Writers, artists and civic leaders on the War: Pt. I

12 January 2003


John le Carré - English novelist


This is High Noon for American democracy. The rights and freedoms that have made America the envy of the world are being systematically eroded. A new McCarthyism is abroad. Bush tells us that those who are not with him are against him. I am not with him.

The American over-reaction is beyond everything Osama could have hoped for in his nastiest dreams. But this war was planned long before Osama struck, and it is Osama who made it possible. Without him, the Bush junta would have been mired in Enron, electoral scandal and taxation sleaze. Thanks to Osama, Americans are instead being daily misled by their leaders and by their compliant corporate media.

There is a stink of religious self-righteousness in the air that reminds me of the British Empire at its worst. I cringe when I hear my Prime Minister lend his head prefect’s sophistries to this patently self-interested adventure to secure our oil supplies.

    “But will we win, Daddy?”
    “Of course we will, child, and quickly, while you are still in bed.”
    “But will people be killed, Daddy?”
    “There will be a few Western casualties. Very few. Go to sleep.”
    “And after that, will everything be normal? Nobody will strike back? The terrorists will all be dead?”
    “Wait till you’re older, dear. Goodnight.”
    “And is it really true that last time round Iraq lost twice as many dead as America lost in the entire Vietnam war?”
    “Hush child. That’s called history.”

Where’s the hurry? Iraq is a vile dictatorship, and Saddam is a monster who sits on the world’s second largest oil reserves. But there is ample time to consider how to unseat him before we plunge into this predatory and dishonest war. Leave the UN inspectors there. Convene Iraq’s neighbours. And consider for a moment where the will came from to make this war in the first place.

Americans can still awake to the shame of what is being done in their name.

Britain is half way there. The French and Russians have been bribed and browbeaten into submission. Only the good Germans have so far succeeded in sticking to their silent guns. I wish profoundly that the rest of us Europeans, in the spirit of a nobler President, would declare ourselves to be citizens of Berlin.

©John le Carré 2003

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Roger Scruton - English philosopher, novelist and composer


When assessing US foreign policy it is important to remember that America has often intervened around the globe, and is unique in seeking instantly to withdraw thereafter.

It withdrew from Europe after the two world wars, and from Korea, Japan, and (wrongly) Kuwait and Iraq last time round. The Americans tried to withdraw from Vietnam, having established what they believed to be a friendly regime in the South. Of course, the Americans do not withdraw, as a rule, until securing a settlement in their own favour. But such a settlement, they believe, will be one in which the people of the countries involved have acquired the right to elect their own governments. It is very difficult to object to a policy of intervention, when the intention is not to enslave a foreign people, but to liberate them.

Of course, Americans are bluff optimists, often insensitive to history, to local culture, to traditional allegiances and to the balance of power. This may mean that things are less stable after an American intervention than before - as was Europe after Woodrow Wilson’s input into the Treaty of Versailles.

But compare the Soviets in Ethiopia and North Yemen, in Eastern Europe or the Baltics; compare the Chinese in Tibet or the Syrians in Lebanon.

The vices of the USA are always before us; but the virtues are not sufficiently remembered.

America attracts blame because it responds to blame. Criticism of the Soviet Union was always met with a blank wall of indifference, and in any case could not be publicly voiced within the Soviet Empire itself. Hence, during the Cold War, the US was continually singled out as the source of conflict - notably by people on the Left, who often turned a blind, or at any rate myopic, eye, as did Christopher Hill and Eric Hobsbawm to name but two, to the incredible and still unatoned-for crimes of the Soviet Communist Party.

With tyrannical regimes there is no point in criticism from outside, and death or imprisonment is the reward of criticism from inside. That is why intellectuals brought up under tyrannies end up in the USA. It is the one place where they can criticize freely, not just the countries they have fled from, but the country which has offered them refuge. In the face of virtues like these, the Chomskian and Pilgerish criticisms of US foreign policy begin to look, to say the least, one-sided.

US foreign policy isn’t always right. But it emerges from a rational process - one in which criticism is permitted, and accountability assumed. The foreign policies of North Korea and Iraq issue from no such rational process: which is one reason for using force in order to prevent them from issuing at all.

©Roger Scruton. His most recent book is The West and the Rest (ISI, Washington and Continuum, London)

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John Berger – Anglo-French writer and critic


I write in a night of shame.

Many fear that U.S. military forces will soon be launching its “preventive” war against Iraq. Others hope that this can be avoided. Between the announced decisions and the secret calculations, everything is kept unclear, since lies prepare the way for missiles.

By shame I do not mean individual guilt. Shame, as I’m coming to understand it, is a species feeling which, in the long run, corrodes the capacity for hope and prevents us looking far ahead. We look down at our feet, thinking only of the next small step.

The shame begins with the contestation (which we all acknowledge somewhere but, out of powerlessness, dismiss) that much of the present suffering could be alleviated or avoided if certain realistic and relatively simple decisions were taken.

To understand and take in what is happening, an inter-disciplinary vision is necessary in order to connect the “fields” which conventional arguments keep separate. The precondition for thinking on a global scale is to see the unity of the unnecessary suffering taking place. Any such vision is bound to be, in the original sense of the word, political.

I write in the night, but I see not only the tyranny. If that were so, I would probably not have the courage to continue. I see people sleeping, stirring, getting up to drink water, whispering their projects or their fears, making love, praying, cooking something whilst the rest of the family is asleep, in Baghdad and Chicago. (Yes, I see too the forever invincible Kurds, 4000 of whom were gassed – with US compliance – by Saddam Hussein.) I see pastry cooks working in Teheran and the shepherds, thought of as bandits, sleeping beside their sheep in Sardinia, I see a man in the Friedrichshain quarter of Berlin sitting in his pyjamas with a bottle of beer reading Heidegger and he has the hands of a proletarian, I see a small boat of illegal immigrants off the Spanish coast near Alicante, I see a mother in Mali, her name is Aya which means Born on Friday, swaying her baby to sleep.

Democracy is a proposal (rarely realised) about decision making; it has little to do with election campaigns. Its promise is that political decisions be made after, and in the light of, consultation with the governed. This is dependent upon the governed being adequately informed about the issues in question, and upon the decision makers having the capacity and will to listen and take account of what they have heard. Democracy should not be confused with the “freedom” of binary choices, the publication of opinion polls or the crowding of people into statistics. These are its pretense.

Today the fundamental decisions, which effect the unnecessary pain increasingly suffered across the planet, have been and are taken unilaterally without any open consultation or participation.

The new tyranny, like other recent ones, depends, to a large degree, on a systematic abuse of language. Together we have to reclaim our hijacked words and reject the tyranny’s nefarious euphemisms; if we do not, we will be left with only the word shame.

This is written in the night. In war the dark is on nobody’s side, in love the dark confirms that we are together.

©John Berger 2003. His most recent book of essays is THE SHAPE OF A POCKET (Bloomsbury, London and Pantheon, New York)

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Pervez Hoodbhoy – Pakistani nuclear physicist


Three horses draw George W. Bush’s furiously racing chariot of war. Their names are Vengeance, Greed, and Fear. Vengeance is a young steed born on 11 September 2001, and gallops well. Greed is old but sturdy, can smell oases of oil from afar, and understands his master’s corporate compulsions. The third horse, Fear, is weak and anaemic. Despite lashes from the Texan’s whip, he is a drag on the team. Nevertheless he is indispensable for convincing the American public that a puny Saddam Hussein, castrated of weapons of mass destruction, remains a mortal threat to a superpower many oceans away. So far the finest spin doctors in Washington have failed to make Fear strong, and Hans Blix has not been totally helpful. Fortunately, Vengeance and Greed have made up admirably well.

The fanatical hordes spilling out of Pakistan’s madrasas see not the horses, nor care about them. But they do imagine seeing Richard the Lion Hearted bearing down upon them. It is, for them, a war between Islam and kufr (unbelief). Sword in hand, they pray to Allah to grant war. Belief in final victory is, of course, never doubted by the faithful. They seek the modern Saladin, one who can miraculously dodge cruise missiles and turn them back to hit their launchers. Who will he be? How many decades, or centuries, shall the modern Crusades last? Surely, a lot longer than you and I will be around for.

©Pervez Hoodbhoy 2003

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Salman Rushdie – writer


There is a strong, even unanswerable case for a “regime change” in Iraq that ought to unite Western public opinion and all those who care about the brutal oppression of an entire Muslim nation.

Saddam Hussein and his ruthless gang of cronies from his home village of Tikrit are homicidal criminals, and their Iraq is a living hell. This obvious truth is no less true because we have been turning a blind eye to it – and “we” includes, until recently, the government of the United States. Nor is it less true because it suits the politics of the Muslim world to inveigh against the global bully it believes the United States to be, while it tolerates the all-too-real monsters in its own ranks.

Iraqi opposition groups in exile have been trying to get the West’s attention for years. Now, there’s a change in Washington’s tune. Good. One may suspect the commitment of the Wolfowitz-Cheney-Rumsfeld axis to the creation and support of a free, democratic Iraq, but it remains the most desirable of goals.

The complicating factors, sadly, are this U.S. administration’s pre-emptive, unilateralist approach which looks like bullying because, well, it is bullying. And the United States’ new pre-emptive strike policy would, if applied, make America itself a much less safe place, because if the United States reserves the right to attack any country it doesn’t like the look of, then those who don’t like the look of the United States might feel obliged to return the compliment. It’s not always as smart as it sounds to get your retaliation in first.

Nor does America’s vagueness about its plans for a post-Hussein Iraq and its own “exit strategy” inspire much confidence.

These are some of the reasons why I have remained unconvinced by President Bush’s Iraqi grand design. But as I listen to Iraqi voices describing the numberless atrocities of the Hussein years, then I am bound to say that if, as now seems possible, the United States and the United Nations do agree on a new Iraq resolution; and if Hussein gets up to his old obstructionist tricks or refuses to accept the new U.N. resolution; then the rest of the world must stop sitting on its hands and join the Americans and British in ridding the world of this vile despot and his cohorts.

It should be said loudly that the primary justification for regime change in Iraq is the dreadful and prolonged suffering of the Iraqi people, and that the remote possibility of a future attack on America by Iraqi weapons is of secondary importance. A war of liberation might just be one worth fighting. The war that America is currently trying to justify is not.

©Salman Rushdie 2003

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David Hare, playwright


I supported the United States in 2001 when it had a clear right to pursue the murderers of 3,000 of its residents and citizens. To me, the invasion of Afghanistan was justified and inevitable.

Shortly after the assault on his own country, President Bush made an explicit promise that he would work to help reinforce the move towards democracy for the Palestinians, and to reinforce security for the Israelis.

Since the beginning of the second intifada, nearly 3000 people have also been killed, over two-thirds of them Palestinian, a majority on both sides, like those in the Twin Towers, innocent victims of a violence in which they themselves had no part.

President Bush has since reneged on all his promises. By his failure of purpose in the Middle East, he has sanctioned extremists who pursue mayhem and murder in pursuit of ultimately unobtainable goals – on one side, continued occupation and expansion ; on the other, an end to the state of Israel.

He has been, thus far, the most self-righteous, dangerous and inadequate President in American history.

No exponent of American foreign policy has been able to explain why one UN resolution – that voted through recently against Iraq – should be made a matter of military urgency, while another, far more pressing resolution – the one which demands the withdrawal of Israeli troops to pre-1967 borders – has been allowed to stand for thirty years, unenforced, mocking Western claims of impartiality and justice.

I cannot understand a species of Christian zealotry prevailing in the White House which seeks only to prioritise the strong over the weak and the rich over the poor – an exact reversal of Christ’s stated mission on earth.

An unsanctioned invasion of Iraq has no legitimacy. Its arbitrariness is a hearty gesture of encouragement to terrorists all over the world. Like everyone else, I wish an end to dictatorship – in Pakistan and in Saudi Arabia, in Burma and in China, as well as in Iraq. But, most of all, I wish for an American government which has the guts and the vision to imagine a policy for justice and peace in the Middle East.

©David Hare 2003

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Denis Halliday, former United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq


In relation to Iraq, UN sanctions and now the threat of another American war, I tend to hold the minority viewpoint. Now I find myself in line with the majority view - that is, the majority viewpoint of the Arab community. I base this on recent visits to Tunis, Cairo, Amman and Baghdad. I failed to find one Arab - offical or private citizen - who understands the current crisis between the USA and Iraq to be about weapons of mass destruction. The unanimous view from prime minister to taxi driver is that the conflict is primarily about oil - access, control and cheap! Nobody I talked with sees a threat from Iraq, be it in Turkey, Jordan or Egypt. Why is it that the Washington regime is apparently so threatened? Has it swallowed its own spin, propaganda?

Where is the middle ground? How do we find a solution that saves the face of our two ego-players - Presidents George Bush and Saddam Hussein? Let’s make sure there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and as required by UN Resolution 687, lets make sure the entire neighbourhood is equally clean. Let’s look at US oil needs, recognise the insecurity of the Saudi supply and have the US negotiate with Baghdad, as a trading partner not as a war-threatened state, a plan for the sale of Iraq's oil over the next 30-50 years at a fair market price. This would serve American interests and provide Iraq with the kind of sustained revenue needed for rebuilding the economy, and thereby restoring to the Iraqi people their economic and social rights.

As the same time, Iraq will want to move forward with a multi-party democratic system for which a constitutional change is now being written. The USA must begin to invest massively in renewable sources of energy while also imposing efficient means for reduced consumption of imported oil. Weaning itself from dependency on Middle East oil serves the best interests of Americans. Likewise, the move toward dialogue and trade would begin the process of restoring the lives of the people of Iraq tragically diminished under 12 years of deadly UN sanctions. This could produce a win-win situation for all concerned, including the United Nations, and the Arab community of the Middle East currently so deeply concerned about the catastrophic impact that an American war on Iraq would have on their well-being.

©Denis Halliday 2003

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Edwin Morgan, poet.


I deplore the idea of a declaration of war - or even worse, a military attack without such declaration - on Iraq. I retain the rather forlorn hope that diplomacy will still find a way out of the present impasse without the loss of face, but the steady build-up of American forces (tagged by a token tail-wagging British contingent) may already have acquired a momentum of irreversibility. Who thinks of the consequences? ‘Regime change’? By imposition? How about regime change in Jerusalem? In Riyadh? In quite a few other places it would not be hard to name? What looks like the arrogance of American selectivity is of course no more than the reality of power, and it is not new in the world. But there is all the more reason to out it, to question it, to satirise it, since the stakes today are so high. The so-called Gulf War was not really a war but a one-sided massacre. Is British public opinion happy to underwrite what President Bush clearly regards as the finishing of unfinished business? Perhaps it is. If so, these are bad times!

©Edwin Morgan 2003 . His latest collection is Cathures (Carcanet, 2002)

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Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop



Shame on Bush and Blair for threatening their illegal and immoral war. The United Nations Charter, that noble document which authorizes war only in "self-defence if an armed attack occurs" or if the UN Security Council deems force necessary to maintain international peace and security, is like so much dust in the wind against the oil-slicked aggressive greed of an arrogant, rogue superpower and its shameless British lackeys. If the Security Council approves this unjust war, it will not be because the world is in agreement, but because it has been strong-armed by a bully.

Shame on the media for refusing to ask the right questions, or to question the right villains. Shame on them for their 24-hour war-watch programming peppered with million-dollar ads and extremist talking heads. Shame on them for cashing in on conflict and ignoring nuance and the truth-telling masses in the streets who are resisting the incessant war cries.

Who is asking the real questions: like, why now? Why not ten years ago, twenty years ago, or ten years from now? Or, if this war is truly about weapons of mass destruction, where is the evidence? If this war is really about the liberation of the Iraqi people from a tyrant, why did we never liberate Chile from Pinochet or Cambodia from Pol Pot? Why are we not liberating Zimbabwe from Mugabe? Why are we not seeking "regime change" by force in North Korea? The answer is obvious, and yet we are told not to believe it. Shame on us if we don't. And shame on us all for entering the new millennium still at each other's throats.

©Anita Roddick 2003

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Günter Grass, German novelist


Against whom is it being waged, this war that purports to be no more than a threat, not a fact? Against a terrible dictator, they tell us.

But Saddam Hussein, like so many other dictators, used to be on the side of the democratic superpower and her allies. Iraq waged war on Iran with Western weapons for eight years. Why? Because the country next door to the dictator’s was ruled by a dictator who was perceived at the time to be the most dangerous enemy.

But in the meantime Saddam Hussein has got hold of weapons of mass destruction, the warmongers claim. Not only does this accusation remain to be proven, but the western countries which make it have their own arsenal of weapons of mass destruction – and this accusation is easy to prove.

They promise that once the dictator has been overthrown, they will bring democracy to Iraq. However, the dictator’s neighbours, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait – Western allies which are being used as military bases - are themselves ruled by dictators. Will they become the target of more wars to be waged in the name of democracy?

Of course, these questions are pointless; in its arrogance, the superpower can answer them all. But everyone knows, or at least has an inkling, that the real issue is oil. Or, to be precise: once again, the issue is oil. The web of pretences which usually conceals the interests of the world’s last remaining superpower and her chorus of allies has been worn away to expose the true interests of power. They are revealed in all their hubris as shameless, a danger to the public interest. The president of the United States of America today embodies this danger that faces us all.

©Günter Grass, 2003 and the German Press Agency

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Paul Gilroy, professor of Afro-American Studies


Political, ethical and pragmatic arguments against invading Iraq have been made familiar. But the fearful and uncertain atmosphere created by the information warriors makes them sound worn out. We have to struggle to restore their meaning and to invest dissent with moral and cultural authority especially now that attempts are being made in England to popularise the war by linking the theme of terrorism to a nativist hatred of asylum seekers - the latest ‘enemy within’.

I reject the voices in favour of war which have recently suggested that the measurable good involved in having resurgent US imperial power obliterate the tyranny of Saddam Hussein can somehow be offset against the problems involved in an endorsement of the Bush junta's imperial project. The same pretend wisdom would have us believe that Blair has been supremely skilful in counselling restraint to George and Condi. My hunch is not only that they can do without his fig leaf, but that their long-term plans will require them to remove it with an assertive flourish.

Not long ago, I heard Blair's advisor Mark Leonard wonking away on the radio. He argued that these days a reliable measure of political maturity was a preparedness to accept the notion that all of Europe's best and benign hopes - for peace, security and enhanced democracy - rested entirely upon the simplifying global force of US military power. Fantasy projects of pre-emptive and proactive aggression inflated by the unchallenged power of all the old Project for a New American Century (PNAC) warriors and orchestrated as redemption and invulnerability by the technocratic offices of worthy folk like Admiral Poindexter are now the absolute guarantors of Britain's moral aspirations towards a better planet. God Save The Queen!

©Paul Gilroy 2003

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Philip Bobbitt, author of The Shield of Achilles


Saddam Hussein has spent the last twelve years breaching every provision of the Ceasefire Agreement that ended the Gulf War. Though required to “unconditionally accept” disarmament of his weapons of mass destruction under UN supervision, he has actively sought to acquire such weapons, expelled the inspectors and hidden the WMD he already had. After the defection of the head of his biological weapons program in 1995, Saddam Hussein was compelled to acknowledge that he had produced no fewer than 183 biological weapons in violation of the Agreement. Since 1998, he has repeatedly attempted to acquire weapons-grade uranium. He has replaced the original design for a nuclear warhead with a new design that could accommodate a Scud missile. Nine such missiles are still unaccounted for in the Iraqi inventory.

When Saddam Hussein attacked the unprotected Kurds in violation of the Agreement, the Coalition should have acted, immediately and decisively. But for the same reasons one hears now - concern about post-Saddam governance, anxiety among local allies over domestic reaction, fear of retaliation - the US could not marshal support for action at that time or at any time during the following decade in which Saddam Hussein flagrantly violated the Agreement that had allowed him to maintain his dictatorial power over Iraq. Indeed the US was barely able to keep the sanctions in place even after Saddam had threatened and expelled the inspectors. During those years, nothing changed - until 11 September 2001. What happened on that day had little to do with Iraq - but a great deal to do with the willingness to respond to the ongoing situation in Iraq.

So those who are looking for a “smoking gun,” or for something new in Saddam Hussein’s behavior that would compel us to act now, or for some link between al-Qaida and Iraq in order to justify a change of regime by force are looking in the wrong place. It is not new evidence that is driving the response now; I for one pray he hasn’t been able to get nuclear weapons, despite his best efforts. Rather there is a new resolve, and a new urgency.

For we must act now. In August 2002, former weapons inspectors for the UN testified that “the current leadership in Baghdad will eventually achieve a nuclear weapon in addition to their current inventories of weapons of mass destruction.” Once Saddam Hussein has nuclear weapons, the West will be deterred from using force to thwart an Iraqi move against it neighbors; the chances of an attack by terrorists using these weapons increases significantly; and Iraq’s neighbors will scramble to acquire nuclear weapons of their own.

If we could avoid Saddam Hussein’s acquisition of weapons of mass destruction through a combination of sanctions and inspections, I would surely favor this instead of war, in spite of the human cost an indefinite continuation of the sanctions would impose on the people of Iraq. But Saddam Hussein’s unique combination of vast wealth (which can quickly replace any weapons decommissioned under pressure), aggressive risk-taking, and resolute mendacity makes inspections hopelessly inadequate, even if they were to be continued indefinitely, which we all must know is impossible. Given the divided, impotent nature of the Western response to Saddam Hussein’s shredding of the Ceasefire Agreement and all the UN Resolutions that, pathetically, repeatedly called on him to respect its provisions without success, I see no grounds for confidence in a system of sanctions and inspections.

If we want to restore Iraq’s wealth to its people, to avoid nuclear proliferation, and to lessen the dangers of terrorism, Saddam Hussein cannot remain in power. If he cannot be persuaded to leave, he must be forced to leave.

©Philip Bobbitt 2003

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Todd Gitlin, American sociologist and writer


If wishes were arguments, the strongest argument for an American war would be the most ambitious - the wish, or prayer, that by deposing Saddam Hussein and occupying Iraq, the US would instal a democratic regime in the Arab world, a regime that, in turn, would undermine the autocratic consensus that governs the region, reverse the fundamentalist Islamic movement and foster the growth of anti-fundamentalist tendencies everywhere. Such an outcome is devoutly to be desired. If only the wish sufficed!

But the world in which the wish would suffice is not the world we live in. An American war in Iraq is very unlikely to bring it about. What it is far more likely to bring about is carnage and more terror. The risks are far too great to justify war. Is it not an elementary truth that wars get out of control and are, after all, hellish? That’s why they must only be last resorts. There are simply too many ways in which an Iraq war could get out of control. In fact, the scenario most likely to bring about the use of weapons of mass destruction is precisely the one George W. Bush has been angling for: an attack on Saddam Hussein’s regime. The scenario most likely to bring about terror attacks - on Americans, too - is precisely the same. The scenario most likely to win recruits for al-Qaida is precisely the same.

Meanwhile, against Saddam Hussein’s future threats, there are substantial, not merely rhetorical, alternatives. The case for containment is strong. Smart sanctions (not the current blunderbuss kind), coercive inspections, and maintenance of the no-fly zones are the alternatives to war.

But let it be understood that Americans are indeed - as John le Carré hoped -”awakening to the shame of what is being done in their name.”

Don’t underestimate popular American conscience and sense. Understand that the American public has not been swept away by Bush’s bravado. Far from it. The latest national Knight Ridder poll, taken 3-6 January, finds only about a third of Americans supporting unilateral war - while 83% would support multilateral war with UN backing. And this after more than a year of drum-beating, jingoist Bush indoctrinating, and the panic induced by terror attacks.

On 16 January, by a vote of 46-1, the Chicago City Council “opposed a pre-emptive US military attack on Iraq unless it is demonstrated that Iraq poses a real and imminent threat to the security and safety of the United States”. The demonstrations are growing and deepening. The antiwar movement is getting out from under the sectarian left. Churches and unions are coming forward.

Recall, for that matter, that no American majority elected George W. Bush.

Surely this is a time to refresh the optimism of the will!

©Todd Gitlin 2003

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Meena Alexander, poet and academic of Indian origin


A cold day, the temperatures have dipped below normal. I see the black lattice work of winter trees, glisten of light on the street. Lines come to mind, by the poet Huda Naamani who wrote in Beirut in a season of war:

We will write our bodies with snow, the soul

remains a horizon

I imagine a woman in Baghdad. She waits for the bombs to fall. What is it like to live, waiting for bombs to fall?

She wakes in the morning light. She washes herself, combs her hair, touches her throat. She hears again the voice she heard in dreams. It is her own voice, torn from her body.

Here come back. It’s not safe out there. She is calling to her children. I gave birth to you and now you must come back.

But they do not hear her. When she wakes she sees the wall, the street. She understands you can’t turn time back.

I live far away from her, in the country that is sending thousands of young people to attack Iraq. Other means of change are possible, and may well be within arm’s reach. Why this massive military build-up? For oil? For a ghostly empire?

‘No blood for oil’ is the chant of thousands of antiwar demonstrators in cities across the United States and all over the world. It is a cry that needs to be heard.

If fire rains down on the heads of innocent people, if soldiers start fighting and people start dying as they will, how shall we continue our ordinary lives?

What will become of our so-called normalcy?

How will we cross the street, bring our children home from school, approach our lovers, bury our dead?

Steel from the twin towers was melted down, used to make a battleship. Is this what the new world brings?

Rather than the first war of a new century, we should make an effort to stitch together peace, a difficult and necessary peace. A harvest of light.

Somewhere on a city street a woman surrenders her scarves.

They are black. The wind blows them back.

©Meena Alexander 2003 . Her most recent book is the volume of poems Illiterate Heart (Triquarterly Books/Northwestern University Press, 2002)

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Rukhsana Ahmad, writer and playwright of Pakistani origin


I am deeply troubled by this crisis which threatens to further divide and polarise people. It is bound to make our world a much more dangerous place.

No one wins a war: wars yield nothing but devastation, tragedy and deep smouldering hatred. Nor can a war resolve a problem conclusively. Afghanistan is a recent case in point. Poor Mr. Karzai has to depend on the US for his safety. It would be tragic if we, in the West, foolishly presumed that war is an easy option. It is never that.

I feel a kind of despair when I see the incredible might of the warmongers, the sophistication of their propaganda machine and their unwillingness to listen to reason. But, equally, I am encouraged by the extent of anti-war feeling in Britain. Despite the propaganda there is very little public support for this action. My faith in the wisdom of ordinary people is restored when I see the massive block of protest and resistance. It includes people from every faith, every race, every community, and of every political hue.

I have not as yet met anyone in real life, white, black or Asian, left, right, or centre, who actually wants this war. If our government here blatantly disregards public opinion and chooses to participate in the action, or even to bless it, it will be a real travesty of the spirit of democracy.

©Rukhsana Ahmad 2003

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Arnold Wesker, dramatist


There seem to be two kinds of left-wing reasoning. (Many more, of course, it's in the nature of the left to fragment itself - which is both good and bad.) The kind that reasons all tyranny must be brought down; the kind that reasons anything the right supports must be wrong.

By March 1933 in Germany the Communists refused to join a United Front with the Social Democrats thus leaving the way free for Hitler to come to power. British Communists later opposed the war with Hitler because it had been declared by a right-wing government. They changed their minds when the Soviet Union entered the battle.

Having campaigned for years against the tyrannical Argentinean generals who slaughtered thousands, many unaccounted for - 'the disappeared ones' - the 'right-is- wrong' left then refused to support the war against Argentina's invasion of the Falklands because it was lead by the right-wing leader, Margaret Thatcher. She brought down the fascist generals, and democracy returned to the Argentine.

One of the most dangerous, murderous tyrants of recent times, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, has usurped the sovereignty of his people and dragged them through three bloody wars, one of them against his own Kurdish people. Bush and Blair are attempting to lead an international force to physically disarm and overthrow him.

The 'right-is-wrong' left opposes a war with Iraq.

I belong to that part of the left that reasons all tyranny must be brought down.

©Arnold Wesker 2003

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Donald Sassoon, historian and writer


Wars present many problems. One is that we never know what’s going to happen. For most of us, and this excludes genuine pacifists and Saddam-sympathisers, such knowledge would determine our support. Assume the ‘best scenario’: the inspectors find overwhelming evidence of the presence of weapons of mass destruction; the United Nations decide to intervene; the subsequent attack on Iraq kills very few people. Foremost among the casualties is Saddam Hussein himself. The whole operation is accompanied by a popular movement which establishes a genuine democracy in Iraq. Unlikely but not impossible.

Take a far darker outcome: though no weapons are found and without UN support, Bush attacks with Blair’s enthusiastic support; the war drags on for weeks, months even, with considerable ‘collateral damage’; what’s worse (from the point of view of western public opinion, so resilient when the dead are not theirs) body bags return in large numbers to London and Washington. And even worse: the inevitable skyrocketing of oil price makes driving prohibitive while the recession turns into a depression. The medium-term outcome is just as catastrophic: ‘friendly’, i.e. pro-Western governments are toppled throughout the Middle East which is swept by an unprecedented wave of Islamic fundamentalism; Israel proceeds to a massive ethnic cleansing of the West Bank; al-Qaida’s recruiting agents are besieged by applicants eager to join and die for the cause. Still gung-ho on the war? I don’t believe you.

The actual outcome is likely to be between these two poles; the precise point impossible to predict. But then, if we knew the outcome, there might never be wars. We certainly would not have had the first, perhaps not even the second, world war. So war is risky. But before you cast your vote, think seriously: who is risking? Whose children? Whose future?

©Donald Sassoon 2003

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Sonja Linden, playwright and theatre director


I have been feeling confused about my attitude to this proposed war - a lone and rather timid voice amongst all the people I know. I share their feelings about American dominance and the US’s profound abuse of its economic and military supremacy. Yet I have been amazed at the absence of concern for a totally oppressed population; there is almost no mention of it. All the talk is about whether action over Iraq is good or bad for 'us'.

My feeling is that all this resurgent energy against war should be directed to finding ways to aid populations in getting rid of regimes that murder and oppress them. The left's natural sympathies here have been skewered by virulent suspicion and hatred of the US. That's why people are clamouring for a United Nations lead; but the UN as it stands has proved to be a weak and much manipulated tool (not least by great powers like the US). In my opinion, changes are urgently needed in the functioning and remit of the UN, including reform of Security Council membership.

The premise for action in cases like Iraq is genocide. Along with the likes of Milosevic and Pinochet, we should be able to indict and extradite Saddam Hussein. Terror and murder of one's own population is in my mind a much more legitimate reason for intervening in another state than weapons of mass destruction (how to intervene is of course the next big question). So many states currently fall under that category and the world still stands by. So much for 'Never Again'!

We have more information now than at any other time in history about what is happening behind closed borders, and yet we are still paralysed. The current Iraq war hysteria has so many subtexts that the real issues are being totally fudged. The people of Iraq have suffered too long under this brutal regime. In this they share the fate of many countries in the Middle East and Africa. It is the casualties of these regimes that are washed up on Britain’s unwelcoming shores. These are the voices we should be hearing from now - the fugitives of hideous oppression.

©Sonja Linden 2003

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Muqtedar Khan, American Muslim scholar


The war on Iraq may well be the first disaster of the century. This war, regardless of the rhetoric from Bush, Blair & Co., is an unjust war. Ironically if preemptive strikes are justifiable then Iraq at the moment may be justified in attacking the US and the UK who have been threatening to attack it for the last six months. Saddam has had access to chemical and biological weapons for over two decades, he used them against Iran (without any criticism from the US or UK) and he has used them against the Kurds, but he has never passed them on to any terrorists so far. It may sound strange but it is true, Saddam's record is his best defense.

An unjust war and prolonged occupation (direct colonialism) will generate intense anti-west sentiments, will alienate the US and UK and make them the most hated nations all over the world. As it is, anti-Americanism has become as global a phenomenon as Britney Spears.

The people of Iraq have suffered enough at the hands of Saddam Hussein and the US-UK sponsored sanctions. It is difficult to say who has killed more innocent people, Saddam or sanctions. I hope that all decent people in the world will stand up against this unjust war and let the war mongers know that the civilised world is not with them.

©Muqtedar Khan 2003

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Lindsay Waters, editor at Harvard University Press


If one were of a biblical frame of mind, one might respond to openDemocracy’s question by asking another: what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world and destroy the soul of his country? It is time to point out just how un-American Bush and his incompetent crew are. Behind the mask of this puppet we have a staff of right-wing fanatics totally out of line with the mainstream America they manipulate with a brazen braggadoccio that is, as our teens say, awesome.

The republican virtue of Lincoln and Eisenhower has been tattered by those who inherit the name. Would even my Republican mother, a supporter of Barry Goldwater in 1964, have supported these people? When Goldwater ran, his opponents warned the people should not be confused by his avuncular manner. If he were elected, he'd staff the White House with loonies who'd drop nuclear bombs on Vietnam. Well, look where we are today! I pray they will not prevail.

For in threatening war to realise their geopolitical fantasies, they would sell our very souls. I am worried about my soul. It is against the law, the moral law, to invade a foreign country that has not attacked you, just because they might sometime attack you. There is no connection between Iraq and 9/11. None. These fanatics are out on a limb. The whole lot of them needs to be confined, with their weapons taken away from them, until we can throw them out of office.

"Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice," Goldwater taught us back then when the radical right was fighting as if it were a saving remnant. Now, it behaves like a Leninist vanguard leading by the nose people it regards as dumb or "just following orders". It is up to American liberals and leftists to stop talking as if Bush is dumb. Let him rather be accountable. We must demand he speak. He may be an agent of a faceless military-industrial complex, but he has a face and voice. We must demand that he stop hiding behind a bureaucratic iron curtain and explain himself. We have to insist on his individual responsibility - and our own.

Are there grounds for hope? In the last week, opinion polls have registered a 5% fall in Bush's popularity; some large surveys report only 24% supporting the war; 18 January saw a huge antiwar demonstration in Washington. I have confidence that the American people will reject this war. The idea that politics is contemptible has been promoted by zealots who want the general public to stop paying attention. America is an idea and an open practice; to work well, it needs the engagement of its citizenry. Americans need to become political again and take back their country. We will be answerable when the last days come.

©Lindsay Waters 2003

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Hugh Beach, retired general working for peace


There could be four good reasons for going to war with Iraq. The first would be if she waged aggressive war against another country, as against Iran in 1980-88, and against Kuwait in 1990-91. She poses no such threat at present. The second would be gross, flagrant and continuing abuse of human rights. Iraq suppressed a Kurdish revolt during the 1980s, using chemical weapons and systematically killing an estimated 100,000 men women and children. Though the regime remains abusive and tyrannical it is doing nothing like this. The third would be a direct and provable link with the attacks of 11 September 2001, such as led to the forcible ejection of the Taliban regime from Afghanistan by a US-led coalition, with UN endorsement, in 2001. Despite its best efforts the US has established no such connection. The fourth reason would be blatant refusal to comply with United Nations Security Council Resolutions, over a dozen years, in maintaining a covert stock of biological and chemical weapons. Western intelligence sources are sure that these exist and they are probably right. But action lies squarely in the hands of the UN Security Council and its investigators – UNMOVIC and the IAEA. Military deployments by the US and Britain have greatly strengthened their hand. But they must be given the time and intelligence assistance to find and, if necessary, to destroy these things. Unless and until the Security Council expressly so determines there can be no justification for bombing or invasion.

©Hugh Beach 2003

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Patrick Mono, hotel worker in Kenya


As the US and its allies prepare for war on Saddam by building up troops and military personnel in the Gulf to disarm Saddam of his arms of mass destruction, perhaps they should bear this in mind: Saddam is also busy preparing for war. When the US attacks him, he’ll retaliate and probably strike back by using those harmful weapons.

In this part of Africa I have friends young and old who are asking the following:

  • How destructive are Saddam’s weapons?
  • What effect could those weapons have on human life and the environment?
  • Has everything been done to avert this war?

Let those concerned with this war give it another thought, a thought for a peaceful resolution. Let them do so for the sake of the innocent, for Iraq’s women and children and for the sake of Iraq’s neighbours. Public opinion in Kenya is already worried about the possible repercussions of this war on our lives and on our crippled economy. Let this be known to the world, openDemocracy, and let us have some responses, please.

©Patrick Mono 2003

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Hazhir Teimourian, commentator on the Middle East


If this war really does take place, it will save many more lives than it will cost, and millions of Iraqis (if no-one else) will show their gratitude for that. I’m not an Iraqi, but I shall rejoice with them as if I were.

As someone who has been warning the world about the ultimate ambitions of Saddam Hussein since 1973 - when I sneaked into northern Iraq to report on his preparations for his first war, on the Kurds - I am convinced that only the removal of this psychopath will prevent more conflicts in the future. When he waged his second war, on Iran in 1980, the world rightly felt reluctant to act to stop him, for that would have helped the only slightly less repugnant regime of the ayatollahs. But when the full extent of the gassing of over 280 Kurdish villages and small towns became clear in the summer of 1988, after the end of the war with Iran, surely there was then no excuse to tolerate the vile regime any longer.

To my disgust, and after my pleadings in BBC programmes and press articles, Mrs Thatcher’s government doubled Saddam’s Export Credit Guarantee to £320m a year, and the leader of the Labour Party, Neil Kinnock, refused even to add his name to a dozen other prestigious figures in a statement in The Times to condemn the gassings.

If resort had been made then to the 1948 Geneva Protocol on Genocide to overthrow Saddam, perhaps more than a million people would not subsequently have lost their lives: in the deportations and disappearances of some 180,000 Kurds, the eviction of the Iraqi army from Kuwait, the massacres of the Shia in the south of Iraq, the destruction of the Marsh Arabs, all those dead Iraqis who were deliberately deprived of food and medicines supplied by the UN in order to blame their deaths on sanctions.

Just before the war of 1991, the foreign minister of India asked me to advise him what position to take at the UN. When I failed to persuade him that backing Saddam would be a complete betrayal of Gandhi, under whose portrait we had just had lunch, he felt ashamed. "I can’t oppose Saddam", he said. "If I do and he still ends up in possession of Kuwait, India will pay an extra £2bn a year in oil imports". Now the pleadings of those two big sleazebags, Chirac and Putin, to bind America and Britain to their vetoes in the Security Council reminds me of that Indian minister and how politicians determine their moralities. Russia and France have been offered massive contracts to work for the survival of Saddam.

Twice recently, I have questioned Tony Blair in Downing Street. I do not know about George Bush, but I have the firm impression that Britain’s leader hates war and hates having to spend £4-5bn on overthrowing Saddam just as much. I’d rather be on his side than on the side of men like Chirac.

©Hazhir Teimourian 2003

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Ralph Giordano, German Jewish writer


You ask me where I stand?

My immediate reaction: any question about the Iraq crisis which mentions George W. Bush, but not Saddam, contains per se a tendentious answer. Which prompts me to ask back: "And where do you stand?"

My second spontaneous reaction is to say: "I am on Israel’s side, ladies and gentlemen, primarily on Israel’s side!"

No, I do not want this war, I dread it and its consequences – but I strongly oppose the impulse which lets the arch crook Saddam off the hook, leaving intact this terrible status quo, and delegating sole responsibility for the crisis to "the Americans". I am fed up to the point of nausea with the pathology of anti-Americanism and refuse to identify oil greed as the motive for the escalation of the crisis in the Middle East.

I am not a blind defender of the United States, and I have often raised my voice against a foreign policy which connived in the Cold War with all right-wing dictators around the globe. America, however, does not have one face. It has many. And it is a good thing to have America – I owe her my life after all, even though the 8th British Army liberated me on 4 May 1945.

I hope that Saddam will be defeated without a war – but he has to be defeated! And the UN must be behind it.

Again it rings true: pacifism in a non-pacifist world means nothing but the continuation of murderous and terrorist regimes. It cannot be the answer to the chief rogue Saddam Hussein.

©Ralph Giordano 2003

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Aaron Breitbart, Senior Researcher, Simon Wiesenthal Center


Saddam Hussein may be the most dangerous person on earth. I believe that President Bush understands that only too well, and realises that powerful steps must be taken to stop the Iraqi dictator. I cannot believe that those of America’s allies who do not share his views on this issue, are blind to the truth. They, quite simply, lack the political will to take the necessary measures to eliminate the threat that Saddam Hussein poses. Europe is certainly no newcomer to the policy of appeasement. The general tone of the policies of many of her component nations regarding the Middle East suggests that she has not only lost her will to confront the Iraqi dictator, but also her moral compass with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

©Aaron Breitbart 2003. Written in a personal capacity: the Wiesenthal Center has issued no policy.

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Ian McEwan - novelist


Ambivalence is not a useful sentiment on the brink of war, but my misgivings about military action have been tempered, or complicated, by the writing of various Iraqi exiles as well as the testimonies of those persecuted by the regime. Nor does it seem outlandish, the possibility of Saddam Hussein passing on weapons of mass destruction to the enemy of his enemies. In the right context, with the right ambitions, it could be a moral act to remove Saddam and his hideous entourage by force and restore Iraq to its people. By the right context, I refer to an attempt to begin the process of a focussed, creative and inclusive settlement to the Palestinian problem.

Naturally, it would require deep American involvement, if not leadership, and at present this is a remote prospect. But without such an initiative, and in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the whole area is too unstable; it seethes with hatred. Mutual incomprehension between the Arab world and the West is at a new peak. Only last month, the mainstream Cairo press was repeating the story that the US itself destroyed the Twin Towers in order to have a pretext to attack Islam.

Meanwhile, the US Administration is vague about its post-invasion plans. There has been no forthright commitment to a democratic Iraq. This invites suspicion. Military action in the Middle East now could prompt any number of very undesirable, if not tragic, consequences. No one, no ‘expert’, can know what is going to happen. But I think it is safe to assume, given the present pandemic of irrationality, that this is not the best time to be going to war against an Arab nation.

For all that, I can’t say I’ve been much impressed by the integrity of the anti-war movement in Britain. Peace movements are of their nature incapable of choosing lesser evils. The failure to take an interest in, or engage with, Iraqi exiles, or the Iraqi National Congress meeting in London recently, was a moral evasion. All the more shameful when a large part of the INC embraces the liberal or libertarian and secular values that much of the anti-war movement professes. I keep hearing the raised voices of those very same people who preferred to leave the Taliban in power, and who were prepared to let the Kosovars rot in their camps on the borders of their homeland, and to let Serbian genocidal nationalism have its way. Why should we trust those voices now? Tony Blair, vilified at the time, played a tough hand in both those campaigns, and he was proven right. Far more would have suffered if nothing had been done. The “Bush’s poodle” charge this time round is lazy. It was the Blair-Powell axis of compromise that brought the US to the UN. Another empty argument I keep hearing is that it is inconsistent to attack Iraq because we are not attacking North Korea, Saudi Arabia and China. To which I say, three dictatorships are better than four.

To the waverer, some of the reasoning from the doves seems to emerge from a warm fug of illogic: that the US has been friendly to dictators before, that it cynically supported Saddam in his war against Iran, that there are vast oil reserves in the region - none of this helps us decide what specifically we are to do about Saddam now. The peace movement needs to come up with concrete proposals for containing him if he is not to be forcefully disarmed. He has obsessively produced chemical and biological weapons on an industrial scale, and has a history of bloody territorial ambition. What to do?

No one seriously disagrees about his record of genocide - perhaps a quarter of a million Kurds slaughtered, thousands of their villages destroyed, the ruthless persecution of the Shi’ites in the south, the cruel suppression of dissent, the widespread use of torture and summary imprisonment and execution, with the ubiquitous security services penetrating every level of Iraqi society. It is an insult to those who have suffered to suggest, as some do, that the US administration is the greater evil.

Nor does it advance the cause of peace to ignore the opportunity as well as the responsibility Saddam has, even at this late stage, to avoid a war. Those in the peace camp who argue for a complete military withdrawal from the area ignore the fact that the Kurds would face further genocide without the current protection of the no-fly zones. The peace movement does not have a monopoly of the humanitarian arguments.

As for the hawks, they have evasions of their own. There is a simple piece of arithmetic that they cannot bring themselves to do in public: given the vile nature of the regime and the threat it presents to the region, how many Iraqi civilians should we allow ourselves to kill to be rid of him? What is the unacceptable level?

The best argument for a pre-emptive invasion would be evidence of a recent nuclear weapons programme. So far, nothing has been found. Other questions do not dissolve because they are unanswerable: if nation building is too lowly a task for this US administration, what might follow from the break-up of the nation state of Iraq, an artifice devised and imposed last century by the British? What if a missile attack draws in the efficient and the bellicose Israelis? Will an invasion be al-Qaida’s recruiting sergeant? And might Saddam, the ‘serial miscalculator’ in Kenneth Pollack’s memorable phrase, take everyone down with him in a final frenzy of psychosis? To choose war is to choose unknown terrifying futures. Containment by perpetual inspection might be the duller, safer option.

Still, the hawks have my head, the doves my heart. At a push, I count myself - just - in the camp of the latter. And yet my ambivalence remains. I defend it by reference to the fact that nothing any of us say will make any difference: ambivalence is no less effective than passionate conviction.

At present, following the Blix and Powell reports to the UN Security Council, a war looks inevitable. One can only hope now for the best outcome: that the regime, like all dictatorships, rootless in the affections of its people, will crumble like a rotten tooth: that the federal, democratic Iraq that the INC committed itself to at its conference can be helped into existence by the UN, and that the US, in the flush of victory, will find in its olman’s heart the energy and optimism to begin to address the Palestinian issue. These are fragile hopes. As things stand, it is easier to conceive of innumerable darker possibilities.

©Ian McEwan 2003

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Ghada Karmi, recent author of the memoir, ‘In Search of Fatima: A Palestinian Story’


This war is something no one wants, least of all an Arab and a Palestinian like myself. There is no rational reason why it should be prosecuted and no argument proffered to date has been convincing – certainly not the weapons of mass destruction argument, which has fallen flat on its face ever since the US showed itself willing to counter a real threat coming from North Korea with diplomacy and offers of economic and energy support. For Arabs, the tolerance shown to Israel’s brutality against the Palestinians and its known possession of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction while castigating Iraq in the harshest and most bellicose of ways is nauseating. Many theories have been put forward to explain the American imperative to attack a country which is on its metaphorical knees and which poses not the faintest threat to the US or the West, but the real reason it seems to me lies in the West’s foolish policy towards Iraq, before and after 1991.

Having decided that Saddam Hussein was becoming a liability rather than the asset he had been during the 1980s, the US led a war designed to squash the Iraqi leader. But, despite stringent sanctions and a degraded country, he clung onto power and is a living monument to Western double-dealing and ineptitude. Iraq therefore poses a conundrum: how to resume normal business with it but have to stomach the fact that if Saddam stays in power, he will have ‘won’, and the US with all its might and power will have lost? This is unthinkable and, hence he must go, so as to enable the West deal with Iraq once more. The fact that this may get out of hand and drag the US (and Britain) into an Iraqi post-invasion quagmire is a nightmare which was not anticipated when the eagerness to teach Saddam a lesson first rose to fever pitch. If this ego-driven enterprise goes ahead, we will now all have to live with its dire consequences.

©Ghada Karmi 2003

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Ben Okri, writer


A vision of the broken rose

In an inferno of oil and blood

Earth in dying clothes

Unleash the hidden will of God.


©Ben Okri, January 2003. All rights reserved.

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Nuha Al-Radi, Iraqi artist and writer


It comes as a big shock that in this age of supposed democracy, a country can be invaded, colonized and occupied in so blatant a manner – daisy-cuttered and e-bombed, all in the name of peace. And that it’s even feasible to look on, like at a play unfolding or something live on T.V. Even more extraordinary is the fact that this war on terror and all the so-called ‘Islamic’ terrorist activities that are taking place all over the world are the work of every nationality except Iraqi. There is no logic to this action, unless it is the logic of power and greed, hypocrisy and lies. These are the virtues and morals of the U.S. - the country that rules the world. It is morality driven by the black gold - oil.

I am a potter, sculptor, painter. I try to visualise things. Right now I am in Pakistan preparing for an exhibition. One of the journalists interviewing me asked me why my work did not depict Iraq – the million children dead, the results of 12 years sanctions, the damage left behind with the depleted uranium etc. During the first Gulf War I was in Baghdad and wrote a diary that was published. It was just every day life under bombardment, which later became just living and trying to mind one’s own business. I wished then that something could happen to the U.S., and now 12 years later a repeat is about to take place, on a now weak and battered nation, 22 million people trying to mind their business and live their lives.

A dictatorship within is to be replaced by a military occupation from outside. We already know how much (and how little) care is given later to helping put right the damage done. How can we hope for a different reality?

©Nuha Al-Radi 2003

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David Hayes, assistant editor, openDemocracy


The way that Iraqis will take possession of war to reach for inner liberation is the decisive element in the story that is unfolding. This will transform the field of political calculation, inside and outside the country.

There are no perfect choices. No one would wish to start from here. The complicity and misdeeds of western states and corporations are indeed extensive, and must in time be paid for.

Yet, overriding all other factors is one, whose immensity no current debate has begun fully to register. The Saddam Hussein regime is the most pathologically violent in the history of the Arab world. Destroying it will be an unequivocal service to the Iraqi people and to humanity.

The revolution that will follow in the minds and hearts of Iraqis – astonishing, liberating, and inevitable - will be definitive justification for the war that has freed them. In Iraqi memory, it will be indelible.

The aftermath will be convulsive. The nature of the dictatorship has prescribed its own fate. Every grotesque monument will fall, every statue in every town will be blown up, every mosaic or document with his inlaid handprint and inscripted blood will be torn apart. Every trace of the monster will be erased from Iraqi life. Soon, not a single Iraqi will be found who confesses the smallest allegiance to his memory.

There will be many dangers in this period. The need for massive food, health, and infrastructural aid from the military victors will be urgent. Territorial integrity and stable governance will require intense efforts of military, political, and civil society cooperation.

Behind them, the political victors, the Iraqi people, will begin the confusing and necessary task of remaking their society – and in an extraordinarily painful process, exploring the meaning of living with trust and freedom in everyday life.

Iraqis are about to reclaim an active role in their own country’s history. They will be seen and heard telling, in their own voices, the unimaginable stories of these unforgettable years.

In the process, they will write a new script that makes sense out of nationalist madness, as Cambodians, Rwandans, and Bosnians have done before them. Every power in the world, everyone concerned with politics, should read, respect, and engage with it.

©David Hayes 2003

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Bahman Nirumand – Iranian author of ‘An Alien Amongst Germans’, and journalist in exile


The warmongering in Washington flows from an arrogance of power mixed with unlimited stupidity and ignorance. Nobody has any doubt that the US are capable of bulldozing Iraq with their gigantic military machinery, of killing hundreds of thousands and of taking control of the oilfields. However, they will not be able to quench the rising hatred and the wrath of the survivors. And this hatred and wrath will spread like a bushfire in the whole region and beyond. Nothing could provide a better basis for the fundamentalists and terrorist organisations.

A war against Iraq will jeopardise the partly artificially-drawn borders between states in the region. What if Iraq splits into several parts, if the Kurds found a new state, if the Shiites in Southern Iraq forge an alliance with their brothers in Kuwait, perhaps even in Iran, if the Wahhabite fundamentalists in Saudi Arabia chase away the king and the five hundred corrupt princes? Will the USA take the war to these countries as well? How many casualties do Bush and Rumsfeld find acceptable: a hundred thousand, two hundred thousand, more than a million? And what happens if Saddam Hussein, just as in Kuwait, sets the oilfields in Iraq alight?

According to international law no country has the right to use military force to cause regime change in another country. It cannot be denied that Saddam Hussein is a criminal, that he has total control over his people, that he is not only dangerous for his own country, but also for the neighbouring states. Nevertheless how would Americans react if Saddam Hussein decided to direct his weapons at the USA, to kill hundreds of thousands, to topple the government in Washington? Would the world allow him to do that if he had the power? After all the US possesses nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. If weapons of mass destruction justified a military attack, is it not Iraq who has the right to attack the United States, if only because it has not yet been proven to possess these weapons?

Should the USA in breach of international law and any humanitarian principle and in disregard of majority opinion at home and in the world really invade Iraq, they will begin a new era of global history, an era which encourages only the law of the fist. Is this the new global order, which President Bush and Mr Rumsfeld, Minister of Defense, want to confer upon us?

©Bahman Nirumand 2003

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Sulak Sivaraksa, Thai activist and teacher


If one must summarise Buddhism in one word, then it would be ahimsa or non-violence. In order to act non-violently, one must overcome the three poisons of the mind and sources of violence - greed, hatred, and delusion - through mindfulness and loving kindness.

Non-violence does not mean inaction or omission. It requires continuous and active dialogue with others, and overcoming dualisms that pit "us" against "them", human against subhuman. It is the recognition that, in Gandhi's wise words, "An eye for an eye just makes the whole world blind." Is it really greed for oil and power in the Middle East that is blinding Bush and Blair, with the disarmament of Iraq as the deceitful but easily refutable pretext for war? Is it hatred that enables them to render 23 million Iraqis, already facing a humanitarian crisis after ten years of economic sanctions, faceless and reduce them to one hated figure, Saddam Hussein?

Another war would not only lead to unnecessary loss of life of hundreds of thousands of people, but also trigger a humanitarian disaster in Iraq. Is it the delusion of the lone superpower that makes it so impervious to the growing planetary sentiments against war on Iraq? War on Iraq would be unjust, destructive, and illegal. It would also diminish the faculties for critical self-reflection in the American and British governments, thus hindering the wisdom that is necessary for peace. It is very important to understand that non-violence is an effective and very powerful response to the present conflict.

©Sulak Sivaraksa 2003

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Eyal Weizman, Israeli architect


Nobody has yet managed to provide a good explanation why - even in its own terms - America needs to go to war with Iraq.

Could it be that the true, missing relation between its rhetoric and its plans lies well beyond our ability to see only two steps ahead?

For the latter possibility I have a 1960s technophobic-fantasy version. Somewhere at the renovated Pentagon there is a giant computer that simulates possible scenarios when you press ‘play’. It is a kind of an ‘international relations laboratory’ that runs alternative futures in fast forward mode.

Maybe when they ran it often enough, it no longer came up with deadly urban warfare in Iraq, a massive humanitarian problem or a wave of global terrorism. Maybe Sharon withdrew from the West Bank and established Palestine. Maybe Iran, rubbing shoulders with half a million Americans, switched to the west again. Maybe Saudi Arabia brought science back into its textbooks.

This is a simple call for the American administration to come clean - and tell us what the end-game is (or put the software on the web), and why what we think will happen will not happen. In an age when even ‘good causes’ are questionable, how can we be expected to accept something whose relation to any cause or common-sense is so feeble? And yet we do.

©Eyal Weizman 2003

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Click to read "Writers, artists and civic leaders on the War: Part II"

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