No to War!

On Saturday February 15th 2003, I, and over a million other people, took to the streets of London to oppose war with Iraq. My joining this demonstration is perhaps unsurprising, being distinctly to the left of the spectrum, and having protested against this war and the previous war before. However, whilst the government can safely ignore the disenfranchised loony lefties such as myself who are the usual suspects in this matter, what they cannot afford is to alienate so many people who would otherwise vote for them, that they become an irrelevance in the face of massive people-power. It is an unusual and uplifting experience for me to be in accord with the majority for a change, being a loony leftie, I am somewhat accustomed to being something of a voice in the wilderness, however, here Blair and his lackeys are looking increasingly isolated.

On Saturday, I saw a far more eclectic mix of people than I have ever seen before on a demo, to be sure, I saw others of the usual suspects, but I also saw a number of ordinary people that dwarfed the numbers the hard left can get out on its best days. And all to register their protest to a government which refuses to listen. The fatalists among us may well say that it is too late, Bush and Blair have already decided, but it is never too late to protest against something you feel to be wrong. Even if this war does go ahead, we can still give Blair such a bloody nose come the next election that no prime minister will dare forget mass protests again. If they do not listen, as seems likely, we must show them that they ignore us at their peril. We were marching not only to oppose war, we were also marching for democracy in Britain, for the right to have our voices heard by a government which normally only listens within six months of elections.

Doubtless we will all be condemned in the right-wing press (and by the handful of hand-wringing liberals who have sold themselves to 'New' Labour) as pro-Saddam, 'appeasers,' and idiots. However, although this may make it easier for the readers of said publications to ignore us, they must pay attention to us if we keep at it. We will not give way for them; neither will we give way for Bush or his puppet Blair. We aren't marching for caprice or fashion, but to make our dissent heard. Around half a million Iraqis died in the first Gulf War, many of them civilians. Why are we looking to repeat what happened on the road to Basra? Were the poor people incinerated there a threat to anyone? It is for the Iraqi people that I was marching, the people who have been suffering for the last 25 years under mis-government, war, and sanctions. Saddam is a vicious monster to have done this to his people, but this does not excuse the west planning to compound their agony by sending in the missiles, bombs, bullets, and flamethrowers. I care very little for governments as a general rule, but I care passionately about people, and the people of Iraq (60% of whom are reliant on food-aid) will suffer needlessly in this war. And what is to guarantee that there will even be a democracy to show at the end of it? There is at present no true democracy in Afghanistan (the west's latest success story), why should we suppose that Iraq will be any different?

And then we come to the reasons for war, Weapons of mass destruction? Régime change? Links to Al Qaeda? Morality? All of these have been put as reasons, and all are deeply flawed. Currently in Iraq, the inspectors have found twelve empty shells which may be capable of carrying chemical weapons, and 50 litres of Mustard Gas (no destroyed). There are also missiles which may go 30km too far in some cases. Is this really a good excuse to go to war? It is a fact that of Iraq's WMDs we know to have been destroyed, only 11% were destroyed in Gulf War I, the other 89% were destroyed by the inspectors up until 1998; given that the inspectors were far more efficient, less expensive, and less messy, does it not make sense for them to disarm Saddam? After all, they have not reported being seriously disrupted in their work, and certainly nothing which could provoke the 'serious consequences' of Resolution 1441 unless on a stretched technicality (which is an appalling basis for going to war).

We then come to the 'evidence' produced by the west which is largely dependent on hearsay, plagiarism, conjecture, and us trusting their word (something which I have little inclination of doing given their record in this department). All of the sites mentioned in the British government's dossier last year have been visited and found to be clean. Another dossier of human rights abuses last year (complete with mood music) told us nothing new and neglected to tell us exactly where Saddam got the materials and know-how to commit atrocities such as Halabja (go on, guess). There is then the fact that Jack Straw, when he was Home Secretary, did not judge Iraq as sufficiently dangerous for someone fleeing thence to be granted asylum. Next we come to Colin Powell's presentation to the UN which, as far as anyone can tell (and Hans Blix who attacked it ought to know) has little foundation in fact either. From what I hear, the translation of the wire taps was distinctly suspect, and the links mentioned with Al Qaeda also seem to be non-existent (as a British intelligence document leaked the same day said). And finally, we come to probably the most ridiculous affair of the lot, the dossier plagiarised from someone's PhD thesis which is three years out of date, and this is the best our government can come up with as an excuse for raining bombs down on the heads of innocent Iraqis once again. Excuse me if I am not convinced.

There is then the question of régime change, a subject upon which the pro- war faction seem to be able to take on a variety of hues as the day of the week demands; there seems to be no answer to the question 'what is this war for?' I am tempted to dismiss it as a cynical exercise in realpolitik and a squalid imperialist land-grab, however Blair truly seems to believe what he is saying (he is obviously accomplished in doublethink). The messages we get are inconsistent, one moment Saddam is an evil despot who must be removed for the good of his people, the next moment he is armed to the teeth and must be removed for the good of his neighbours, and then he is supplying and sheltering Al Qaeda and must be done away with in the cause of the War Against Terrorism. If they can't even build a consistent case backed up with evidence, why should we take it upon ourselves to kill innocent Iraqi people? There is profound anger because we do not know why we are going to war. No one should be under any illusions that Saddam is any threat to anyone apart from his own people or perhaps Israel (which is more than capable of looking after itself anyway). He knows very well what will happen if one of his soldiers sets foot beyond his borders, and I doubt any will unless he is provoked. He is like a wasp, no threat to anyone unless scared in which case he will sting. He has not used WMDs since the late 1980s, why would he start again now?

Next on the list is links to Al Qaeda and again, the west seems to be practically schizophrenic in this area; we have the leaders saying that such links exist (and producing flimsy and distinctly underwhelming evidence to back them up) and then the intelligence community saying that they do not. Why is it in the interests of Saddam, a secular leader, to be in cahoots with an Islamic fundamentalist who is on record as calling him a 'bad Muslim' and calling for him to be overthrown? Osama Bin Laden is as committed an enemy of Saddam's Ba'ath Party as the west is, yet still there is talk of links between them. It is a sign of moral simplicity being unable to understand that attitude to the US is not the prime determinant of political grouping; I am not a great fan of the excesses of US foreign policy, yet I am not driven to join hands with nasty fundamentalists in an attempt to overthrow it.

Finally, we come to the question of morality; there is a gaggle of hand- wringers, notable amongst them our august leader, who believe that we have a moral duty to overthrow Saddam for the sake of the Iraqi people. How nice it would be if it were that simple. The plain fact of the matter is though, that the west has already done more than enough 'saving' of the Iraqi people since Gulf War I; after all, 500,000 Iraqi children have been saved from ever growing up thanks to the murderous sanctions imposed on Iraq by the UN at the instigation of the west. If this is what we do for our morality, then I would hate to see an immoral act. How can one save people by bombing them? Saddam is a murderous tyrant, of this there is little doubt, however, if Iraq is attacked, he will not suffer, it will be the people who are already suffering who will suffer. They will die, as they died in the last Gulf War, in their bomb shelters, in their homes, on the roads, and in the desert. Corpses without number all lying there, rotting, with tortured expressions on their faces. Human forms reduced to ash and dust, and blowing away in the wind; and only from the wind will they get sympathy. They, who have endured so much, will be classed simply as 'collateral damage' by the cold and calculating military who have made them such. How can such appalling things be seen as 'saving them?'

Our governments say that we should attack Iraq for the sake of its people and for peace, but it should be obvious that killing its people is not saving, and nor is destabilising the Middle East a recipe for peace. There is no easy solution for this, going to war may seem attractive as a quick way of doing away with Saddam, but it will not work. The essence of democracy is self-determination, and that must come from within. Saddam is a horrible dictator, but there are an awful lot of those in the world; why him? Why now? These are some of the questions we should be asking. We must maintain a healthy scepticism here, this is not about altruism, it is about power. We must not allow our governments to become a malign influence in the world, I may be talking as an 'old European,' but History tells me that countries which indulge in imperialistic behaviour do not often enjoy the fruits of their victories for long. To the Americans out there: we have learnt through bitter experience that imperialism is not the way forward, you would do well to learn from out mistakes.

AN.

Dedicated to everyone else who marched on Saturday all over the world.

Peace to all,

Nemo. 17/02/03