Conscience Takes a Holiday

While the airwaves jangle gleefully with the killings of Saddam’s sons and grandson, life in Iraq continues to spiral downward. This is not out of Al-Jazeera or Abu Dhabi TV, but from that sober organ, the New York Times.

The July 15 issue of the Times carries a front page dispatch from Neela Banerjee, its Baghdad correspondent. Rape and abduction, she reports, have become so common in the anarchy following the American occupation, that women have taken to closeting themselves in their homes rather than risk danger to life and dignity. Such a development, in what was one of the Arab World’s most pro-women societies (Saddam’s head of biological weapons was female!), sadly sums up the American claim of ‘liberating’ Iraq.

Some liberation, indeed, when 50% of the population is forced to stay home in fear! What the Taliban enforced by edict, America has wrought by bungling. Excepting that both went about it with similar fanatical overtones of divine purpose.

In the editorial section of the same paper, Thomas Friedman lauds the Iraq initiative. He goes so far as to concede that the Bush Administration’s claim of WMD’s was ‘phony’. But, Friedman goes on breathlessly, that is because they were chary of stating the real purpose–namely “to install a decent, tolerant, pluralistic, multireligious government in Iraq that would be the best answer and antidote to both Saddam and Osama.” These are Friedman’s reasons for the war, reasons that Bush and Co. have never seriously signed on to. (If you’re asking whether even the best intentions are valid enough cause for any country to invade another, save it– you would only reveal your back-number status in the post 9-11 world).

In his recent columns, Mr. Friedman sounds more shrill than sage, more fanciful than factual–as he reads Bush’s mind, divining noble impulses of which its owner himself seems unaware–reminding one of Iraq’s Information Minister al Saraf’s free clairvoyance during the fall of Baghdad.

The Bush administration procession from one egregious innovation to another is reminiscent of an old Indian movie where a fine, upstanding, lawyer is led inevitably from crime to bigger crime until one day he finds he has broken all ten commandments he had taught his young son. The latest act of brazenness is the new policy of targetted assassination. Not only has America put a bounty of $25 million on Saddam’s head (and $15 million each on his sons) –it also has hit squads trying to bump him off. Such is the degradation of sound-byte journalism that there is little public debate (let alone horror) of the implications of the United States government openly entering the mafia’s domain.

The Times’ article details a searing tale of a 9 year-old child called Sanariya, raped by a stranger, and now beaten daily by its brothers and parents for the ‘shame’ of the incident. The article says there is no policing in Baghdad, and abduction of women has become so common that parents wait outside girls’ schools all day until their children return safely.

If a lone sexual assault by a soldier is a war crime, then surely, widespread rape and abduction enabled by a planned and deliberate war can be hardly called any less. An international community with any sense of outrage would speak up, and call the ‘Coalition Partners’ on the carpet. But other than an aging Mandela, one has hardly sees anyone of international stature doing so. The usual purveyors of morality? Not a word from Vaclav Havel. Not a peep from Lech Walesa. Complete silence from Mikhail ‘Popular in America, Hated in Russia’ Gorbachev. Even Chirac and Schroeder seem to have gone mute, awed by the swift military blitzkrieg. As to the third world, no leader seems to have the vision, let alone the voice, that something enormously vital is at stake? And in the United States, it is funny to see the brouhaha over 16 words, when the administration’s entire Iraq enterprise was steeped in falsehood.

Are world leaders going to speak up? Or have we all become so lost on the highway to hyper-consumption, our collective conscience blinded by visions of reconstruction contracts, that we view the Sanariyas of Iraq as no more than road-kill?

NIRANJAN RAMAKRISHNAN is a writer based on the west coast. You can see more of his writings at Indogram. He can be contacted at

/>Niranjan Ramakrishnan is a writer living on the West Coast.  His book, “Reading Gandhi In the Twenty-First Century” was published last year by Palgrave.  He may be reached at