Dispatches > The Buzz

The buzz

Issue: "Mel Gibson's passion," Feb. 28, 2004

IRAQ U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer last week said a redesigned caucus system or partial elections are among the "dozens" of options now on the table for the establishment of a new government in Iraq. But the date for handing over power to that new government, June 30, is not flexible: "Changes are possible but the date holds."

Mr. Bremer and the Iraqi Governing Council also rushed last week to meet another deadline, Feb. 28, for the first blueprint for constitutional government, or "fundamental law." Iraqi factions debated such points as religious freedom, Kurdish autonomy, and control of oilfields. In an apparent reversal of an earlier stated position, Mr. Bremer insisted that he would veto any draft constitution with Islamic law, or Shariah, as its basis. He would, he said, allow the mention of Shariah only as "a source of inspiration for the law" (story, p. 18).

WORLD quoted Mr. Bremer in a Nov. 22, 2003, story saying that the constitution would "include some form of Shariah law." He drew the line at applying the Islamic code to general crime-"We don't want the chopping off of hands"-but allowed that Shariah could be applied to issues regarding children and divorce.

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IRAN Iran's Islamic leadership last week moved to consolidate power on the eve of parliamentary elections, shutting down two major reformist newspapers, Yas-e-nou and Sharq. The newspapers' apparent crime: publishing a statement from reformist lawmakers that criticized Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and said freedom was being "trampled in the name of Islam."

The country's unelected Guardians Council had already disqualified 2,300 reformist candidates for the Feb. 20 election, prompting another 1,000 candidates to withdraw in protest and guaranteeing the victory of those who support Iran's Shiite leaders. Student revolutionaries, however, circulated chain text messages last week, urging Iranians to boycott the ballot box and "not take part in the funeral of freedom." Very low turnout could be a major embarrassment to the Guardians Council (story, p. 20).

GAY TV MTV is forging ahead with plans for an all-gay television network that will be on all basic cable plans. Outlet, the name of the 24-hour network, will feature gay-themed lifestyle and entertainment programming. Earlier plans had been for a premium, subscriber network, which would have allowed for the showing of pornographic fare. But MTV, apparently thinking that homosexuality now has mainstream acceptability, recognizes that the subscription base for such a venture would be small and that it would be more profitable to run an advertiser-supported network that reaches nearly everyone who subscribes to cable. Outlet would be part of the package that includes MTV, VH1, and the children's network Nickelodeon.

Meantime, as San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom attempted to secure marriage licenses for same-sex couples (story, p. 22), President Bush inched closer to endorsing a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage. "I have watched carefully what's happening in San Francisco," Mr. Bush said. "I have consistently stated that I'll support a law to protect marriage between a man and a woman. Obviously these events are influencing my decision."

PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS With the labor-backed candidacies of Richard Gephardt and Howard Dean on ice, the AFL-CIO on Feb. 19 threw its formidable weight behind Sen. John Kerry's bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. The alliance of 64 unions endorsed the Massachusetts lawmaker despite his support for the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993, a trade pact that the unions (and chief Kerry opponent Sen. John Edwards) opposed. "Everybody evolves," said Teamsters president James P. Hoffa.

The endorsement came two days after Sen. Kerry's narrow victory over Sen. Edwards in the Wisconsin primary. Sen. Kerry won, but Sen. Edwards's surprising surge in the election's closing days gave his candidacy new momentum. "The message was this: 'Objects in your mirror may be closer than they appear,'" said Sen. Edwards. With Dr. Dean dropping out, the nomination race is now a two-man contest that likely will last at least until mid-March (story, p. 23). Meanwhile, Democrats hope that a Feb. 17 victory in a special election for a Kentucky congressional seat is an indicator of things to come in November (story, p. 25).

CONTROVERSIAL film As opening day for Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ approached, Anti-Defamation League leader Abraham Foxman called on Vatican officials to publicly restate that Jews are not responsible for Jesus' death. Archbishop John Foley, a top Vatican official, resisted the call, praising the film and saying it is not anti-Semitic. As controversy surrounding the film continued to build, Variety reported that 2,800 U.S. theaters nationwide planned to show the movie, up from the original 2,000, giving The Passion the widest ever release for a film with subtitles. Advance ticket sales had already sold out many of those theaters a week ahead of the film's Feb. 25 opening (cover story, p. 32; review, p. 37).

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