Secular Steps in Preparing for War

Cairo was host to the most important anti-war congress held in the Arab world to date on December 18-19. Organized in haste given the imminent US strike and declared invasion of Iraq, not to mention the utter devastation of Palestinians and Palestinian land by Sharon’s army, the Cairo Congress against American Aggression on Iraq aimed at gathering together for an intensive study session intellectuals, journalists, activists, organizers and former-UN workers from Arab and non-Arab countries. Its commitment as a civil society group was stressed and reinforced throughout the Congress. No matter how one defines the current American aggression, the anti-war movement that has emerged explosively in England, Italy, France, the US and elsewhere, is the first such movement to take shape prior to the actual onset of a war.

It should surprise no one in the US that the corporate media chose not to report on the event. After all, the million-strong demonstration and study session held in Florence in November against the American aggression was entirely under-reported in the US. Even though al-Jazeera and al-Ahram, two of the most respected sources of news in the Arab world, were present, interviewing both organizers and participants, not one corporate news source showed up from the English-speaking world. France’s “Le Monde” spoke of the event, albeit briefly and almost invisibly, in the December 20-21 issue. “Humanite” had a correspondent follow the events.

The Congress successfully and strikingly brought together a broad range of distinguished speakers, among whom the hero of the Algerian War of Independence and former President, Ahmad Ben Bella, was the guest of honor. Also invited, but unable to attend due to illness though he did have a letter read out was Edward Said, the Palestinian-American author of “Orientalism” and “Culture and Imperalism”. The Congress also featured such distinguished speakers as former US-attorney general Ramsey Clark, former Director of the UN Humanitarian Program for Iraq, Dennis Halliday, and British anti-war MP George Gallaway. Egyptian-American scholar and consultant to the UN, Dr. Soheir Morsy, and Engineer M. Samy drove the Congress within its project, having worked brilliantly in their capacity as co-organizers of the event.

The results of the Congress are twofold. First, all participants democratically elaborated the “Cairo Declaration”, which is being forwarded to all international political and social bodies. Then, a steering committee was established to undertake action to raise popular awareness to the catastrophic effects a war would have on the Arab world, and to what the broader ambitions of the US and Israel appear to be in the Middle East. Needless to say, under its current government, Israel is indistinguishable from the broader aims of American foreign policy. This bond has worked unceasingly to the detriment of the US’s credibility in the Arab world, while being based on a short-term vision peculiar to Sharon’s Israel that can only be doomed to fail in the long-term.

Consensus was reached for full withdrawal of US forces from Arab countries, which may thereby allow the Arab people to deal with the question of democracy on their own terms and through their own means. As history has shown since ancient Athens, democracy as an export, imposed by force onto a people onto leads to tyranny. There have been no exceptions to this rule in history.

The present author was also honored to be invited. I spoke of the anti-war sentiment in Brazil from my perspective of a Canadian intellectual and academic living in Rio de Janeiro and married to a Brazilian. As I was the only representative of either Canada or Brazil, I believe it is appropriate to publish the paper and the views it discusses, which were presented to the Congress on December 19.


What follows is Madarasz’s address to the conference.

Secular Steps in Preparing a War


Distinguished participants,

I would like first of all to express my gratitude to Dr Soheir Morsy for inviting me and giving me the honor of speaking among you and participating in a Congress that has assembled so many illustrious speakers. Yesterday and this morning’s speeches were impressive by the intense, angry and profound solidarity shown toward the Iraqi people and children. In that regard, I can only second the motion put forth by Dr. von Sponeck according to which a clause ought to be devoted in the Cairo Declaration to the effect that Iraqi children must be recognized as having the same right to live as any child in the US, Britain, France or Canada.

Following so many passionate speeches, I think it can be affirmed loud and clear that here we find a clear example of people who no longer accept the inactivity of our governments toward the US aggression on Iraq. And that aggression ? as well as the ideology supporting it ? must be stopped before it exponentially increases the suffering of all in the region.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am Canadian, a professor and researcher in philosophy, currently living in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with my Brazilian wife and son. Soon after the attacks of September 11, I began writing, outside of philosophy and academia, on international political and economic relations for CounterPunch magazine. With such criminal irresponsibility returning home on September 11, it was impossible to keep silent any longer.

In the case of Brazil, or Argentina, Iraq and Egypt for that matter, what also engaged me to write was the near impossibility of finding pertinent, unbiased and informative news on the country in the English language corporate press, i.e. what we in North America usually call the “mass media”.

This state of affairs is simply frustrating. After all, consider for a minute the turbulent and very exciting year Brazil has undergone. By electing the Workers Party (PT) to government, and Lula da Silva as president last October, Brazil has become one of, if not the most, enthusiastic countries on the planet. It has certainly proved to be the most dynamic democracy existing anywhere today in what is a rapidly shrinking democratic world.

In that regard, we cannot really speak of anti-war demonstrations as yet having taken place in the country. The reasons have so very much to do with the population awaiting the investiture of their new president on January 1, and the hopeful promise of deep social change to combat poverty and the urban violence it gives rise to that is eating away at the fabric of Brazil’s largest cities. The gathering at Porto Alegre early next year should mark an important change in condemnation of the aggression.

Yet listen to any Brazilian news channel, and especially Globo News, or look into the eyes of most Brazilians while speaking of Iraq, and you will see a people not fooled by the pretexts spun by the US as justifiable cause for its increased aggression on Iraq or for its strategy aided and abetted by Sharon of establishing Israel as the hyper-militarized dominant power in the region, much less for its ambitions set in the rigid stone of globalized shareholder capitalism.

In many ways, Brazil has had first-hand experience in being revolted by one of the very secular episodes to preparing the war. This occurred when the Director-General of the UN’s Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Mr. Jose Bustani, was groundlessly accused of mismanaging the OPCW by Washington D.C. Bustani just happened to be Brazilian. And the Brazilian mass media covered the events so very closely and with such indignation that all could sense this strong-arm tactic to be a major step for the US to increase the aggression against Iraq.

The OPCW ran according to a convention by which member states had to provide data on their chemical weapons programs and were subject to challenges and inspections from other members. In his short tenure, Bustani managed to boost membership from 70 up to 145 nations in the space of two years. He had also been unanimously re-elected for a second four-year term in May 2001.

Bustani’s mistake, as most probably fabricated by John Bolton, senior neo-con ideologue and sub-secretary of state for arms control, was having wanted to include too many of the wrong types of countries into the folds of the OPCW. After all, these wrong types of countries, or “rogue states”, weren’t able to comply with international regulations and standards. They weren’t because by definition they were rogue states. Worse still, Bustani was involved in high-level talks with Iraq to have it enter the OPCW. His staff had already sent an inspections team to Baghdad to discuss matters with Iraqi authorities.

As the US is the main financial backer of the organization, covering roughly 25% of its operational budget, it rallied the usual victims to try to oust Bustani through a members’ vote. When the democratic process failed, Bolton’s people called for an extraordinary closed-door session in The Hague. On April 22, Ambassador Bustani was sacked, and the US would have set a precedence for one nation disrupting the activity of a UN agency had it not, just a week earlier, already lobbied against and replaced Robert Watson as head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Watson, an American scientist and strong supporter of the Kyoto Protocol, had been advocating action against global warming.

Just as Washington has shown its true colors by rejecting any form of environmental control over a country that is by far the world’s biggest polluter, so also has it dictated to the world that it and it alone knows how to manage budgets and control the non-conventional arms industry.

This event had serious implications for Iraq, but not only for that continually bombed country. At the time of the attack on Bustani, you’ll recall, new leads were appearing in the investigation into the wave of anthrax terror letters, which used a strain of anthrax allegedly developed by the US military and secretly funded. This received little mention in the North American corporate press, even though it directly contravened the biological and chemical weapons convention and US domestic law. Never mind that to this day, it appears as though an American connected to the military would have been behind the mail attacks.

This type of background scenario makes it all the more difficult to accept American self-denials over its imperialist ambitions. Such self-denial is merely a process of refining the ideology of imperial discourse. There’s maybe no one more apt and efficient in producing such self-denial in the context of the American aggression than Princeton professor emeritus of Middle East Studies, Bernard Lewis. Typical cases of denial in his writings are that America is not an Empire (like Britain and France were), or that Iraq has been a more brutal user of non-conventional weaponry than the US. (In discussing the “brutality” of Middle East dictators he conveniently elides any mention to the use of napalm and agent orange in Viet Nam, chemical weapons in the Korean war, let alone atomic weapons against Japan and depleted uranium in the Gulf War.)

When Professor Lewis recently argued in the National Review that the US fails the empire grade, thereby qualifying it as an honest exporter of democracy to countries raked by harsh dictatorial and theocratic rule, he omitted a major historical point. Prior to becoming colonial empires in the Middle and Far East, Britain and France both began by establishing ‘trade counters’. Just as the English were wheeling-dealing in Calcutta before the Indies became a colony, by corrupting and subjugating one maharaja after another into their horizon of interests, so also had the US secured growing dominance over oil in Riyadh.

In fact, regarding American history, we seem merely to be standing on an earlier segment of the colonial timeline. But on it we stand ? as everyone here seems to agree ? and, we stand on it at a very crucial moment, indeed.

This is a moment pointed to with vehemence under other purposes by New York Times right-wing columnist Thomas Friedman when he speaks of a new era when the United Nations Organization will finally be made to move faster ? to another beat, as it were. A recent piece, one whose title “‘Soddom’ Hussein’s Iraq” illustrates its lewd rhetoric, was published as if coincidentally just as the UN arms inspectors began tackling their delicate tasks.

For Friedman, the UN is part of the problem, but not as our distinguished speakers Denis Halliday and Dr. von Sponeck spoke of yesterday. These honorable gentlemen resigned from their high-level posts in the UN’s humanitarian sector in protest over the obvious failures of the Food-for-Oil program and the refusal of the Security Council to lift the embargo that has criminally been strangling the Iraqi people for over ten years. What Friedman intones is that the UN is blocking the rights of Iraqis to democracy. Furthermore, in a typical display of misplaced American arrogance, he has the gall to call upon a people under threat of massive bombardment, further death and starvation, to somehow, through sheer will and sacrifice, overthrow a dictator.

And this is why he claims that we must hold the “UN’s feet to the fire”, as if it and not the Security-Council enforced embargo were behind the plight of the Iraqi people! Such poetic license is, doubtless, of the sort that garnered him the Pulitzer Prize earlier this year.

Dear American friends, faced with the terror of 9/11 and its aftermath, you have allowed your federal government to let corporate crooks fly free from indictment after they ripped your pockets off by billions of dollars in the greatest corruption wave to have stricken the US since the Gilded Age. Freedom in the US today means freedom for corporate crooks of the highest and most prestigious pedigree. It no longer means freedom for the common folk. How can you expect Iraqis, then, to rise up when you yourselves can all but insist on government to keep its interest on the economy instead of getting rich from the taxes you pay at great expense from war?

But with the UN made immune, to whose ears can we still turn to be listened to at the highest level?

As futile and confused as it seems, but with a spirit of keeping possible doors open, it could still be Secretary Colin Powell. If we accept the American self-denial of the imperial-nature of its foreign policy, and that the aggression on Iraq is “not about oil”, as Rumsfeld recently claimed, then we can draw out the Western trinity to which the secretary of defense and vice-president are not only devoted servants, but stakeholders and shareholders: oil for sure and don’t be fooled; next: the arms industry; finally, much less glamorous but equally lucrative, the military logistics industry that supplies infrastructure to the massive armies as they stretch their claws worldwide. (In cut-throat international competition, heavy industry agrees that future treasure lies in masterful logistics.) As opposed to Messieurs Rumsfeld and Cheney, Secretary Powell seems only marginally connected to the ownership of these sectors.

There is a silent reserve in Colin Powell that seems to express wisdom, albeit undercut by professional ambition. Secretary, you have been able to transform your logistics and geostrategic knowledge into intelligent dialogue with the world’s youth on MTV. You were behind operations of the 1991 war on Iraq, you have seen the ravages. You are aware of the horrors caused even more in the war’s aftermath, which shouldn’t be surprising given the post-war sequelae of Viet Nam.

The anti-war movement, the movement for international respect for social justice, may grant you laurels if you prove able to move from the man of war that you are, to the leader of peace that you promise to become. But if you do nothing to avert this infernal step into the next segment of the colonial timeline, history will forget you, Sir.

Whether his door remains partially open or not, our words must continue to be: all together in solidarity with the Iraqi people and all together in our call to halt the British-Israeli-American aggression on Iraq, on behalf of my Canadian and Brazilian colleagues and loved ones.

NORMAN MADARASZ holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the Universite de Paris. His most recent philosophical study is on French philosopher Alain Badiou’s mathematical philosophy, forthcoming in Gabriel Riera (editor), “Alain Badiou: Philosophy under Conditions”, SUNY Press. He welcomes comments at