“DON’T ATTACK IRAQ” – was the slogan of the unforgettable 2003 London 2million march - part of an estimated 30million world-wide-demonstration in 800 cities - the largest ever. Five years on the anniversary was marked by a handful ‘permitted to demonstrate’ at Grosvenor Square on a Friday evening with the three regular Quaker Guantanamo protesters. Seven years on New Internationalist has a special edition and launch party, and women ex-pats group - Women Solidarity for Independent & Unified Iraq - organize a day conference, “What Now for Iraq?”
The stories are familiar. NGOs and Iraqi community groups that were sympathetic to the ‘demolition crew’ were funded – others not. There were rumours of dividing the country on ethnic/religious lines and an ill-managed rush to register electors and candidates accordingly, which fed tensions and conflict. Administration and law & order were abolished and the chaos attracted anarchy and Al Qua’ida terrorism. Millions died. Millions left. Millions were displaced. Millions were widowed and orphaned. Millions were destitute and homeless. Millions died of preventable disease and millions lack healthcare and clean water. Power is erratic and education decimated. Much of the educated middle class fled. Unemployment and the economy remain problematic. Unquantifiable numbers are imprisoned and gruesomely treated. Trials are suspect and 900 are on ‘death row’. Terrorist atrocities, kidnapping and executions still persist. Iraqis’ complaints about human rights abuses clash with western monitors’ obsessions about gender, sexual preferences and religious freedoms – meanwhile thousands die or are tortured. Insecurity dominates daily lives and the economy. Government is suspect, impossibly diverse, and prone to interminable disagreement. Candidates are ‘screened’ and it is said the US pulls the strings. Much ‘Foreign Aid’ fills contractor’s pockets and the American presence continues in the world’s largest fortified embassy, a huge garrison and a very substantial ‘detention camp’ at Baghdad airport.
People talk openly of a belief that invasion and disruption was part of a long-term plan to decimate ‘uppity’ powers across the Middle East that don’t conform to a US-centric view of world order. If that had been the plan then the decimation and anarchy in Iraq could hardly have been more effective. The thesis is well illustrated by examples of induced chaos and decline; even the widespread use of DU and other contaminants that affect genetic and reproductive health in Iraq. In Falluja, where an extraordinary epidemic of diseased and malformed foetuses is only spoken of in whispers for fear of embarrassing US paymasters, women are advised to ‘avoid having children’.
Iraqi society was liberal, racially and religiously integrated. Women were more emancipated than in any other Arab country and, despite Hussein oppressions and restrictions, life was good and the petro-economy delivered high standards of living that remain an enduring memory for many Iraqis. Today Christians are persecuted to extinction and wearing the Hijab is advisable. Women suffer multiple deprivations of widowhood, poverty, food, lack of clean water and medical aid, unemployment and little freedom of movement. Baghdad remains divided by concrete walls in areas where violence lurks still, areas are segregated and ‘ethnically cleansed’, and there is a lingering and justifiable distrust of security forces of whatever stripe. Censorship and journalism remain problematic and everyone is wary of the multiple check points.
Hadani Ditmars braved the risks, trials and tribulations of 2010 Iraq to see developments for herself and, despite security concerns that restricted her activity, aborted meetings and disrupted her schedules, she detected a strong undercurrent of indomitability and resurgence of the old Iraqi culture, integration and independence. As she and others recounted their experiences it was possible to visualise a resurrected Iraq arising from the ashes. It is disconcerting to know that when Iraq does eventually stand up again there will be an eager queue, behind George Bush, of warmongers seeking to take credit.
The Christian religion, for the first three hundred years of its existence, was a problem for war makers. With its insistence on turning the other cheek, on loving your enemy, and a strict injunction on killing (Thou shallt not kill), such a pacifist religion threatened to create internal resistance to the wars organised by governments. A real security risk in the days when wars were an accepted way of life, a fifth column, however passive, when the country was invaded, and a drag on recruitment when an elective war against neighbours was being planned. The problem was partly overcome when the emperor Constantine adopted Christianity as the official state religion. Usually described as Constantine’s ‘conversion to Christianity’, this marriage of state and church had the effect of converting Christians to the practice of war.
However the problem of recruiting pacifist Christians to the army remained until solved by the invention of the ‘just war’. As Jim McClusky explained in his article A Just War? last month, St Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274) set out his tenets for a ‘just war’ in the Middle Ages. A war might be fought by Christians if the six essential elements of the conflict in question were satisfied. The Just War must have just cause, proportionality must be observed, the war declared by a proper state authority, it must be a last resort, a right, moral intention should be behind the decision, and there must be a reasonable hope of success. In a world red in tooth and claw, where there was constant turmoil, where little wars were always erupting even between neighbours as between Italian states in the time of Machiavelli, the idea of a ‘just war’ seemed legitimate, a necessary accommodation of religion to reality. It also offered governments the chance to put a spin on any war they were planning. Most wars, indeed, were so just that God was on both sides at once.
Perhaps strangely, even before the invention of the Just War criteria, the Catholic Church was waging ‘holy’ wars against the infidel. The Crusades, wars declared as ‘holy’ by the popes, started in the 11th century and were continued through to the 13th. The modern Catholic Church has now apologised for the Crusades, but enmity between Christians and other religions, notably Islam, continues, in spite of the teaching inscribed in the holy books of both religions.
But some Christians to this day refuse to consider any war as ‘just’. Quakers regard killing of others designated as the enemy by the state as wrong, and refuse to participate in war. Such refusal to fight wars on moral grounds has a very practical spin-off. If men refused to fight, wars could not be fought, with immense benefits to mankind.
Should Christians engage in war? A difficult question, especially when the particular war is seemingly justified by the Just War criteria. Or rather, this was once a difficult question. In the 20th century an answer was at last provided to this age-old problem. After the first world war the League of Nations was founded, followed by its successor the United Nations after the second world war. The purpose of this coming-together of the great majority of nations was a cooperative effort ‘to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’. Now the decision as to whether a war was just or not was to be removed from individual nations, and was to be determined by broad international consensus. This wonderful initiative to abolish war was a bold attempt towards maturity of global human society.
In practice, the necessary support for the UN has wavered when militarised nations decided to continue in the old way. It is here that the Church, with its powerful moral authority, could help to lead the way to a world without war. A strong and unequivocal support for the United Nations by World Churches would make it more difficult for any nation to revert to the old ways.H. D.
There was a moment in the first television debate when Nick Clegg suddenly announced that renewing Trident made no sense, either in terms of defence (‘a cold war weapon’) or in terms of finance (‘It’ll cost a hundred billion pounds. We can’t afford it.’) , a moment of utter surprise and sudden hope for campaigners. But the other two leaders seized on this ‘weakness’. Brown commented that Clegg was ‘weak on defence’, and Cameron dismissed the idea of cancelling Trident with polite contempt, and indicated that he took ‘the defence of this country’ rather more seriously. If we did not know it before, this defining moment illuminated just how determined leaders of both major parties were to keep and even upgrade Britain’s weapon of mass destruction.
No wonder, then, that many of us hoped that the new parliament would be hung, drawn, and thwarted. A parliament when new voices could be heard in genuine debate, when no one party had the power to steamroller through legislation thought up by the prime minister and his executive, and obediently voted in under the careful scrutiny of the party whip.
There is now to be a coalition government formed by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats – not just a working arrangement, but a formal coalition, or ‘not just a marriage of convenience, but actual sex’ as Anne Perkins put it in the Guardian.
Will Britain, against the trend towards abolition initiated by Obama, actually upgrade its nuclear weapon? And spent a hundred billion doing so, at a time when politicians of all colours acknowledge the need for increased taxation and spending cuts to try to reduce our gigantic public debt?
It is just possible that the new coalition with the Lib Dems will not be so ardently pro-Trident, that our parliament will have a proper debate before committing to this out-dated, unusable, immoral, unaffordable weapons system. Certainly, at this critical time, there is a need for anti-nuclear campaigning as never before.
Postscript. A policy document of agreed measures to be taken now published includes Trident replacement. As the BBC news put it: ‘Lib Dems will drop opposition to replacing nuclear missile system but will be able to "make the case for alternatives" and funding will be scrutinized.’ I wonder what arguments Cameron put forward to convince Clegg, and remove his passionate opposition in such a comparatively short time.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead
Everyone, anarchists excepted, acknowledges that society needs a government, a body to coordinate worthwhile aims and to protect us from external threats, and from ourselves. The question is, how much?
In his classic 1849 essay Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau answered this question in the first sentence: ‘That government is best that governs least’ – a sentiment echoing Tom Paine, who described government as ‘a necessary evil’. ‘Society exists for our wants, government for our wickedness.’ In a republic, government’s raison d’etre is to assist and protect the people (what other legitimate function could there be?). Politicians are public servants. Government’s validation is its service to the citizen, who possesses inalienable rights which government cannot override. This is the robust perspective from which a citizen in a strong democracy views his government.
Government generally resists reform. Improvements in society have usually been made by dissident campaigners against official opposition. An early example was the reluctant signing of Magna Carta by King John, though admittedly the barons who crafted the text could not be regarded as ranking far below their despotic king. The momentum for abolishing slavery in Britain was slowly built up by the untiring efforts of campaigners led by William Wilberforce. The campaign to obtain women’s votes had to be hard-fought, in the teeth of bitter and at times brutal opposition by government. The Establishment’s adamant resistance to the change demanded by Emmeline Pankhurst and her suffragettes, involving long prison sentences and force-feeding, was all the more surprising as (white) women had long won the vote in Australia and New Zealand, demonstrating just how insensitive and resistant entrenched authority can be to an obvious reform, especially in cases that challenge its power base. In Australia the indigenous people had to wait a long time for equal rights, and when they finally got the vote it was a result of hard grass-roots campaigning to obtain the required number of signatures, forcing a referendum to be held in 1967 to change the constitution. In the event the case was so obviously simple justice that the Yes vote polled 90%, a powerful illustration of how remote and out of touch leadership can be. Here again, the pressure for change originated from below, from the people.
It was scientists (from both sides of the iron curtain) who at last persuaded government to ban atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. Government had to be informed of the deadly long-term consequences to the civilian population of their anything-you-can-do-we-can-do-better nuclear rivalry. And it is scientists today who are pressuring reluctant governments to adopt measures to combat climate change.
Dissidents have the vital role of speaking truth to power, promoting awareness of the need for change to adapt society to a changing world.
Reformers such as Paine and Thoreau dismissed tyranny, the arbitrary rule of dictators, with contempt, and were concerned only to improve democracy. They were supreme democrats, though those in power in the democracies regarded them as enemies. Paine narrowly escaped arrest and death as a ‘traitor’ by quitting his native land, and Thoreau’s reputation has taken time to grow, as the failings of centralised power in our democracies have become more obvious. Their vision of purer democracy has been given emphasis and urgency today, after the Executive wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated how relatively powerless are our representatives, those we elected to represent us. Power in modern democracies has become concentrated at the top, in a most undemocratic way.
It has never been safe or easy to follow the Quaker injunction to ‘speak truth to power’, the more especially so when the advice offered involves reducing the power of the ruling junta in favour of the representatives elected by the people.
Campaigners who believe that certain policies of their government are ill-advised or even immoral, and who are dedicated to influencing policy, are thus faced with a daunting task.
Is civil disobedience ever justified? Ought one defy a policy to the extent of breaking the law? Is violence in pursuit of an aim justified? Peace movement campaigners have generally insisted on non-violent action, taking the view that violence is anyway bad, sets a poor example, undermining their cause and distracting attention from their argument. Violence does not seem appropriate when protesting against the violence of government.
Opinions vary amongst campaigners as to whether breaking the law is justified. Tom Paine’s opinion, expressed in Rights of Man, was that breaking a bad law is not justifiable, as such action undermines the strength of laws in general. Campaigning to correct the bad law was the only legitimate method. Thoreau disagreed. He refused to pay tax, a proportion of which his government was using to finance a war in Mexico, and to finance the practice of slavery. So he went to prison.
Civil Disobedience was not Thoreau’s own title for the lecture he gave at the Concord Lyceum. The essay is really concerned with the proper place and working of government in society. His writing is direct, simple and poetic. KPN readers may already be very familiar with it, yet the ideas expressed are so important, and so relevant today, that a short recap of the main points seems worthwhile (starting next month).
There is evil that must be combated. There are those who will kill for personal gain, for power, or for no more than a whim perhaps. For the sake of money there are those who deal in human misery, dealing in drugs, and, as Alexandra Solomon, our guest speaker in September, told us, people trafficking, Terrorism is different from ordinary evil in that it is, or says it is, ideologically driven. Bin Laden always makes excuses for his terrorist strikes. He blames the West, says we are culpable for exploitation and murder against Islam. Obviously he feels the need for justification. For that reason there have been and will be no bombs in Amsterdam or Stockholm. A bomb in such cities would give terrorism a bad name amongst those from whom recruits are sought. I don’t know how many Britons Gordon Brown convinces, when he claims that deploying British soldiers in Afghanistan will keep terrorists off our streets.
So whilst on our guard against evil, we should be careful not to give it justification, or what could be construed as justification. It is easy to imagine young Muslims reacting against today’s news of massacres, though accidental, of innocents, by air strikes on villages in their homeland. And take the recent case when two young women blew themselves up in the Moscow underground, killing 12 and injuring many more. Predictably, they were Chechens, inspired by the brutal actions of Russia’s ‘security’ forces in their country, where there is even today an ongoing war, including torture and summary executions. Equally predictably, the reaction from both President Putin and Prime Minister Medvedev is blindly aggressive: ‘We will destroy them’, and ‘Security forces should get more cruel’, reactions guaranteed to make matters worse.
This is the weakness of militarism – it provokes resistance by patriots, by high-minded, clever people (take the recent case of the young Jordanian doctor al-Balawi, who recently thought it worthwhile to kill himself, so long as he could take seven CIA employees with him). Militarism is a clumsy tool, use of which causes collateral damage at times far exceeding the harm it inflicts on the designated enemy. Compare and contrast military means with genuine policing, directed at what we all recognise and agree as evil. An overwhelming proportion of any populace sees the need for policing, admitting the existence of evil and the need to protect citizens. Militarism is something else, a willingness to use overwhelming force, ‘shock and awe’, against a poorly defined enemy – a whole people sometimes. This age-old instinct to use military force is inappropriate to combat terrorism. As Gary Young has pointed out, ‘terrorism is a strategy, not a place - attempts to carpet-bomb it or occupy it or conquer it will inevitably fail’.
Was there another way to fight bin Laden? There certainly was. The Mujahideen themselves had even offered to deliver the culprits to international justice. The world had been shocked, a wave of sympathy for the US and the victims of 9/11, a detestation of what had occurred in New York, swept around the globe. Some of the families of the victims took to the streets with placards declaring ‘Our grief is not a call for war’. How long would bin Laden have lasted in his hideout, with international police, and even the Mujahideen, actively seeking him for justice? Where would have been his support? Vilified, isolated, he could surely not have lasted long.
The support was generated for the terrorists, and the sympathy for the United States squandered, by the decision of their president, a small-minded man who considered that shock and awe was appropriate, that nothing less than declaring war on an entire country, considered guilty by association, was needed. To seek revenge, a punishment that would deter anyone else from ever again striking against the US, a mighty show of force was decided upon.
It is the method of the bully, and it does not work. During the last war, a Gestapo officer was assassinated in France. The German reprisal was swift and deadly. An entire village was lined up against a wall, and 124 villagers, including 44 children, were killed by machine gun. Apart from being brutal, this method is bad psychology. The village of Maille to this day has been left just as it was then, uninhabited, as a memorial to those killed. It is also a memorial to Nazi brutality. Cars bearing a German number plate are rarely seen in that part of southern France even today, sixty years later. Military force was used to terrify opposition in Vietnam also, but massive bombing and deployment of half a million U S troops were not enough to secure victory against a determined people.
The mistake has been repeated in Afghanistan. The Mujahideen’s offer to give up bin Laden was rejected, and war started. It was always a hopeless affair. John Pilger commented that declaring war against Afghanistan to deal with bin Laden was the equivalent of bombing Sicily to eradicate the mafia. It is strange that the mainstream media has taken so long to agree.
Today we fight the disease of terrorism by symptomatic treatment, a method equally bad in medicine and politics. We react against the symptoms without dealing with the cause.H. D.
On the plus side, at least the NPT was an attempt to address the problem posed by the H-bomb. There is general agreement, even by non-nuclear states, that the spread of nuclear weapons throughout the globe will sooner or later result in catastrophe. Something had to be done, and 40 years ago the NPT seemed to offer a chance of a sort of control. It has proved deeply flawed, and there is some cause for suspecting that the original aim was not abolition of nuclear weapons, but instead exactly what it says on the tin: prevention of proliferation, allowing the existing nuclear states to remain the sole possessors of this fearsome weapon of mass destruction. Under the treaty nuclear states were supposed to be taking steps in good faith to eliminate their own nuclear arsenals, but after 40 years very little progress has been made, and today Britain is even considering upgrading Trident. Non-Nuclear Weapons States have long suspected that there was never any intention of nuclear abolition, that the NPT was a con trick from the beginning, aimed at keeping the nuclear ‘club’ exclusive.
On the minus side, the NPT has been an excuse for war (Iraq), and another such war is threatened (Iran). It has also proved ineffective. Despite the treaty, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea have all since joined this rather disgusting ‘club’.
As this issue of KPN goes to the printer, one of the periodic reviews of the NPT is concluding (in New York, 3rd to 28th May), and it appears that as much progress will be made on nuclear disarmament as on all previous reviews, i.e., none at all.
If the aim is a world free of nuclear weapons, is it time to scrap the NPT, and put in place something more effective,? A proper Nuclear Weapons Convention, similar to the Conventions on chemical and biological weapons, whereby steps would be outlined and monitored to commence at once genuine nuclear disarmament of all those states in possession of these weapons. A lot of careful consideration has been given to such a Nuclear Weapons Convention, which will of course make the NPT redundant. Visit the Acronym Institute, www.acronym.org.uk/npt and follow links to Nuclear Weapons Convention for details.H.D.
The Peace Museum in Bradford (open Wednesday and Friday, 11am to 3 pm) is located at 10 Piece Hall Yard, Bradford BD1 1PJ. It is the only peace museum in Britain, and in contrast to the huge, well-funded Peace Museum in Caen, has been struggling for years to find suitable permanent premises for its displays.
It is dedicated to the collection and conservation of material relating to the development of peace, non-violence and conflict resolution. Devoted to peace education, it has put together eight very successful travelling exhibitions. We probably have enough war museums, so the solitary, rather fragile Peace Museum is worth supporting.
Check out the website at www.peacemuseum.org.uk
Newsletter Editor for this issue was Harry Davis.
Disclaimer: It is the nature of a newsletter like KPN that views cannot be sought on everything that appears herein, so views expressed are almost never the agreed opinion of the group.