Dear Sisters and Brothers,
I’m going to try to explain why I was a part of a movement that opposed the war that freed you of this tyrant. Many of you may be wondering why many decent people around the world marched against this war.
Throughout the whole ordeal, I knew that this war would be better for you than a continuation of the sanctions plus Saddam Hussein’s tyranny. I knew that we misspoke when we called the recent invasion of your county “the war” as if what had been happening for the past 13 years was not worse than war. Yes, the choices were horrible: sanctions plus Saddam versus cluster bombs and a government selected under occupation.
I’m sorry we did not manage to alter those choices. That’s our biggest failing.
As the fog of Saddam’s disinformation gradually lifts from Iraq, you will learn that much of what Saddam Hussein said was lies, but you already knew that. What may be surprising is that some of what he claimed about the sanctions was correct. It was indeed the United States and United Kingdom, the self-described coalition, that unilaterally blocked many life-sustaining supplies from entering your country. Over the past decade, many good people have fought against — and documented — the cynical, calculating, cruel means by which our governments restricted your ability to live a decent life. Read Tom Nagy: He unearthed that U.S. bombed your infrastructure in the first Gulf War fully aware of its disastrous consequences for civilians . Or Joy Gordon: She showed how the U.S. vetoed the means of fixing your ruined infrastructure And say hello to Bert Sacks when you see him again: He got fined $10,000 by the U.S. government after admitting to carrying much needed medicine into your country, for your children.
It is a sordid story, indeed.
Saddam Hussein did not care about the people of Iraq and knew the sanctions helped keep him in power. Madeleine Albright, while ambassador to the United Nations, chimed in and declared that half a million of your children dead due to the sanctions was “worth it.”
I knew that past and present anti-war movements had forced enough civilization on the war-makers that the number of civilians killed would not be as bad as the numbers killed by the continuation of the status quo. Yes, as a society, we are guilty of caring more about people who die due to our projectiles — that is, unless they are soldiers many of whom are guilty only of being forcibly conscripted — than those who die due to our policies. Unfortunately, you make our lists of the dead if you die by tomahawks, cluster bombs and bullets instead of easily preventable diseases, starvation or lack of simple medicines.
In other words, I knew that if one counted correctly, the war wasn’t worse for you than the existing “containment” strategy. After all, UNICEF calculated that about 5,000 children a month died from the sanctions; adding the dead, the disappeared and the maimed by your government, the balance was clear.
So, you may ask, why did I abandon you? Why did I oppose this war which would get rid of Saddam Hussein’s regime that held you hostage?
Let me first say that it wasn’t the idea that sovereignty allows governments to commit crimes against humanity. If there were a way to intervene without engendering far worse consequences, I would not hesitate.
Unfortunately, the removal of this brutal regime is done by the hand that perpetuates a world order that is brutal and cruel.
In a nutshell, the problem is this: the power that occupies you right now sits on top of a world order in which the rich and the powerful are robbing world’s children of a meaningful future.
The methods are many.
Sometimes, it is called “debt repayment,” where money squandered by dictators supported by the rich countries is paid back into the coffers of the already obscenely rich by charging curious children for going to school and thirsty babies for clean water.
Sometimes they call it “structural adjustment programs” and use the country’s economy and the national budget to siphon off resources to foreign banks and domestic elites.
Sometimes it’s carried out under “intellectual property rights regimes” in which giant pharmaceutical companies are bequeathed monopoly licenses to essential drugs and then it’s declared illegal to provide those drugs to people too poor to pay for them at anything less than the decreed price.
Sometimes this world order works by crushing people fighting for better working conditions and better pay by branding them anti-business and anti-trade. Sometimes it just goes in and robs them directly; this is called “privatization.”
Other times it forces countries to stop providing affordable food; the powers-that-be call these “subsidies” and allow them only in rich countries.
In this world, governments that dare to be more responsive to their citizens are called undemocratic and controversial. Bloody “regime change” operations await them — ask the people in Chavez’s Venezuela, in Allende’s Chile, in the Sandinistas’ Nicaragua.
It’s a world where all restrictions against pillage and plunder are called “restrictions to capital movements” or “restrictions on trade” and forbidden. Meanwhile, restrictions on human movements are called measures against “illegal immigration” and constantly reinforced.
Under the rules of this world order, attempts to demonstrate against secretive, top-down, undemocratic entities are called riots or disturbances of the peace and declared illegal, impolite and uncivilized. However, walled-off meetings by the superrich held in inaccessible islands and mountaintops in Doha, Davos, and the Azores are called “summits”, “negotiations” and “forums.”
“What does that have to do with me,” you ask. I’m ashamed to bother you with all of this while I watch pictures of you digging the harsh ground with your hands, hoping against hope that your child who was disappeared years ago is still alive in the tyrant’s dungeon.
I’m sorry. All I can say is that I know you will understand when I say there are other, millions and millions of sons and daughters out there who are in danger, right now. I know that in many instances people who have lost so much can be infinitely nobler than people who have only privilege, complicity and comfort to lose.
I am in no position to ask you this by right, I do so only by faith that your humanity will triumph over our failures.
As you know, the same ground that swallowed too many of your children is also cursed with the resource which is crucial to the running of this truly odious machine. If the powers-that-be, the ones that control the world’s biggest military and economic institutions, can control this resource and use it as a weapon against the rest of the world it will be much easier for them to perpetuate the evils of this system. If they can have bases in your county, stocked with the mightiest killing machines; if they can install a government whose loyalty is to them and not to you; if they can use their presence and their control over your country to beat back any plausible opposition to their dominance — then many will die and many will starve and almost all will be unfree.
Yes, I hear you: How can we in the rich countries, blessed with freedoms and rights that you can only dream of, expect you to be more mindful of the suffering of the world than we seem to be? If what I say is true, why don’t those of us with privilege elect better leaders and reform our system?
Yes, we are yet failing miserably. We are against formidable foes but yes, you are right, they are not unbeatable. I wish we could claim more success. No excuses can hide such a shameful failure, and I won’t bother listing them.
Nonetheless, the danger that the world faces is real and urgent, which is why I must ask for your help. I am asking you to overlook our failures and listen to what we do know about the world order. And don’t just listen to us in rich countries; people in Nigeria, Chiapas, and East Timor can tell you the whole story. Ask people in Bolivia who continue to fight against Bechtel’s attempts to steal their water in order to sell it back at extravagant prices. That’s the same Bechtel that’s just been assigned a major contract to build many things in your country, including “rehabilitating the water systems”. [http://www.corpwatch.org/news/PND.jsp?articleid=5728]
I am asking you not to let your oil become a sword that will be used to cut down other sprouting life. I am asking you to dignify your grief for your lost children with caring for the ones that are trying to hang on to life in slums in Caracas, refugee camps in Angola, brothels in Thailand, sweatshops in Indonesia.
I must also confess, I’m secretly hoping your refusal to accept your designated role will show us here that it is possible to refuse to be blinded by propaganda, bribed by a share of the spoils, or intimidated by might.
ZEYNEP TOUFE is a doctoral student in Austin, TX; she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org