Ancient texts, modern lessons

President Bush has rallied his troops for what he calls “The first warof the 21st century”. What is your view of this crisis, where, briefly, do you stand? This is the question we are putting to people around the world, especially those with their own public reputation and following. Our aim, to help create a truly global debate all can identify with.
Shusha Guppy
6 February 2003

It is not easy for an Iranian-born person to be impartial towards Saddam Hussein. After all, he is the man who started an eight-year war against Iran in 1981, without provocation, for predatory purposes, causing the death of one million innocent Iranians as well as half a million Iraqis, many through the effects of biological weapons. His ruthless power-mania, sadism, paranoia, and other vices bring to mind the man on whom he is said to have modelled himself - Stalin.

It is evident that such a man should be removed from any position of power, and indeed be tried as a war criminal in an international court of justice. Yet the majority of people everywhere are against the war that America and its allies are planning against his regime. Why?

It is not because of instinctive revulsion against war and violence; most people accept the idea of a just war. Nor is it because of some dubious anti-American feelings; to disagree with the policies of a particular American administration is not "anti-American", any more than objecting to Sharon's policies is "anti-Israel" (nearly half the voters of these countries feel the same way).

Moreover, no one denies the decisive contribution of America to the two world wars, or the Marshall Plan that helped Europe's reconstruction, or the creation of NATO which safeguarded Europe against Soviet expansion, and other examples of responsible and generous action - the latest being America's intervention in former Yugoslavia that saved Kosovan Albanians from Milosevic's planned genocide while Europe dithered.

Rather, people are against this war because they believe it is not about liberating the poor Iraqis and fostering democracy, but about oil and American hegemony in the Middle East. Anyone who doubts this should consider some questions. Why does America back one of the region’s, and the world’s, most oppressive regimes, Saudi Arabia? Who created Saddam? Who armed him to the teeth and unleashed him against Iran? Who made Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida and the Taliban? Who abandoned Afghanistan to them as soon as Russia was defeated and America's purpose was achieved? And why is Iran part of "the axis of evil"? It is not a nuclear weapons power, it sided with America over Afghanistan, it has some sort of democracy even though the so-called "fundamentalists" often sabotage it, and 79% of its population is pro-American. Is it because Iran too has oil, and now that there is no Soviet Union to fear, America will no longer tolerate any sovereign state in the Middle East? What about North Korea, one of the most vicious regimes in the world, starving millions of its own people, and threatening to use pre-emptively its nuclear arsenal? Why "diplomacy" for North Korea but war for Iraq?

For the first time in history there is a single superpower in the world – in the past there were always two or more players, which created some balance. Such power entails proportionate responsibility, and America has not always played responsibly or fairly. So why should anyone believe US motives to be noble this time? There is now a genuine opportunity for America to create a genuine Pax Americana – helping the world towards peace and freedom, siding with the people everywhere, not their oppressors. It is not doing so.

The proposed conduct of the war on Iraq reinforces this point. The US and Britain seem not to be planning a land attack, which might encourage the Iraqi forces to surrender and the Iraqi people to welcome a "liberating" army. Instead, they are planning a massive bombing campaign, which is likely to cause massive loss of innocent civilian life, while Saddam and his acolytes hide in their bunkers, or escape to a neighbouring country – perhaps taking up Donald Rumsfeld’s suggestion that Saddam could be given asylum elsewhere.

The carelessness here is ominous for post-Saddam Iraq. Democracy has not followed the liberation of Kuwait, despite repeated promises; women do not have the vote and dissent is suppressed. Will America act responsibly and see Iraq through to freedom and prosperity? Will America broker a just and honourable peace between Israel and Palestine, one of the major causes of contention in the region? America's past behaviour is not encouraging. Meanwhile the spectre of war looms, and the long-suffering Iraqis can expect a million deaths. This prospect, more than anything else, arouses pity and makes the war unacceptable to people.

"Whoever kills a human being, shall be looked upon as though he had killed all mankind" (Koran, Chapter V, verse 32); "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be the children of God". (Matthew, Chapter V, Verse 9). I would rather be on the side of those men.

© Shusha Guppy 2003

Originally published as part of a debate on 6th February 2003 Writers, artists and civic leaders on the War: Pt. II

See also Writers, artists and civic leaders on the War: Pt. 1.

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