As a dual national of Pakistan and Britain, it is the loss of British credibility I find hardest to stomach.
Even the moderates here in Pakistan are outraged. Across the board, young and old, poor and rich, fundamentalist and secularist are united in their hatred of the US and their contempt for Britain. Such unprecedented unanimity in a country renowned for its ethnic and sectarian divides is a huge achievement. Qazi Hussein Ahmed, the leader of the combined religious party Majlis Muttahida Amal (MMA), announced triumphantly: “The pro-West liberals have lost conviction. Islamic movements have come alive.”
This new-found unity, which includes for the first time the pro-West élites, the liberal middle classes and the mullahs, has been boosted by a fear that Pakistan may be on the US target list. We may not be seeing burning effigies of Bush and Blair daily (although there has been some of that), but many of those with Western connections are considering severing those links. Angry and fearful, expatriate Pakistanis are returning home, and property prices are soaring despite recession. The boycott against British and US goods is growing.
The same is happening throughout the Muslim world. A previously fractured ummah is finally uniting against a perceived common foe, leaving the fundamentalists jubilant and their pro-West leaders, despite their dependence on the US, with no choice but to join the anti-war chorus.
Bush and Blair have already shown that they care little about world opinion, but what about when those feelings of resentment towards the US and Britain in Muslim countries translate into votes for virulently anti-Western fundamentalist parties? Despite their disingenuous talk of freedom and democracy, Bush and Blair must know that bringing true democracies to the Middle East, and the Muslim world in general, will have the opposite effect to the one they hope for and will go against their own interests. It is unlikely that any democratic Muslim country today will ever elect a pro-Western government.
Pakistan is a good example. Popular anger at the government’s co-operation with America’s bombing of Afghanistan (its provision of bases and intelligence) led to an unprecedented victory of the religious parties in the October 2002 election. Having never won more than 10 seats in the past 30 years, the alliance of Islamic parties is now the second biggest party in Parliament with 70 seats, and forms two out of the four provincial governments. And with each bomb dropped on Baghdad, they are growing in popularity and strength.
America can continue to count on support from the unelected puppet governments of oil-rich countries, such as the Middle Eastern monarchies. The darlings of Western oil companies, they depend on the US to stay in power. Such is the popular outrage, however, that those leaders are looking increasingly vulnerable.
As a dual national of Pakistan and Britain, it is the loss of British credibility in the eyes of the world that I find hardest to stomach. Why has Blair chosen to overlook, and in some cases propagate, the lies, misinformation and discredited evidence used by the US to justify this indefensible war? Why does Blair perpetuate Bush’s mendacious claim that Iraq “has aided, trained and harboured terrorists, including operatives of al-Qai’da”, when no evidence has ever surfaced of a link, nor has any Iraqi been implicated in terrorist acts against the US?
Why the pretence of “making the world a safer place” when we all know an unjust war will incite such hatred that new recruits will be queuing up to join al-Qa’ida? Why the persistence in the lie that Saddam represents a military threat? Why no contrition over the exposure of flawed or faked evidence? Why the lectures on Saddam’s violation of 17 UN resolutions, when Bush gives military and economic aid to Israel, which has regularly flouted at least 64 of them?
Why the sudden concern for the Iraqi people, when there have been years of protest against sanctions responsible for hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi deaths? Why the lack of concern for Iraqi children dying of hitherto-unseen cancers linked to the use of uranium-tipped shells by the British and Americans? Why the convenient amnesia over the fact that the weapons of mass destruction Iraq does possess were supplied by the US and Britain, along with France, in the first place?
Is the condemnation for dictatorships with human rights records every bit as bad as Iraq’s and no democracies to speak of, restricted to those that are not West- friendly or controllable?
In short, why the double standards, moral hypocrisy and political expediency? Do they think it goes unnoticed, or do they just not care?
It is little wonder that Muslims around the world, pondering these questions while watching images of maimed Iraqi women and children as lucrative reconstruction contracts are doled out to US companies, are reacting with increasing incredulity, anger and trepidation.
The only thing that tempers my own rage and shame is the knowledge that there are millions like me who oppose war in Iraq not because they are Muslims or pacifists or appeasers or anti-West or anti-American or left wing, but simply because they remain utterly unconvinced by the arguments put forward for war. With British and US credibility in tatters, no one in the Muslim world now believes that this is really all about “making the world a safer place”, about al-Qa’ida and the War on Terror, about Saddam and his weapons of mass destruction, about the imminent threat to the “civilised world”, or the violation of UN resolutions; far less about the emancipation of the Iraqi people. Instead, many are asking the question: Which country is really in need of regime change and, in the words of the great statesman Nelson Mandela, is “the greatest threat to world peace”?
JEMIMA KHAN is a human rights activists and the daughter of Sir James Goldsmith.
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