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

openDemocracy Opendemocracy
6 February 2003


Bapsi Sidhwa, Pakistan-born writer in US, author of Cracking India


Does anyone believe war will stop acts of terror? Won’t an attack on Iraq breed only more humiliated and hate-filled terrorists? Even if we hide every plastic knife in Europe and America, will it stop an attack from a man who is desperate enough to commit suicide? Isn’t it time we addressed the grievances that are generating so much hostility and hopelessness - the suffering of the larger world community whose misery we so coldly dismiss as of little consequence? Whose God ordained that a privileged few may pamper ourselves in luxurious underwear, while millions in Afghanistan and Angola can’t even get ill-fitting artificial limbs?

If history teaches anything it is that the outcomes of war are unpredictable. How many of us remember the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 that eventually led to the startling collapse of the Soviet empire twelve years later? Would Adolf Hitler have launched his war for world dominance had he known the outcome? Or, for that matter, would the US have fought its war in Vietnam had it foreseen the humiliating outcome of that adventure?

In America, the past is not only relegated to history but is often banished even from memory. Countries have histories, and events their consequences. It is dangerous to disregard the past; if we don’t learn from history, the future will come back to haunt us. Some aspect of it already has, in the shape of the biggest terrorist attack of all time, on the Twin Towers in New York.

©Bapsi Sidhwa 2003
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Jacqueline Rose, writer on psychoanalysis


Fear is in the air. It is being manipulated to ratchet up the fever of war. And yet this time around it is not quite clear exactly where or to whom the fear belongs. This alone, together with all the other reasons for opposing this war, should make us suspicious. We are being told we should be very frightened indeed of Saddam Hussein, although the threat from his regime to Britain and the US is clearly negligible. So we are told we should be frightened of him at some unspecified future date when terrorists will access the weapons he will develop if he is not disarmed.

We are being asked to enter into a state of infinite war. It is in fact far more likely that such weapons are being accessed in Russia right now; it is also far more likely that we will become the object of such attacks as a consequence of this war. In his preface to last September’s National Security Strategy of the USA , President Bush states `The war against terrorists of global reach is a global enterprise of uncertain duration.’ The task is interminable.

One of the most disturbing things about 11 September 2001, was that the attack was so visible in the skies, while its agents were a multiplicity of potentially proliferating invisible cells (the exact reverse of Kosovo where it was not the agent - the strutting boastful Milosevic – but his crimes, the mass graves, that had to be found). So let us take out a villain whom the whole world knows to be a villain – nobody against the war denies this - and whom all the world can see. It is meant to make ‘us’ feel better.

There is, therefore, another fear at play – the fear of impotence - which no one is talking about. In government rhetoric, you only name a fear if you can blast it. When Bush talks of securing a new world order, when supporters of the war speak of liberating the people of Iraq, we should not just be questioning whether this, rather than oil or control of the Middle East, is the true motive. We should also be asking what fantasy we are being required to sustain. America’s aim of `full spectral dominance’, to which Tony Blair and Geoff Hoon seems to be signing Britain in perpetuity, is like the rage of a child when she hits the limits of her powers. Except that unlike the raging child, the US, as the strongest military might in the globe, has the capacity to unleash forces a child can only dream about.

Against the official credo, it is this, I believe, that we – not to speak of the 80,000 Iraqis whose possible deaths we are meant to be able to contemplate with impunity - should be most frightened of.

©Jacqueline Rose 2003
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Alexander Rondeli, president of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies


Of course, it is sad to begin a new century with a war. Here, in Georgia, we have mixed feelings regarding the political developments around us, as Georgia has only recently become a member of the international community and our society does not have sufficient experience to judge the currents and undercurrents of international behavior.

When Saddam Hussein occupied Kuwait in 1990 the picture was clear, without any ambiguity. Assessing the event, we sided with a small and victimised nation. Even now, when we try to judge the present confrontation, we see Saddam’s Iraq in dark colours, stemming from our own, very negative experience of being a small nation under constant pressure from a giant neighbour - Russia.

Saddam is a monster and common sense dictates that if there were fewer such leaders, the world would become safer as a result.

Still, it is a horrifying responsibility to start any war, especially when it is hard to predict all its consequences, whether humanitarian, political or cultural.

But if the decision is made that Saddam should be eliminated from the political screen of the world, this goal should be based on normative imperatives and not on the national interests of any particular country. Moreover, the justification for the decision should be transparent to the international community. If it is clarified, it can be supported.

It is understandable that, in a world of competing norms and values, unilateral punitive measures against the leader of a state should be a matter of bitter and emotional controversy. But is there another way to get rid of the unacceptable?

© Alexander Rondeli 2003
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Ernst Nolte, German historian


Until now, the preparation of a “pre-emptive strike” was strictly forbidden under international law, unless an immediately impending enemy attack had to be averted. Paradoxically, in the present situation only Iraq would have the unquestionable right of preventively attacking the American military build-up.

The novel factor in the alleged or real threat to the US posed by Iraq is the possibility that the latter is producing biological weapons with great destructive power in hidden laboratories. But the anthrax spores that created such fear in America in late 2001 came from within the US; and it is conceivable that a new Timothy McVeigh in a new Oklahoma could employ such material to cause a gigantic catastrophe. Countering this kind of terrorism with war is equivalent to employing an old, even ancient strategy in response to a new situation.

Even if a pre-emptive strike of the US is illegal under international law, it may herald a new historical era, one that establishes the hegemony of American global civilisation. Saddam Hussein is without any doubt a bloodstained despot, and there is no legitimate place for him in such a civilisation. This implies a higher justification for a one-sided American attack.

The logic of this approach, however, may lead to unusual perspectives: the US interventions in the two world wars of the first half of the twentieth century would have to be judged as morally objectionable and only, in a very broad sense, historically legitimate. Considering the large number of despots in the world, the old American pacifist saying “perpetual war for perpetual peace” would gain in credibility.

“Islamism” may be perceived as the third significant reaction to the “Americanisation” of the world - after the anti-capitalist reaction of Russian Bolshevism, and the simultaneously anti-Bolshevist and anti-capitalist reaction of German Nazism. The first two reactions left their imprint on the US. It is possible that Islamism will suffer a defeat as well. However, it could yet also make a significant contribution to a global civilisation of the future, which would not be solely “American”.

© Ernst Nolte 2003
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Ahmad Mukhtar, Iraqi lute-player and composer


I am against war in any place on earth. I have lived in the shadow of three wars since my childhood in the 1970s and I know the gravity of the catastrophe it engenders.

At the same time I am against any regime that kills and liquidates its people with every means at its disposal, bringing about the same results as war, but more slowly, which is worse.

The American war against Iraq could not be sustained were it not for the existence of Saddam, and Saddam would not be able to continue in power were it not for America. Thus Saddam and his regime, and America and her war, have become equal and opposite partners in the tragedy being meted out upon Iraq.

I have within me a great desire to return to a Baghdad with no security forces to compel me to join the troops going off to war; without my tongue being cut off if I speak out against the regime; and without having to see American soldiers festooned in combat-gear, ordering everything in Baghdad, right down to directing traffic in the streets, and invigilating in little schools in the sticks.

But if this desire is so difficult to realise, it is because we are in an age of vested interest. Consider the claim “America has stirred all these titanic armies for the sake of ‘Democracy in Iraq’… and because of ‘chemical weapons’?” Where have these grand sentiments been since the mid-1970s? Why did America participate in the construction of weapons of mass destruction and aid Saddam’s regime in the killing of the people of Iraq, and in the use of these weapons in the 1980s? It is only because it was America herself that equipped the regime with chemical weapons that she knows that Saddam is hiding weapons of mass destruction, despite the fact that the inspectors found no ‘smoking gun’.

In 1991 America herself stood against the Iraqi people in their desire for regime change as her plans in the region had not yet come to their conclusion as yet. She still needed Saddam around. We want an Iraq without Saddam and without a war… and let America realise her all other interests as she pleases. Bush knows ways to achieve this, but they would poorly serve his ulterior motives.

© Ahmad Mukhtar 2003
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Danny Glover, actor and US activist


I've spoken very clearly, from the United States to Porto Alegre, in opposition to the war – or, rather, to the possibility of war in Iraq. I'm also of a mind to think that we as organised citizens can stop this potential war. I think that is our biggest responsibility right now.

But when we promote an agenda of peace - when we talk about peace - we need to be capable of talking about the many issues that confront us. The war brings us to a place where it denies us the possibility of dialogue. And we must talk about those other issues. The war is just a potential war and is a blip on the map of all the issues that confront us.

The threat of war is very real, even though the rest of the world has said 'no'. People from the United States have also come to the table to say 'no' to war and 'yes' to peace. I have inner faith in my brothers' and sisters' ability to stop this war.

© Danny Glover 2003
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Mitchell Cohen, co-editor of DISSENT Magazine and professor of political theory at Bernard Baruch College of the City University of New York.


It is 1941. You are a wartime activist in the British Labour Party who has long opposed your country's imperial policies. There is news of a coup in Baghdad led by one Rashid Ali. The takeover is welcomed by Hajj Amin el-Husseini, the exiled Palestinian leader. Its supporters denounce imperialism, extol the Palestinian cause and…seek an alliance with Germany.

Your prime minister, a conservative, is the same Winston Churchill who - as colonial secretary, two decades earlier - helped to fashion Iraq's monarchy. Now he wants to dispatch troops to Iraq.

You decide to support this action. Why? Because you are anti-fascist before you are anti-imperialist. The 1930s taught you that there is a left that learns and a left that doesn't. You belong to the former, and refuse to respond to difficult conditions by easy resort to catchwords like "imperialism".

You are, then, relieved when British troops impose a regime change. But before order is restored, there is a pogrom against Baghdad's Jews. You are disgusted when Arab nationalists say that "Zionism" was really to blame, and unsurprised that Rashid Ali and Hajj Amin flee to Berlin.

I don't evoke this episode to propose its precise correspondence to today's crisis. But if an American social democrat, which is what I am, has anything to learn from the earlier judgment of his British colleague it is this: it is perilous to invent politically comfortable choices and then define the world according to them. That is what today's "antiwar" movements are doing. I, too, opposed Washington on Kyoto and the ICC, but I find absurd the attempts to make everything Saddam Hussein does the fault of George Bush. I applaud Tony Blair for resisting these undertows.

Why, Noam Chomsky and friends, was Baghdad willing to forgo an estimated $150 billion in oil earnings rather than disarm? There is indeed a smoking gun: Saddam's dictatorship itself, a pathological regime combining extraordinary brutality and relentless deceit. It breaks every major accord it reaches - with Iran, Kuwait, Iraqi Communists, Iraqi Shi'a, Iraqi Kurds, and finally, the UN. No weapons inspection process dependent on this regime's cooperation can succeed.

My miserable conclusion is clear: unless there is a coup, the options are not "war or peace", but the use of force "sooner or later". Of course, every sensible effort ought always to be made to thwart war. But the pacifists and Leninists of the 1930s who saw the contest between western democracies and Nazi Germany as an imperial one of the pre-1914 type were not "sensible". Nor, today, are those who would, in effect, allow Baghdad to sequester its toxic capacities for later use - when the human costs of stopping Saddam will be far greater. I am wary of "pre-emptive" wars, but they are legitimate in abnormal cases. I want Security Council sanction of action against Saddam, but it is time for frankness about the UN's failures - no inspectors would have returned to Iraq without the threat of American force - and to begin to think about how the UN can be made into an effective institution with real integrity.

I support Iraqi democrats, however difficult their prospects. Any war over Iraq must, in its aftermath, return the country to its own people. In this, I am "antiwar" in a deeper meaning, one that my 1941 predecessor would have understood: I am against the wars Saddam wages against Iraqis, has waged against his neighbours, and will wage in the future.

© Mitchell Cohen 2003
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Richard Burge, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance (UK)


As the prospect of war in Iraq approaches - with its almost inevitable consequences of many deaths, destruction of already ravaged communities, and fear among the relatives of those who will prosecute this carnage - we have a duty to consider carefully whether we have to follow this course.

When I was a boy, my father (an army officer who started his career in the ranks in 1939) told me that war was always the result of diplomatic incompetence and political failure. So it is with Iraq. But this is not the time to consider the historical sequence of events that has led to this position; we must rather concentrate on making decisions about the next steps to take.

It is also time to consider other injustices of the world, and the west’s deliberate retreat from addressing poverty and brutality elsewhere, when not in our political or economic self-interest. For example, the need to reach a just and lasting peace in Palestine should be important regardless of the Iraqi situation.

Yet, the decision to resort to armed conflict in Iraq must be based solely on the issues relating to Iraq itself. I know that Saddam Hussein is a brutal murderer, a violent oppressor of people who live under his curse, and a horrific blight on the face of humanity. But we are told the reason for going to war is that he is a clear and present danger beyond the borders of his country. I simply do not know if that is so. But I live in a democracy where I have the privilege of calling my leaders to account through the ballot box if they deceive or lie.

I trust that when Tony Blair carries the burden of immediate decisions that will kill or save people, he knows that he also carries the far heavier load of accountability to his people. This is a burden that Saddam Hussein has never borne nor will he until he is brought down - either peacefully or through the death and destruction of war, that always marks the failure of politics and diplomacy, and which I believe now is inevitable.

© Richard Burge 2003
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Judith Williamson, writer


It seems to me less urgent to find out what writers, artists and musicians think about war with Iraq, than to find ways to stop that war from happening. The site www.stopwar.org.uk carries the latest information on action in Britain, and www.notinourname.net in the USA.

A footnote: as writers we are, understandably, very fond of our own words, but that doesn't mean we have some special insight on everything that happens in the world. If one wanted a more radical approach to a list such as this, how about finding out what nurses, railway workers and teachers think about events? Or builders, doctors and shop assistants? The groups could be varied with each crisis, it would make a change from all the writers from whom we already heard so much after 11 September 2001.

© Judith Williamson 2003
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Friedemann Müller, German Institute for International Relations and Security, Berlin


A war against Iraq would add the loss of more innocent lives to those lost due to Saddam’s regime and the UN sanctions. But I am much more concerned that the repercussions of war could run out of control: anti-Americanism would grow, the democratisation of Iraq would fail, the recruitment of fighters for terrorist attacks would get easier, the risk of a destabilisation of the whole region is high.

The accusation that the US could gradually bring the whole Gulf region under her control seems to be wrong; the resources required would be beyond those even of the US. All this is only one side of the coin. The other is the Saddam problem. He has led two brutal wars and then failed to comply with the conditions of the United Nations. Right now he is the biggest real threat to the region and beyond that if he cannot be stopped.

I would like to ask those who are – like me - against the war: how do you want to get rid of this threat? By continuing the sanctions, which have wrought so much suffering on Iraq because Saddam used them against his own people? I do not have an answer to these questions and sincerely hope that somebody can offer a convincing solution.

© Friedemann Müller 2003
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Joseph Nye, author of The Paradox of American Power: why the world’s only superpower can’t go it alone.


Iraq may be a case of the right war at the wrong time. Preventing Saddam Hussein from developing weapons of mass destruction and defying more than a decade of resolutions passed under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter seems to meet the standard of just cause, and Resolution 1441 provides rightful authority.

On the other hand, a war would divert attention from the more imminent dangers posed by al-Qaida and North Korea. And it is important that any action involve a broad coalition. A few months ago, I described my position as that of an ‘owl’ - more willing to use force than the doves but more patient and multilateral than the hawks. It would have been more prudent to have built up troops more gradually and allowed more time for the inspectors and diplomacy to try to press Saddam to choose between disarmament and his survival. He still has this choice, but it appears that he is not learning from his past mistakes.

In the current situation, one can regret that we are at this branch of the decision tree, but realise that the costs of allowing Saddam to cheat again and return to the evasive diplomacy of the 1990s will have enormous long-run costs for the UN as well as for security more broadly.

© Joseph Nye 2003
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Satish Kumar, editor of Resurgence and Director of Programmes at Schumacher College


We should heed the voices of the spiritual leaders when it comes to the crucial question of war and peace. Wise elders such as Pope John Paul, Archbishop Rowan Williams, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, and Jimmy Carter – all have spoken with one voice: war is never good. It is easy to start a war, but the horrendous consequences of it are such that in the nuclear age, war can never be justified.

War is a failure of good governance. It is a failure of foreign policy, diplomacy and the negotiating skills of the world leaders. War is a failure of the United Nations. It is also a failure of the national and international bodies whose responsibilities it is to spot the early signs of conflict and resolve them before they reach such massive proportions.

War is not a matter of pride, it is a matter of shame. Those who go to war must be ashamed of themselves that they have allowed a situation to get so terrible that they have to kill innocent children, women and ordinary people and inflict severe damage on the environment to accomplish their objectives.

Those who go to war have to ask themselves, “How and why did we get to this? What kind of foreign policy did we pursue that has led to a breakdown of world order? What kind of economic and political systems did we create which have caused these conflicts?”

People elect governments not to wage war and bring destruction to people and the planet, but to maintain peace, security and order. If our leaders have failed to keep peace, then they have failed in their fundamental duty. If politicians have failed to listen to the early warnings of an impending crisis then they have neglected their essential responsibility. Prime ministers and presidents who take their countries to war have utterly failed to deliver a safe, secure form of government. Such government leaders must be made to admit their failure and be forced to resign from their posts so that we can elect new leaders who will promise to maintain peace at home and abroad.

War is in nobody’s interest. No national interests are served in killing innocent people and forcing millions of them to flee their homes and seek refuge in foreign lands. It is not in the national interest of any country to be flooded by refugees and asylum seekers fleeing from the onslaught of bombs and tanks. What and whose interests are served in polluting the atmosphere, wasting natural and human resources to wage war, when money is desperately needed for healthcare, education, and for improving inner cities? To talk about national interest in the context of war is sheer folly.

© Satish Kumar 2003
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Shusha Guppy, author


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
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Federico Mayor, former Director-General of UNESCO


Despite the efforts of the UN and several states, the US government appears decided to solve the Iraqi case by military action, thus disregarding the results of the UN inspections and the serious objections of many people, institutions and governments all over the world. Even if the inspectors verified the possession by Iraq of armaments of a kind that could objectively be considered a threat to world security, there are other ways of disarming than mass bombing and warfare. The authority of the UN would be further undermined, and to unleash a war would certainly cause even more death, misery and desperation to an already oppressed people. I know well that predictions about the course of a war are very seldom accomplished, but it always guarantees more suffering, torture and inhuman behaviour.

Despite the disinformation campaigns, the great majority of world public opinion sees preventive war as inadmissible, and a contravention of universal principles of justice. War will not help build a more peaceful and democratic, a freer and safer world.

At this time, it is vital to combine efforts and voices in order to identify and work towards a remedy for the factors that have led to the current situation. In order to bring about a radical change in current unilateral tendencies, there is a need to consolidate an ethical and legal framework that can offer the world's peoples hope of human dignity on a global scale, in a multilateral context.

To this end, I believe that the UN system needs to be fortified and democratised in order to perform fully the functions entrusted to it in the Charter. The G8 superpowers have demonstrated their inability to achieve world governance: multilateralism appears again indispensable. There is an urgent need to establish codes of conduct that guarantee its fulfilment by the states and supranational public and private bodies; to achieve the ratification of the statute of the International Criminal Court by all countries; to hold a General Assembly on peace, justice and security, in order to establish legal and ethical frameworks and punitive mechanisms for transgressors, and thus reduce the possibilities of violent action for isolated fanatical terrorist groups and to increase international cooperation promises. More than 30,000 human beings die every day of hunger and lack of access to basic health services. That is our only combat, our first objective - to avoid the “silent genocide” whose misery lies at the roots of radicalisation and violence.

It is not war but international justice and well-coordinated international cooperation that will substantially reduce many imbalances on a global scale and will lay the foundations for just and lasting peace.

© Federico Mayor 2003
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Susan Griffin, American social thinker, writer and author of A Chorus of Stones.


Yesterday I looked out at San Francisco bay, a beautiful body of water I can see from my window. I remember on the morning of 9/11 looking in the same direction warily. One of the hijacked planes had been scheduled to land in San Francisco. For the first time in my life I experienced what so many civilians have suffered for over a hundred years. There was nowhere to run. No way to protect my daughter, my grandchildren. One understands from such an experience why they call it "raw" fear.

The light on the water yesterday was exquisite, that kind of piercing beauty which opens your soul. I had just come upstairs from reading headlines which reflected the determination of the current White House to attack Iraq. Three thousand missiles in two days. The attack on 9/11 that involved four big hijacked airplanes was called terrorism. This plan is called "Shock and Awe".

Awe is what I felt looking at the light on the water, the kind of awe which makes you momentarily larger than yourself. And in this mood the thought of the shock that is being planned for Iraqi civilians – unarmed men, women with children, infants, patients in hospitals, grandfathers, great-grandmothers – was unbearable.

If I felt there was nowhere to hide myself on 9/11, now I feel there is no way to hide my soul. Let it end now, this cycle of violence in which always, always, civilians become the major targets, the ones who suffer most. I could have been born in Iraq as easily as I was born here. And had I been born there, would I cherish my family, my life, my friends, my city, my livelihood, the landscape around me, my country any less than I do now? Let us all, we civilians, who have been made targets of missiles and chemical weapons and hijacked planes and crazy suicide missions, and smart and not so smart bombs hold hands now across space, across the thousands of miles that the warships and missiles and perhaps terrorists of other kinds are travelling now. Let us hold hands and pray and sing out and speak out now for our right to live in peace.

© Susan Griffin 2003
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Njabulo S. Ndebele, a South African writer


If President Bush’s “first war of the 21st century” does happen, it is highly likely to go down in history as a signal moment for the onset of the decline of the United States as the hub of a major civilisation. It will be a definitive indicator of a great nation’s visionary exhaustion.

This happens when the state becomes manipulative and violent because it is no longer able to sustain an argument. We saw this in South Africa in the 1970s when the visionary aridity of apartheid drove the state towards compulsive violence. A state in this condition seeks to preserve its “way of life” at all costs by seeking to annihilate real or perceived threats. Unable to think beyond its history, it cannot imagine new solutions to old problems. Such a condition is signalled by the enormous incongruity between the amount of state violence threatened or deployed and the reasons for it. The disjuncture happens when the great power acts no longer as a leader, but as a controller; when it no longer sways by the appeal of its imagination, but by the brutality of its military power; when its vision, now summed up in the staging of media events, becomes banal and obscene.

The great power is poised to go down violently, provoking a global insurrection. It will not be able to contain the insurrection in any sustainable way. At some point, when mechanisms by which it dominated the world will have significantly collapsed, it will itself face the threat of internal disintegration, when its “way of life” becomes unsustainable, and the battle for resources will occur within its borders. New, emergent powers in the world, such as China, India, Iran, South Africa, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Indonesia, and a revitalised European Union, while not representing new civilisations but their possibilities, will be the source of new energies and new ways of imagining the world. These powers and the rest of the horrified world will need to face the key question of such a future: how do we restore the world after the United States, a power in decline, has devastated it? This is a question I pray we will not have to answer.

It does not have to be this way. We must prevent this war and assist the United States to come to terms with its vulnerabilities. The nations of the world are so implicated in each other’s histories that we all share vulnerabilities. This kind of consciousness offers possibilities for new forms of community. I understand that it is going to be difficult for a state drunk with power to embrace humility and rediscover and experience the respect that comes from moral power. But the new way is not to remove vulnerability by annihilating the other. Rather, it is to strive to create a real sense of global community.

© Njabulo S. Ndebele 2003
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José Saramago, Portuguese novelist and Nobel laureate


We know how one mobilises for war. Once the conflict is created, the process of mobilisation starts with patriotic appeals, rallies, demonstrations, hymns, speeches, stunning sounds, multiplied images. The first shot hasn’t been fired, but the war is already holy, just, necessary. Lately, the art of mobilising for war has perfected its methods, enhancing the governments’ compulsive authority and the influence of personal and collective restraints. Persuasion finds its perfect expression in mobilisation for war. Man is more easily mobilised for war than for peace.

Mankind has been led to accept war as the only effective way to solve conflicts, and governments have always used times of peace to prepare for the next war. But wars have always been declared in the name of lasting peace; it’s always so that children can live in peace tomorrow that their parents have to sacrifice today.

Those who hypocritically proclaim this message today know that human beings, although taught for war, carry a desire of peace within their spirit. Man understands that what will give him full humanity is a scientific and technological development directed not to aggression, but to peace. This is why peace is used as moral blackmail for those who want war: nobody would dare to confess they make war for war, they say they make war for peace.

What was true yesterday still is today. Unlike what the North American propaganda machine wants, Saddam Hussein, without doubt a criminal, is not a threat to world peace. Iraq, simply, is at the moment the most accessible oil target. That is one of the reasons for the United States’ warlike obsession. The other reason can probably be found in Washington’s imperial and neo-colonial project that, in order to advance into Central Asia, needs to gain control of the Middle East.

© José Saramago 2003
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Andreas Whittam-Smith, founder of The Independent


Here is an argument in terms of British interests. The primary reason for invading another country is self-defence. Saddam Hussein is probably supporting terrorist groups with the objective of carrying out attacks in this country. But common sense alone tells us that even if Iraq was rendered incapable of sponsoring such operations, other groups and other countries would thereby redouble their efforts. Therefore British involvement in an invasion of Iraq would increase the risk of terrorist activity within the United Kingdom rather than diminish it.

After considerations of self-defence comes the second-order issue of United Nations resolutions and their enforcement - a British interest provided that such action does not compromise our ability to defend ourselves. To this end the UN can either wall in the Saddam regime, which is containment, or invade in the sense of liberating Iraqi citizens from a cruel government. Unfortunately containment inflicts premature death on Iraqi citizens by depriving them of medical facilities and great misery by savagely cutting their standard of living. This is a genuinely difficult choice. Both containment and invasion policies cost lives, only the timing differs.

The second also, as I have noted, increases the possibility of terrorist attacks within Britain. Furthermore it represents American revenge for 11 September 2001, which is not British business, and it demands that the US engages in nation-building, a commitment from which it has repeatedly walked away. That is why a prudent reading of British interests would favour a continuation of containment, not war.

© Andreas Whittam-Smith 2003
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Timothy Garton Ash, author


I can’t remember an issue on which I’ve been more torn. The Iraqi desert runs through my living room. I hear friends I love and respect speaking passionately on opposite sides. I find compelling arguments on both sides. And I see motives that I distrust on both sides. Do the Bushies want to intervene because they really care for democracy in Iraq? Hardly. But then, do most of those who demonstrate for peace care about democracy in Iraq? For both, this is mainly about America. America and hopelessly divided old Europe.

‘No to war, no to Saddam’? Listening to the radio with an equally disaffected friend the other day, I heard Chancellor Schröder say: ‘We can disarm Saddam without war.’ Six bold words. But can we? Saddam wouldn’t have let the inspectors back in without the American threat of war. He’s clearly not going to lead Hans Blix to his remaining stocks of anthrax. What self-respecting dictator would? So a Saddam who ‘cooperated fully’ with the inspectors, as Bush and Blair demand, would not be a Saddam. The logic says: to disarm him you must topple him.

But is the danger from Saddam so great that it justifies war? Must we kill innocent people so that innocent people may not be killed? Won’t an American-led war increase the very danger of terrorism it claims to avert? Who, among the warmongers or the peacemongers, is saying: ‘Freedom for Iraq and Freedom for Palestine?’

I know what I wish had happened last September, when the Bush White House, for its own very mixed reasons, pushed Iraq to the top of the world’s to-do list. I wish that all of old Europe, from London to Moscow and from Helsinki to Athens, had got together and said to Washington: ‘We agree that we face a terrible threat, both from international terrorism and from dictators with weapons of mass destruction. We agree that if we want peace we must prepare for war. We agree that after twelve years the resolutions of the United Nations must be enforced on Iraq. But so must they be on Israel! Let’s now work together for the disarmament of Saddam, reform in Iran and Saudi Arabia, and a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The democratisation of the Middle East is our great common interest. Let this be the new transatlantic project.’

I blame Europeans and Americans equally for the fact this did not happen. I wish we could still get back to it. I fear that it’s too late.

Meanwhile, I take small comfort from the realisation that there are a lot of people out there – necessarily unnoticed in all the media tallies of ‘for and against’ – who feel as divided as I do.

Welcome to the axis of ambivalence.

© Timothy Garton Ash 2003
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Adonis, Syrian poet and critic


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
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Nelcya Delanoe, historian and novelist


These days, Europeans who oppose the US strategy of war against Iraq are supposed to be politically and intellectually feeble – as well as anti-American. I consider myself to be not only a European but a cosmopolitan citizen with a free mind able to conduct independent political analysis.

Disagreeing with the current US call for war means disagreeing with a policy, whatever its national origin. In earlier decades, US policy actively supported the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia against the Vietnamese communist regime, Saddam Hussein against fundamentalist Iran, the fundamentalist Taliban against the Soviet army in Afghanistan. These policy choices inflicted great costs on the peoples of Cambodia, Vietnam, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan. In all these countries, the US mobilised huge power (military, scientific and technological) to create political, social, economical and spiritual dislocation. As a result, it turned its protégés/pawns into dangerously unstable regimes – which the US then treated as enemies.

One war thus led to another, with consequences the US could not control. It is all too likely that the pattern is about to be repeated, with the US’s current “alliances” with Saudi Arabia or Turkey requiring sacrifice of the Kurds’ national rights (for the third time in thirty years) – not to mention the Palestinians’. In the name of “democracy”, endless errors, faults and crimes are perpetrated. The people behind such consistently short-sighted, narrow-minded policies simply cannot be trusted.

The rationale of previous US wars could draw on the semblance of a universal cause. Not in this case. A war against Iraq – and I have no doubt France would eventually join in – would underwrite the failure of current democratic systems.

© Delanoe 2003
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