Powered by Blogger
all © alf

   Wednesday, April 23, 2003


Meanwhile: Mankind's first writing, from an accountant

Alberto Manguel
International Herald Tribune
Wednesday, April 23, 2003

MONDION, France In 1989, I traveled to Baghdad to write an article on the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which the Iraqi Ministry of Culture planned to have rebuilt. The project never materialized, but I was able to explore Baghdad and its intricate labyrinth. One experience was memorable above all: the discovery, in the National Museum of Iraq, of two small clay tablets from the 4th millennium B.C. that had recently been unearthed in Syria.

Each tablet was the size of the palm of my hand and bore a few simple marks: a small indentation near the top, as if a finger had been stuck into the clay, and below it a stick-drawn animal, meant to represent a goat on one tablet, and on the other, perhaps a sheep. Standing in the museum and staring at these ancient tablets, I tried to imagine how, on an unimaginably remote afternoon, a brilliant and anonymous ancestor recorded a transaction of livestock by drawing on clumps of dirt and in doing so invented for all future times the magical art of writing. Writing, I realized, much to a reader's chagrin, was the invention not of a poet but of an accountant.

The hand that made those first signs has long turned to dust, but the tablets themselves survived until last week, when they disappeared in the looting of the museum. When I first saw them, in their display case, I was overcome by a vertiginous sense of witnessing the moment of my beginning. Historians tell us that other magicians in China and Central America also invented, at different times, systems of writing. But for me, this was the starting point.

The act that made it possible for a shepherd to carry, locked in a piece of clay, the memory of a precise number of goats and sheep, foreshadowed the vast universal libraries in which the memory of humankind is held; the dialogue with a writer 6,000 years old is the model for my own "converse with the mighty dead," as the poet James Thomson described the act of reading.

In those two lost tablets were all future writings: the Book of Job, Superman comics, King Lear, the Sherlock Holmes stories, all mathematical and scientific treatises, Sappho and Whitman, and the very newspaper you are holding in your hand.

The tablets in the National Museum, the volumes in the National Library and in the National Archives, the collection of Qurans kept at the Ministry of Religious Endowment have practically all now disappeared. Lost are the manuscripts lovingly penned by the great Arab calligraphers, for whom the beauty of the script must mirror the beauty of the contents. Vanished are collections of tales, like "The Arabian Nights," which the 10th-century Iraqi book dealer Ibn al-Nadim called "evening stories" because one was not supposed to waste the hours of the day reading trivial entertainment.

The official documents that chronicled Baghdad's Ottoman rulers have joined the ashes of their masters. Gone at last are the books that survived the Mongol conquest of 1258, when the invaders threw much of the libraries' contents into the Tigris to build a bridge of paper that turned the waters black with ink.

Trust in the survival of the word, as well as the urge to destroy it, is as old as the first clay tablets. To hold and transmit memory, to teach through the experience of others, to share the knowledge of the world and of ourselves are some of the powers (and dangers) of books, and the reasons why we both treasure and fear them.

And even from among the ruins, the written word calls out to us. Four thousand years ago, our ancestors in Mesopotamia already knew this. The Code of Hammurabi, a collection of laws inscribed on a tall dark stone stele by King Hammurabi of Babylon in the 18th century B.C. and preserved today at the Louvre, states this in its epilogue:

"In order to prevent the powerful from oppressing the weak, in order to give justice to the orphans and widows ... I have inscribed on my stele my precious words ... If one is sufficiently wise to be capable of maintaining order in the land, may he heed the words I have written on this stele ... Let the oppressed citizen ... have the inscriptions read out ... The stele will show him his case. And as he will understand what to expect, his heart will be set at ease."

Alberto Manguel is author of "A History of Reading."


posted by alf at 11:41 AM

   Tuesday, April 22, 2003


Burn a Country's Past and You Torch Its Future

By Robert Darnton
The Washington Post
Sunday, April 20, 2003

It happened here, too. The British burned our national library in 1814. It wasn't much of a library, to be sure -- just a collection of about 3,000 volumes assembled for the use of senators and representatives in the new capitol being built in the wilderness of Washington, D.C. But in destroying it, the British invaders struck at the heart of what would develop into a national identity.

Do libraries really matter for a nation's sense of its self? Evidently Iraqis felt the destruction of their national library, archives and museum in the past week as a loss of their connection to a collective past, something like a national memory. When asked to explain what the National Museum of Iraq had meant to him, a security guard answered, in tears, "It was beautiful. The museum is civilization." Even some of the looters are reportedly beginning to return what they had carried off, as if in response to a need to heal a self-inflicted wound.

The great collections in Baghdad bore testimony to the beginnings of what much of the world views as civilization. Some of its treasures were 7,000 years old, and they provided evidence about the earliest and perhaps the greatest achievement in human history, the invention of writing, somewhere between the Tigris and Euphrates 5,000 years ago. True, the damage may have been less than was feared at first, and archaeologists can study other clay tablets dug up from the ruins of the world's first libraries, the Sumerian temples of ancient Mesopotamia. But nothing remains of Iraq's National Library, which was burned to the ground along with the Ministry for Religious Affairs and its priceless collection of Korans, some of them more than a thousand years old.

The library burned by the British in the War of 1812 was four years old. Yet its loss was a national trauma, or at least so it seemed to Thomas Jefferson, who had a powerful sense of what libraries could contribute to the civic spirit of the nation. Already, in 1791, he had deplored the damage inflicted by the Revolutionary War on the historical record of America. In a letter to Ebenezer Hazard, who was about to publish two volumes of state papers from the colonial archives, he wrote:

"Time and accident are committing daily havoc on the originals deposited in our public offices. The late war has done the work of centuries in this business. The lost cannot be recovered, but let us save what remains: not by vaults and locks which fence them from the public eye and use in consigning them to the waste of time, but by such a multiplication of copies, as shall place them beyond the reach of accident."

As soon as he learned of the loss of Congress's first library, Jefferson offered to sell it his own, which was twice as big, a magnificent collection of 6,487 volumes that would be valued conservatively at $23,950. The proposal provoked some partisan oratory about the "finery and philosophical nonsense" -- much of it French -- that Jefferson had collected, and it passed Congress by a margin of only four votes. But the Library of Congress stands today as the embodiment of our national memory. Imagine a horde of vandals burning it and the National Archives while an alien army guarded the FBI headquarters and the Treasury Department, and you may have some notion of how Iraqis felt when American troops erected a protective cordon around the ministries of oil and of the interior while permitting looters to demolish the National Library and ransack the National Museum. As many have remarked, the Mongol invasion of 1258 resulted in less damage to Iraqi civilization than the American invasion of 2003.

Jefferson was right. National libraries and museums provide the material from which national identities are built. There are other sources, too -- myths, ceremonies and the other forms of culture studied by anthropologists. But complex societies have been through so much that their history requires constant reassessment. Destroy the documents, and you will damage the collective memory, the sense of self that derives from the ties that bind a people to their ancestors. Libraries and museums are not temples for ancestor worship, but they are crucial for the task of knowing who you are by knowing who you were. That kind of knowledge must be continuously reworked. Destroy the possibility of replenishing it, and you can strangle a civilization.

The most famous case is the ancient library of Alexandria, one that supposedly aspired to include every book in the world -- that is, the Hellenistic world from the third century B.C. -- and whose destruction signaled the end of the world of antiquity. Difficult as it is to disentangle the facts from the myths surrounding the library's history, a few points seem clear: No, Mark Antony did not woo Cleopatra by giving her the rival library of Pergamum, nor did the collection in Alexandria at its zenith reach 900,000 papyrus rolls, although it represented the greatest stock of learning available anywhere in the Roman Empire. Julius Caesar did not burn it to the ground in 47 B.C., and the Muslims did not finish it off in a fit of fanaticism after conquering Alexandria in 642. It probably had disintegrated long before that, not from violence but from the rotting of the papyrus. In short, the library of Alexandria did not come to a dramatic end in a way comparable to the National Library in Baghdad.

But burning and looting has marked the history of libraries at crucial turning points, beginning with the sack of Athens in 86 B.C., when the Romans carried off the remains of Aristotle's library, the greatest in Greece and the model for the library of Alexandria. In the latest study of the Alexandrian library, Luciano Canfora invokes a series of catastrophes
-- Athens, Rome, Pergamum, Antioch, Constantinople -- and concludes sadly: "By the middle of the fourth century, even Rome was virtually devoid of books. . . . Surveying this series of foundations, refoundations and disasters, we follow a thread that links together the various, and mostly vain, efforts of the Hellenistic-Roman world to preserve its books." The loss of the books meant the loss of a civilization. Classicists have been able to piece together pictures of antiquity by picking through the remains, but we probably know only a small fraction of what we might have known, had the libraries survived.

The obliteration of civilizations cannot be confined to the remote past, where we can deplore it at a safe distance and in an elegiac mode:

To the glory that was Greece

And the grandeur that was Rome.

Vandals hack away at cultures all the time. They are doing so today in the jungles of Central America and Southeast Asia. Vast stretches of civilization disappeared irrevocably a few years ago when the libraries of Sarajevo and Bucharest went up in smoke. And the Khmer Rouge may have wiped out much of what can be known about Cambodia's civilization when they destroyed most of the contents of the National Library in Phnom Penh.

That in fact was the goal of Pol Pot's army, to obliterate the past and start anew at what they called "Year Zero." Not content with burning the books (at least 80 percent perished), they also killed the librarians (only three of 60 survived). The most valuable books were inscribed on palm leaves. Since the leaves decay in tropical humidity, they had to be recopied every few years by Buddhist monks. But the Khmer Rouge also destroyed the monks, so there was no one left to save what remained of the library.

Perhaps the Cambodians can overcome the trauma by turning it to their advantage, as if to say, "Very well, we shall begin again at ground zero, and now we will build something new." Fresh energy of that kind was generated by some of the destruction of the French Revolution. The Bastille was not merely stormed but dismantled, and its stones were sold off as relics of despotism, remnants of a culture to be replaced by a new political order. Something of the sort could happen in Iraq -- but how? How will the Iraqis fuse a national identity out of the diverse cultures that have come apart with the destruction that has robbed them of their common past?

Few people appreciate the fragility of civilizations and the fragmentary character of our knowledge about them. Most students believe that what they read in history books corresponds to what humanity lived through in the past, as if we have recovered all the facts and assembled them in the correct order, as if we have it under control, got it down in black on white, and packaged it securely between a textbook's covers. That illusion quickly dissipates for anyone who has worked in libraries and archives. You pick up a scent in a published source, find a reference in a catalogue, follow a paper trail through boxes of manuscripts -- but what do you discover in the end? Only a few fragments that somehow survived as evidence of what other human beings experienced in other times and places. How much has disappeared under char and rubble? We do not even know the extent of our ignorance.

Imperfect as they are, therefore, libraries and archives, museums and excavations, scraps of paper and shards of pottery provide all we can consult in order to reconstruct the worlds we have lost. The loss of a library or a museum can mean the loss of contact with a vital strain of humanity. That is what has happened in Baghdad. But when confronted with the loss, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld appeared to be unperturbed: "We've seen looting in this country," he explained at a Pentagon briefing. "We've seen riots at soccer games in various countries around the world."

Next question.

Robert Darnton is the Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of European History at Princeton University.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company


posted by alf at 12:39 PM

"Time and accident are committing daily havoc on the originals deposited in our public offices. The late war has done the work of centuries in this business. The lost cannot be recovered, but let us save what remains: not by vaults and locks which fence them from the public eye and use in consigning them to the waste of time, but by such a multiplication of copies, as shall place them beyond the reach of accident." Thomas Jefferson, 1791
posted by alf at 12:38 PM

   Monday, April 21, 2003

The New Dark Age

The looting and burning of Iraq's museums and libraries has left us all losers

by Ben Okri
The Guardian
Saturday April 19 2003

We are now at the epicenter of a shift in the history of the world. The war against Iraq has unleashed unsuspected forces. The first signs are twofold. The need of the Americans to protect oil fields, but not hospitals, museums and libraries. This is a catastrophic failure of imagination and a signal absence of a sense of the true values of civilization. It does not bode well for the future.

The second sign is in the Iraqi people. We ask why have they turned on themselves, looted their own museums, and burnt their priceless National Library. The answer is simple. Some have been dehumanized. They have been broken by sanctions, crushed by tyranny and annihilated by the doctrine of overwhelming force.

The Aztecs never recovered when Hernan Cortez and the conquistadors broke the faith of that ancient civilization. Persia never recovered after its destruction by Alexander the Great.

The war against Iraq was won in the wrong way. There is a way to win that does not destroy the ancient mythic pathways of a people. And there is a way to win that destroys the meaning and value of their past. The worst way to win is when a defeated people turn on their ancient gods, and tear them down, when a people turn on their past and burn it. And they don't know why and yet they do. If the past had power and value why has it brought us to this, is what their actions say. The past has made us powerless. We need a new kind of power, so that we too can stand proud and with dignity under the sun. In this the war alliance failed them.
It turns out that we didn't believe truly in the values of civilization. either, or else we would have found a wiser way to win. A way in which we all were winners. Now, with the looting of the museums, and the burning of the National Library, with its inestimable manuscripts and books, the whole of humanity is the loser. We have lost great swathes of our past.

This is why more than ever the value of existing museums is raised to the highest pitch. The importance of the work being done at the British Museum is more urgent and luminous than ever. We may well be on the verge of a new dark age, when even the so-called highly civilized nations no longer know what the most enduring things are. And stand by and watch as darkness creeps upon us, unsuspected.

The real war always has been to keep alive the light of civilization. everywhere. It is to keep culture and art at the forefront of our national and international endeavors.

The end of the world begins not with the barbarians at the gate, but with the barbarians at the highest levels of the state. All the states in the world.

We need a new kind of sustained and passionate and enlightened action in the world of the arts and the spirit.

Ben Okri, who grew up during the Nigerian civil war, is the Booker prize-winning author of The Famished Road. His most recent novel is In Arcadia. He delivered this text as a speech for the opening of the British Museum's exhibition The Museum of the Mind (open until September 7 2003, admission free) on Tuesday. The British Museum celebrates its 250th anniversary this year.

posted by alf at 3:54 PM


Give us back our democracy

Americans have been cheated and lied to on matters of the gravest constitutional importance

Edward Said
Sunday April 20, 2003
The Observer

In a speech in the Senate on 19 March, the first day of war against Iraq, Robert Byrd, the Democrat Senator from West Virginia, asked: 'What is happening to this country? When did we become a nation which ignores and berates our friends? When did we decide to risk undermining international order by adopting a radical and doctrinaire approach to using our awesome military might? How can we abandon diplomacy when the turmoil in the world cries out for diplomacy?'

No one bothered to answer, but as the American military machine currently in Iraq stirs restlessly in other directions, these questions give urgency to the failure, if not the corruption, of democracy.

Let us examine what the US's Middle East policy has wrought since George W. Bush came to power. Even before the atrocities of 11 September, Bush's team had given Ariel Sharon's government freedom to colonise the West Bank and Gaza, kill and detain people at will, demolish their homes, expropriate their land and imprison them by curfew and military blockades. After 9/11, Sharon simply hitched his wagon to 'the war on terrorism' and intensified his unilateral depredations against a defenceless civilian population under occupation, despite UN Security Council Resolutions enjoining Israel to withdraw and desist from its war crimes and human-rights abuses.

In October 2001, Bush launched the invasion of Afghanistan, which opened with concentrated, high-altitude bombing (an 'anti-terrorist' military tactic, which resembles ordinary terrorism in its effects and structure) and by December had installed a client regime with no effective power beyond Kabul. There has been no significant US effort at reconstruction, and it seems the country has returned to its former abjection.

Since the summer of 2002, the Bush administration has conducted a propaganda campaign against the despotic government of Iraq and with the UK, having unsuccessfully tried to push the Security Council into compliance, started the war. Since last November, dissent disappeared from the mainstream media swollen with a surfeit of ex-generals sprinkled with recent terrorism experts drawn from Washington right-wing think-tanks.

Anyone who was critical was labelled anti-American by failed academics, listed on websites as an 'enemy' scholar who didn't toe the line. Those few public figures who were critical had their emails swamped, their lives threatened, their ideas trashed by media commentators who had become sentinels of America's war.

A torrent of material appeared equating Saddam Hussein's tyranny not only with evil, but with every known crime. Some of this was factually correct but neglected the role of the US and Europe in fostering Saddam's rise and maintaining his power. In fact, the egregious Donald Rumsfeld visited Saddam in the early 80s, assuring him of US approval for his catastrophic war against Iran. US corporations supplied nuclear, chemical and biological materials for the supposed weapons of mass destruction and then were brazenly erased from public record.

All this was deliberately obscured by government and media in manufacturing the case for destroying Iraq. Either without proof or with fraudulent information, Saddam was accused of harbouring weapons of mass destruction seen as a direct threat to the US. The appalling consequences of the US and British intervention in Iraq are beginning to unfold, with the calculated destruction of the country's modern infrastructure, the looting of one of the world's richest civilisations, the attempt to engage motley 'exiles' plus large corporations in rebuilding the country, and the appropriation of its oil and its modern destiny. It's been suggested that Ahmad Chalabi, for example, will sign a peace treaty with Israel, hardly an Iraqi idea. Bechtel has already been awarded a huge contract.

This is an almost total failure in democracy - ours, not Iraq's: 70 per cent of the American people are supposed to support this, but nothing is more manipulative than polls asking 465 Americans whether they 'support our President and troops in time of war'. As Senator Byrd said: 'There is a pervasive sense of rush and risk and too many questions unanswered ... a pall has fallen over the Senate Chamber. We avoid our solemn duty to debate the one topic on the minds of all Americans, even while scores of our sons and daughters faithfully do their duty in Iraq.'

I am convinced this was a rigged, unnecessary and unpopular war. The reactionary Washington institutions that spawned Wolfowitz, Perle, Abrams and Feith provide an unhealthy intellectual and moral atmosphere. Policy papers circulate without real peer review, adopted by a government requiring justification for illicit policy. The doctrine of military pre-emption was never voted on by the American people or their representatives. How can citizens stand up against the blandishments offered to the government by companies like Halliburton and Boeing? Charting a strategic course for the most lavishly endowed military establishment in history is left to ideologically based pressure groups (eg fundamentalist Christian leaders), wealthy private foundations and lobbies like AIPAC, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. It seems so monumentally criminal that important words like democracy and freedom have been hijacked, used as a mask for pillage, taking over territory and settling scores. The US programme for the Arab world has become the same as Israel's. Along with Syria, Iraq once represented the only serious military threat to Israel and, therefore, it had to be smashed.

Besides, what does it mean to liberate and democratise a country when no one asked you to do it and when, in the process, you occupy it militarily while failing to preserve law and order? What a travesty of strategic planning when you assume 'natives' will welcome your presence after you've bombed and quarantined them for 13 years.

A preposterous mindset about American beneficence has infiltrated the minutest levels of the media. In writing about a 70-year-old Baghdad widow who ran a cultural centre in her home that was wrecked by US raids and who is now beside herself with rage, New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins implicitly chastises her for her 'comfortable life under Saddam Hussein' and piously disapproves of her tirade against the Americans, 'and this from a graduate of London University'.

Adding to the fraudulence of the weapons not found, the Stalingrads that didn't occur, the artillery defences that never happened, I wouldn't be surprised if Saddam disappeared suddenly because a deal was made in Moscow to let him, his family, and his money leave in return for the country. The war had gone badly for the US in the south, and Bush couldn't risk the same in Baghdad. On 6 April, a Russian convoy leaving Iraq was bombed; Condi Rice appeared in Russia on 7 April; Baghdad fell 9 April.

Nevertheless, Americans have been cheated, Iraqis have suffered impossibly and Bush looks like a cowboy. On matters of the gravest importance, constitutional principles have been violated and the electorate lied to. We are the ones who must have our democracy back.

· Edward Said is Professor of Comparative Literature at Columbia University, New York


posted by alf at 2:16 PM


Bush and Blair and the Big Lie

by Eric Margolis
The Toronto Sun
Sunday 20 April 2003

A California superior court judge sent me the following quotation, which is well worth pondering:

"We must make clear to the Germans that the wrong for which their leaders are on trial is not that they lost the war, but that they started it. And we must not allow ourselves to be drawn into a trial of the causes of the war, for our position is that no grievances or policies will justify resort to aggressive war. It is utterly renounced and condemned as an instrument of policy."

This declaration was made by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel L. Jackson, America's senior representative at the 1945 Nuremberg war crimes trials, and the tribunal's chief prosecutor.

Those now exulting America's conquest of Iraq should ponder Judge Jackson's majestic words. Particularly now that the U.S.-British justifications for invading Iraq are being revealed as distortions.

Every nook and cranny of Iraq has yet to be searched, but so far nothing incriminating has been discovered to validate lurid claims made by President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair. Let's review the big

"The Iraqi regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised," said President Bush, warning Iraq was intent on attacking the U.S. But Mohamed el-Baradei, chief of the UN nuclear weapons inspection agency (IAEA), concluded in March: "No evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq." The same for gas and germs.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell claimed before the UN, backed up by a dossier from British intelligence, that Washington and London had a long list of sites in Iraq containing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). When inspected by the UN, and, later, U.S. troops, none contained any WMDs. Part of London's damning dossier on Iraq was revealed to have been plagiarized from a 10-year-old graduate thesis.

"Iraq is trying to procure uranium," thundered Colin Powell at the UN. Washington and London claimed Iraq imported yellowcake uranium from Niger to make nuclear weapons. In March, UN experts concluded the documents purportedly confirming the uranium sales were "not authentic" and in fact "crude fabrications."

Fictitious uranium
Bush: "Iraq has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes for gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons." The uranium to be enriched was, of course, the same fictitious uranium from Niger. UN inspectors found the tubes were for short-range, 81-mm artillery rockets.

The U.S. claimed Iraq was an ally of al-Qaida. No terrorist links have so far been found. Just a retired Palestinian thug, Abu Abbas. The notorious Ansar al-Islam "terror and poison camp" turned out to be mud huts occupied by motley Islamists who regularly denounced bin Laden.

The mobile germ warfare trucks Powell warned about - a.k.a. "Winnebagos of Death" - turned out to be mobile food inspection labs. Iraq's "drones of death" that Bush warned might fly off ships to attack the U.S. with pestilence were, on inspection, two rickety model airplanes.

The Bush administration concealed from Americans that in 1995 Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, Gen. Hussein Kamel, had told the UN arms inspection agency and the CIA he had personally supervised destruction of all of Iraq's biological and chemical weapons (mostly supplied by the U.S. and Britain in the 1980s). Glen Rangwala, of Cambridge University, who exposed London's plagiarized Iraq dossier, obtained the transcript of the Kamel interview.

Torrent of propaganda
And so it went. A torrent of propaganda deceiving Americans into believing Iraq was armed to the teeth with WMDs, somehow responsible for 9/11, and intending, as Bush repeatedly claimed, to attack the U.S.

Inspectors found no WMDs. So far, neither have U.S. occupation forces. No nukes. No poison gas and dispersing systems. No Scud missiles. No al-Qaida camps. Just lots of palaces filled with hideous Mesopotamian baroque furniture and a ruined, destitute nation.

The U.S. has refused to readmit UN inspectors to Iraq. Two teams of U.S. intelligence specialists are sifting through the wreckage. Cynics suspect the U.S. will shortly "discover" a smoking gun to justify the invasion, even if one must be created. Otherwise, why would the U.S. refuse to allow UN inspectors to join the hunt? Doing so would authenticate any future U.S. claims.

No one, least of all this writer, who spent a harrowing time in Iraq under Saddam's brutal, sinister, megalo-despotism, mourns him. But in their lust to invade Iraq, the Bush administration and Tony Blair deeply discredited their own nations' moral standing, credibility, and democratic ideals by outrageously misleading their own people and whipping them into mass hysteria to justify an imperial war.


posted by alf at 2:07 PM

   Tuesday, April 15, 2003

9 April – Last known remark of M.S.S., to John Burns of NY Times : "I NOW INFORM YOU THAT YOU ARE TOO FAR FROM REALITY."


"No I am not scared, and neither should you be!"


posted by alf at 2:03 PM

   Monday, April 14, 2003

The neo-con theory behind the Iraq campaign is that a democratized Middle East will be a safer place, because democracies don't make unprovoked attacks on other countries.

It's an attractive idea. But when the world's most powerful democracy launched its invasion of Iraq last month, that theory failed its first test. - Toronto Star

posted by alf at 5:56 PM

"The Bush people have no right to speak for my father, particularly because of the position he's in now. Yes, some of the current policies are an extension of the '80s. But the overall thrust of this administration is not my father's -- these people are overly reaching, overly aggressive, overly secretive, and just plain corrupt. I don't trust these people."


"Yes, there are some holdovers from my dad's years, like Elliott Abrams and, my God, Admiral Poindexter, who's now keeping watch over us all. But that observation doesn't hold up. My father gave a speech a couple years after he left the White House calling for 'an international army of conscience' to deal with failed states where atrocities are taking place. He had no thought that America should be the world's policeman. I know that for a fact from conversations I had with him. He believed there must be an international force to intervene where great human tragedy was occurring. Rwanda would have been a prime example, where a strike force capable of acting quickly could have gone in to stop the slaughter. "

"Now George and Dick and Rummy and Wolfy all have a very different idea about America's role in the world. It was laid out by [Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul] Wolfowitz back in '92 -- Iraq is the center of the Middle East, its axis, and it's of such geo-strategic importance that we can't leave it in the hands of Saddam. We need to forcibly change that regime and use Iraq as a forward base for American democracy, setting up a domino effect in the region, and so on. My father, on the other hand, was well aware of the messiness of the Middle East, particularly after [the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in] Lebanon."

"Look, whether or not Saddam was a bad guy, or whether the Iraqi people were terribly oppressed, was never the issue. I mean I'm happy for the Iraqis, but that's not what this was all about. Nor was the military conclusion ever in doubt; this was the Dallas Cowboys playing a high school team. Their army was a third the size it was in '91, and it didn't give us much trouble then. "

"And the weapons of mass destruction? Whatever happened to them? I'm sure we'll find some," he laughs. "They're being flown in right now in a C-130. "

--- Ronald Reagan Jr, SALON interview

posted by alf at 12:35 PM

   Thursday, April 10, 2003

"You'll see the celebrations and we will be happy Saddam has gone," one of them said to me. "But we will then want to rid ourselves of the Americans and we will want to keep our oil and there will be resistance and then they will call us "terrorists". -- Fisk, The Independent
posted by alf at 1:19 PM

Statement against the invasion (and occupation) of Iraq: invitation to sign up.
posted by alf at 12:29 PM

   Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Humankind has always known that one animal thing opposes the other animal thing. Fucking vs. killing. Orgasm -- le petit mort -- vs. death. As part of the peace pleadings before U.S. forces went into Iraq, actresses all over the English-speaking world held readings of "Lysistrata" -- the Greek play where the women go on sex strike until the men shape up and drop their weapon waving. It was written in 410 B.C.

At the other end of the spectrum from bombs and warships and guided missiles and poison gas is the enclave where the physical beings we are take delight in each other, and face gazes without fear into face. Sex can create love from the pleasure given each other and from allowing ourselves to be known, and knowing. And love enables us to imagine -- to change places -- to know in flashes of empathy what it is like to be not ourselves but the other.

But making love is only one version of love. The heart of love is the imagining of others, and the imagination doesn't need a bed.

Every version of love is a serious impediment to war because it is inquisitive, and the better the mind forms a picture of the other, the harder it is to destroy the other. In this surreal Iraq venture, love is withheld like a gift dangled out of reach, because first there has to be the hurling of America's soldiers against their soldiers and America's weapons against theirs. First there are these fires and explosions and destructions and maimings and deaths and howls of identical grief from the bereaved on continents thousands of miles apart.

Shouldn't the middle-aged white American men who have made a laboratory of Iraq be feeling out with a lover's preternatural sensitivity what kind of people are the people of this new American province, who are not white American middle-aged men? And shouldn't the American leaders who chose to do this be beginning to imagine how hard it is going to be to woo Iraq into a loving relationship? It is a material, fleshly thing, war. Even where civilians are spared, community is destroyed, and the old and the women live on cigarettes and coffee, the women too demoralized to wash their hair, the children wetting their beds, laughter and ease forgotten, the normality that shields the young destroyed.

If we had been allowed to see the other side -- the Iraqi children clinging to the adults' legs, the Iraqi loved ones' desperate faces -- we'd be able to measure how pitiably alike humans sent to kill and humans sent to be killed are, when it comes to the first emotional casualty of war: domestic love.

Do you believe that there will be romantic, sexy movies about this war? Do you? Do you believe the two cultures involved in this conflict will ever love each other as they need to do -- love in the sense of each seeking to know the other and each allowing itself to be known? Or do you see already that there are no intimacies in this ill-matched and baffled encounter, and that there isn't and will never be the least shred of romance? -- Nuala O'Faolain, SALON


posted by alf at 12:35 PM

   Tuesday, April 08, 2003

An Active Civil Society is Central to the Anti-War Cause

Chua Lee Hoong ends her column "Me? I'd rather save the money on candles ..." (2 April 2003), saying "there's no reason to be ashamed of caring in different ways. Every man steps to his own drummer".

These last words allude to Henry David Thoreau: "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away".

Thoreau coined the term "civil disobedience", a strategy of resistance against unconscionable power. He inspired generations of activists, including Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

So it seems bizarre for Chua to summon Thoreau to dismiss a recent civil society action in Singapore.

On 31 March 2003, The Substation hosted a Candlelight Concert for Peace. Over 500 persons attended - Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans, parents and children, youths, grey-haired pensioners, people in office clothes and in NS gear, tudungs and bermudas.

We strongly oppose Saddam's brutal dictatorship. But we also oppose, on moral, legal and strategic grounds, the US-led pre-emptive war, and America's imperial defiance of the UN.

We fear the war will have disastrous political, economic and humanitarian consequences, and believe it poses one of the gravest threats to democracy, world stability and the regulation of weapons of mass destruction.

The participants and supporters of the concert have diverging positions on many issues; however, we all agree on the need to manifest public concern about this war.

Chua herself does not seem to support the war. Rather, what seems to bother her is the public voicing its opposition.

She suggests it would be better to donate to humanitarian aid.

Indeed giving aid is imperative, and we collected donations for Oxfam International. But we believe that giving aid without speaking up against the war is to give tacit approval to it (Oxfam has opposed this war from the start).

Chua allegedly spoke with some people "scornful" of events like the concert; it's "all so much navel gazing, salving of the conscience with candlelight and poetry and recreation for the bourgeoisie". She too seems to have scorned the concert, as she did not attend it.

Those who came had very different responses. The organisers have received numerous emails praising the event.

To quote just one: "I didn't think something like this would have been possible in Singapore ... last night's strong showing and enthusiastic audience changed everything. I was honoured to be part of it."

What is most disturbing about Chua's reaction is how she lumps the concert together with "misguided political fervour".

She asserts: "Every country has its own iconic moments in dealing with potentially destablising dissent. Tiananmen was one of China's ... it brought relative political stability for at least 20 years. Singapore's moments were Operation Coldstore in 1963, and ... Operation Spectrum in 1987. Thanks to those periodic inoculations against misguided political fervour, present generations of Singaporeans as a whole are well immunised against political flights of fancy."

Chua presumes to have the concert sussed out. She reports one concert-goer's motivations as: "expression of personal opinion; communion with fellow believers; and defiance of ministerial authority".

The third reason is what interests Chua: "Where demonstrations in Europe and America are more or less cause-focused, protesters in Singapore are often out to prove something that's quite extraneous to the cause." For her, "this extraneous element" is a "postured defiance of societal norms".

Chua finds it no contradiction to authenticate "real" demonstrations while celebrating the crushing of "misguided political fervour" in Singapore and China.

We would argue that what Chua dismisses as "personal opinion" and "communion with fellow believers" are hugely important. (Let's not forget that she enjoys the privilege of expressing her own "personal opinion" in Singapore's most powerful newspaper).

Unlike Chua we feel that one cannot separate the "cause" of the peace movement from the global struggle to open up what is possible to think, say and do concerning the war.

We are under no illusions that a concert will stop the Bush regime from terrorising, bullying and bribing other nations. The "inoculations" that Chua waxes nostalgic for are very much alive in silencing those who endeavour to speak the truth about this war.

But millions of people around the world are insisting upon mobilising and voicing their opposition. Indeed we are heartened to read the many "personal opinions" opposed to this war published by this very newspaper. And we are proud to be part of this process.

This letter carries over 130 signatures. For the full version of this text and list of signatories please refer to www.substation.org

posted by alf at 10:33 AM

   Monday, April 07, 2003

This country's history has been a seesaw between the power of organized money and the power of organized people. And there's been a balance. Now there is no real balance. It's money, private money, that is the dominant influence over public policy. -- Bill Moyers, SALON
posted by alf at 1:26 PM

Is there a way for any U.S. president in this era of American dominance to be healer or bridge-builder?

This is the most disturbing consequence of the hegemony that has been achieved over our political institutions by (right-wing) ideology and money right now. I lived through one of the most fortuitous and dangerous periods in American history -- World War II and the postwar era, when the Soviet Union became a Goliath and we lived under the umbrella of the nuclear threat -- and our political leadership responded splendidly in that period. Whether it was Truman or Eisenhower, they understood. Eisenhower in particular understood -- he was a conservative, but he was moderate in the use of power.

The Republicans I remember from my days in Washington -- the moderate Republicans -- along with the moderate Democrats, were able to forge a bipartisan foreign policy that worked. It had its problems, but it worked. If I had been George W. Bush, I would have asked Al Gore to become head of homeland security. I would have asked Bill Bradley to become the planner for the reconstruction of Iraq.

It is a real problem for someone who by nature is a lone ranger. I think that George W. Bush is like that, he sees America as the Lone Ranger in the world, so he pulls out of this treaty and that treaty, one treaty after another. He isolates himself in the world at a time when we need the world. I do not understand this.

This period certainly does test political leadership. If Al Gore had been in the White House on 9/11, it would have tested him. Who knows how he would have reacted? But I would hope Gore would have seen, as I hoped Bush would see, that this transcends all politics. We need to create a leadership that represents the fullness of American life to confront a world that is in great disorder.
-- Bill Moyers, on SALON


posted by alf at 1:20 PM

A moment of silence before I start this poem

Before I start this poem, I'd like to ask you to join me
In a moment of silence
In honour of those who died in the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon last September 11th.

I would also like to ask you
To offer up a moment of silence
For all of those who have been harassed, imprisoned, disappeared, tortured,
raped, or killed in retaliation for those strikes,
For the victims in both Afghanistan and the US

And if I could just add one more thing...

A full day of silence
For the tens of thousands of Palestinians who have died at the hands of US-
backed Israeli forces over decades of occupation.
Six months of silence for the million and-a-half Iraqi people,
mostly children, who have died of
malnourishment or starvation as a result of an 11-year US
embargo against the country.

Before I begin this poem,
Two months of silence for the Blacks under Apartheid in South Africa,
Where homeland security made them aliens in their own country.
Nine months of silence for the dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
Where death rained down and peeled back every layer of
concrete, steel, earth and skin
And the survivors went on as if alive.

A year of silence for the millions of dead in Vietnam — a people, not a
war — for those who
know a thing or two about the scent of burning fuel, their
relatives' bones buried in it, their babies born of it.

A year of silence for the dead in Cambodia and Laos, victims of a secret
war ... ssssshhhhh....
Say nothing ... we don't want them to learn that they are dead.

Two months of silence for the decades of dead in Colombia,
Whose names, like the corpses they once represented, have
piled up and slipped off our tongues.

Before I begin this poem.
An hour of silence for El Salvador ...
An afternoon of silence for Nicaragua ...
Two days of silence for the Guatemaltecos ...
None of whom ever knew a moment of peace in their living years.

45 seconds of silence for the 45 dead at Acteal, Chiapas
25 years of silence for the hundred million Africans who found
their graves far deeper in the ocean than any building could
poke into the sky.

There will be no DNA testing or dental records to identify their remains.

And for those who were strung and swung from the heights of
sycamore trees in the south, the north, the east, and the west...
100 years of silence...
For the hundreds of millions of indigenous peoples from this half of right
Whose land and lives were stolen,
In postcard-perfect plots like Pine Ridge, Wounded Knee, Sand Creek,
Fallen Timbers, or the Trail of Tears.

Names now reduced to innocuous magnetic poetry on the
refrigerator of our consciousness ...

So you want a moment of silence?
And we are all left speechless
Our tongues snatched from our mouths
Our eyes stapled shut
A moment of silence
And the poets have all been laid to rest
The drums disintegrating into dust.

Before I begin this poem,
You want a moment of silence
You mourn now as if the world will never be the same
And the rest of us hope to hell it won't be.

Not like it always has been.

Because this is not a 9/11 poem.

This is a 9/10 poem,
It is a 9/9 poem,
A 9/8 poem,
A 9/7 poem
This is a 1492 poem.

This is a poem about what causes poems like this to be written.

And if this is a 9/11 poem, then:
This is a September 11th poem for Chile, 1971.

This is a September 12th poem for Steven Biko in South Africa, 1977.

This is a September 13th poem for the brothers at Attica Prison,
New York, 1971.

This is a September 14th poem for Somalia, 1992.

This is a poem for every date that falls to the ground in ashes
This is a poem for the 110 stories that were never told
The 110 stories that history chose not to write in textbooks
The 110 stories that CNN, BBC, The New York Times, and Newsweek ignored.

This is a poem for interrupting this program.

And still you want a moment of silence for your dead?

We could give you lifetimes of empty:
The unmarked graves
The lost languages
The uprooted trees and histories
The dead stares on the faces of nameless children
Before I start this poem we could be silent forever
Or just long enough to hunger,
For the dust to bury us
And you would still ask us
For more of our silence.

If you want a moment of silence
Then stop the oil pumps
Turn off the engines and the televisions
Sink the cruise ships
Crash the stock markets
Unplug the marquee lights,
Delete the instant messages,
Derail the trains, the light rail transit.

If you want a moment of silence, put a brick through the window of Taco Bell,
And pay the workers for wages lost.
Tear down the liquor stores,
The townhouses, the White Houses, the jailhouses, the Penthouses and the Playboys.

If you want a moment of silence,
Then take it
On Super Bowl Sunday,
The Fourth of July
During Dayton's 13 hour sale
Or the next time your white guilt fills the room where my beautiful people
have gathered.

You want a moment of silence
Then take it NOW,
Before this poem begins.

Here, in the echo of my voice,
In the pause between goosesteps of the second hand,
In the space between bodies in embrace,
Here is your silence.

Take it.

But take it all... Don't cut in line.

Let your silence begin at the beginning of crime. But we,
Tonight we will keep right on singing... For our dead.


posted by alf at 10:06 AM

   Sunday, April 06, 2003

A Letter to America by Margaret Atwood

Friday, April 4, 2003 International Herald Tribune

Dear America:

This is a difficult letter to write, because I'm no longer sure who you are.

Some of you may be having the same trouble. I thought I knew you: We'd become well acquainted over the past 55 years. You were the Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck comic books I read in the late 1940s. You were the radio shows -- Jack Benny, Our Miss Brooks. You were the music I sang and danced to: the Andrews Sisters, Ella Fitzgerald, the Platters, Elvis. You were a ton of fun.

You wrote some of my favorite books. You created Huckleberry Finn, and Hawkeye, and Beth and Jo in Little Women, courageous in their different ways. Later, you were my beloved Thoreau, father of environmentalism, witness to individual conscience; and Walt Whitman, singer of the great Republic; and Emily Dickinson, keeper of the private soul. You were Hammett and Chandler, heroic walkers of mean streets; even later, you were the amazing trio, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner, who traced the dark labyrinths of your hidden heart. You were Sinclair Lewis and Arthur Miller, who, with their own American idealism, went after the sham in you, because they thought you could do better.

You were Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront, you were Humphrey Bogart in Key Largo, you were Lillian Gish in Night of the Hunter. You stood up for freedom, honesty and justice; you protected the innocent. I believed most of that. I think you did, too. It seemed true at the time.

You put God on the money, though, even then. You had a way of thinking that the things of Caesar were the same as the things of God: that gave you self- confidence. You have always wanted to be a city upon a hill, a light to all nations, and for a while you were. Give me your tired, your poor, you sang, and for a while you meant it.

We've always been close, you and us. History, that old entangler, has twisted us together since the early 17th century. Some of us used to be you; some of us want to be you; some of you used to be us. You are not only our neighbors: In many cases -- mine, for instance -- you are also our blood relations, our colleagues, and our personal friends. But although we've had a ringside seat, we've never understood you completely, up here north of the 49th parallel.

We're like Romanized Gauls -- look like Romans, dress like Romans, but aren't Romans -- peering over the wall at the real Romans. What are they doing? Why? What are they doing now? Why is the haruspex eyeballing the sheep's liver? Why is the soothsayer wholesaling the Bewares?

Perhaps that's been my difficulty in writing you this letter: I'm not sure I know what's really going on. Anyway, you have a huge posse of experienced entrail-sifters who do nothing but analyze your every vein and lobe. What can I tell you about yourself that you don't already know?

This might be the reason for my hesitation: embarrassment, brought on by a becoming modesty. But it is more likely to be embarrassment of another sort. When my grandmother -- from a New England background -- was confronted with an unsavory topic, she would change the subject and gaze out the window. And that is my own inclination: Mind your own business.

But I'll take the plunge, because your business is no longer merely your business. To paraphrase Marley's Ghost, who figured it out too late, mankind is your business. And vice versa: When the Jolly Green Giant goes on the rampage, many lesser plants and animals get trampled underfoot. As for us, you're our biggest trading partner: We know perfectly well that if you go down the plug- hole, we're going with you. We have every reason to wish you well.

I won't go into the reasons why I think your recent Iraqi adventures have been - - taking the long view -- an ill-advised tactical error. By the time you read this, Baghdad may or may not look like the craters of the Moon, and many more sheep entrails will have been examined. Let's talk, then, not about what you're doing to other people, but about what you're doing to yourselves.

You're gutting the Constitution. Already your home can be entered without your knowledge or permission, you can be snatched away and incarcerated without cause, your mail can be spied on, your private records searched. Why isn't this a recipe for widespread business theft, political intimidation, and fraud? I know you've been told all this is for your own safety and protection, but think about it for a minute. Anyway, when did you get so scared? You didn't used to be easily frightened.

You're running up a record level of debt. Keep spending at this rate and pretty soon you won't be able to afford any big military adventures. Either that or you'll go the way of the USSR: lots of tanks, but no air conditioning. That will make folks very cross. They'll be even crosser when they can't take a shower because your short-sighted bulldozing of environmental protections has dirtied most of the water and dried up the rest. Then things will get hot and dirty indeed.

You're torching the American economy. How soon before the answer to that will be, not to produce anything yourselves, but to grab stuff other people produce, at gunboat-diplomacy prices? Is the world going to consist of a few megarich King Midases, with the rest being serfs, both inside and outside your country? Will the biggest business sector in the United States be the prison system? Let's hope not.

If you proceed much further down the slippery slope, people around the world will stop admiring the good things about you. They'll decide that your city upon the hill is a slum and your democracy is a sham, and therefore you have no business trying to impose your sullied vision on them. They'll think you've abandoned the rule of law. They'll think you've fouled your own nest.

The British used to have a myth about King Arthur. He wasn't dead, but sleeping in a cave, it was said; in the country's hour of greatest peril, he would return. You, too, have great spirits of the past you may call upon: men and women of courage, of conscience, of prescience. Summon them now, to stand with you, to inspire you, to defend the best in you. You need them.

Margaret Atwood studied American literature -- among other things -- at Radcliffe and Harvard in the 1960s. She is the author of 10 novels. Her 11th, Oryx and Crake, will be published in May.

- from an essay by Margaret Atwood in The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

posted by alf at 1:30 AM

   Saturday, April 05, 2003

PM to meet Bush in May - ST 5 Apr 2003

PRIME Minister Goh Chok Tong will meet President George W. Bush at the White House on May 6 during a visit to Washington that could see the signing of a historic free-trade agreement (FTA) between Singapore and the United States.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer was quoted by AFP as saying on Thursday that Mr Bush 'looks forward to celebrating the landmark achievement of the US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement'.

The two countries completed two years of negotiations on a bilateral FTA in January.

The agreement, which may be implemented as early as January next year, is expected to generate thousands of jobs and help boost the Singapore economy.

It is expected to save Singapore exporters up to $300 million annually and increase the flow of US investments to the Republic.

Mr Fleischer described Singapore as a 'strong partner' to the US in the war on terror and a member of the coalition for the immediate disarmament of Iraq.

'President Bush looks forward to discussing how the United States and Singapore can further strengthen our excellent bilateral relations,' he said.

posted by alf at 12:54 PM

   Friday, April 04, 2003

New York - Wednesday, October 2, 2002 - by: Ramsey Clark

Editor's note: The following letter by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark has been sent to all members of the UN Security Council, with copies to the UN General Assembly.

Secretary General Kofi Annan
United Nations New York, NY

Dear Secretary General Annan,

George Bush will invade Iraq unless restrained by the United Nations. Other international organizations-- including the European Union, the African Union, the OAS, the Arab League, stalwart nations courageous enough to speak out against superpower aggression, international peace movements, political leadership, and public opinion within the United States -- must do their part for peace. If the United Nations, above all, fails to oppose a U.S. invasion of Iraq, it will forfeit its honor, integrity and raison d’etre.

A military attack on Iraq is obviously criminal; completely inconsistent with urgent needs of the Peoples of the United Nations; unjustifiable on any legal or moral ground; irrational in light of the known facts; out of proportion to other existing threats of war and violence; and a dangerous adventure risking continuing conflict throughout the region and far beyond for years to come. The most careful analysis must be made as to why the world is subjected to such threats of violence by its only superpower, which could so safely and importantly lead us on the road to peace, and how the UN can avoid the human tragedy of yet another major assault on Iraq and the powerful stimulus for retaliatory terrorism it would create.

1. President George Bush Came to Office Determined to Attack Iraq and Change its Government.

George Bush is moving apace to make his war unstoppable and soon. Having stated last Friday that he did not believe Iraq would accept UN inspectors, he responded to Iraq’s prompt, unconditional acceptance by calling any reliance on it a “false hope” and promising to attack Iraq alone if the UN does not act. He is obsessed with the desire to wage war against Iraq and install his surrogates to govern Iraq by force. Days after the most bellicose address ever made before the United Nations--an unprecedented assault on the Charter of the United Nations, the rule of law and the quest for peace--the U.S. announced it was changing its stated targets in Iraq over the past eleven years, from retaliation for threats and attacks on U.S. aircraft which were illegally invading Iraq’s airspace on a daily basis. How serious could those threats and attacks have been if no U.S. aircraft was ever hit? Yet hundreds of people were killed in Iraq by U.S. rockets and bombs, and not just in the so called “no fly zone,” but in Baghdad itself. Now the U.S. proclaims its intentions to destroy major military facilities in Iraq in preparation for its invasion, a clear promise of aggression now. Every day there are threats and more propaganda is unleashed to overcome resistance to George Bush’s rush to war. The acceleration will continue until the tanks roll, unless nonviolent persuasion prevails.

2. George Bush Is Leading the United States and Taking the UN and All Nations Toward a Lawless World of Endless Wars.

George Bush in his “War on Terrorism” has asserted his right to attack any country, organization, or people first, without warning in his sole discretion. He and members of his administration have proclaimed the old restraints that law sought to impose on aggression by governments and repression of their people, no longer consistent with national security. Terrorism is such a danger, they say, that necessity compels the U.S. to strike first to destroy the potential for terrorist acts from abroad and to make arbitrary arrests, detentions, interrogations, controls and treatment of people abroad and within the U.S. Law has become the enemy of public safety. “Necessity is the argument of tyrants.” “Necessity never makes a good bargain.”

Heinrich Himmler, who instructed the Nazi Gestapo “Shoot first, ask questions later, and I will protect you,” is vindicated by George Bush. Like the Germany described by Jorge Luis Borges in Deutsches Requiem, George Bush has now “proffered (the world) violence and faith in the sword,” as Nazi Germany did. And as Borges wrote, it did not matter to faith in the sword that Germany was defeated. “What matters is that violence ... now rules.” Two generations of Germans have rejected that faith. Their perseverance in the pursuit of peace will earn the respect of succeeding generations everywhere.

The Peoples of the United Nations are threatened with the end of international law and protection for human rights by George Bush’s war on terrorism and determination to invade Iraq.

Since George Bush proclaimed his “war on terrorism,” other countries have claimed the right to strike first. India and Pakistan brought the earth and their own people closer to nuclear conflict than at any time since October 1962 as a direct consequence of claims by the U.S. of the unrestricted right to pursue and kill terrorists, or attack nations protecting them, based on a unilateral decision without consulting the United Nations, a trial, or revealing any clear factual basis for claiming its targets are terrorists and confined to them.

There is already a near epidemic of nations proclaiming the right to attack other nations or intensify violations of human rights of their own people on the basis of George Bush’s assertions of power in the war against terrorism. Mary Robinson, in her quietly courageous statements as her term as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights ended, has spoken of the “ripple effect” U.S. claims of right to strike first and suspend fundamental human rights protection is having.

On September 11, 2002, Colombia, whose new administration is strongly supported by the U.S., “claimed new authority to arrest suspects without warrants and declare zones under military control,” including “[N]ew powers, which also make it easier to wiretap phones and limit foreigners’ access to conflict zones... allow security agents to enter your house or office without a warrant at any time of day because they think you’re suspicious.” These additional threats to human rights follow Post-September 11 “emergency” plans to set up a network of a million informants in a nation of forty million. See, New York Times, September 12, 2002, p. A7.

3. The United States, Not Iraq, Is the Greatest Single Threat to the Independence and Purpose of the United Nations.

President Bush’s claim that Iraq is a threat justifying war is false. Eighty percent of Iraq’s military capacity was destroyed in 1991 according to the Pentagon. Ninety percent of materials and equipment required to manufacture weapons of mass destruction was destroyed by UN inspectors during more than eight years of inspections. Iraq was powerful, compared to most of its neighbors, in 1990. Today it is weak. One infant out of four born live in Iraq weighs less than 2 kilos, promising short lives, illness and impaired development. In 1989, fewer than one in twenty infants born live weighed less than two kilos. Any threat to peace Iraq might become is remote, far less than that of many other nations and groups and cannot justify a violent assault. An attack on Iraq will make attacks in retaliation against the U.S. and governments which support its actions far more probable for years to come.

George Bush proclaims Iraq a threat to the authority of the United Nations while U.S.-coerced UN sanctions continue to cause the death rate of the Iraqi people to increase. Deaths caused by sanctions have been at genocidal levels for twelve years. Iraq can only plead helplessly for an end to this crime against its people. The UN role in the sanctions against Iraq compromise and stain the UN’s integrity and honor. This makes it all the more important for the UN now to resist this war.

Inspections were used as an excuse to continue sanctions for eight years while thousands of Iraqi children and elderly died each month. Iraq is the victim of criminal sanctions that should have been lifted in 1991. For every person killed by terrorist acts in the U.S. on 9/11, five hundred people have died in Iraq from sanctions.

It is the U.S. that threatens not merely the authority of the United Nations, but its independence, integrity and hope for effectiveness. The U.S. pays UN dues if, when and in the amount it chooses. It coerces votes of members. It coerces choices of personnel on the Secretariat. It rejoined UNESCO to gain temporary favor after 18 years of opposition to its very purposes. It places spies in UN inspection teams.

The U.S. has renounced treaties controlling nuclear weapons and their proliferation, voted against the protocol enabling enforcement of the Biological Weapons Convention, rejected the treaty banning land mines, endeavored to prevent its creation and since to cripple the International Criminal Court, and frustrated the Convention on the Child and the prohibition against using children in war. The U.S. has opposed virtually every other international effort to control and limit war, protect the environment, reduce poverty and protect health.

George Bush cites two invasions of other countries by Iraq during the last 22 years. He ignores the many scores of U.S. invasions and assaults on other countries in Africa, Asia, and the Americas during the last 220 years, and the permanent seizure of lands from Native Americans and other nations--lands like Florida, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, California, and Puerto Rico, among others, seized by force and threat.

In the same last 22 years the U.S. has invaded, or assaulted Grenada, Nicaragua, Libya, Panama, Haiti, Somalia, Sudan, Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and others directly, while supporting assaults and invasions elsewhere in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

It is healthy to remember that the U.S. invaded and occupied little Grenada in 1983 after a year of threats, killing hundreds of civilians and destroying its small mental hospital, where many patients died. In a surprise attack on the sleeping and defenseless cities of Tripoli and Benghazi in April 1986, the U.S. killed hundreds of civilians and damaged four foreign embassies. It launched 21 Tomahawk cruise missiles against the El Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum in August 1998, destroying the source of half the medicines available to the people of Sudan. For years it has armed forces in Uganda and southern Sudan fighting the government of Sudan. The U.S. has bombed Iraq on hundreds of occasions since the Gulf War, including this week, killing hundreds of people without a casualty or damage to an attacking plane.

4. Why Has George Bush Decided The U.S. Must Attack Iraq Now?

There is no rational basis to believe Iraq is a threat to the United States, or any other country. The reason to attack Iraq must be found elsewhere.

As governor of Texas, George Bush presided over scores of executions, more than any governor in the United States since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 (after a hiatus from 1967). He revealed the same zeal he has shown for “regime change” for Iraq when he oversaw the executions of minors, women, retarded persons and aliens whose rights under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of notification of their arrest to a foreign mission of their nationality were violated. The Supreme Court of the U.S. held that executions of a mentally retarded person constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the U.S. Constitution. George Bush addresses the United Nations with these same values and willfulness.

His motives may include to save a failing Presidency which has converted a healthy economy and treasury surplus into multi-trillion dollar losses; to fulfill the dream, which will become a nightmare, of a new world order to serve special interests in the U.S.; to settle a family grudge against Iraq; to weaken the Arab nation, one people at a time; to strike a Muslim nation to weaken Islam; to protect Israel, or make its position more dominant in the region; to secure control of Iraq’s oil to enrich U.S. interests, further dominate oil in the region and control oil prices. Aggression against Iraq for any of these purposes is criminal and a violation of a great many international conventions and laws including the General Assembly Resolution on the Definition of Aggression of December 14, 1974.

Prior regime changes by the U.S. brought to power among a long list of tyrants, such leaders as the Shah of Iran, Mobutu in the Congo, Pinochet in Chile, all replacing democratically elected heads of government. 5. A Rational Policy Intended to Reduce the Threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction in The Middle East Must Include Israel.

A UN or U.S. policy of selecting enemies of the U.S. for attack is criminal and can only heighten hatred, division, terrorism and lead to war. The U.S. gives Israel far more aid per capita than the total per capita income of sub Sahara Africans from all sources. U.S.-coerced sanctions have reduced per capita income for the people of Iraq by 75% since 1989. Per capita income in Israel over the past decade has been approximately 12 times the per capita income of Palestinians.

Israel increased its decades-long attacks on the Palestinian people, using George Bush’s proclamation of war on terrorism as an excuse, to indiscriminately destroy cities and towns in the West Bank and Gaza and seize more land in violation of international law and repeated Security Council and General Assembly resolutions.

Israel has a stockpile of hundreds of nuclear warheads derived from the United States, sophisticated rockets capable of accurate delivery at distances of several thousand kilometers, and contracts with the U.S. for joint development of more sophisticated rocketry and other arms with the U.S.

Possession of weapons of mass destruction by a single nation in a region with a history of hostility promotes a race for proliferation and war. The UN must act to reduce and eliminate all weapons of mass destruction, not submit to demands to punish areas of evil and enemies of the superpower that possesses the majority of all such weapons and capacity for their delivery.

Israel has violated and ignored more UN Resolutions for forty years than any other nation. It has done so with impunity.

The violation of Security Council resolutions cannot be the basis for a UN-approved assault on any nation, or people, in a time of peace, or the absence of a threat of imminent attack, but comparable efforts to enforce Security Council resolutions must be made against all nations who violate them.

6. The Choice Is War Or Peace.

The UN and the U.S. must seek peace, not war. An attack on Iraq may open a Pandora’s box that will condemn the world to decades of spreading violence. Peace is not only possible; it is essential, considering the heights to which science and technology have raised the human art of planetary and self-destruction.

If George Bush is permitted to attack Iraq with or without the approval of the UN, he will become Public Enemy Number One--and the UN itself worse than useless, an accomplice in the wars it was created to end. The Peoples of the World then will have to find some way to begin again if they hope to end the scourge of war.

This is a defining moment for the United Nations. Will it stand strong, independent and true to its Charter, international law and the reasons for its being, or will it submit to the coercion of a superpower leading us toward a lawless world and condone war against the cradle of civilization?

Do not let this happen.


Ramsey Clark
(Sep 20, 2002)


posted by alf at 1:59 PM

   Thursday, April 03, 2003

Despite the ominous predictions in the New York Times on March 31 that Madonna "may be looking at the final stages of a long career," "American Life" is destined to attract the kind of attention and emotional responses that guarantee her career is far from over. While critics might be tempted to follow the Times' lead, proclaiming that Madonna has lost her touch or that she's overstepped the boundaries of what Americans find acceptable, her work isn't nearly as shocking as the overreaction on the Drudge Report and elsewhere might suggest.

What's truly remarkable about our times is not these "controversial" works and the predictable debate about whether or not they're created just to grab the public's attention, but how few artists are willing to reflect the ugliness of the current political and cultural climate. While Neil Young, John Lennon and Country Joe McDonald took on the war abroad and in the streets during the Vietnam era, and U2 bellowed melodramatically about Bloody Sunday, our Jennys from the Block boast about "rockin' this business" and being grown-up enough to date Ben Affleck.

As Madonna's latest offering suggests, it's such shallow diversions -- her own and ours -- that got us into this mess in the first place. As Marshall McLuhan wrote, "Too much of anything, however sweet, will always bring the opposite of whatever you thought you were getting." Madonna may not be the most articulate spokeswoman for the times, but she has managed to capture the anxiety of American life at a time when affluence, escapism and dread are interchangeable elements of our daily experience. "American Life" is another example of her uncanny ability to personalize and amplify the contradictions and paradoxes of modern life.

-- from Salon

posted by alf at 1:56 PM

An American missile, identified from the remains of its serial number, was pinpointed yesterday as the cause of the explosion at a Baghdad market on Friday night which killed at least 62 Iraqis.

The codes on the foot-long shrapnel shard, seen by The Independent correspondent Robert Fisk at the scene of the bombing in the Shu'ale district, came from a weapon manufactured in Texas by Raytheon, the world's largest producer of "smart" armaments.

On Saturday, Downing Street disclosed intelligence that linked the Wednesday attack­ and by implication Friday's killings ­ on Iraqi missiles being fired without radar guidance and falling back to earth. The Prime Minister's spokesman said: "A large number of surface-to-air missiles have been malfunctioning and many have failed to hit their targets and have fallen back on to Baghdad. We are not saying definitively that these explosions were caused by Iraqi missiles but people should approach this with due scepticism."

The Anglo-American claims were undermined by the series of 25 digits and letters on the piece of fuselage shown to Mr Fisk by an elderly resident of Shu'ale who lived 100 yards from the site of the 6ft crater made by the explosion.

The numbers on the fragment ­ retrieved from the scene and not shown to the Iraqi authorities ­ read: "30003-704ASB7492". The letter "B" was partially obscured by scratches and may be an "H". It was followed by a second code: "MFR 96214 09."

An online database of suppliers maintained by the Defence Logistics Information Service, part of the Department of Defence, showed that the reference MFR 96214 was the identification or "cage" number of a Raytheon plant in the city of McKinney, Texas.

The 30003 reference refers to the Naval Air Systems Command, the procurement agency responsible for furnishing the US Navy's air force with its weaponry.

The Pentagon refused to disclose which weapon was designated by the remaining letters and numbers, although defence experts said the information could be found within seconds from the Nato database of all items of military hardware operated across the Alliance, "from a nuclear bomb to a bath plug", as one put it.

A US Defence Department spokeswoman said: "Our investigations are continuing. We cannot comment on serial numbers which may or may not have been found at the scene."

An official Washington source went further, claiming that the shrapnel could have been planted at the scene by the Iraqi regime.

-- Cahal Milmo
The Independent - UK, April 1 2003


posted by alf at 12:59 PM

   Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Mesopotamia. Babylon. The Tigris and Euphrates

How many children, in how many classrooms, over how many centuries, have hang-glided through the past, transported on the wings of these words? And now the bombs are falling, incinerating and humiliating that ancient civilisation

Arundhati Roy
Wednesday April 2, 2003
The Guardian

On the steel torsos of their missiles, adolescent American soldiers scrawl colourful messages in childish handwriting: For Saddam, from the Fat Boy Posse. A building goes down. A marketplace. A home. A girl who loves a boy. A child who only ever wanted to play with his older brother's marbles.

On March 21, the day after American and British troops began their illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, an "embedded" CNN correspondent interviewed an American soldier. "I wanna get in there and get my nose dirty," Private AJ said. "I wanna take revenge for 9/11."

To be fair to the correspondent, even though he was "embedded" he did sort of weakly suggest that so far there was no real evidence that linked the Iraqi government to the September 11 attacks. Private AJ stuck his teenage tongue out all the way down to the end of his chin. "Yeah, well that stuff's way over my head," he said.

According to a New York Times/CBS News survey, 42 per cent of the American public believes that Saddam Hussein is directly responsible for the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. And an ABC news poll says that 55 per cent of Americans believe that Saddam Hussein directly supports al-Qaida. What percentage of America's armed forces believe these fabrications is anybody's guess.

It is unlikely that British and American troops fighting in Iraq are aware that their governments supported Saddam Hussein both politically and financially through his worst excesses.

But why should poor AJ and his fellow soldiers be burdened with these details? It does not matter any more, does it? Hundreds of thousands of men, tanks, ships, choppers, bombs, ammunition, gas masks, high-protein food, whole aircrafts ferrying toilet paper, insect repellent, vitamins and bottled mineral water, are on the move. The phenomenal logistics of Operation Iraqi Freedom make it a universe unto itself. It doesn't need to justify its existence any more. It exists. It is.

President George W Bush, commander in chief of the US army, navy, airforce and marines has issued clear instructions: "Iraq. Will. Be. Liberated." (Perhaps he means that even if Iraqi people's bodies are killed, their souls will be liberated.) American and British citizens owe it to the supreme commander to forsake thought and rally behind their troops. Their countries are at war. And what a war it is.

After using the "good offices" of UN diplomacy (economic sanctions and weapons inspections) to ensure that Iraq was brought to its knees, its people starved, half a million of its children killed, its infrastructure severely damaged, after making sure that most of its weapons have been destroyed, in an act of cowardice that must surely be unrivalled in history, the "Allies"/"Coalition of the Willing"(better known as the Coalition of the Bullied and Bought) - sent in an invading army!

Operation Iraqi Freedom? I don't think so. It's more like Operation Let's Run a Race, but First Let Me Break Your Knees.

So far the Iraqi army, with its hungry, ill-equipped soldiers, its old guns and ageing tanks, has somehow managed to temporarily confound and occasionally even outmanoeuvre the "Allies". Faced with the richest, best-equipped, most powerful armed forces the world has ever seen, Iraq has shown spectacular courage and has even managed to put up what actually amounts to a defence. A defence which the Bush/Blair Pair have immediately denounced as deceitful and cowardly. (But then deceit is an old tradition with us natives. When we are invaded/ colonised/occupied and stripped of all dignity, we turn to guile and opportunism.)

Even allowing for the fact that Iraq and the "Allies" are at war, the extent to which the "Allies" and their media cohorts are prepared to go is astounding to the point of being counterproductive to their own objectives.

When Saddam Hussein appeared on national TV to address the Iraqi people after the failure of the most elaborate assassination attempt in history - "Operation Decapitation" - we had Geoff Hoon, the British defence secretary, deriding him for not having the courage to stand up and be killed, calling him a coward who hides in trenches. We then had a flurry of Coalition speculation - Was it really Saddam, was it his double? Or was it Osama with a shave? Was it pre-recorded? Was it a speech? Was it black magic? Will it turn into a pumpkin if we really, really want it to?

After dropping not hundreds, but thousands of bombs on Baghdad, when a marketplace was mistakenly blown up and civilians killed - a US army spokesman implied that the Iraqis were blowing themselves up! "They're using very old stock. Their missiles go up and come down." If so, may we ask how this squares with the accusation that the Iraqi regime is a paid-up member of the Axis of Evil and a threat to world peace?

When the Arab TV station al-Jazeera shows civilian casualties it's denounced as "emotive" Arab propaganda aimed at orchestrating hostility towards the "Allies", as though Iraqis are dying only in order to make the "Allies" look bad. Even French television has come in for some stick for similar reasons. But the awed, breathless footage of aircraft carriers, stealth bombers and cruise missiles arcing across the desert sky on American and British TV is described as the "terrible beauty" of war.

When invading American soldiers (from the army "that's only here to help") are taken prisoner and shown on Iraqi TV, George Bush says it violates the Geneva convention and "exposes the evil at the heart of the regime". But it is entirely acceptable for US television stations to show the hundreds of prisoners being held by the US government in Guantanamo Bay, kneeling on the ground with their hands tied behind their backs, blinded with opaque goggles and with earphones clamped on their ears, to ensure complete visual and aural deprivation. When questioned about the treatment of these prisoners, US Government officials don't deny that they're being being ill-treated. They deny that they're "prisoners of war"! They call them "unlawful combatants", implying that their ill-treatment is legitimate! (So what's the party line on the massacre of prisoners in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan? Forgive and forget? And what of the prisoner tortured to death by the special forces at the Bagram airforce base? Doctors have formally called it homicide.)

When the "Allies" bombed the Iraqi television station (also, incidentally, a contravention of the Geneva convention), there was vulgar jubilation in the American media. In fact Fox TV had been lobbying for the attack for a while. It was seen as a righteous blow against Arab propaganda. But mainstream American and British TV continue to advertise themselves as "balanced" when their propaganda has achieved hallucinatory levels.

Why should propaganda be the exclusive preserve of the western media? Just because they do it better? Western journalists "embedded" with troops are given the status of heroes reporting from the frontlines of war. Non-"embedded" journalists (such as the BBC's Rageh Omaar, reporting from besieged and bombed Baghdad, witnessing, and clearly affected by the sight of bodies of burned children and wounded people) are undermined even before they begin their reportage: "We have to tell you that he is being monitored by the Iraqi authorities."

Increasingly, on British and American TV, Iraqi soldiers are being referred to as "militia" (ie: rabble). One BBC correspondent portentously referred to them as "quasi-terrorists". Iraqi defence is "resistance" or worse still, "pockets of resistance", Iraqi military strategy is deceit. (The US government bugging the phone lines of UN security council delegates, reported by the Observer, is hard-headed pragmatism.) Clearly for the "Allies", the only morally acceptable strategy the Iraqi army can pursue is to march out into the desert and be bombed by B-52s or be mowed down by machine-gun fire. Anything short of that is cheating.

And now we have the siege of Basra. About a million and a half people, 40 per cent of them children. Without clean water, and with very little food. We're still waiting for the legendary Shia "uprising", for the happy hordes to stream out of the city and rain roses and hosannahs on the "liberating" army. Where are the hordes? Don't they know that television productions work to tight schedules? (It may well be that if Saddam's regime falls there will be dancing on the streets of Basra. But then, if the Bush regime were to fall, there would be dancing on the streets the world over.)

After days of enforcing hunger and thirst on the citizens of Basra, the "Allies" have brought in a few trucks of food and water and positioned them tantalisingly on the outskirts of the city. Desperate people flock to the trucks and fight each other for food. (The water we hear, is being sold. To revitalise the dying economy, you understand.) On top of the trucks, desperate photographers fought each other to get pictures of desperate people fighting each other for food. Those pictures will go out through photo agencies to newspapers and glossy magazines that pay extremely well. Their message: The messiahs are at hand, distributing fishes and loaves.

As of July last year the delivery of $5.4bn worth of supplies to Iraq was blocked by the Bush/Blair Pair. It didn't really make the news. But now under the loving caress of live TV, 450 tonnes of humanitarian aid - a minuscule fraction of what's actually needed (call it a script prop) - arrived on a British ship, the "Sir Galahad". Its arrival in the port of Umm Qasr merited a whole day of live TV broadcasts. Barf bag, anyone?

Nick Guttmann, head of emergencies for Christian Aid, writing for the Independent on Sunday said that it would take 32 Sir Galahad's a day to match the amount of food Iraq was receiving before the bombing began.

We oughtn't to be surprised though. It's old tactics. They've been at it for years. Consider this moderate proposal by John McNaughton from the Pentagon Papers, published during the Vietnam war: "Strikes at population targets (per se) are likely not only to create a counterproductive wave of revulsion abroad and at home, but greatly to increase the risk of enlarging the war with China or the Soviet Union. Destruction of locks and dams, however - if handled right - might ... offer promise. It should be studied. Such destruction does not kill or drown people. By shallow-flooding the rice, it leads after time to widespread starvation (more than a million?) unless food is provided - which we could offer to do 'at the conference table'." Times haven't changed very much. The technique has evolved into a doctrine. It's called "Winning Hearts and Minds".

So, here's the moral maths as it stands: 200,000 Iraqis estimated to have been killed in the first Gulf war. Hundreds of thousands dead because of the economic sanctions. (At least that lot has been saved from Saddam Hussein.) More being killed every day. Tens of thousands of US soldiers who fought the 1991 war officially declared "disabled" by a disease called the Gulf war syndrome, believed in part to be caused by exposure to depleted uranium. It hasn't stopped the "Allies" from continuing to use depleted uranium.

And now this talk of bringing the UN back into the picture. But that old UN girl - it turns out that she just ain't what she was cracked up to be. She's been demoted (although she retains her high salary). Now she's the world's janitor. She's the Philippino cleaning lady, the Indian jamadarni, the postal bride from Thailand, the Mexican household help, the Jamaican au pair. She's employed to clean other peoples' shit. She's used and abused at will.

Despite Blair's earnest submissions, and all his fawning, Bush has made it clear that the UN will play no independent part in the administration of postwar Iraq. The US will decide who gets those juicy "reconstruction" contracts. But Bush has appealed to the international community not to "politicise" the issue of humanitarian aid. On the March 28, after Bush called for the immediate resumption of the UN's oil for food programme, the UN security council voted unanimously for the resolution. This means that everybody agrees that Iraqi money (from the sale of Iraqi oil) should be used to feed Iraqi people who are starving because of US led sanctions and the illegal US-led war.

Contracts for the "reconstruction" of Iraq we're told, in discussions on the business news, could jump-start the world economy. It's funny how the interests of American corporations are so often, so successfully and so deliberately confused with the interests of the world economy. While the American people will end up paying for the war, oil companies, weapons manufacturers, arms dealers, and corporations involved in "reconstruction" work will make direct gains from the war. Many of them are old friends and former employers of the Bush/ Cheney/Rumsfeld/Rice cabal. Bush has already asked Congress for $75bn. Contracts for "re-construction" are already being negotiated. The news doesn't hit the stands because much of the US corporate media is owned and managed by the same interests.

Operation Iraqi Freedom, Tony Blair assures us is about returning Iraqi oil to the Iraqi people. That is, returning Iraqi oil to the Iraqi people via corporate multinationals. Like Shell, like Chevron, like Halliburton. Or are we missing the plot here? Perhaps Halliburton is actually an Iraqi company? Perhaps US vice-president Dick Cheney (who is a former director of Halliburton) is a closet Iraqi?

As the rift between Europe and America deepens, there are signs that the world could be entering a new era of economic boycotts. CNN reported that Americans are emptying French wine into gutters, chanting, "We don't want your stinking wine." We've heard about the re-baptism of French fries. Freedom fries they're called now. There's news trickling in about Americans boycotting German goods. The thing is that if the fallout of the war takes this turn, it is the US who will suffer the most. Its homeland may be defended by border patrols and nuclear weapons, but its economy is strung out across the globe. Its economic outposts are exposed and vulnerable to attack in every direction. Already the internet is buzzing with elaborate lists of American and British government products and companies that should be boycotted. Apart from the usual targets, Coke, Pepsi and McDonald's - government agencies such as USAID, the British department for international development, British and American banks, Arthur Anderson, Merrill Lynch, American Express, corporations such as Bechtel, General Electric, and companies such as Reebok, Nike and Gap - could find themselves under siege. These lists are being honed and re fined by activists across the world. They could become a practical guide that directs and channels the amorphous, but growing fury in the world. Suddenly, the "inevitability" of the project of corporate globalisation is beginning to seem more than a little evitable.

It's become clear that the war against terror is not really about terror, and the war on Iraq not only about oil. It's about a superpower's self-destructive impulse towards supremacy, stranglehold, global hegemony. The argument is being made that the people of Argentina and Iraq have both been decimated by the same process. Only the weapons used against them differ: In one case it's an IMF chequebook. In the other, cruise missiles.

Finally, there's the matter of Saddam's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. (Oops, nearly forgot about those!)

In the fog of war - one thing's for sure - if Saddam 's regime indeed has weapons of mass destruction, it is showing an astonishing degree of responsibility and restraint in the teeth of extreme provocation. Under similar circumstances, (say if Iraqi troops were bombing New York and laying siege to Washington DC) could we expect the same of the Bush regime? Would it keep its thousands of nuclear warheads in their wrapping paper? What about its chemical and biological weapons? Its stocks of anthrax, smallpox and nerve gas? Would it?

Excuse me while I laugh.

In the fog of war we're forced to speculate: Either Saddam is an extremely responsible tyrant. Or - he simply does not possess weapons of mass destruction. Either way, regardless of what happens next, Iraq comes out of the argument smelling sweeter than the US government.

So here's Iraq - rogue state, grave threat to world peace, paid-up member of the Axis of Evil. Here's Iraq, invaded, bombed, besieged, bullied, its sovereignty shat upon, its children killed by cancers, its people blown up on the streets. And here's all of us watching. CNN-BBC, BBC-CNN late into the night. Here's all of us, enduring the horror of the war, enduring the horror of the propaganda and enduring the slaughter of language as we know and understand it. Freedom now means mass murder (or, in the US, fried potatoes). When someone says "humanitarian aid" we automatically go looking for induced starvation. "Embedded" I have to admit, is a great find. It's what it sounds like. And what about "arsenal of tactics?" Nice!

In most parts of the world, the invasion of Iraq is being seen as a racist war. The real danger of a racist war unleashed by racist regimes is that it engenders racism in everybody - perpetrators, victims, spectators. It sets the parameters for the debate, it lays out a grid for a particular way of thinking. There is a tidal wave of hatred for the US rising from the ancient heart of the world. In Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe, Australia. I encounter it every day. Sometimes it comes from the most unlikely sources. Bankers, businessmen, yuppie students, and they bring to it all the crassness of their conservative, illiberal politics. That absurd inability to separate governments from people: America is a nation of morons, a nation of murderers, they say, (with the same carelessness with which they say, "All Muslims are terrorists"). Even in the grotesque universe of racist insult, the British make their entry as add-ons. Arse-lickers, they're called.

Suddenly, I, who have been vilified for being "anti-American" and "anti-west", find myself in the extraordinary position of defending the people of America. And Britain.

Those who descend so easily into the pit of racist abuse would do well to remember the hundreds of thousands of American and British citizens who protested against their country's stockpile of nuclear weapons. And the thousands of American war resisters who forced their government to withdraw from Vietnam. They should know that the most scholarly, scathing, hilarious critiques of the US government and the "American way of life" comes from American citizens. And that the funniest, most bitter condemnation of their prime minister comes from the British media. Finally they should remember that right now, hundreds of thousands of British and American citizens are on the streets protesting the war. The Coalition of the Bullied and Bought consists of governments, not people. More than one third of America's citizens have survived the relentless propaganda they've been subjected to, and many thousands are actively fighting their own government. In the ultra-patriotic climate that prevails in the US, that's as brave as any Iraqi fighting for his or her homeland.

While the "Allies" wait in the desert for an uprising of Shia Muslims on the streets of Basra, the real uprising is taking place in hundreds of cities across the world. It has been the most spectacular display of public morality ever seen.

Most courageous of all, are the hundreds of thousands of American people on the streets of America's great cities - Washington, New York, Chicago, San Francisco. The fact is that the only institution in the world today that is more powerful than the American government, is American civil society. American citizens have a huge responsibility riding on their shoulders. How can we not salute and support those who not only acknowledge but act upon that responsibility? They are our allies, our friends.

At the end of it all, it remains to be said that dictators like Saddam Hussein, and all the other despots in the Middle East, in the central Asian republics, in Africa and Latin America, many of them installed, supported and financed by the US government, are a menace to their own people. Other than strengthening the hand of civil society (instead of weakening it as has been done in the case of Iraq), there is no easy, pristine way of dealing with them. (It's odd how those who dismiss the peace movement as utopian, don't hesitate to proffer the most absurdly dreamy reasons for going to war: to stamp out terrorism, install democracy, eliminate fascism, and most entertainingly, to "rid the world of evil-doers".)

Regardless of what the propaganda machine tells us, these tin-pot dictators are not the greatest threat to the world. The real and pressing danger, the greatest threat of all is the locomotive force that drives the political and economic engine of the US government, currently piloted by George Bush. Bush-bashing is fun, because he makes such an easy, sumptuous target. It's true that he is a dangerous, almost suicidal pilot, but the machine he handles is far more dangerous than the man himself.

Despite the pall of gloom that hangs over us today, I'd like to file a cautious plea for hope: in times of war, one wants one's weakest enemy at the helm of his forces. And President George W Bush is certainly that. Any other even averagely intelligent US president would have probably done the very same things, but would have managed to smoke-up the glass and confuse the opposition. Perhaps even carry the UN with him. Bush's tactless imprudence and his brazen belief that he can run the world with his riot squad, has done the opposite. He has achieved what writers, activists and scholars have striven to achieve for decades. He has exposed the ducts. He has placed on full public view the working parts, the nuts and bolts of the apocalyptic apparatus of the American empire.

Now that the blueprint (The Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire) has been put into mass circulation, it could be disabled quicker than the pundits predicted.

Bring on the spanners.

posted by alf at 5:23 PM

IQ: So the giant country attacked the smaller country that posed no immediate threat, knowing that this would increase the more immediate danger from religious extremists it did not attack?

B: Yes.


Irationality has actually been quite common among leaders of powerful nations for most of human history. A historian named Barbara Tuchman wrote a book called "The March of Folly," in which she defined "folly" as the propensity of leaders since the fall of Troy 2,400 years ago to act against their own interests because of fixed notions divorced from reality. What is frightening about our time is not that powerful leaders still behave irrationally, but that they -- and the even more insane people who oppose them -- now possess an unprecedented technological capacity to kill, and also to destroy the biosphere upon which people on Earth depend for life itself. -- Salon

posted by alf at 1:11 PM

from Pinocchios of a G-rated War Veil Scars of X-Rated Battlefield

News stories from the front for the most part are clips for the military's "Army of One" ads, produced in a void of analytical perspective and to the drone of self-important reminders of inflated secrecy: "I can't tell you where we are..." "I can't tell you where we're going" "I can't tell you what they're doing" Of course not. You've not only been embedded. You've been captured. A picture is supposed to be worth a thousand words. In this war, a picture is worth a thousand veils. At home, the networks' anchored news streams have been closest in kind to porno movies: A little meaningless chatter sets things up, and then money shots of bomb blasts over Baghdad or the Pentagon's latest dirty videos of things being blown up. The human and emotional cost is an afterthought. There is purpose behind the veil. When war is so positively dehumanized, the possibility of defeat is eliminated. Setbacks become narrative devices, stepping tombstones for America's moral superiority. It is war as magical realism. But it isn't real.


Americans are incensed at Al-Jazeera's broadcasting of piles of bloodied civilians and American POWs. But it's not sensitivity. It's self-righteous cowardice. It's also quite simple: If viewers are not disgusted by the images they see, if they're not sick to their stomachs and wracked with insomnia, if their faith in humanity isn't shaken to the core from watching the war news, then they're not seeing the war. They're watching a version as dehumanized as those blurry green shapes scurrying across a night-vision device before being evaporated. They're watching high-tech propaganda. In that sense, the coverage of Al-Jazeera has been more honest than most of American media's Goebbels-gobbled reporting. Al-Jazeera's coverage disturbs. It angers. It keeps you up nights. As it should. War isn't "The Tonight Show" with bombs. Nor is an Iraqi victim any less sacred, any less deplorable, than an American.

It isn't obscene to report war's inhumanity no matter how repellent. It is obscene to romanticize soldiers, to sanctify the war and sanitize its consequences in order to make it more acceptable.

-- Pierre Tristam, Published on Tuesday, April 1, 2003 by the Daytona Beach News-Journal (Florida)

posted by alf at 12:49 PM

America is losing its way at home and in the world. We have no money to rebuild America's cities, but we have money to blow up cities in Iraq.
— U.S. Representative Dennis J. Kucinich

posted by alf at 12:07 PM

It was evident by the middle of last week, and has become increasingly evident each day since - even through the muddle of U.S. media coverage and frantic spinning in Washington and London - that Iraqis do not want the Americans in their country. Period. We are not welcome. Even if it means keeping Saddam. Even if it means guerilla war against a military using overwhelming force. Iraqis will not simply give up; nor will they spontaneously rise and do America's work for it by toppling Saddam Hussein. It seems to have never occurred to Bush and his advisors that people who hate Saddam wouldn't automatically welcome America ? that not everyone casts their loyalties in black and white, "with us or against us," enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend thinking.

This represents more than a military inconvenience to the American forces. It means more than a loss of the war's purported rationale. What it means is that even with all the firepower in the world - especially with all the firepower in the world ? the United States cannot win this war. The Pax Americana that Cheney, Wolfowitz, Perle, and their ilk envisioned for Iraq - and eventually the whole region ? simply cannot be achieved through brute force alone. That's what we're starting to see already.

Amazingly, Pentagon planners seemed to be caught flat-footed by the guerrilla tactics employed by the Iraqis - tactics which are the only conceivable means of opposition for a resistance with no air power, with few resources, and that knows it cannot possibly compete with the Americans' firepower - but knows the land like the back of its hand and has been thinking about, and practicing, how to defend it in wartime for over 20 years. Donald Rumsfeld's bellowing about Iraq's unfair tactics evokes the British, 225 years ago, complaining that the Yanks didn't stand in a row and fight the way the Redcoats did. -- "The Six Day War", by Geov Parrish, WorkingForChange.com

posted by alf at 12:01 PM

   Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Monday March 31, 2003

Anyone who was born in Iraq and lived there for even a relatively short time, 16 years in my case, would not fail to establish an emotional attachment to the country. Even those who immigrated to Israel, some for fear of their lives, retain that fondness for the place. It may be the mysterious attraction of Mesopotamia with its two great rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates that approach each other at Baghdad, and like two teasing lovers, part only to end up in an eternal embrace at Shat Al-Arab. Or, it may be the deep-rooted culture, literary and political, that goes back to the very birth of civilisation. It is this that makes the bombing of Baghdad and other cities so obscene.

What is as dangerous as the daily bombardment of Baghdad is the call by Tony Blair and George Bush on the Shi'ites in Basra and Baghdad to rise up. It is one thing to call for a popular uprising, it is quite another to urge this religious sect to rise up. The implication is that the other sect, the Sunnis, who form some 40% of the population, not only support the Iraqi regime but are implicated in its crime. It seems that Mr Blair and Mr Bush are determined to ferment religious divisions and sectarian conflict. This can only play into the hands of Islamic fundamentalists who wish to turn Iraq into another Afghanistan. But then, it was the US that supported and armed Osama bin Laden in the first place. So, no change there.

The political history that has shaped Iraq created a shared political awareness among the population - especially those in the cities - that is mutually acknowledged without having to be spoken. An awareness engendered by decades of tyranny and oppression. Such political awareness makes the attempt by the US and Britain to coax Iraqis into loving the invader laughable. The manner in which the politicians and the military explain how they intend to win the "hearts and minds" of the Iraqi population is reminiscent of anthropologists' attempt to make contact with a previously undiscovered community in the deepest jungles of Brazil or Chile. It is modelled on the way wild animals are trained for a circus act, with a whip in one hand and a lump of sugar in the other. It is not only deeply offensive, it is profoundly racist.

On every political issue there are normally two views and in most cases more than two. What no one in the west seems to realise, or wishes to acknowledge, and anyone who lives or lived in Iraq would almost instinctively know, is that on the issue of US motivation in its war on Iraq, the view is unanimous. Even those Iraqis who are championing a war on their nation would agree that US interest lay in the control of oil and the establishment of an American base in the heart of the Middle East. The email by a young Iraqi student, Rania Kashi, which Tony Blair triumphantly circulated to delegates at a Labour party conference in February, qualified the support for a war on Iraq by the phrase "whatever America's real intentions behind an attack", which is not quite the ringing endorsement of Mr Bush that we are led to believe.

And, of course, there is money to be made out of the war. For every bullet fired, Uncle Sam makes a dollar, not to mention the lucrative contracts that are awaiting favoured US corporations. The more that is destroyed, the more that has to be reconstructed and the larger the profits. That is the logic of capitalism and, in reality, that is the essence of what has been described as Mr Bush's doctrine.

The war on Iraq has been described as another Vietnam, but this is highly misleading. Contrary to a famous saying, history does not repeat itself. Vietnam was an end of an era, while Iraq is the beginning of a new one. A new era sometimes referred to by the phrase a "new world order", coined by George Bush senior. What is new is not the US's disregard of the UN and the use of its overwhelming military power to achieve its objectives. It isn't American supremacy that is new; it is its isolation. For the first time, countries across the globe realised that as much as they need the US, the US needs them more. All they had to do was to act in some sort of cohesion and mutual support. The stand that France and Germany took, supported by Russia, was unexpected but not surprising given the inherent contradiction between the big powers. What is of critical importance was the refusal of the floating six to be bribed or threatened into following US dictate. The unexpected resistance by the Iraqi to the US and British invasion is another such manifestation of the events that are shaping the world.

The last thing the Middle East needs is another war in addition to the war the Israeli government is waging against the Palestinian people. Just how many wars can a single region sustain at any one time? In what must be the most unconvincing and clumsy attempt to pacify Arab and world opinion, Mr Bush experienced a sudden and a very convenient conversion to Mr Blair's road map. If the road map had any credibility at all, it lost it the instant Mr Bush gave it his endorsement. It should surprise no one if the road map is seen as the road to nowhere. --Guardian, Fawzi Ibrahim (lecturer at the College of North West London)

posted by alf at 9:40 AM