Gil Loescher's example

Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett
4 December 2003

openDemocracy is proud that columnist Gil Loescher, badly wounded in the bomb attack on United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, returns to write for us.

In this edition of openDemocracy Gil Loescher describes how he was the only survivor amongst those meeting in Sergio Vieira de Mello’s office in Baghdad on 19 August 2003, when the UN office there was attacked.

The bones of Gil’s right hand had been exposed and shattered by the blast. But his wife Ann would not allow it to be amputated as Gil underwent surgery in Landstuhl, Germany. When I first went to see him in hospital, after he had been flown to Oxford, England, he was resting the hand on the sheets. It was hugely wounded but reconstructed, the feeling still present in its fingertips.

I felt humbled, by experiencing his will to live and witnessing a family determined to support him and overcome adversity. An initial record of what it was like for them all can be read on this website.

Read Gil Loescher’s vivid description of being blown up in Baghdad, and his reflections on the UN’s future. It is about understanding and taking on the consequences of the forces he found himself caught up in.

Gil’s determination to get back to his work and to his writing, which we are proud to publish, is about more than just surviving.

It is about understanding and taking on the consequences of the forces he found himself caught up in.

When Osama bin Laden sent his assassins to seize civilian aircraft and plunge them into the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon, his purpose was to inspire his followers by the deed, using violence as a recruiting agent. His aim, to put it in abstract terms, was to polarise. He wanted to provoke a response that would force his potential followers to choose between America and a purified Islam.

Whether or not the suicide bomber who struck the UN was a member of al-Qaida his action and the intentions of those who instructed him shared the same logic. They shattered a potential force that sought to moderate the influence of the United States and lessen the growing polarisation in Iraq.

There are big questions here about whether American policy is in fact playing bin Laden’s chosen game of polarisation.

When Gil and his colleague Arthur Helton, who was killed in the blast, came to openDemocracy with their offer to track the humanitarian consequences of the growing conflict, there was an unspoken principle behind their approach. Namely, that humanity needs agreements rather than confrontation, and that this calls for effective, organised internationalism.

It is not revenge that Gil and his family seek – although due punishment properly administered would not go amiss. They want to ensure the survival and revival of humanitarian norms.

Today a direct victim of terrorism, he seeks to do this by committing himself once again to studying and reporting the costs of polarisation and the violent mental and physical closure which accompanies it.

This also puts the issue in an abstract way. We believe that the humanity of openness must not be amputated by terror – or misconceived counter-terror. Gil’s steadiness, courage and clarity set an example for openDemocracy.

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