As I watched the statues crash to the ground I felt a strange sadness, and a real anger. Back in 1978 I was on the executive of the National Union of Students. I remember voting for a motion condemning the Ba’athist regime in Iraq. At the time, no one in the British establishment gave a damn about democracy in Iraq, the fate of the Iraqi people or what weapons the regime had.
I was back at college when the Iran-Iraq war began. A plague on the houses of both reactionary regimes, I thought, and how sad that so many will die in their cause. Not so the big and powerful figures in the west. They seemed delighted to see these two regimes at each other’s throats. British and US arms dealers were prominent among those who rushed to sell both sides weapons.
After all, who cared if Arabs killed Persians or Persians killed Arabs? (Interestingly, in the current conflict one US soldier who is facing court martial for refusing to go to war described how his mates would talk about going to ‘kill all rag heads’. Ah, what liberators!)
My view, though, began to change. I remember writing in this very publication that the more I watched and listened to the commentaries on this war, the more I leant towards Iran. It was becoming clear that the west was backing Iraq, providing it with arms, with American ‘technical and military advisers’. Saddam was their man.
Those of us who cared howled with rage when we found out that chemical and biological weapons were used against the Iranians. For the likes of Donald Rumsfeld, though, it was just another good day’s work in protecting the interests of Uncle Sam. When early day motions were put to the House of Commons condemning the regime Tony Blair, for one, was nowhere to be found.
With a few exceptions, the bulk of us who continued to rage against Saddam are now to be found in the anti-war movement. Those that at best turned a blind eye, and at worst armed and encouraged him, now wish to pose as liberators, or the supporters of liberation. Only after the invasion of Kuwait did these people discover how bad Saddam was, only then did he become the most evil man to walk the planet since Hitler. Just as Churchill had no problem with fascism until it threatened Britain’s interests, so these ‘liberators’ had no interest in liberating until it became clear that they needed to liberate oil!
So watching the statues being kicked over should have been a joyous thing. Instead it left a nasty taste in the mouth. On the morning before the statues fell, I had been all but reduced to tears by a description of the suffering of the innocent of Baghdad by Suzanne Goldenberg in the ‘Guardian’: ‘A [12 year old] girl…was laid out beside her little brother [4 or 5]. Their mother lay across the aisle, beige dress soaked in blood from hem to armpits. Another brother slumped on the floor, insensible to the fact that he was sitting in his mother’s blood… When the two small corpses were loaded on the same trolley to take them to the morgue, even the nurses were reduced to tears.’
This, then, was their liberation in this senseless and selfish carnage. This should have been our day–Saddam gone, statues toppled, a new hope, a new freedom. Instead I watched as a war was launched with a tissue of lies, and as innocents died needlessly.
As I watched the scenes of soldiers being greeted, I cast my mind back to the strange horror I felt as a young Irishman with Republican sympathies when a besieged Catholic community greeted British soldiers with cups of tea in Belfast in 1969.
‘It won’t last,’ said my father (profoundly anti-Republican). ‘Soon they’ll be shooting at one another.’ He was right, because the ‘liberators’ quickly proved they had a very different agenda to the ‘liberated’.
Watching, I wondered about the different agendas this time–not only for the ‘liberated’ Iraqis but also for the peoples of the entire region. It would appear that they are to be left with con men and yes men selling fictional road maps outlining Palestinian freedom, drawn up by fanatical pro-Zionist cartographers. Little dancing in the streets in Gaza or the West Bank then.
For this is all that the latter-day converts to anti-Saddamism offer to a ravaged people and a wartorn region. The problem here isn’t that people change their minds or come late to a cause. After all, some in the west who supported or condoned the Kosovo intervention or even the Afghan attack cannot stomach this war. Many who have come to the anti-war movement are new to politics or political activity–the school students who have played such a vocal role in the movement most obviously so.
It is the motives of those that belatedly discovered the evil of Saddam that don’t bear examination–Bush, Rumsfeld, Blair, the Sun and the rest of the motley warmongers have not suddenly become fans of liberation, or concerned about the fate of those living under dictators. Their concerns are self interest, oil and global power, all wrapped in a neat blanket of jingoism. Their liberation will be contained by a million strings tied in thousands of knots.
I desperately want to share the joy of the statue kickers. They deserve joy, they deserve to see the end of Saddam, and they deserve freedom.
My joy, though, has to be muted, just as theirs will be shortlived. What should have been a day of joy for freedom lovers, and those who believe in international solidarity, instead became a day of triumph for warmongers.
They use our words and claim our symbols for their own distorted ends. How dare they. That’s why we understand that the fight against them has only just begun.
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