Religious freedom doesn

Friday, May 2, 2003 at 12:00am

So let me get this straight. We know that for 25 years Saddam Hussein tortured and murdered his people. Then in three weeks, coalition forces removed him and his thug pals from power. Then a few days later, thousands of Iraqis took to the streets and beat themselves silly in a bloody display that made slasher flicks look tame. Do I have this right?

I understand that the display was done in the name of religion, but you might think these self-abusers would take a few days off from pain. Taking the torture chamber to the streets so soon after the brutal dictator was deposed might be seen as, well, somewhat nuts.

And therein lies the problem. The United States is faced with a situation whereby it is trying to reason with people who believe that the Rolling Stones had it nailed when they recorded "Let It Bleed." The Bush administration wants to convince fundamentalist fanatics that Thomas Jefferson and James Madison are the way to go. But unless the new Bill of Iraqi Rights contains provisions whereby you have the right to pulverize yourself with a hammer, things may get dicey.

The New York Daily News ran a front-page photo of hundreds of bloody guys running around the town of Karbala. They were Shi

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