This is an open letter in response to David Aaronovitch’s invitation in The Guardian (G2 18.02.03) to the peace marchers of London to answer a few questions. But it is also an answer to his more evangelical colleagues like Christopher Hitchens, whose piece in The Mirror on Tuesday (18.02.03) came closest to giving the fundamentalist rantings of the Bush cabinet some rhetorical coherence. They are the moral warriors who consciously or otherwise have become apologists for George Bush’s new world order and welcome the proposed full spectrum dominance of the United States. They constitute a minority, but a minority in positions of disproportionate power, both in media and politics. Their invitations to engage in debate must not, and have not, be neglected.
So this is to you David, an old marcher, from a marginally younger one. You ask a hell of a lot of questions, but I hope this answers their general drift. You pretend to misunderstand Tony Benn when he calls for inspections in USA, Israel and Britain. But surely a person of your intelligence and moral integrity cannot deny that these states have stockpiles of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, WMDs like ‘bunker buster’, cluster bombs and Depleted Uranium shells and a history of using them directly as in Hiroshima,Vietnam, Serbia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. More sinisterly, they actively encourage the exporting of these weapons and technologies globally. I cannot name a Welsh village that ahs been chemically attacked by Britain but I can name Britain and USA as being the chief suppliers of Saddam’s arsenal in his war against Iran and his massacre of Kurds. So pardon me if I don’t swallow the line about this war being against the proliferation of WMDs. If you think war is a sound strategy of containment of aggressive states with a track record of using WMDs, are you prepared to back the invasions of India, Pakistan, and North Korea?
No court in the world is powerful to try those in power. But you seem to find the fact that we find people like Richard Perle, John Negroponte and Donald Rumsfeld little better than criminals astonishing. As an advisor to the extremist Netanyahu government in Israel, Perle advocated a no-negotiation policy with Palestinians and forcible expulsion of civilians from West bank and Gaza. Negroponte personally oversaw covert anti-democratic operations in Nicaragua and Honduras. They are responsible for aiding, planning and abetting the murder, torture and expulsion of civilians in the middle ?east and Latin America, these individuals are criminals in our books. Are we wrong to be sceptical of their proposed role in Iraq? That their ousting of Saddam Hussein will lead to the appointment of a similar anti-democratic regime, but this time a pro-U.S. one? This is already the fears of Iraqis in exile like Kanaan Makiya, whose cause you pretend to champion.
You sneer at us for being the majority. To illustrate fears of mob rule, you cite the case of anti-asylum hysteria in Britain. This, David, is a clear but clever case of false analogy. Some of us have been working against the BNP and tabloid- engineered lies about illegal immigrants in poor deprived British cities. You should come and see us sometime in places like Sunderland and Burnley. So we don’t actually need a warning about mob hysteria. Especially since, contrary to what The Sun would like to believe, the majority of people in Britain are tolerant and welcoming of the multi-racial society and sympathetic to the plight of the refugees when they are not being constantly misinformed. I defy the BNP and the Sun to muster up not 2 million, but half that number, to demonstrate in favour of keeping refugees out of Britain. They are not the majority. Why doesn’t Blair demonstrate his moral courage against them? Why back down and appease them all the time? Why withdraw the plans for asylum centres when a misinformed third of some small town carry placards when he is determined not to listen to millions on Iraq? Do you detect hypocrisy there and how wrong you are to compare us to them?
We are against war and not containment. The total volume of surveillance on Iraq is among the heaviest in the world. Today (18.02.), Iraq has agreed to let U2 spy planes to fly into its airspace. By all means let us keep up the scrutiny. Let us support permanent inspections and let us actively discourage any arms trade with the regime. Let human rights monitoring be a permanent part of the inspection regime. A vast majority of us are in favour of all this. What we are not in favour of, and what people like CASI and ARROW have been tirelessly campaigning for more than a decade now, is to end the sanctions that play directly into the hand of Saddam Hussein and has led to the unimaginable sufferings of the Iraqi civilians. To now argue that only a war can end that suffering that USA and Britain have actively promoted in the first place is not only morally repugnant, but strategically disastrous. We have no doubts that France and Russia have their own agendas in their opposition to war. But at least the fallout of that policy is far less destructive for Iraq that the Blair-Bush doctrine.
This position, whether you agree with it or not, is much more cohesive and thought out than your portrait of us as confused collaborators of Saddam Hussein suggests. I have been in Britain for six years now, and been teaching in a British university for the last three years. For much of this time I have been wailing at the political apathy of Britons young and old. But I have never been as proud to be in this country as I was on Saturday when I saw school kids marching with CND veterans of the 60s, and when my students ran out of coaches to come down from Newcastle to London because every single one of them had been booked already. What we are saying is that we will not play this fatal game of Bush and Bin Laden and the doctrine of unending war anymore. Have a look at Afghanistan where things have now reverted to warlords and fiefdoms and Pashtun discontent. Where attacks on UN and US forces are growing by the month and where members of the unpopular (and as yet unelected) government have routinely suffered assassination attempts. Is this what you call hopeful? Instead of scorning us and supporting the anti-democratic diktats of Britain and US, I wish you could have been there, free of fear and mistrust, just like you were in the days when you marched against the killings in Soweto.
Dr PABLO MUKHERJEE teaches in the school of english at University of Newcastle. He can be reached at: email@example.com