The great demonstrations against the war on Saturday 15 February established that America’s resolve to go to war, with the support of various European regimes, runs contrary to the wishes of the peoples of these countries, and contrary to the wishes of millions of free minds across the world.
States in favour of war are buying into a magical symbolic logic - which ousts events from their natural contexts, their historicity, their material actuality. This logic permits the widest generalisations – so the world becomes divided into two parts: ‘We’ and ‘The enemy of our common values’. In such a division, the part stands in for the whole, be it legitimate, like the US, or illegitimate, like bin Laden and al-Qaida. The action of a terrorist group becomes a blow dealt by a civilisation and the US, its victim, is endowed with freedom to choose as it may the time, place and form of its response.
As our footsteps quicken down the path to war, the voices of accusation are raised, daubing every suggested alternative as treacherous. The atmosphere of war chokes with extremism, and collapsing tolerance and dissent.
The economic appetites of the US in the Gulf and central Asia are familiar from the history of past states possessing military superiority. How can European states fail to realise that the US will not confine its use of oil to powering its motors, but will crucially deploy the resource as a lever of control over countries where demand is greatest. In particular, the US will reassert its hegemonic grip upon Europe and the Far East, a grip which has been loosening since fear of the communist Soviet bloc came to an end, rendering Nato well-nigh pointless. Doesn’t the European Union realise that – not as a political force, but as an economic strategy – it is the target of many an American alliance and military manoeuvre?
War and democracy are mutually exclusive. Democracy presupposes dialogue, freedom of opinion, transparency and the right to information. War places all in the hands of the mighty – from bread to knowledge, dominating thought and movement, prohibiting protest, playing upon lines of division which stir up racist ideology and awaken memories of enmity. Instead of respect for particularity, it divides the world into ‘for’ and ‘against’, leaving no room for variety or neutrality: 'If you are not with us – you're against us'.
The removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime is a human necessity. Its existence does more than merely degrade the humanity of the Iraqi people - it represents the degradation of humankind in its very humanity. But the question remains: who should pass judgement on this regime - and how? From whichever angle you view it, the United States is not up to this task. It has supported many of the world's totalitarian regimes, including Iraq itself, and is the industrial country least committed to the environment, unrivalled in its possession of weapons of mass destruction. Amongst modernised democracies, it is the most backward on the level of social justice – from health insurance for the masses, as distinct from the high-income earners to schools and universities.
Democracy does not come via injustice and military occupation. Rather than blindly bombarding, the US should support growth, whilst - by breathing life into the democratic forces within those regimes – it attacks all totalitarian regimes without grace or favour, imposing efficient sanctions within the framework of the UN.
Last Saturday millions across the world eloquently expressed their fear of war - a bestial means to an end exploited by all the tyrants of history, which, moving beneath the slogans of ‘humanity’, brings only destruction. The question remains, a question the Arab world should ask itself with particular urgency. Will it be understood that within the profound, stricken cry, ‘No to war!’ simultaneously rings the cry ‘NO to tyranny!’?
© Adonis 2003
Originally published as part of a debate on 6th February 2003 Writers, artists and civic leaders on the War: Pt. II