Friday, April 16, 2004

Its the way he tells 'em 

John Pilger always goes one stage further than is necessary to make a point, into the realms of a "perfect world" - the sort of yearning imagined paradise sold by Jehovah's Witnesses on unwilling door steps. The sort of utopias Pilger seems implicitly to yearn for in his essays are just that: a world that cannot exist; one in which people always "do the right thing".

There is certainly what amounts to collusion between the media and western governments to spin a yarn about reasons and causes, and almost certainly the mendacity that Pilger claims, but Blair (you Americans can argue for Bush) is not a criminal in any sense. He will have to live - and probably does as a Christian - with the decisions he made that have resulted in the incapacities and deaths of his troops and many Iraqis who certainly didn't need to die, until he himself dies. What he is responsible - both good and bad - for will be recorded and also remembered after he is forgotten.

Facts cannot be put away like empty suitcases after a holiday. We do have to ask whether Pilger is right in calling the occupation of Iraq colonisation. From Buzmachine, we see that even prospective president Kerry, had back-tracked on his original rosy views on Iraq's future democracy. He is now talking of stability. It is to be wondered what he would actually do differently to Bush if he takes over next year.

It might be more constructive to say the world has moved on, rather than talk of colonisation. People know more and are more able to communicate what they know and feel about their situation. The age of deference and subservience, which help to sustain and perpetuate empires, has passed. Even if certain groups of people around the world are as powerless as they were 80 years ago and before, at least they can express their views on their powerlessness, worldwide, at the click of a mouse. This is evident re Iraq - there has been a worldwide debate about its future which must effect how the decision-makers think.

I have been thinking more and more how the statistics for death and injury amongst Iraqis are not being reported by the conventional media. Of course individual tragedies are reported every day because, unlike statistics, they make a good stories, sell newspapers and keep people glued to TV. There are reliable sources for the number of dead and injured Iraqis. The media in general, however, do not do stories that start with these figures and question why they are so high. There are few stories about how Iraqi families are being compensated for the disasters that have befallen them.

It is instructive to look at the "Get out of Iraq" arguments from all sources, including the US libertarians. But there can be no real argument for the US to give up, despite the mess they have created. Like many I wanted the Iraqis liberated from tyranny, but, overall,don't like the story so far. Far too muddled and inefficient, despite the massive sums of American taxpayers money spent.

I do not think there is a calculus along the lines of "the greatest good of the greatest number", which can divide the cost of removing The Tyrant by the death and suffering deaths of thousands of innocent Iraqis created by the war and occupation. If I had been given a choice before this all started along the lines of: "What do you want? Remove this evil man + suffering + many deaths? Or: "Leave him there + torture + imprisonment + many deaths + WMD?" it would have been impossible to chose.

Choosing no war, I would have been left wondering about the torture and deaths the Tyrant would have continued to be responsible for and whether he did have WMD. But I was not emotionally engaged until it all blew up. I read the papers over the years because Iraq is "my" country, a place of my fondest childhood memories. I always longed for the West to be tougher with The Tyrant on human rights. I did not want them to stand on the sidelines, wringing their hands, while he locked up, tortured and killed his own countrymen and women. The sanctions did not make him suffer, or help many Iraqis.

Now I know hasn't got WMD, I am happier. A negative is still a result. But that is to miss the point. Leaders who decided for war, knew that many Iraqis would die for nothing. There is no degree or hierarchy of innocence, where some innocent deaths are more acceptable than others. Like uniqueness, there are no "quite" innocent. They had committed no crimes to merit being blown to bits or shot at road blocks. Political and diplomatic pressure could probably of removed The Tyrant , eventually.

SEE ALSO Johhann Hari's Was I wrong about Iraq? originally published in the Independent, 14 April, 2004.

Though grateful they decided to occupy Iraq, I don't like the way the US military operates there. I don't like the way the US decided they could deal with this "problem" or the stated reasons for the occupation. I don't like the way they failed to restore law and order in the first months. And yet the other day I found myself writing that the act of invasion was "a moral act", in and of itself, despite the bogus excuses for it and the mess that has ensued.

But that is not enough. It seems important to stand up to say the US military is acting immorally, in many cases, in occupation; that they have made a bad situation worse. An irate American Critic told me, in effect: "You weren't that Marine, so shut up" . I know, I know. But I still feel an obligation to say: "Do the right thing", even though I will not be put in harms way. We ought to praise the many commendable efforts that are being made. No one can deny there has been some progress in repairing the infrastructure and bringing normality back in some areas of life. But reading Abu Hadi's letters from Iraq in the last few weeks we see the reality: still no full electricity supply after 12 months.

A fact of human life is the tendency to objectification of the other. Another fact is the inevitable tendency to feel safe in the group joined or in which you are born. These facts as sure as the sun rising and setting. But there is objectification and there is objectification. A slight, lazy, ignorant, prejudice or indifference is not the same as viewing the "other" as a lesser human than you, just because you happen to have the gun in your hand; or, because you are annoyed at being sent somewhere you don't like, where you might get killed.

Unlike Pilger, I don't feel that moral queasiness means "Get Out". It means remedy your mistakes; say sorry for the things you have done wrong; put more time, more money, more brains and more effort in getting this blighted country back to a semblance of normality; put more troops in, but don't let them shoot people willy-nilly; get the electricity and water up; clean and police the streets; treat those sick as a result of the used of depleted uranium shells and decontaminate the country of uranium; provide sensible work; quickly compensate those in need of compensation. Don't hide behind excuses and obfuscation. Don't retreat into a fantasy world. Tell the truth. Don't play politics in an undemocratic arena.

Bad acts are like cigarette smoking : the damage to you and others is accumulative. You have been told these tobacco sticks are bad for your health: the science cannot be refuted. You can give up acting wrongly or badly, but the "moral damage" has been done. The bad things you are doing, or the good things you fail to do, will damage your "moral body" and infect your mind forever. Don't believe in that ridiculous religious idea that you will be forgiven. You know of things in your personal life that shame you from time to time when they flash into your brain. There will be nowhere to hide. Don't turn your face away from reality. Look it straight in the eye and say: I will do the right thing. If it means telling the world the truth about bad or wrong things that are happening in Iraq - to your detriment - then do it. If it means running away from the US army in Iraq rather than shoot Iraqis, then do it.

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memories of a childhood in Iraq in the 1950s * thoughts on events in the Middle East

Location: United Kingdom

expatriot in Middle East as child, retired teacher.

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