Who would have thought that voting would have made Iraqi expats dance and sing, enthused about their chance to cast a ballot. For a year, we had been used to scenes of insurgents blowing themselves up, people having their throats cut, building destroyed, a country involved in a so-called civil war under foreign occupation. Like a broken record, the media showed us an Iraq slipping into chaos where an election was but a useless farce.
Listening to Iraqi expatriates or former refugees in Australia, Dubai, Iran, Syria or Great Britain one is instead surprised. Some told AsiaNews that the elections are a great opportunity, a "small step" forward on the path towards a free Iraq.
So far the media has tended to highlight the lowlights: a lop-sided and sepia-like election campaign, curfews in the cities, closed airports and sealed borders . . . And yet four Iraqis in five want the elections. Even Sunnis are not against themthey just want them delayed to be better organised.
Iraq's interim government decided otherwise. Better bite the bullet now and go for the elections for there is no certainty that a delay would have improved security.
What is true is that many really want to taste this fruit forbidden for more than fifty years. "For years," said Salamah al-Khafaji, a Shiite candidate running in Baghdad, "we have been prevented from tasting what democracy is and it's important we go through with these elections".
This lady is not a pushover, someone easy to deter. If she could not campaign in the streets, she would the do it using e-mail messaging. If she could not speak at rallies, with her children in a safe place far from snipers, she would visit Sunni families trying to get them to vote.
And she was not alone is stressing the importance of voting; Iraqi bishops including the Chaldean Patriarch also emphasised how much voting was a duty.
By contrast, Europeans seem lukewarm. Once upon a time they would have cheered any sign of democracy as a progressive step. Now, instead, they turn up their noses at the US occupier.
But didn't the Palestinians in early January hold a democratic election with one voter in two under Israeli occupation? That was hailed as an example of a people using democracy and liberty against its occupier.
Of course, not every Palestinian was able to vote; neither will every Iraqi. In 4 of Iraq's 18 provinces voting won't be an easy thing to do. In Mosul gangs of fundamentalists and other groups have already destroyed ballots and polling stations.
But Shiites will vote and they are 60 per cent of the electorate; so will Kurds in the north who are 15-20 per cent. Even many Sunnis are likely to cast their ballot, if only in polling stations far from home. Just to be safe.
AsiaNews has already reported that some Sunni Baathists who had fled to Italy have flown home to vote.
In Syria, where the Baath Party is in power, people are realising that these elections matter. Many Syrians are asking themselves why they can't have free elections and independent candidates.
What's more, these elections are having an impact on the Muslim world. As much as they expect to win, Shiite religious leaders stressed in the last few days that the new Iraq would not be a fundamentalist state.
As much as insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi might threaten "to wash the streets of Baghdad with the voters' blood" and destroy polling stations which he calls "centres of atheism and of vice", there are Muslim scholars who are exploring the compatibility of Islam and democracy.
Dia al-Shakarchi is a Muslim theologian living in Baghdad. He recently wrote that there is no credible alternative to democracyit is either democracy or an Iranian-styled theocratic dictatorship or personal dictatorships which abound in the Middle East.
It is becoming increasingly clear that throughout the Muslim world, from Indonesia to Malaysia and Pakistan, people are discussing modernity, democracy and the fight against terrorism. This would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.
In Iraq a moderate Islam is trying to express itself, one that the West has always sought out as a partner, one that the West is in danger of abandoning to the brutality of terrorism.