Saturday, April 26, 2003

Anil’s Ghost – A Book Review
By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
April 26, 2003

I was hesitant reading Anil’s Ghost when it was published. Sometime the overreaching popularity and fame of a writer can become the cause of avoiding reading his works. And I confess, it was a mistake.

Michael Ondaatje is a familiar name in the literary arena. After his Booker winning novel The English Patient was memorialized by the superb direction of Anthony Minghella, artistically given life to by Ralph Fiennes, Kristin Scott, Juliette Binoche and other unforgettable casts, the urge for reading the original novel was there. I wanted to forget the theme and intricacies of the movie so that I could rediscover it years from now, but the memories of love and gloom are still remaining. Perhaps a few more years require before embarking to that appealing trek.

Anil’s Ghost is set up in different settings. Michael Ondaatje, a Sri Lankan born Canadian writer revisits his country of origin, painting through his artistic skills the devastations of another war-ravaged nation. It is about life and death, the agony of dying victims of war, terrorism’s brutal reminder emanating from their remaining tortured bones.

“The bodies turn up weekly now. The height of the terror was eighty-eight and eighty-nine, but of course it was going on long before that. Every side was killing and hiding the evidence. Every side. This is an unofficial war, no one wants to alienate the foreign powers. So it’s secret gangs and squads. Not like Central America. The government was not the only one doing the killing. You had, and still have, three camps of enemies – one in the north, two in the south – using weapons, propaganda, fear, sophisticated posters, censorship. Importing state-of-the-art weapons from the West, or manufacturing homemade weapons. A couple of years ago people just started disappearing. Or bodies kept being found burned beyond recognition. There’s no hope of affixing blame. And no one can tell who the victims are. I am just an archaeologist. This pairing by your commission and the government was not my idea – a forensic pathologist, an archaeologist, odd pairing, if you want my opinion. What we’ve got here is unknown extrajudicial executions mostly. Perhaps by the insurgents, or by the government or the guerilla separatists. Murders committed by all sides” (Page 17). These are Sarath’s words to Anil.

Anil Tissera is a young Western educated Sri Lankan woman. She is a forensic anthropologist. An international human-rights group sends her “to work with local officials to discover the source of the organized campaigns of murder engulfing the island.”

Anil meets Sarath, an archaeologist based in Sri Lanka. They embark in their journey of uncovering an unpleasant truth, truth that the seated Sri Lanka government, Singhalese and the Tamil opponents were both hiding to cover their crimes against humanity.

Why did the Sri Lankan government allowed Anil to investigate the killings that might implicate them in return? “President Katugala claimed no knowledge or organized campaigns of murder on the island. But under pressure, and to placate trading partners in the West, the government eventually made the gesture of an offer to pair local officials with outside consultants, and Anil Tissera was chosen as the Geneva organization’s forensic specialist, to be teamed with an archaeologist (Sarath) in Colombo” (Page 16).

Anil’s Ghost reads like a mystery novel. There is the meticulous investigation in finding the identity of a murdered man whose bones Anil and Sarath discovered hidden among the century old human bones in government protected area. Their investigation led them to sought help from a legendary epigraphist Palipana who was residing in semi-monastery seclusion. The description of Palipana’s life in brief was refreshing as it shows the nature’s way of revealing history through rocks and bones.

Gamini is Sarath’s brother. He is a doctor who has seen war’s wrath and fought to save countless lives in the local hospitals. The rebels kidnap him for a day or two. They need his expertise to heal their wounds. “He worked into the night, bending over patients while someone on the other side of their beds held an old Coleman lamp. Some of the boys were delirious when they emerged from the influence of the pills. Who sent a thirteen-year-old to fight, and for what furious cause? For an old leader? For some pale flag? He had to keep reminding himself who these people are. Bombs on crowded streets, in bus stations, paddy fields, schools had been set by people like this. Hundreds of victims had died under Gamini’s care. Thousands couldn’t walk or use their bowels anymore. Still. He was a doctor” (Page 120).

Gamini and other doctors were not working for profit. “They all knew it was about the sense of self-worth that, during those days, in that place, had overcome them. They were not working for any cause or political agenda. They had found a place a long way from governments and media and financial ambition. They had originally come to the northeast for a three-month shift and in spite of the lack of equipment, the lack of water, not one luxury except now and then a tin of condensed milk sucked in a car while being surrounded by jungle, they had stayed for two years or three, in some cases longer. It was the best place to be” (Page 231).

Anil is a fearless woman. She wants to find justice for the victims. She wants to hold responsible of those who are behind the murder of that sailor’s bone she is methodically examining. She doesn’t want to listen to Sarath who advises her to be careful, the big brother is watching her every move. Anil doesn’t know whom to trust anymore. She even begins to suspect Sarath who might be working for the government. But there is a twist in the story that must be explored by the interested readers.

Michael Ondaatje’s Anil Ghost is a painful testament that war and terrorism bring nothing fruitful but more wars and terrorism. War and terrorism may take different forms in different nations or different historical era, but the underlying essence is the same: they kill people. They transform a kind society into bipolar schism.

Wherever it occurs, Sri Lanka or Iraq, it is the victims’ generation long pain and sufferings passed onto the new generation that inflames more wars as a means of vengeance. History tries to warn the new generation from embracing the same repeated mistakes done by their ancestors, but the killings and mayhems unfortunately continues in the name of insatiable power, greed and religious creed. A shift in our violent paradigm is urgently required. And observing the rousing anti-war sentiments around the world among the peaceful mass of billions, the mouthful agenda of neo-bigots and terrorists may very well become the things of an inglorious past in the hopeful future.



References

1. Michael Ondaatje, "Anil's Ghost", McClelland Stewart Inc., Toronto, 2000.
2. Picture Reference: http://www.audiobooksonline.com/shopsite/media/0375415661.jpg



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Mahbubul Karim (Sohel) is a freelance writer. His email address is: sohelkarim@yahoo.com.


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Thursday, April 24, 2003

Argentina's Luddite rulers

Dear Readers,

The workers’ rights are trampled and battered wherever the slightest opportunity exists. The big-bucks lawyers’ festooned owners and their showmanship spinsters are constantly devising impudent methods in cheating and exploiting labors of the poor.

Argentina is no exception from this cold hard reality. Their election is near but people’s suffering are soaring amid same old false promises by the leaders of “poly-tricks”.

All over the world, mostly in poor nations, the trend is stunningly similar.

A nation is built and breathed through the endless drop of perspiration by the workers. And they remain at the bottom rung of economic ladder despite their constant efforts in maintaining and moving forward the society battling the not-so-kind nature in every struggling step.

Naomi Klein’s the following article, “Argentina’s Luddite Rulers” published in The Globe and Mail is a moving piece.

Regards,

Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
April 24, 2003

Argentina's Luddite rulers


Workers in the occupied factories have a different vision: Smash the logic, not the machines


By NAOMI KLEIN

In 1812, bands of British weavers and knitters raided textile mills and smashed industrial machines with their hammers. According to the Luddites, the new mechanized looms had eliminated thousands of jobs, broken communities and deserved to be destroyed. The British government disagreed and called in 14,000 soldiers to brutally repress the worker revolt and protect the machines.

Fast-forward two centuries to another textile factory, this one in Buenos Aires. At Brukman, which has been producing men's suits for 50 years, it's the riot police who smash the sewing machines and the 58 workers who risk their lives to protect them.

On Monday, the Brukman factory was the site of the worst repression Buenos Aires has seen in almost a year. Police had evicted the workers in the middle of the night and turned the entire block into a military zone guarded by machine guns and attack dogs. Unable to get into the factory and complete an order for 3,000 pairs of dress trousers, the workers gathered a huge crowd of supporters and announced it was time to go back to work. At 5 p.m., 50 middle-aged seamstresses in no-nonsense haircuts, sensible shoes and blue smocks walked up to the police fence. Someone pushed, the fence fell, and the Brukman women, unarmed and arm in arm, slowly walked through.

They had only taken a few steps when the police began shooting: tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets, then lead. The police even charged the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, in their white headscarves embroidered with the names of their "disappeared" children. Dozens of demonstrators were injured.

This is a snapshot of Argentina less than a week before its presidential election. Each of the five major candidates is promising to put this crisis-ravaged country back to work. Yet Brukman's workers are treated as if sewing a grey suit were a capital crime.

Why this state Luddism, this rage at machines? Well, Brukman isn't just any factory; it's a fabrica ocupada, one of almost 200 factories across the country that have been taken over and run by their workers in the past 18 months. For many, the factories, employing more than 10,000 nationwide and producing everything from tractors to ice cream, are seen not just as an economic alternative, but as a political one as well. "They are afraid of us because we have shown that, if we can manage a factory, we can also manage a country," Brukman worker Celia Martinez said on Monday night. "That's why this government decided to repress us."

At first glance, Brukman looks like every other garment factory in the world. As in Mexico's hypermodern maquiladoras and Toronto's crumbling coat factories, Brukman is filled with women hunched over sewing machines, their eyes straining and fingers flying over fabric and thread. What makes Brukman different are the sounds. Along with the familiar roar of machines and hiss of steam is the Bolivian folk music, coming from a small tape deck at the back of the room, and softly spoken voices, as older workers show younger ones new stitches. "They wouldn't let us do that before," Ms. Martinez says. "They wouldn't let us get up from our workspaces or listen to music. But why not listen to music, to lift the spirits a bit?"

In Buenos Aires, every week brings news of a new occupation: a four-star hotel now run by its cleaning staff, a supermarket taken over by its clerks, a regional airline about to be turned into a co-operative by the pilots and attendants. In small Trotskyist journals around the world, Argentina's occupied factories, where the workers have seized the means of production, are giddily hailed as the dawn of a socialist utopia. In large business magazines such as The Economist, they are ominously described as a threat to the sacred principle of private property. The truth lies in between.

At Brukman, for instance, the means of production weren't seized -- they were simply picked up after they had been abandoned by their legal owners. The factory had been in decline for several years, and debts to utility companies were piling up. The seamstresses had seen their salaries slashed from 100 pesos a week to two pesos -- not enough for bus fare.

On Dec. 18, the workers decided it was time to demand a travel allowance. The owners, pleading poverty, told the workers to wait at the factory while they looked for the money. "We waited until night," Ms. Martinez says. "No one came."

After getting the keys from the doorman, Ms. Martinez and the other workers slept at the factory. They have been running it every since. They have paid the outstanding bills, attracted new clients and, without profits and management salaries to worry about, paid themselves steady salaries. All these decisions have been made by vote in open assemblies. "I don't know why the owners had such a hard time," Ms. Martinez says. "I don't know much about accounting, but for me it's easy: addition and subtraction."

Brukman has come to represent a new kind of labour movement in Argentina, one that is not based on the power to stop working (the traditional union tactic) but on the dogged determination to keep working no matter what. It's a demand that is not driven by dogmatism but by realism: In a country where 58 per cent of the population is living in poverty, workers know they are a paycheque away from having to beg and scavenge to survive. The spectre haunting Argentina's occupied factories is not communism, but indigence.

But isn't it simple theft? After all, these workers didn't buy the machines, the owners did -- if they want to sell them or move them to another country, surely that's their right. As the federal judge wrote in Brukman's eviction order, "Life and physical integrity have no supremacy over economic interests."

Perhaps unintentionally, he has summed up the naked logic of deregulated globalization: Capital must be free to seek out the lowest wages and most generous incentives, regardless of the toll that process takes on people.

The workers in Argentina's occupied factories have a different vision. Their lawyers argue that the owners of these factories have already violated basic market principles by failing to pay their employees and their creditors, even while collecting huge subsidies from the state. Why can't the state now insist that the indebted companies' remaining assets continue to serve the public with steady jobs? Dozens of workers' co-operatives have already been awarded legal expropriation. Brukman is still fighting.

Come to think of it, the Luddites made a similar argument in 1812. The new textile mills put profits for a few before an entire way of life. Those textile workers tried to fight that destructive logic by smashing the machines. The Brukman workers have a much better plan: They want to protect the machines and smash the logic.

Naomi Klein is the author of No Logo and Fences and Windows.

Argentina's Luddite rulers

Dear Readers,

The workers’ rights are trampled and battered wherever the slightest opportunity exists. The big-bucks lawyers’ festooned owners and their showmanship spinsters are constantly devising impudent methods in cheating and exploiting labors of the poor.

Argentina is no exception from this cold hard reality. Their election is near but people’s suffering are soaring amid same old false promises by the leaders of “poly-tricks”.

All over the world, mostly in poor nations, the trend is stunningly similar.

A nation is built and breathed through the endless drop of perspiration by the workers. And they remain at the bottom rung of economic ladder despite their constant efforts in maintaining and moving forward the society battling the not-so-kind nature in every struggling step.

Naomi Klein’s the following article, “Argentina’s Luddite Rulers” published in The Globe and Mail is a moving piece.

Regards,

Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)

April 24, 2003



Argentina's Luddite rulers


Workers in the occupied factories have a different vision: Smash the logic, not the machines


By NAOMI KLEIN

In 1812, bands of British weavers and knitters raided textile mills and smashed industrial machines with their hammers. According to the Luddites, the new mechanized looms had eliminated thousands of jobs, broken communities and deserved to be destroyed. The British government disagreed and called in 14,000 soldiers to brutally repress the worker revolt and protect the machines.

Fast-forward two centuries to another textile factory, this one in Buenos Aires. At Brukman, which has been producing men's suits for 50 years, it's the riot police who smash the sewing machines and the 58 workers who risk their lives to protect them.

On Monday, the Brukman factory was the site of the worst repression Buenos Aires has seen in almost a year. Police had evicted the workers in the middle of the night and turned the entire block into a military zone guarded by machine guns and attack dogs. Unable to get into the factory and complete an order for 3,000 pairs of dress trousers, the workers gathered a huge crowd of supporters and announced it was time to go back to work. At 5 p.m., 50 middle-aged seamstresses in no-nonsense haircuts, sensible shoes and blue smocks walked up to the police fence. Someone pushed, the fence fell, and the Brukman women, unarmed and arm in arm, slowly walked through.

They had only taken a few steps when the police began shooting: tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets, then lead. The police even charged the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, in their white headscarves embroidered with the names of their "disappeared" children. Dozens of demonstrators were injured.

This is a snapshot of Argentina less than a week before its presidential election. Each of the five major candidates is promising to put this crisis-ravaged country back to work. Yet Brukman's workers are treated as if sewing a grey suit were a capital crime.

Why this state Luddism, this rage at machines? Well, Brukman isn't just any factory; it's a fabrica ocupada, one of almost 200 factories across the country that have been taken over and run by their workers in the past 18 months. For many, the factories, employing more than 10,000 nationwide and producing everything from tractors to ice cream, are seen not just as an economic alternative, but as a political one as well. "They are afraid of us because we have shown that, if we can manage a factory, we can also manage a country," Brukman worker Celia Martinez said on Monday night. "That's why this government decided to repress us."

At first glance, Brukman looks like every other garment factory in the world. As in Mexico's hypermodern maquiladoras and Toronto's crumbling coat factories, Brukman is filled with women hunched over sewing machines, their eyes straining and fingers flying over fabric and thread. What makes Brukman different are the sounds. Along with the familiar roar of machines and hiss of steam is the Bolivian folk music, coming from a small tape deck at the back of the room, and softly spoken voices, as older workers show younger ones new stitches. "They wouldn't let us do that before," Ms. Martinez says. "They wouldn't let us get up from our workspaces or listen to music. But why not listen to music, to lift the spirits a bit?"

In Buenos Aires, every week brings news of a new occupation: a four-star hotel now run by its cleaning staff, a supermarket taken over by its clerks, a regional airline about to be turned into a co-operative by the pilots and attendants. In small Trotskyist journals around the world, Argentina's occupied factories, where the workers have seized the means of production, are giddily hailed as the dawn of a socialist utopia. In large business magazines such as The Economist, they are ominously described as a threat to the sacred principle of private property. The truth lies in between.

At Brukman, for instance, the means of production weren't seized -- they were simply picked up after they had been abandoned by their legal owners. The factory had been in decline for several years, and debts to utility companies were piling up. The seamstresses had seen their salaries slashed from 100 pesos a week to two pesos -- not enough for bus fare.

On Dec. 18, the workers decided it was time to demand a travel allowance. The owners, pleading poverty, told the workers to wait at the factory while they looked for the money. "We waited until night," Ms. Martinez says. "No one came."

After getting the keys from the doorman, Ms. Martinez and the other workers slept at the factory. They have been running it every since. They have paid the outstanding bills, attracted new clients and, without profits and management salaries to worry about, paid themselves steady salaries. All these decisions have been made by vote in open assemblies. "I don't know why the owners had such a hard time," Ms. Martinez says. "I don't know much about accounting, but for me it's easy: addition and subtraction."

Brukman has come to represent a new kind of labour movement in Argentina, one that is not based on the power to stop working (the traditional union tactic) but on the dogged determination to keep working no matter what. It's a demand that is not driven by dogmatism but by realism: In a country where 58 per cent of the population is living in poverty, workers know they are a paycheque away from having to beg and scavenge to survive. The spectre haunting Argentina's occupied factories is not communism, but indigence.

But isn't it simple theft? After all, these workers didn't buy the machines, the owners did -- if they want to sell them or move them to another country, surely that's their right. As the federal judge wrote in Brukman's eviction order, "Life and physical integrity have no supremacy over economic interests."

Perhaps unintentionally, he has summed up the naked logic of deregulated globalization: Capital must be free to seek out the lowest wages and most generous incentives, regardless of the toll that process takes on people.

The workers in Argentina's occupied factories have a different vision. Their lawyers argue that the owners of these factories have already violated basic market principles by failing to pay their employees and their creditors, even while collecting huge subsidies from the state. Why can't the state now insist that the indebted companies' remaining assets continue to serve the public with steady jobs? Dozens of workers' co-operatives have already been awarded legal expropriation. Brukman is still fighting.

Come to think of it, the Luddites made a similar argument in 1812. The new textile mills put profits for a few before an entire way of life. Those textile workers tried to fight that destructive logic by smashing the machines. The Brukman workers have a much better plan: They want to protect the machines and smash the logic.

Naomi Klein is the author of No Logo and Fences and Windows.

Monday, April 21, 2003

Burn a Country's Past and You Torch Its Future

Dear Readers,

Robert Darnton’s following article is well written. “Do libraries really matter for nation’s sense of its self?” Darnton invokes the various historical examples spanning thousands of years. He comments: “The loss of a library or a museum can mean the loss of contact with a vital strain of humanity.”

For many, history is perfectly presented in the boundary of lavishly jacketed or paper bounded historical texts, as if everything we need to know about past is already been uncovered and described in popular history paperbacks. Darnton clearly disagrees. His following comment is profound:

“Few people appreciate the fragility of civilizations and the fragmentary character of our knowledge about them. Most students believe that what they read in history books corresponds to what humanity lived through in the past, as if we have recovered all the facts and assembled them in the correct order, as if we have it under control, got it down in black on white, and packaged it securely between a textbook's covers. That illusion quickly dissipates for anyone who has worked in libraries and archives. You pick up a scent in a published source, find a reference in a catalogue, follow a paper trail through boxes of manuscripts -- but what do you discover in the end? Only a few fragments that somehow survived as evidence of what other human beings experienced in other times and places. How much has disappeared under char and rubble? We do not even know the extent of our ignorance.”

Regards,
Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
April 21, 2003

Burn a Country's Past and You Torch Its Future

By Robert Darnton

Sunday, April 20, 2003; Page B01

It happened here, too. The British burned our national library in 1814. It wasn't much of a library, to be sure -- just a collection of about 3,000 volumes assembled for the use of senators and representatives in the new capitol being built in the wilderness of Washington, D.C. But in destroying it, the British invaders struck at the heart of what would develop into a national identity.

Do libraries really matter for a nation's sense of its self? Evidently Iraqis felt the destruction of their national library, archives and museum in the past week as a loss of their connection to a collective past, something like a national memory. When asked to explain what the National Museum of Iraq had meant to him, a security guard answered, in tears, "It was beautiful. The museum is civilization." Even some of the looters are reportedly beginning to return what they had carried off, as if in response to a need to heal a self-inflicted wound.

The great collections in Baghdad bore testimony to the beginnings of what much of the world views as civilization. Some of its treasures were 7,000 years old, and they provided evidence about the earliest and perhaps the greatest achievement in human history, the invention of writing, somewhere between the Tigris and Euphrates 5,000 years ago. True, the damage may have been less than was feared at first, and archaeologists can study other clay tablets dug up from the ruins of the world's first libraries, the Sumerian temples of ancient Mesopotamia. But nothing remains of Iraq's National Library, which was burned to the ground along with the Ministry for Religious Affairs and its priceless collection of Korans, some of them more than a thousand years old.

The library burned by the British in the War of 1812 was four years old. Yet its loss was a national trauma, or at least so it seemed to Thomas Jefferson, who had a powerful sense of what libraries could contribute to the civic spirit of the nation. Already, in 1791, he had deplored the damage inflicted by the Revolutionary War on the historical record of America. In a letter to Ebenezer Hazard, who was about to publish two volumes of state papers from the colonial archives, he wrote:

"Time and accident are committing daily havoc on the originals deposited in our public offices. The late war has done the work of centuries in this business. The lost cannot be recovered, but let us save what remains: not by vaults and locks which fence them from the public eye and use in consigning them to the waste of time, but by such a multiplication of copies, as shall place them beyond the reach of accident."

As soon as he learned of the loss of Congress's first library, Jefferson offered to sell it his own, which was twice as big, a magnificent collection of 6,487 volumes that would be valued conservatively at $23,950. The proposal provoked some partisan oratory about the "finery and philosophical nonsense" -- much of it French -- that Jefferson had collected, and it passed Congress by a margin of only four votes. But the Library of Congress stands today as the embodiment of our national memory. Imagine a horde of vandals burning it and the National Archives while an alien army guarded the FBI headquarters and the Treasury Department, and you may have some notion of how Iraqis felt when American troops erected a protective cordon around the ministries of oil and of the interior while permitting looters to demolish the National Library and ransack the National Museum. As many have remarked, the Mongol invasion of 1258 resulted in less damage to Iraqi civilization than the American invasion of 2003.

Jefferson was right. National libraries and museums provide the material from which national identities are built. There are other sources, too -- myths, ceremonies and the other forms of culture studied by anthropologists. But complex societies have been through so much that their history requires constant reassessment. Destroy the documents, and you will damage the collective memory, the sense of self that derives from the ties that bind a people to their ancestors. Libraries and museums are not temples for ancestor worship, but they are crucial for the task of knowing who you are by knowing who you were. That kind of knowledge must be continuously reworked. Destroy the possibility of replenishing it, and you can strangle a civilization.

The most famous case is the ancient library of Alexandria, one that supposedly aspired to include every book in the world -- that is, the Hellenistic world from the third century B.C. -- and whose destruction signaled the end of the world of antiquity. Difficult as it is to disentangle the facts from the myths surrounding the library's history, a few points seem clear: No, Mark Antony did not woo Cleopatra by giving her the rival library of Pergamum, nor did the collection in Alexandria at its zenith reach 900,000 papyrus rolls, although it represented the greatest stock of learning available anywhere in the Roman Empire. Julius Caesar did not burn it to the ground in 47 B.C., and the Muslims did not finish it off in a fit of fanaticism after conquering Alexandria in 642. It probably had disintegrated long before that, not from violence but from the rotting of the papyrus. In short, the library of Alexandria did not come to a dramatic end in a way comparable to the National Library in Baghdad.

But burning and looting has marked the history of libraries at crucial turning points, beginning with the sack of Athens in 86 B.C., when the Romans carried off the remains of Aristotle's library, the greatest in Greece and the model for the library of Alexandria. In the latest study of the Alexandrian library, Luciano Canfora invokes a series of catastrophes -- Athens, Rome, Pergamum, Antioch, Constantinople -- and concludes sadly: "By the middle of the fourth century, even Rome was virtually devoid of books. . . . Surveying this series of foundations, refoundations and disasters, we follow a thread that links together the various, and mostly vain, efforts of the Hellenistic-Roman world to preserve its books." The loss of the books meant the loss of a civilization. Classicists have been able to piece together pictures of antiquity by picking through the remains, but we probably know only a small fraction of what we might have known, had the libraries survived.

The obliteration of civilizations cannot be confined to the remote past, where we can deplore it at a safe distance and in an elegiac mode:

To the glory that was Greece

And the grandeur that was Rome.

Vandals hack away at cultures all the time. They are doing so today in the jungles of Central America and Southeast Asia. Vast stretches of civilization disappeared irrevocably a few years ago when the libraries of Sarajevo and Bucharest went up in smoke. And the Khmer Rouge may have wiped out much of what can be known about Cambodia's civilization when they destroyed most of the contents of the National Library in Phnom Penh.

That in fact was the goal of Pol Pot's army, to obliterate the past and start anew at what they called "Year Zero." Not content with burning the books (at least 80 percent perished), they also killed the librarians (only three of 60 survived). The most valuable books were inscribed on palm leaves. Since the leaves decay in tropical humidity, they had to be recopied every few years by Buddhist monks. But the Khmer Rouge also destroyed the monks, so there was no one left to save what remained of the library.

Perhaps the Cambodians can overcome the trauma by turning it to their advantage, as if to say, "Very well, we shall begin again at ground zero, and now we will build something new." Fresh energy of that kind was generated by some of the destruction of the French Revolution. The Bastille was not merely stormed but dismantled, and its stones were sold off as relics of despotism, remnants of a culture to be replaced by a new political order. Something of the sort could happen in Iraq -- but how? How will the Iraqis fuse a national identity out of the diverse cultures that have come apart with the destruction that has robbed them of their common past?

Few people appreciate the fragility of civilizations and the fragmentary character of our knowledge about them. Most students believe that what they read in history books corresponds to what humanity lived through in the past, as if we have recovered all the facts and assembled them in the correct order, as if we have it under control, got it down in black on white, and packaged it securely between a textbook's covers. That illusion quickly dissipates for anyone who has worked in libraries and archives. You pick up a scent in a published source, find a reference in a catalogue, follow a paper trail through boxes of manuscripts -- but what do you discover in the end? Only a few fragments that somehow survived as evidence of what other human beings experienced in other times and places. How much has disappeared under char and rubble? We do not even know the extent of our ignorance.

Imperfect as they are, therefore, libraries and archives, museums and excavations, scraps of paper and shards of pottery provide all we can consult in order to reconstruct the worlds we have lost. The loss of a library or a museum can mean the loss of contact with a vital strain of humanity. That is what has happened in Baghdad. But when confronted with the loss, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld appeared to be unperturbed: "We've seen looting in this country," he explained at a Pentagon briefing. "We've seen riots at soccer games in various countries around the world."

Next question.

Robert Darnton is the Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of European History at Princeton University.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A54029-2003Apr18.html

Dear Readers,

Robert Darnton’s following article is well written. “Do libraries really matter for nation’s sense of its self?” Darnton invokes the various historical examples spanning thousands of years. He comments: “The loss of a library or a museum can mean the loss of contact with a vital strain of humanity.”

For many, history is perfectly presented in the boundary of lavishly jacketed or paper bounded historical texts, as if everything we need to know about past is already been uncovered and described in popular history paperbacks. Darnton clearly disagrees. His following comment is profound:

“Few people appreciate the fragility of civilizations and the fragmentary character of our knowledge about them. Most students believe that what they read in history books corresponds to what humanity lived through in the past, as if we have recovered all the facts and assembled them in the correct order, as if we have it under control, got it down in black on white, and packaged it securely between a textbook's covers. That illusion quickly dissipates for anyone who has worked in libraries and archives. You pick up a scent in a published source, find a reference in a catalogue, follow a paper trail through boxes of manuscripts -- but what do you discover in the end? Only a few fragments that somehow survived as evidence of what other human beings experienced in other times and places. How much has disappeared under char and rubble? We do not even know the extent of our ignorance.”

Regards,
Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
April 21, 2003

Burn a Country's Past and You Torch Its Future

By Robert Darnton

Sunday, April 20, 2003; Page B01

It happened here, too. The British burned our national library in 1814. It wasn't much of a library, to be sure -- just a collection of about 3,000 volumes assembled for the use of senators and representatives in the new capitol being built in the wilderness of Washington, D.C. But in destroying it, the British invaders struck at the heart of what would develop into a national identity.

Do libraries really matter for a nation's sense of its self? Evidently Iraqis felt the destruction of their national library, archives and museum in the past week as a loss of their connection to a collective past, something like a national memory. When asked to explain what the National Museum of Iraq had meant to him, a security guard answered, in tears, "It was beautiful. The museum is civilization." Even some of the looters are reportedly beginning to return what they had carried off, as if in response to a need to heal a self-inflicted wound.

The great collections in Baghdad bore testimony to the beginnings of what much of the world views as civilization. Some of its treasures were 7,000 years old, and they provided evidence about the earliest and perhaps the greatest achievement in human history, the invention of writing, somewhere between the Tigris and Euphrates 5,000 years ago. True, the damage may have been less than was feared at first, and archaeologists can study other clay tablets dug up from the ruins of the world's first libraries, the Sumerian temples of ancient Mesopotamia. But nothing remains of Iraq's National Library, which was burned to the ground along with the Ministry for Religious Affairs and its priceless collection of Korans, some of them more than a thousand years old.

The library burned by the British in the War of 1812 was four years old. Yet its loss was a national trauma, or at least so it seemed to Thomas Jefferson, who had a powerful sense of what libraries could contribute to the civic spirit of the nation. Already, in 1791, he had deplored the damage inflicted by the Revolutionary War on the historical record of America. In a letter to Ebenezer Hazard, who was about to publish two volumes of state papers from the colonial archives, he wrote:

"Time and accident are committing daily havoc on the originals deposited in our public offices. The late war has done the work of centuries in this business. The lost cannot be recovered, but let us save what remains: not by vaults and locks which fence them from the public eye and use in consigning them to the waste of time, but by such a multiplication of copies, as shall place them beyond the reach of accident."

As soon as he learned of the loss of Congress's first library, Jefferson offered to sell it his own, which was twice as big, a magnificent collection of 6,487 volumes that would be valued conservatively at $23,950. The proposal provoked some partisan oratory about the "finery and philosophical nonsense" -- much of it French -- that Jefferson had collected, and it passed Congress by a margin of only four votes. But the Library of Congress stands today as the embodiment of our national memory. Imagine a horde of vandals burning it and the National Archives while an alien army guarded the FBI headquarters and the Treasury Department, and you may have some notion of how Iraqis felt when American troops erected a protective cordon around the ministries of oil and of the interior while permitting looters to demolish the National Library and ransack the National Museum. As many have remarked, the Mongol invasion of 1258 resulted in less damage to Iraqi civilization than the American invasion of 2003.

Jefferson was right. National libraries and museums provide the material from which national identities are built. There are other sources, too -- myths, ceremonies and the other forms of culture studied by anthropologists. But complex societies have been through so much that their history requires constant reassessment. Destroy the documents, and you will damage the collective memory, the sense of self that derives from the ties that bind a people to their ancestors. Libraries and museums are not temples for ancestor worship, but they are crucial for the task of knowing who you are by knowing who you were. That kind of knowledge must be continuously reworked. Destroy the possibility of replenishing it, and you can strangle a civilization.

The most famous case is the ancient library of Alexandria, one that supposedly aspired to include every book in the world -- that is, the Hellenistic world from the third century B.C. -- and whose destruction signaled the end of the world of antiquity. Difficult as it is to disentangle the facts from the myths surrounding the library's history, a few points seem clear: No, Mark Antony did not woo Cleopatra by giving her the rival library of Pergamum, nor did the collection in Alexandria at its zenith reach 900,000 papyrus rolls, although it represented the greatest stock of learning available anywhere in the Roman Empire. Julius Caesar did not burn it to the ground in 47 B.C., and the Muslims did not finish it off in a fit of fanaticism after conquering Alexandria in 642. It probably had disintegrated long before that, not from violence but from the rotting of the papyrus. In short, the library of Alexandria did not come to a dramatic end in a way comparable to the National Library in Baghdad.

But burning and looting has marked the history of libraries at crucial turning points, beginning with the sack of Athens in 86 B.C., when the Romans carried off the remains of Aristotle's library, the greatest in Greece and the model for the library of Alexandria. In the latest study of the Alexandrian library, Luciano Canfora invokes a series of catastrophes -- Athens, Rome, Pergamum, Antioch, Constantinople -- and concludes sadly: "By the middle of the fourth century, even Rome was virtually devoid of books. . . . Surveying this series of foundations, refoundations and disasters, we follow a thread that links together the various, and mostly vain, efforts of the Hellenistic-Roman world to preserve its books." The loss of the books meant the loss of a civilization. Classicists have been able to piece together pictures of antiquity by picking through the remains, but we probably know only a small fraction of what we might have known, had the libraries survived.

The obliteration of civilizations cannot be confined to the remote past, where we can deplore it at a safe distance and in an elegiac mode:

To the glory that was Greece

And the grandeur that was Rome.

Vandals hack away at cultures all the time. They are doing so today in the jungles of Central America and Southeast Asia. Vast stretches of civilization disappeared irrevocably a few years ago when the libraries of Sarajevo and Bucharest went up in smoke. And the Khmer Rouge may have wiped out much of what can be known about Cambodia's civilization when they destroyed most of the contents of the National Library in Phnom Penh.

That in fact was the goal of Pol Pot's army, to obliterate the past and start anew at what they called "Year Zero." Not content with burning the books (at least 80 percent perished), they also killed the librarians (only three of 60 survived). The most valuable books were inscribed on palm leaves. Since the leaves decay in tropical humidity, they had to be recopied every few years by Buddhist monks. But the Khmer Rouge also destroyed the monks, so there was no one left to save what remained of the library.

Perhaps the Cambodians can overcome the trauma by turning it to their advantage, as if to say, "Very well, we shall begin again at ground zero, and now we will build something new." Fresh energy of that kind was generated by some of the destruction of the French Revolution. The Bastille was not merely stormed but dismantled, and its stones were sold off as relics of despotism, remnants of a culture to be replaced by a new political order. Something of the sort could happen in Iraq -- but how? How will the Iraqis fuse a national identity out of the diverse cultures that have come apart with the destruction that has robbed them of their common past?

Few people appreciate the fragility of civilizations and the fragmentary character of our knowledge about them. Most students believe that what they read in history books corresponds to what humanity lived through in the past, as if we have recovered all the facts and assembled them in the correct order, as if we have it under control, got it down in black on white, and packaged it securely between a textbook's covers. That illusion quickly dissipates for anyone who has worked in libraries and archives. You pick up a scent in a published source, find a reference in a catalogue, follow a paper trail through boxes of manuscripts -- but what do you discover in the end? Only a few fragments that somehow survived as evidence of what other human beings experienced in other times and places. How much has disappeared under char and rubble? We do not even know the extent of our ignorance.

Imperfect as they are, therefore, libraries and archives, museums and excavations, scraps of paper and shards of pottery provide all we can consult in order to reconstruct the worlds we have lost. The loss of a library or a museum can mean the loss of contact with a vital strain of humanity. That is what has happened in Baghdad. But when confronted with the loss, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld appeared to be unperturbed: "We've seen looting in this country," he explained at a Pentagon briefing. "We've seen riots at soccer games in various countries around the world."

Next question.

Robert Darnton is the Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of European History at Princeton University.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A54029-2003Apr18.html



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Dear Readers,

Robert Darnton’s following article is well written. “Do libraries really matter for nation’s sense of its self?” Darnton invokes the various historical examples spanning thousands of years. He comments: “The loss of a library or a museum can mean the loss of contact with a vital strain of humanity.”

For many, history is perfectly presented in the boundary of lavishly jacketed or paper bounded historical texts, as if everything we need to know about past is already been uncovered and described in popular history paperbacks. Darnton clearly disagrees. His following comment is profound:

“Few people appreciate the fragility of civilizations and the fragmentary character of our knowledge about them. Most students believe that what they read in history books corresponds to what humanity lived through in the past, as if we have recovered all the facts and assembled them in the correct order, as if we have it under control, got it down in black on white, and packaged it securely between a textbook's covers. That illusion quickly dissipates for anyone who has worked in libraries and archives. You pick up a scent in a published source, find a reference in a catalogue, follow a paper trail through boxes of manuscripts -- but what do you discover in the end? Only a few fragments that somehow survived as evidence of what other human beings experienced in other times and places. How much has disappeared under char and rubble? We do not even know the extent of our ignorance.”

Regards,
Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
April 21, 2003

Burn a Country's Past and You Torch Its Future

By Robert Darnton

Sunday, April 20, 2003; Page B01

It happened here, too. The British burned our national library in 1814. It wasn't much of a library, to be sure -- just a collection of about 3,000 volumes assembled for the use of senators and representatives in the new capitol being built in the wilderness of Washington, D.C. But in destroying it, the British invaders struck at the heart of what would develop into a national identity.

Do libraries really matter for a nation's sense of its self? Evidently Iraqis felt the destruction of their national library, archives and museum in the past week as a loss of their connection to a collective past, something like a national memory. When asked to explain what the National Museum of Iraq had meant to him, a security guard answered, in tears, "It was beautiful. The museum is civilization." Even some of the looters are reportedly beginning to return what they had carried off, as if in response to a need to heal a self-inflicted wound.

The great collections in Baghdad bore testimony to the beginnings of what much of the world views as civilization. Some of its treasures were 7,000 years old, and they provided evidence about the earliest and perhaps the greatest achievement in human history, the invention of writing, somewhere between the Tigris and Euphrates 5,000 years ago. True, the damage may have been less than was feared at first, and archaeologists can study other clay tablets dug up from the ruins of the world's first libraries, the Sumerian temples of ancient Mesopotamia. But nothing remains of Iraq's National Library, which was burned to the ground along with the Ministry for Religious Affairs and its priceless collection of Korans, some of them more than a thousand years old.

The library burned by the British in the War of 1812 was four years old. Yet its loss was a national trauma, or at least so it seemed to Thomas Jefferson, who had a powerful sense of what libraries could contribute to the civic spirit of the nation. Already, in 1791, he had deplored the damage inflicted by the Revolutionary War on the historical record of America. In a letter to Ebenezer Hazard, who was about to publish two volumes of state papers from the colonial archives, he wrote:

"Time and accident are committing daily havoc on the originals deposited in our public offices. The late war has done the work of centuries in this business. The lost cannot be recovered, but let us save what remains: not by vaults and locks which fence them from the public eye and use in consigning them to the waste of time, but by such a multiplication of copies, as shall place them beyond the reach of accident."

As soon as he learned of the loss of Congress's first library, Jefferson offered to sell it his own, which was twice as big, a magnificent collection of 6,487 volumes that would be valued conservatively at $23,950. The proposal provoked some partisan oratory about the "finery and philosophical nonsense" -- much of it French -- that Jefferson had collected, and it passed Congress by a margin of only four votes. But the Library of Congress stands today as the embodiment of our national memory. Imagine a horde of vandals burning it and the National Archives while an alien army guarded the FBI headquarters and the Treasury Department, and you may have some notion of how Iraqis felt when American troops erected a protective cordon around the ministries of oil and of the interior while permitting looters to demolish the National Library and ransack the National Museum. As many have remarked, the Mongol invasion of 1258 resulted in less damage to Iraqi civilization than the American invasion of 2003.

Jefferson was right. National libraries and museums provide the material from which national identities are built. There are other sources, too -- myths, ceremonies and the other forms of culture studied by anthropologists. But complex societies have been through so much that their history requires constant reassessment. Destroy the documents, and you will damage the collective memory, the sense of self that derives from the ties that bind a people to their ancestors. Libraries and museums are not temples for ancestor worship, but they are crucial for the task of knowing who you are by knowing who you were. That kind of knowledge must be continuously reworked. Destroy the possibility of replenishing it, and you can strangle a civilization.

The most famous case is the ancient library of Alexandria, one that supposedly aspired to include every book in the world -- that is, the Hellenistic world from the third century B.C. -- and whose destruction signaled the end of the world of antiquity. Difficult as it is to disentangle the facts from the myths surrounding the library's history, a few points seem clear: No, Mark Antony did not woo Cleopatra by giving her the rival library of Pergamum, nor did the collection in Alexandria at its zenith reach 900,000 papyrus rolls, although it represented the greatest stock of learning available anywhere in the Roman Empire. Julius Caesar did not burn it to the ground in 47 B.C., and the Muslims did not finish it off in a fit of fanaticism after conquering Alexandria in 642. It probably had disintegrated long before that, not from violence but from the rotting of the papyrus. In short, the library of Alexandria did not come to a dramatic end in a way comparable to the National Library in Baghdad.

But burning and looting has marked the history of libraries at crucial turning points, beginning with the sack of Athens in 86 B.C., when the Romans carried off the remains of Aristotle's library, the greatest in Greece and the model for the library of Alexandria. In the latest study of the Alexandrian library, Luciano Canfora invokes a series of catastrophes -- Athens, Rome, Pergamum, Antioch, Constantinople -- and concludes sadly: "By the middle of the fourth century, even Rome was virtually devoid of books. . . . Surveying this series of foundations, refoundations and disasters, we follow a thread that links together the various, and mostly vain, efforts of the Hellenistic-Roman world to preserve its books." The loss of the books meant the loss of a civilization. Classicists have been able to piece together pictures of antiquity by picking through the remains, but we probably know only a small fraction of what we might have known, had the libraries survived.

The obliteration of civilizations cannot be confined to the remote past, where we can deplore it at a safe distance and in an elegiac mode:

To the glory that was Greece

And the grandeur that was Rome.

Vandals hack away at cultures all the time. They are doing so today in the jungles of Central America and Southeast Asia. Vast stretches of civilization disappeared irrevocably a few years ago when the libraries of Sarajevo and Bucharest went up in smoke. And the Khmer Rouge may have wiped out much of what can be known about Cambodia's civilization when they destroyed most of the contents of the National Library in Phnom Penh.

That in fact was the goal of Pol Pot's army, to obliterate the past and start anew at what they called "Year Zero." Not content with burning the books (at least 80 percent perished), they also killed the librarians (only three of 60 survived). The most valuable books were inscribed on palm leaves. Since the leaves decay in tropical humidity, they had to be recopied every few years by Buddhist monks. But the Khmer Rouge also destroyed the monks, so there was no one left to save what remained of the library.

Perhaps the Cambodians can overcome the trauma by turning it to their advantage, as if to say, "Very well, we shall begin again at ground zero, and now we will build something new." Fresh energy of that kind was generated by some of the destruction of the French Revolution. The Bastille was not merely stormed but dismantled, and its stones were sold off as relics of despotism, remnants of a culture to be replaced by a new political order. Something of the sort could happen in Iraq -- but how? How will the Iraqis fuse a national identity out of the diverse cultures that have come apart with the destruction that has robbed them of their common past?

Few people appreciate the fragility of civilizations and the fragmentary character of our knowledge about them. Most students believe that what they read in history books corresponds to what humanity lived through in the past, as if we have recovered all the facts and assembled them in the correct order, as if we have it under control, got it down in black on white, and packaged it securely between a textbook's covers. That illusion quickly dissipates for anyone who has worked in libraries and archives. You pick up a scent in a published source, find a reference in a catalogue, follow a paper trail through boxes of manuscripts -- but what do you discover in the end? Only a few fragments that somehow survived as evidence of what other human beings experienced in other times and places. How much has disappeared under char and rubble? We do not even know the extent of our ignorance.

Imperfect as they are, therefore, libraries and archives, museums and excavations, scraps of paper and shards of pottery provide all we can consult in order to reconstruct the worlds we have lost. The loss of a library or a museum can mean the loss of contact with a vital strain of humanity. That is what has happened in Baghdad. But when confronted with the loss, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld appeared to be unperturbed: "We've seen looting in this country," he explained at a Pentagon briefing. "We've seen riots at soccer games in various countries around the world."

Next question.

Robert Darnton is the Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of European History at Princeton University.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A54029-2003Apr18.html



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Humanitarian Superpower? Why Not?
By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
April 15, 2003

In the time of war the “patriots” are exemplified as those who blindly support their ruling government. As if patriotism is synonymous with ruling party loyalty.

Howard Zinn, the Boston University professor writes, “The distinction between dying for our country and dying for your government is crucial in understanding what I believe to be the definition of patriotism in a democracy. According to the Declaration of Independence - the fundamental document of democracy - governments are artificial creations, established by the people, "deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed", and charged by the people to ensure the equal right of all to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Furthermore, as the Declaration says, "Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it."

Howard Zinn is one of the pioneers in furthering liberal progressive ideas and this is the reason he is under constant attack from the counterfeit “patriots” (Read neo-conservatives).

The real patriotism does not reside in one’s unquestioning support for their leaders who might confound them, deceit them to gain more political and economic might. The real patriots are those who are constantly analyzing a nation’s governance toward its people, its economic policy and its military objectives by keeping mind open, free from greed salivation.

Howard Zinn is a patriot because he does care for our world and innocent people in faraway land. Mark Twain was a patriot because he was bold in his condemnation of war and Philippine’s civilian casualties in another brutal war at the turn of last century. John Quincy Adams, American sixth President was a patriot when he fearlessly stood up against racism and unjust treatment of African captives like Cinch in his famous court battle later portrayed as “Amistad” in movies and books. Barbara Kingsolver, Susan Sontag, Bob Herbert, Tariq Ali, Arundhati Roy, Abdul Gaffar Chowdhuri, Margaret Atwood, Gunter Grass and many others are all patriots in their own nation for their fearless writings against injustice.

All the conservative agenda that’s being revealed to the public are exposing itself to be the fateful instrument in sliding our world back to the earlier centuries of witch-burning, crusade, jihad and “roth-jatra” filled darkness comprised of endless wars for the sake of religions, retribution against the dissenters, and crafty sanitary tasks in journalism to keep people away from the ugliness of war and other mischievous actions to divert people’s attention from the real pressing political and international issues of our time.

Howard Zinn’s suggestions are priceless: “I suggest that patriotic Americans who care for their country might act on behalf of a different vision. Do we want to be feared for our military might or respected for our dedication to human rights? With the war in Iraq over, if indeed it is really over, we need to ask what kind of a country will we be. Is it important that we be a military superpower? Is it not exactly that that makes us a target for terrorism? Perhaps we could become instead a humanitarian superpower.”

And that could bring boundless joy and happiness to our world’s vast majority people who are living under miserable poverty. War brings chaos, deaths, resentments among old and new generations who strive for vengeance thus creating decades of hurtful rivalries among nations who could have used their combined resources in alleviating poverty, furthering science, art, literature for the progress of civilization not building innovative bombs to kill more.

For the children of the world who suffer the most in any war, Howard Zinn writes, “Should we not begin to consider all children, everywhere, as our own? In that case, war, which in our time is always an assault on children, would be unacceptable as a solution to the problems of the world. Human ingenuity would have to search for other ways.”

It is the rise of insensate ideologies toward the people of different nationality, race and religions, are becoming the driving force for the powerful. In war, children are forcefully subjected to devastations, and it is children who are the least prepared in coping with tragic events from the deaths of family, losing limbs and other brutal reality of war. Certainly, adults or children, all suffer from war, but children have no say in the governance of their respective nation, nor they condone or accept any undemocratic or democratic regime. But the war does not differentiate among people. In the destructive frenzy of war, children are termed as another statistics of “collateral damage”.

In the coming election Americans will have that golden opportunity to put the real patriots, not the phony ones into the seat of power that will lead America away from dangerous self-destructive global militarism to become world’s “humanitarian superpower”. Who knows, perhaps billions of people’s heart-felt wishes for peace may come true. And America may retain back its long lost respect by its renewal of consistent humanitarian vision. Not the selective ones.



References

1. Howard Zinn, “A Kinder, Gentler Patriotism”, HowardZinn.org, April 14, 2003.
2. Picture Reference: http://www.msf.ca/journals/ni/images/nicaragua1.jpg



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Mahbubul Karim (Sohel) is a freelance writer. His email address is: sohelkarim@yahoo.com.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Humanitarian Superpower? Why Not?
By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
April 15, 2003

In the time of war the “patriots” are exemplified as those who blindly support their ruling government. As if patriotism is synonymous with ruling party loyalty.

Howard Zinn, the Boston University professor writes, “The distinction between dying for our country and dying for your government is crucial in understanding what I believe to be the definition of patriotism in a democracy. According to the Declaration of Independence - the fundamental document of democracy - governments are artificial creations, established by the people, "deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed", and charged by the people to ensure the equal right of all to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Furthermore, as the Declaration says, "Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it."

Howard Zinn is one of the pioneers in furthering liberal progressive ideas and this is the reason he is under constant attack from the counterfeit “patriots” (Read neo-conservatives).

The real patriotism does not reside in one’s unquestioning support for their leaders who might confound them, deceit them to gain more political and economic might. The real patriots are those who are constantly analyzing a nation’s governance toward its people, its economic policy and its military objectives by keeping mind open, free from greed salivation.

Howard Zinn is a patriot because he does care for our world and innocent people in faraway land. Mark Twain was a patriot because he was bold in his condemnation of war and Philippine’s civilian casualties in another brutal war at the turn of last century. John Quincy Adams, American sixth President was a patriot when he fearlessly stood up against racism and unjust treatment of African captives like Cinch in his famous court battle later portrayed as “Amistad” in movies and books. Barbara Kingsolver, Susan Sontag, Bob Herbert, Tariq Ali, Arundhati Roy, Abdul Gaffar Chowdhuri, Margaret Atwood, Gunter Grass and many others are all patriots in their own nation for their fearless writings against injustice.

All the conservative agenda that’s being revealed to the public are exposing itself to be the fateful instrument in sliding our world back to the earlier centuries of witch-burning, crusade, jihad and “roth-jatra” filled darkness comprised of endless wars for the sake of religions, retribution against the dissenters, and crafty sanitary tasks in journalism to keep people away from the ugliness of war and other mischievous actions to divert people’s attention from the real pressing political and international issues of our time.

Howard Zinn’s suggestions are priceless: “I suggest that patriotic Americans who care for their country might act on behalf of a different vision. Do we want to be feared for our military might or respected for our dedication to human rights? With the war in Iraq over, if indeed it is really over, we need to ask what kind of a country will we be. Is it important that we be a military superpower? Is it not exactly that that makes us a target for terrorism? Perhaps we could become instead a humanitarian superpower.”

And that could bring boundless joy and happiness to our world’s vast majority people who are living under miserable poverty. War brings chaos, deaths, resentments among old and new generations who strive for vengeance thus creating decades of hurtful rivalries among nations who could have used their combined resources in alleviating poverty, furthering science, art, literature for the progress of civilization not building innovative bombs to kill more.

For the children of the world who suffer the most in any war, Howard Zinn writes, “Should we not begin to consider all children, everywhere, as our own? In that case, war, which in our time is always an assault on children, would be unacceptable as a solution to the problems of the world. Human ingenuity would have to search for other ways.”

It is the rise of insensate ideologies toward the people of different nationality, race and religions, are becoming the driving force for the powerful. In war, children are forcefully subjected to devastations, and it is children who are the least prepared in coping with tragic events from the deaths of family, losing limbs and other brutal reality of war. Certainly, adults or children, all suffer from war, but children have no say in the governance of their respective nation, nor they condone or accept any undemocratic or democratic regime. But the war does not differentiate among people. In the destructive frenzy of war, children are termed as another statistics of “collateral damage”.

In the coming election Americans will have that golden opportunity to put the real patriots, not the phony ones into the seat of power that will lead America away from dangerous self-destructive global militarism to become world’s “humanitarian superpower”. Who knows, perhaps billions of people’s heart-felt wishes for peace may come true. And America may retain back its long lost respect by its renewal of consistent humanitarian vision. Not the selective ones.



References

1. Howard Zinn, “A Kinder, Gentler Patriotism”, HowardZinn.org, April 14, 2003.
2. Picture Reference: http://www.msf.ca/journals/ni/images/nicaragua1.jpg



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Mahbubul Karim (Sohel) is a freelance writer. His email address is: sohelkarim@yahoo.com.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Monday, April 14, 2003

Child with a Bandage
By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
April 14, 2003

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MuktoChinta/files/PeaceRally1/child1.jpg

That picture of a four-year-old Iraqi girl holding her father’s hand haunts me. She had a bandage wrapped around her head. Her father’s white striped shirt was smeared with blood. It was a dismal picture. The little girl was shot in the head. Her face showed hurting and half closed eyes were tender as if no more complaints left to the world.

I wonder what happened to that girl after that picture was published. I didn’t know her name. There was no more news about her after that. She is one of the nameless casualties of this war. Insignificant to many. Perhaps, momentous to numerous.

Children of Iraq have suffered severely from this war. Children of Iraq have suffered from the decade old devastating economic sanctions imposed by the heartless International community. There were indeed uproars against the sanctions that was killing hundreds of thousands of innocent child from malnutrition, lack of modern medical facilities and for various other related necessities that a child need to have a secured and better life. These children were denied the basic rights of existence.

Of course the fallen Saddam junta was partly responsible for Iraqi children’s fateful life. Huge parts of foreign aids and UN sanctioned money went for extravagant Palaces now lie in ruined jumble. Lavish life style for the dictators and friends and perks to silence opposition or buying them outright is getting the daylight commendably. In harsh reality one cannot but wonder: didn’t that same abominable junta used their nation’s money to further their and their peer’s life, denying the mass the basic amenities of life while the power hubs of our world paying official visits, providing weapons and cajoling the dictators, even praising them as “our guys in Iraq”?

Bob Herbert is poised in reminding us the forgotten history, “It was known by the fall of 1983 that Iraq had used chemical weapons against Iran. That did not prevent the U.S. from pursuing improved relations with Saddam, or curb the enthusiasm for the Aqaba pipeline — a project promoted by a company that had given the Reagan administration not just its secretary of state, but also its secretary of defense, Caspar Weinberger, who had been Bechtel's general counsel.” [1] History is truly amazing. And the amazement is detrimental for refined democracy, conceivably.

“Now, 20 years later, Mr. Shultz (who is currently on the board of Bechtel) and Mr. Rumsfeld are among the fiercest of the war hawks. They wanted war with Iraq and they got it.” [1] Their wishes are fulfilled in Iraq amid innocent Iraqis shredded corpses, bandaged child in the hospitals, and in looters’ anarchy.

“This unilateral war and the ouster of Saddam have given the hawks and their commercial allies carte blanche in Iraq. And the company with perhaps the sleekest and most effective of all the inside tracks, a company that is fairly panting with anticipation over oil and reconstruction contracts worth scores of billions of dollars, is of course the Bechtel Group of San Francisco.”[1] Where are the ethics groups? Where are the outcries from the “purest democracies” of our world?

Robert Fisk was mourning for the astonishing damage of priceless ancient artifacts in Iraqi historical museums, thousands of years of old precious relics of Iraq have been swindled, destroyed within only a few days after “celebrated liberation”. John F Burns writes, “The National Museum of Iraq recorded a history of civilizations that began to flourish in the fertile plains of Mesopotamia more than 7,000 years ago. But once American troops entered Baghdad in sufficient force to topple Saddam Hussein's government this week, it took only 48 hours for the museum to be destroyed, with at least 170,000 artifacts carried away by looters.” [2]

Poor Iraqis have less to brag about their ancient heritage now, it seems. Now they are almost equal to the ones with not much to brag about in terms of ancient historical lineage. Equality in heritage and history is instituted. Is this coincidence or deliberate acts of retribution? Time will surely tell the truth.

Now the predictable talks of WMD being relocated to other middle-eastern nation beginning to surface in the media from the relentless mouth of powerful leaders and their surrogates. The similar buildup is in action, “the gathering storm” will be proclaimed soon by mighty conservative writers to prepare the mass for another war, possibly before the next major election. Perhaps, this time they do not need much persuasion. The precedent have already been stamped and sealed. Now only the meager amount of manipulation of people’s boosted fear, few humbug discovery of other dictators’ flaws, follies and dreadful connections to “evildoers” will be expanded in demystifying subtlety. Similar tricks, but combination of patterns might be different for the sake of ingenuity.

Possibly countless more unaware victims of coming wars are leading their daily lives, children are going to school, running in the field with greenish kites, and in the market place families are bustling to get the freshest tomatoes or price hiked rice. If the war comes once again with its thumping blast, how many haunting images of bandaged child holding her father’s hand in dismal gloom will be repeated?


References
1. Bob Herbert, “Ultimate Insiders”, The New York Times, April 14, 2003.

2. John F Burns, “Pillagers Strip Iraqi Museums of Its Treasure”, The New York Times, April 12, 2003.


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Mahbubul Karim (Sohel) is a freelance writer. His email address is: sohelkarim@yahoo.com.


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Saturday, April 12, 2003

Dear Readers,

What can powerless people do against endless might and frightening sights of poor Iraqis’ colonial fate? Is history repeating itself? Is this the first step of re-colonization that the world’s most nations thought of things of the past? Charlatans and collaborators, in Iraq and around the globe are out in full force to give a new color of this illegal conquest. Even those opposing states in UN have begun to show their naked back-flippancy. Facing the incomparable economic and military power, the poor feels helpless. What can they do?

Tariq Ali provided a thorough analysis on Iraq war last week in New Left Review magazine, citing relevant examples from history. Perhaps, it’s only the “powerless” people might be the only refuge left for the billions of voiceless mass striving for achieving peace. If history holds true in all its turning point from past, it will be the peaceful people opposing brutal wars and deceitful exploitation, in forefront again confronting the new princely empire of might and aggression.

Regards,

Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
April 12, 2003

Courtesy: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MuktoChinta/



RE-COLONIZING IRAQ

TARIQ ALI

New Left Review

April 8, 2003

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On 15 February 2003, over eight million people marched on the streets of five continents against a war that had not yet begun. This first truly global mobilization—unprecedented in size, scope or scale—sought to head off the occupation of Iraq being plotted in the Pentagon. The turnout in Western Europe broke all records: three million in Rome, two million in Spain, a million and a half in London, half a million in Berlin, over a hundred thousand in Paris, Brussels and Athens. In Istanbul, where the local authorities vetoed a protest march in the name of ‘national security’, the peace movement called a press conference to denounce the ban—to which ten thousand ‘journalists’ turned up. In the United States there were mass demonstrations in New York, San Francisco, Chicago and LA and smaller assemblies in virtually every state capital: over a million people in all. Another half a million marched in Canada. The antipodean wing of the movement assembled 500,000 in Sydney and 250,000 in Melbourne.

On 21 March, as British and American forces headed across the Iraqi border, the long quiescent Arab street, inspired by these global protests, came to life with spontaneous mass demonstrations in Cairo, Sanaa and Amman. In Egypt, the mercenary regime of Hosni Mubarak panicked and arrested over 800 people, some of whom were viciously maltreated in prison. In the Yemen, over 30,000 people marched against the war; a sizeable contingent made for the US Embassy and had to be stopped with bullets. Two people were killed and scores injured. In the Israeli–American protectorate of Jordan, the monarchy had already crushed a virtual uprising in a border town and now proceeded to brutalize demonstrators in the capital. In the Arab world the tone of the streets was defiantly nationalist—‘Where is our army?’ cried Cairene protesters. In Pakistan the religious parties took full advantage of the pro-us stance of the Muslim League and PPP to dominate antiwar mobilizations in Peshawar and Karachi. Islamists in Kenya and Nigeria did the same, though with more effect: the American embassies in both countries had to be evacuated. In Indonesia, over 200,000 people of every political hue marched through Jakarta.

Less than a century ago, over eight million votes had been cast for the European Social Democratic parties of the Second International, inspiring the only previous attempt at co-ordinated action to prevent a war. In November 1912 an emergency conference of the International was convened beneath the Gothic arches of the old Cathedral in Basle, in an effort to avert the looming catastrophe of the First World War. As the delegates entered they were treated to a rendering of Bach’s Mass in B Minor, which marked the high point of the gathering. The Socialist leaders, German, British, French, pledged to resist each and every aggressive policy of their respective governments. It was agreed that, when the time came, their parliamentary deputies would vote against war credits. Keir Hardie’s call for an ‘international revolutionary strike against the war’ was applauded, though not put to the vote. Jean Jaurès was loudly cheered when he pointed out ‘how much smaller a sacrifice a revolution would involve, when compared to the war they are preparing’. Victor Adler then read the resolution, which was unanimously approved. It concluded: ‘Let the capitalist world of exploitation and mass murder be confronted by the proletarian world of peace and international brotherhood.’

By August 1914 these worthy sentiments had crumbled before the trumpet blast of nationalism. The programmatic clarity displayed at Basle evaporated as the tocsin rallied the citizens of each state for war. No credits were refused; no strike was called or revolution fomented. Amid a growing storm of chauvinist hysteria, Jaurès was assassinated by a pro-war fanatic. While a brave, bedraggled minority gathered unnoticed in the Swiss town of Zimmerwald to call for the imperialist war to be turned ‘into a civil war, against reaction at home’, the majority of Social Democratic leaders stood stiffly to attention as their supporters donned their respective colours and proceeded to slaughter each other. Over ten million perished on the battlefields of Europe to defend their respective capitalisms, in a conflict that saw a new Great Power make its entrance on the world stage. A century later, the United States of America had seen off virtually every rival to become the lead—often, the solo—actor in every international drama.

The eight million and more who marched this year were not mobilized by any International, nor did they share a common programmatic outlook. From many different political and social backgrounds, they were united only by the desire to prevent the imperialist invasion of an oil-rich Arab country in a region already riven by a colonial war in Palestine. Instinctively, most of those who marched did so because they rejected the official justifications for the bloodshed. It is difficult for those who accept these as ‘plausible’ to understand the depth of resistance they provoked and the hatred felt by so many young people for their propagators. Outside the United States, few believe that the fiercely secular Ba’ath Party of Iraq has any links with al-Qaeda. As for ‘weapons of mass destruction’, the only nuclear stockpile in the region is situated in Israel; and, as Condoleezza Rice herself had pointed out in the final year of the Clinton administration, even if Saddam Hussein had such an arsenal, he would be unable to deploy it: ‘If they do acquire WMD, their weapons will be unusable because any attempt to use them will bring national obliteration’. [1] Unusable in 2000; but three years later Saddam had to be removed by the despatch of a massive Anglo-American expeditionary force and the cluster-bombing of Iraq’s cities, before he got them? The pretext not only failed to convince but served rather to fuel a broad-based opposition as millions now saw the greatest threat to peace coming, not from the depleted armouries of decaying dictatorships, but from the rotten heart of the American empire and its satrapies, Israel and Britain. It is awareness of these realities that has begun to radicalize a new generation.

The imperial offensive

The Republican Administration has utilized the national trauma of 9.11 to pursue an audacious imperial agenda, of which the occupation of Iraq promises to be only the first step. The programme it seeks to implement was first publicized in 1997 under the rubric, ‘Project for the New American Century’. Its signatories included Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Jeb Bush, Zalmay Khalilzad, Elliott Abrams and Dan Quayle, as well as such intellectual adornments as Francis Fukuyama, Midge Decter, Lewis Libby and Norman Podhoretz. The American Empire could not afford to be complacent with the end of the Cold War, they argued: ‘We seem to have forgotten the essential elem­ents of the Reagan Administration’s success: a military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the United States’ global responsibilities.’ The language of this coterie, compared with the euphemisms of the Clinton era, is commendably direct: to preserve US hegemony, force will be used wherever and whenever necessary. European hand-wringing leaves it unmoved.

The 2001 assault on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon was thus a gift from heaven for the Administration. The next day, a meeting of the National Security Council discussed whether to attack Iraq or Afghanistan, selecting the latter only after considerable debate. A year later, the aims outlined in the ‘Project’ were smoothly transferred to the ‘National Security Strategy of the United States of America’, issued by Bush in September 2002. The expedition to Baghdad was planned as the first flexing of the new stance. [2] Twelve years of UN blockade and Anglo-American bombing had failed to destroy the Ba’ath regime or displace its leader. There could be no better demonstration of the shift to a more offensive imperial strategy than to make an example of it now. If no single reason explains the targeting of Iraq, there is little mystery about the range of calculations behind it. Economically, Iraq possesses the second largest reserves of cheap oil in the world; Baghdad’s decision in 2000 to invoice its exports in euros rather than dollars risked imitation by Chávez in Venezuela and the Iranian mullahs. Privatization of the Iraqi wells under US control would help to weaken OPEC. Strategically, the existence of an independent Arab regime in Baghdad had always been an irritation to the Israeli military—even when Saddam was an ally of the West, the IDF supplied spare parts to Tehran during the Iran–Iraq war. With the installation of Republican zealots close to Likud in key positions in Washington, the elimination of a traditional adversary became an attractive immediate goal for Jerusalem. Lastly, just as the use of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki had once been a pointed demonstration of American might to the Soviet Union, so today a blitzkrieg rolling swiftly across Iraq would serve to show the world at large, and perhaps states in the Far East—China, North Korea, even Japan—in particular, that if the chips are down, the United States has, in the last resort, the means to enforce its will.

The official pretext for the war, that it was vital to eliminate Iraq’s fearsome weapons of mass destruction, was so flimsy that it had to be jettisoned as an embarrassment when even famously subservient UN inspectors—a corps openly penetrated by the CIA—were unable to find any trace of them, and were reduced to pleading for more time. This will not prevent their ‘discovery’ after the event, but few any longer attach much importance to this tattered scarecrow. The justification for invading Iraq has now shifted to the pressing need to introduce democracy to the country, dressing up aggression as liberation. Few in the Middle East, friends or foes of the Administration, are deceived. The peoples of the Arab world view Operation Iraqi Freedom as a grisly charade, a cover for an old-fashioned European-style colonial occupation, constructed like its predecessors on the most rickety of foundations—innumerable falsehoods, cupidity and imperial fantasies. The cynicism of current American claims to be bringing democracy to Iraq can be gauged from Colin Powell’s remarks to a press briefing in 1992, when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Bush senior. This is what he had to say about the project that is ostensibly now under way:

Saddam Hussein is a terrible person, he is a threat to his own people. I think his people would be better off with a different leader, but there is this sort of romantic notion that if Saddam Hussein got hit by a bus tomorrow, some Jeffersonian democrat is waiting in the wings to hold popular elections [laughter]. You’re going to get—guess what—probably another Saddam Hussein. It will take a little while for them to paint the pictures all over the walls again—[laughter]—but there should be no illusions about the nature of that country or its society. And the American people and all of the people who second-guess us now would have been outraged if we had gone on to Baghdad and we found ourselves in Baghdad with American soldiers patrolling the streets two years later still looking for Jefferson [laughter]. [3]

This time Powell will be making sure that Jeffersonian democrats are flown in with the air-conditioning and the rest of the supplies. He knows that they may have to be guarded night and day by squads of hired American goons, like the puppet Karzai in Kabul.

Old mastiffs and new satellites

On the one side, a vast popular outcry against the invasion of Iraq. On the other, a US administration coolly and openly resolved on it from the start. Between them, the governments of the rest of the world. How have they reacted? London, as could be expected, acted as a blood-shot adjutant to Washington throughout. Labour imperialism is a long tradition, and Blair had already shown in the Balkan War that he could behave more like a petty mastiff, snarling at the leash, than a mere poodle. Since Britain has been bombing Iraq continuously, wing-tip to wing-tip with America, for as long as New Labour has been in office, only the naive could be surprised at the dispatch of a third of the British army to the country’s largest former colony in the Middle East; or the signature paltering of House of Commons ‘rebels’ of the stamp of Cook or Short, regretting the violence but wishing God speed to its perpetrators.

Berlusconi in Italy and Aznar in Spain—the two most right-wing governments in Europe—were fitting partners for Blair in rallying such lesser EU fry as Portugal and Denmark to the cause, while Simitis offered Greek facilities for US spy planes. The East European states, giving a new meaning to the term ‘satellite’, which they had previously so long enjoyed, fell as one into line behind Bush. The ex-communist parties in power in Poland, Hungary and Albania distinguished themselves in zeal to show their new fealty—Warsaw sending a contingent to fight in Iraq, Budapest providing the training-camps for Iraqi exiles, even little Tirana volunteering gallant non-combatants for the battlefield.

France and Germany, on the other hand, protested for months that they were utterly opposed to a US attack on Iraq. Schroeder had owed his narrow re-election to a pledge not to support a war on Baghdad, even were it authorized by the UN. Chirac, armed with a veto in the Security Council, was even more voluble with declarations that any unauthorized assault on the Ba’ath regime would never be accepted by France. Together, Paris and Berlin coaxed Moscow into expressing its disagreement too with American plans. Even Beijing emitted a few cautious sounds of demurral. The Franco-German initiatives aroused tremendous excitement and consternation among diplomatic commentators. Here, surely, was an unprecedented rift in the Atlantic Alliance. What was to become of European unity, of NATO, of the ‘international community’ itself if such a disastrous split persisted? Could the very concept of the West survive? Such apprehensions were quickly to be allayed. No sooner were Tomahawk missiles lighting up the nocturnal skyline in Baghdad, and the first Iraqi civilians cut down by the Marines, than Chirac rushed to explain that France would assure smooth passage of US bombers across its airspace (as it had not done, under his own Premiership, when Reagan attacked Libya), and wished ‘swift success’ to American arms in Iraq. Germany’s cadaver-green Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer announced that his government too sincerely hoped for the ‘rapid collapse’ of resistance to the Anglo-American attack. Putin, not to be outdone, explained to his compatriots that ‘for economic and political reasons’, Russia could only desire a decisive victory of the United States in Iraq. The parties of the Second International themselves could not have behaved more honourably.

Farther afield, the scene was very similar. In Japan, Koizumi was quicker off the mark than his European counterparts in announcing full support for the Anglo-American aggression, and promising largesse from the beleaguered Japanese tax-payer to help fund the occupation. The new President of South Korea, Roh Moo-hyun, elected with high hopes from the country’s youth as an independent radical, disgraced himself instantly by offering not only approval of America’s war in the Middle East, but troops to fight it, in the infamous tradition of the dictator Park Chung Hee in the Vietnam War. If this is to be the new Seoul, Pyongyang would do well to step up its military preparations against any repetition of the same adventure in the Korean peninsula. In Latin America, the PT regime in Brazil confined itself to mumbling a few mealy-mouthed reservations, while in Chile the Socialist President Ricardo Lagos—spineless even by the standards of sub-equatorial social democracy—frantically cabled his Ambassador to the UN, who had irresponsibly let slip the word ‘condemn’ in chatting with some journalists, to issue an immediate official correction: Chile did not condemn, it merely ‘regretted’ the Anglo-American invasion.

In the Middle East, the landscape of hypocrisy and collusion is more familiar. But, amidst the overwhelming opposition of Arab public opinion, no client regime failed to do its duty to the paymaster general. In Egypt Mubarak gave free passage to the US Navy through the Canal and airspace to the USAF, while his police were clubbing and arresting hundreds of protesters. The Saudi monarchy invited cruise missiles to arc over their territory, and US command centres to operate as normal from their soil. The Gulf States have long become virtual military annexes of Washington. Jordan, which managed to stay more or less neutral in the first Gulf War, this time eagerly supplied bases for American special forces to maraud across the border. The Iranian mullahs, as oppressive at home as they are stupid abroad, collaborated with CIA operations Afghan-style. The Arab League surpassed itself as a collective expression of ignominy, announcing its opposition to the war even as a majority of members were participating in it. This is an organization capable of calling the Kaaba black while spraying it red, white and blue.

The reality of the ‘international community’—read: American global hegemony—has never been so clearly displayed as in this dismal panorama. Against such a background of general connivance and betrayal, the few—very few—acts of genuine resistance stand out. The only elected body that actually attempted to stop the war was the Turkish parliament. The newly elected AKP regime performed no better than its counterparts elsewhere, cravenly bargaining for larger bribes to let Turkey be used as a platform for a US land attack on Northern Iraq. But mass pressures, reflexes of national pride or pangs of conscience prompted large enough numbers of its own party to revolt and block this transaction, disrupting the Pentagon’s plans. The Ankara government hastened to open airspace for US missiles and paratroop drops instead, but the action of the Turkish parliament—defying its own government, not to speak of the United States—altered the course of the war; unlike the costless Euro-gestures that evaporated into thin air when fighting began. In Indonesia, Megawati pointedly drew attention to the Emperor’s clothes by calling for an emergency meeting of the Security Council to condemn the Anglo-American expedition. Naturally, after months of huffing and puffing from Paris, Berlin and elsewhere about the sanctity of UN authority, the response was complete silence. In Malaysia, Mahathir—not for the first time breaking a diplomatic taboo—bluntly demanded the resignation of Kofi Annan for his role as a dumb-waiter for American aggression. These politicians understood better than others in the Third World that the American Empire was using its huge military arsenal to teach the South a lesson in the North’s power to intimidate and control it.

Quisling syndrome

The war on Iraq was planned along the lines set out by its predecessors in Yugoslavia and Afghanistan. It is clear that politicians and generals in Washington and London hoped that the Kosovo–Kabul model could essentially be repeated: massive aerial bombardment bringing the opponent to its knees without the necessity of much serious combat on the ground. [4] In each of these cases there was no real resistance, once B-52s and daisy-cutters had done their work. But on hand to secure the right result were also indispensable ‘allies’ of the targeted regimes themselves. In the Balkans it was Yeltsin’s emissaries who talked Miloševic into putting his head into the American noose by withdrawing his troops intact from their bunkers in Kosovo. In Afghanistan, it was Musharraf who ensured that the bulk of Taliban forces and their Pakistani ‘advisers’ melted away, once Operation Enduring Freedom began. In both countries, it was the external patron whom the local regimes had relied on for protection that pulled the rug from under them.

In Iraq, however, the Ba’ath dictatorship was always a tougher and more resilient structure. It had received varying diplomatic and military support from abroad at different stages of its career (including, of course, from the United States, as well as Russia), but had never been dependent on them. Confident, nevertheless, that its top command must be brittle and venal, Washington persistently tried to suborn Iraqi generals to turn their coats or, failing that, simply to assassinate Saddam itself. Once all such attempts—even at the eleventh hour—proved a fiasco, the Pentagon had no option but to launch a conventional land campaign. The economic and military strength of the American Empire was always such that, short of a rebellion at home or an Arab-wide intifada spreading the war throughout the region, it could be confident of pushing through a military occupation of Iraq. What it could not do was predict with any certainty the political upshot of such a massive act of force.

In the event, the Iraqi Army did not disintegrate at the first shot; there was little sign of widespread popular gratitude for the invasion but rather more of guerrilla resistance and—as civilian casualties from missiles, mortars and bombing raids mounted—of increasing anger in the Arab world. Temporarily, the Crusader armies succeeded in making Saddam Hussein a nationalist hero, his portraits flourished on demonstrations in Amman and Gaza, Cairo and Sanaa. At the time of writing, the hospitals of Baghdad are overflowing with the wounded and dying, as the city is prised apart by American tanks. ‘We own it all’, declares a US colonel, surveying the shattered capital in the spirit of any Panzer commander in 1940. [5] Behind the armoured columns, the Pentagon has an occupation regime in waiting, headed by former US General Jay Garner, an arms dealer close to the Zionist lobby at home, with assorted quislings—fraudsters and mountebanks like Ahmed Chalabi and Kanan Makiya—in its baggage train. It will not be beyond the US authorities to confect what it can dub as a representative regime, with elections, an assembly and so on, while the ‘transitional administration’ will no doubt be funded by the sale of Iraqi assets. But any illusion that this will be a smooth or peaceable affair has already vanished. Heavy repression will be needed to deal, not merely with thousands of Ba’ath militants and loyalists, but with Iraqi patriotic sentiments of any kind; not to speak of the requirements for protecting collaborators from nationalist retribution.

Already the lack of any spontaneous welcome from Shi’ites and the fierce resistance of armed irregulars have prompted the theory that the Iraqis are a ‘sick people’ who will need protracted treatment before they can be entrusted with their own fate (if ever). Such was the line taken by the Blairite columnist David Aaronovitch in the Observer. Likewise, George Mellon in the Wall Street Journal warns: ‘Iraq Won’t Easily Recover From Saddam’s Terror’: ‘after three decades of rule of the Arab equivalent of Murder Inc, Iraq is a very sick society’. To develop an ‘orderly society’ and re-energize (privatize) the economy will take time, he insists. On the front page of the Sunday Times, its reporter Mark Franchetti quoted an American NCO: ‘“The Iraqis are a sick people and we are the chemotherapy”, said Corporal Ryan Dupre. “I am starting to hate this country. Wait till I get hold of a friggin’ Iraqi. No I won’t get hold of one. I’ll just kill him.”’ The report—in Murdoch’s flagship paper—goes on to describe how his unit killed not one but several Iraqi civilians later that day. [6] No doubt the ‘sick society’ theory will acquire greater sophistication, but it is clear the pretexts are to hand for a mixture of Guantanamo and Gaza in these newly Occupied Territories.

United Nations of America

There will, of course, be pleas from the European governments for the UN to take over the conquests of American arms, which Blair, keener than Bush on unctuous verbiage, will second for reasons of his own. Much talk will be heard of humanitarian relief, the urgency of alleviating civilian suffering and the need for the international community to ‘come together again’. So long as no real power is ceded to it, the US has everything to gain from an ex post facto blessing bestowed on its aggression by the UN, much as in Kosovo. The months of shadow-boxing in the Security Council—while, in the full knowledge of all parties, Washington readied the laborious logistics for attacking Iraq—cost it little. Once it had Resolution 1441 in its pocket, passed by a unanimous vote—including France, Russia and China, not to speak of Syria—the rest was décor. Even France’s Ambassador to Washington, Jean-David Levitte, had urged the US not to go forward with the second resolution: ‘Weeks before it was tabled I went to the State Department and the White House to say, “Don’t do it . . . You don’t need it”.’ [7]

It was, of course, sanctimony in London rather than bull-headedness in Washington that dragged the world through the farce of further ‘authorization’, without success. But Levitte’s advice spotlights the real nature of the United Nations which, since the end of the Cold War, has been little more than a disposable instrument of American policy. The turning-point in this transformation was the dismissal of Boutros-Ghali as Secretary-General, despite a vote in his favour by every member of the Security Council save the US, for having dared to criticize Western concentration on Bosnia at the expense of far greater tragedies in Africa. Once Kofi Annan—the African Waldheim, rewarded for helping the Clinton Administration to deflect aid and attention from genocide in Rwanda—was installed instead, at Washington’s behest, the organization was safely in American hands.

This does not mean it can be relied on to do the will of the US on every matter, as the failure of its efforts to secure a placebo for Blair made clear. There is no need for that. All that is necessary—and now unfailingly available—is that the UN either complies with the desires of the US, or rubber-stamps them after the event. The one thing it cannot do is condemn or obstruct them. The attack on Iraq, like the attack on Yugoslavia before it, is from one point of view a brazen violation of the UN Charter. But no member state of the Security Council dreamt of calling an emergency meeting about it, let alone moved a resolution condemning the war. In another sense, it would have been hypocrisy to do so, since the aggression unfolded logically enough from the whole vindictive framework of the UN blockade of Iraq since the Gulf War, which had already added further hundreds of thousands dead to the credit of the Security Council since its role in Rwanda, at American instructions. [8] To appeal from the US to the authority of the UN is like expecting the butler to sack the master.

To point out these obvious truths is not to ignore the divisions that have arisen within the ‘international community’ over the war in Iraq. When the Clinton Administration decided to launch its attack on Yugoslavia, it could not secure authorization from the Security Council because Russia had cold feet; so it went ahead anyway through NATO, in the correct belief that Moscow would jump on board later, and the UN ratify the war once it was over. This time NATO itself was split, so could not be used as surrogate. But it would be unwise to assume the outcome will be very different.

This is the first occasion since the end of the Cold War when a disagreement between the inner core of the EU and the United States exploded into a public rift, was seen on television and helped polarize public opinion on both sides of the Atlantic. But only a short journalistic memory could forget that a still more dramatic dispute broke out during the Cold War itself, occasioned by the same kind of adventure in the same region. In 1956 a ‘unilateralist’ Anglo-French expedition, in collusion with Israel, attempted to effect regime change in Egypt—to the fury of the United States, which had not been consulted beforehand and feared the adventure might open the door to Communist influence in the Middle East. When the USSR threatened to use rockets to help Nasser, Eisenhower ordered Britain to pull out of Egypt on pain of severe economic punishment, and the Tripartite assault had to be abandoned. This time the roles have been largely reversed, with France and Germany expostulating at an American expedition, in which Britain—the perpetual attack-dog—has joined.

The difference, of course, is that now there is no Soviet Union to be considered in the calculus of aggression, and overwhelming power anyway rests with America, not Europe. But the lessons of 1956 have not lost their relevance. Sharp international disputes are perfectly compatible with basic unity of interests among the leading capitalist powers, which quickly reassert themselves. The failure of the Suez expedition prompted France to sign the Treaty of Rome establishing the EEC, conceived in part as a counterweight to the US. But the US itself supported the creation of the European Community, whose enlargement today serves its purposes, as the French elite is becoming uneasily aware—although far too late to do much about it. Ill-feeling is likely to linger between Washington and Paris or Berlin after the public friction of recent months, even if, as we are repeatedly assured, all sides will strive to put it behind them. Within the EU itself, Britain’s role in backing the US against Germany and France, while pretending to play the go-between, has exposed it once again as the Trojan mule in the Community. But the days when De Gaulle could genuinely thwart America are long gone. Chirac and Blair will kiss and make up soon enough.

What is to be done?

If it is futile to look to the United Nations or Euroland, let alone Russia or China, for any serious obstacle to American designs in the Middle East, where should resistance start? First of all, naturally, in the region itself. There, it is to be hoped that the invaders of Iraq will eventually be harried out of the country by a growing national reaction to the occupation regime they install, and that their collaborators may meet the fate of Nuri Said before them. Sooner or later, the ring of corrupt and brutal tyran­nies around Iraq will be broken. If there is one area where the cliché that classical revolutions are a thing of the past is likely to be proved wrong, it is the Arab world. The day the Mubarak, Hashemite, Assad, Saudi and other dynasties are swept away by popular wrath, American—and Israeli—arrogance in the region will be over.

In the imperial homeland itself, meanwhile, opposition to the ruling system should take heart from the example of America’s own past. In the closing years of the 19th century, Mark Twain, shocked by chauvinist reactions to the Boxer Rebellion in China and the US seizure of the Philippines, sounded the alarm. Imperialism, he declared, had to be opposed. In 1899 a mammoth assembly in Chicago established the American Anti-Imperialist League. Within two years its membership had grown to over half a million and included William James, W. E. B. DuBois, William Dean Howells and John Dewey. Today, when the United States is the only imperial power, the need is for a global Anti-Imperialist League. But it is the US component of such a front that would be crucial. The most effective resistance of all starts at home. The history of the rise and fall of Empires teaches us that it is when their own citizens finally lose faith in the virtue of infinite war and permanent occupations that the system enters into retreat.

The World Social Forum has, till now, concentrated on the power of multi­national corporations and neoliberal institutions. But these have always rested on foundations of imperial force. Quite consistently, Friedrich von Hayek, the inspirer of the ‘Washington Consensus’, was a firm believer in wars to buttress the new system, advocating the bombing of Iran in 1979 and of Argentina in 1982. The World Social Forum should take up that challenge. Why should it not campaign for the shutting down of all American military bases and facilities abroad—that is, in the hundred plus countries where the US now stations troops, aircraft or supplies? What possible justification does this vast octopoid expanse have, other than the exercise of American power? The economic concerns of the Forum are in no contradiction with such an extension of its agenda. Economics, after all, is only a concentrated form of politics, and war a continuation of both by other means.

For the moment, we are surrounded with politicians and pundits, prelates and intellectuals, parading their consciences in print or the air-waves to explain how strongly they were opposed to the war, but now that it has been launched believe that the best way to demonstrate their love for humanity is to call for a speedy victory by the United States, so that the Iraqis might be spared unnecessary suffering. Typically, such figures had no objection to the criminal sanctions regime, and its accompanying dose of weekly Anglo-American bombing raids, that heaped miseries on the Iraqi population for the preceding twelve years. The only merit of this sickening chorus is to make clear, by contrast, what real opposition to the conquest of Iraq involves.

The immediate tasks that face an anti-imperialist movement are support for Iraqi resistance to the Anglo-American occupation, and opposition to any and every scheme to get the UN into Iraq as retrospective cover for the invasion and after-sales service for Washington and London. Let the aggressors pay the costs of their own imperial ambitions. All attempts to dress up the re-colonization of Iraq as a new League of Nations Mandate, in the style of the 1920s, should be stripped away. Blair will be the leading mover in these, but he will have no shortage of European extras behind him. Underlying this obscene campaign, the beginnings of which are already visible on Murdoch’s TV channels, the BBC and CNN, is the urgent desire to reunite the West. The vast bulk of official opinion in Europe, and a substantial chunk in the US, is desperate to begin the post-war ‘healing process’. The only possible reply to what lies ahead is the motto heard in the streets of San Francisco this spring: ‘Neither their war nor their peace’.

8 April 2003



[1] ‘Promoting the National Interest’, Foreign Affairs, Jan–Feb 2000.

[2] In The Right Man, David Frum, Bush’s former speechwriter, argues that: ‘An American-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein—and a replacement of the radical Ba’athist dictatorship with a new government more closely aligned to the United States—would put America more wholly in charge of the region than any power since the Ottomans, or maybe the Romans’.

[3] Quoted by Robert Blecher, ‘“Free People Will Set the Course of History”: Intellectuals, Democracy and American Empire’, Middle East Report Online, March 2003; www.merip.org

[4] When Kanan Makiya was granted an audience in the Oval Office last January he flattered Bush by promising ‘that invading American troops would be greeted with “sweets and flowers”’. The reality turned out to be slightly different. See New York Times, 2 March 2003.

[5] Banner in the Los Angeles Times, 7 April 2003. Analogies with Hitler’s blitzkrieg of 1940 are drawn without compunction by cheerleaders for the war. See Max Boot in the Financial Times, 2 April: ‘The French fought hard in 1940—at first. But eventually the speed and ferocity of the German advance led to a total collapse. The same thing will happen in Iraq.’ What took place in France after 1940 might give pause to these enthusiasts.

[6] Sunday Times, 30 March 2003.

[7] Financial Times, 26 March 2003.

[8] For this background to the war, see ‘Throttling Iraq’, editorial, NLR 5, September–October 2000.