A heart in New York

Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett
21 March 2003

I am writing this from New York. The war with Iraq has begun. Its looming presence is everywhere.

War is a time of test – for combatants, for their families, for civilians, for political leaders, and for those who report and analyse it.

War, as much as peace-making and state-building, requires a supreme cooperative effort. All test the character and ideas of social projects. This is something we acutely feel at openDemocracy.

The test we are experiencing now is threefold: to our thinking, our practice, and our values. All three converge, at present, on Iraq.


We began to develop the thinking behind our butterfly over two years ago. It has been a process of discovery.

It may sound strange to say that one is discovering what one does. But from the beginning we sought, via the web, an experiment: to create not a one-way street with readers, users and members, but a genuinely collaborative relationship.

openDemocracy’s aspiration is to develop better ways to discuss and think about the realities in the world. We want to bring to a worldwide network the classical qualities of clear writing, accessible argument and a longer view – and in the process, to open minds and possibilities.

Central to our hopes for better discussion is openness. We believe that good arguments should be tested at their strongest. The world does not need another advocacy publication, on the web or off, to provide a correct line or attitude for all to follow.


From the beginning, therefore, we have sought to present the clash of arguments as fairly as we can.

War presents a test here too – to clarify what these fine words mean and do not mean, and to carry them into our daily operation.

The question they raise now is whether the role of openDemocracy is to be neutral or balanced?

The answer is no. We are a network for discussion, not a news service which has an obligation to report all sides. We do not offer equal space to apologists for terror or deniers of atrocity; nor to the cynical or mindlessly contrarian. Openness for us means honest argument and the search for truth.

This does not entail concealment of partisan views, as sharp, radical, or provocative as need be – on the contrary. But here as elsewhere, we seek intelligence, integrity of voice, and (whenever possible) counter-arguments.


Modern war provokes, not silences, argument. The divisions it forces are felt within openDemocracy too. But in facing this test, we all share and affirm a single, fundamental value: that every human being on earth is the moral and political equal of every other.

This belief is not a posture but a commitment. It is also a challenge to the way we work.

The professional consequence is a sense of responsibility to the world beyond ourselves.

The editorial consequence is that openDemocracy does not seek to champion the interest of particular nations, blocs, or classes.

Our interest is a universal one: free thinking for the world.


The test of openDemocracy’s thinking, practice and values is pressed upon us daily as the bombs rain down and a vicious tyranny prepares to fall. We are engaged in seeking out and publishing the best arguments both for and against the war. This edition includes an overview of our Iraq coverage where reason, passion and good judgment are to be found on all sides.

As the war unfolds and its larger consequences become apparent, we will deepen and broaden our coverage. As peace comes to Iraq, we will continue to give the country the close attention and serious engagement it deserves – in part, by continuing to listen to the voices of Iraqis themselves.

There are no short cuts in life or world politics. openDemocracy is in for the long haul. We combine a presence on the web – the quintessential present – with a sense both of history and the future. This informs our thinking, our practice, and our values as a screaming comes across the sky in Baghdad.

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