, with a loud, clear voice, `You, evil man, stop your evil misdeeds against the cradle of civilization!'''
In last January's address, President Bush, Saddam's ``evil man,'' spoke of an ``axis of evil'' linking three dissimilar lands _ the isolated, old-line-communist North Korea, and the neighbors and ancient enemies Iran, which is Persian and Shiite Muslim, and Iraq, Arab and dominated by Sunni Muslims.
All three were pursuing anti-American policies and, it was believed, nuclear weapons.
Since then, as Bush stepped up threats to wage war against Iraq over its arms programs, the rhetoric of ``evil'' has escalated as well, from many directions.
The meaning of ``shar'' _ Arabic for ``evil'' _ is taught every day across town from Saddam's headquarters palace, at a university for Islamic studies named for the president himself.
Mohsen Farhan, a professor Islamic law at Saddam University, cited the Prophet Muhammad to a reporter: ``Some people are keys to evil, and some people are keys to good.''
But evil, like beauty, is clearly in the eyes of the beholder.
``Our concept of evil is that of countries that commit aggression without justification,'' said university President Mohammed al-Saeed, his eyes clearly beholding the United States.
Al-Saeed was reminded that Iraq invaded Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990. But those attacks were provoked and justified, the educator countered.
Beheld from Washington a year ago, the ``evil'' lurked in Iraq. Its aggression the past two decades, the Saddam government's bloody repression of dissent, its use of chemical weapons to kill its own citizens in rebellious Kurdish areas _ all qualify the Baghdad regime for inclusion in the newly coined ``axis of evil,'' the Bush administration believed.
But a turn of phrase by White House speechwriters turned into just the first volley in a global round of name-calling.
``The U.S. theory of the axis of evil is an evil-filled criticism and slander,'' fumed North Korea's Nodong Sinmun newspaper. It's the United States that is an ``empire'' of evil, it said, a sentiment not hard to sell in a country whose cities were obliterated by American bombs in the Korean War a half-century ago.
Even in South Korea, a ruling party lawmaker declared in the National Assembly that Bush was an ``incarnation of evil'' for his verbal attack on the north.
Tehran's Iran Daily proposed a global referendum on the question, ``Which government is evil, that of Iran or the U.S.?'' The newspaper reminded readers only America had killed tens of thousands of people with nuclear bombs _ in Japan in 1945.
``The vast majority will hardly hesitate'' to vote the United States as the heart of evil, the editorial concluded.
A sister newspaper, Jomhuri-e-Eslami, rolled out its own coinage: ``The evil triangle'' of America, Britain and Israel that it said was bullying the Islamic world.
In Iraq, political speechmakers and commentators now routinely refer to the ``U.S. administration of evil,'' also known as ``the evil ones,'' who have ``evil allies.''
A year after its introduction, the fallout from the ``axis of evil'' is a lesson in the power of words.
``Labeling people as Satan or part of an axis of evil provokes. It does not resolve anything,'' Mahathir bin Mohamad, Muslim prime minister of Malaysia, said as the new State of the Union address approached.
It's a view shared by the ``realists'' of international politics, who believe relations among nations should be governed by correct, dispassionate dealings, not crusading language that may force governments into corners, with no peaceful way out.
But ``evil'' _ the rhetoric _ is now loose in the world, as seen just last weekend in a corner of Switzerland. ``There are times,'' Secretary of State Colin Powell told his audience there, ``when talking to evil just doesn't work.''