|The Iraq issue, part 2
|Friday, 21 February 2003
|Symeon Charalabides (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Nine days ago, on Saturday the 15th of February 2003, there were synchronized mass protests in most capitals of the world against the proposed war on Iraq. London saw the greatest protest in its history, with more than a million people taking to the streets. The next day, I sent to the Galway advertiser, our local newspaper, a letter in an effort to balance an utterly lopsided take on the issue they had published. I expected to see my letter in print after the editor had asked me to cut it down to less than 1200 words, specifically so that it may be published.
However, published it wasn't and neither did anybody else seem to be concerned about that column's content. To make matters worse, Mr. O'Connell returned with a vengeance: in a new editorial he repeated a couple of the arguments he'd used the previous week, finding the protesters misled and ill-advised.
It was still unclear to me where the majority of the Irish stood on the issue and if, as indications went, they were against the war, whether reactions may have been quelled by the editor. Irish people are incredibly pacifistic out of both temperament and bitter experience. On the other hand, they tend to keep close ties with the United States and the United Kingdom. In an effort to push my case further, I sent the editor the following e-mail:
I hail Jeff O'Connell's endeavour to learn proper argumentative procedure, especially seeing it has sieved his prior article's ("What are France and Germany up to?") assortment of poorly supported statements to his current ("Can millions of people get it wrong?") mere reiteration of a single thesis.
Hopefully, he will soon have advanced far enough to know that viable discourse must be settle by THE facts, ie. all of them, not just "by facts", specifically, in his case, the ones that support his stance while he fails, willingly or not, to acknowledge the opposing ones.
Fact is anything that can be expressed in numbers. Not everything can (yes, I am a mathematician). There are questions that defy logical analysis, commonly known as "judgement calls". Some examples are "Will I wear red or blue today?" "What will we have for dinner?" and "Does the past murder of innocent people justify the future murder of innocent people?"
It is Mr. O'Connell's inalienable right to have strong feelings about such issues, as well as to try to convince others of the righteousness of his ideas, but to claim that his opinions are facts is patronizing behaviour and childish demeanour.
He argues that the UN's credibility has been undermined by the disagreements of its members, and blames what is now commonly known as "the peace axis" for this. The disagreement per se is a fact. The side to blame, however, is an opinion.
Mine, for example, is that the UN's credibility has been damaged during the last 15 years by its uselessness since the cold war ended, as well as its being used by the past and present Bush administrations as a pool of "allies" (for handsome exchanges) when they wanted to serve US-specific interests by waging war and needed a few "friends" to make it look good. If France now vetoes this sort of self-righteous behaviour, I see it as a glimpse of sense and welcome it.
He also accuses the marchers of "supremely arrogant" presumption to speak for the Iraqi people. Again, this is utterly subjective. Personally, I didn't hear anybody claim to speak for the Iraqi people. Instead, I heard a great deal of people being sick of having their will dictated rather than obeyed by their leaders, having their tax money and relatives in the army wasted to preserve the US's financial prosperity, and being lied to by their leaders about human rights when it is obvious that human rights never even made the agenda. Mr. O'Connell may chose to believe any propaganda he fancies. Personally, I fail to be lectured on morality either by a prime minister whose first official task was to increase his own salary, or by a president who detains more than 600 people under atrocious conditions in Guantanamo bay without even a charge. The above are facts.
Not only is his argumentation flawed, but supported by poor prose as well: His usage of the euphemism "goon squads" is reminiscent of Colin Powell's TV-friendly gesture during the presentation of the "evidence" in the UN council "suuuch little anthrax can kill sooo many people" which helps impress the naive, while the informed would ask "if the US has any real evidence against Iraq, why didn't they provide them to the UK but let them go on 12-year-old facts instead?" and doesn't carry any real credibility.
He openly displays his reluctance to believe Saddam Hussein's statement of having no weapons of mass destruction (which finds me quite agreeable), but places unquestioning faith in the US statements to the effect that defectors (scientists among them!) have confirmed Saddam's continuous efforts to develop nuclear capacity. Whether the latter is true I don't possess the facts to know (neither does, I believe, Mr. O'Connell), but am under the impression that these people, if they exist, would have said anything to please the US enough not to reject them, effectively sending them back to a torture chamber. Although it is probably true, it definitely shows how much Mr. O'Connell respects "the facts" he claims to
The statement "any war will be swift and conclusive" doesn't strengthen his case either: 135,000 people were killed during the bombing of Dresden which lasted only a few hours, and that was 60 years ago. Moreover, he states that "there has been considerable degeneration in the equipment of these forces", when we have already been informed that Saddam Hussein has nuclear research programmes going. This doesn't seem to make much sense, unless he is thinking really big: either he plans to take over England by nuking King's Cross station, or he is merely building a Peter Sellers-style doomsday device.
However, what I find most terrifying is the last line of the article, where the existence of "those who hate the West and everything it stands for" is revealed. In turn, it forces me to unveil my embarrassing predicament of not being aware of such a body of people. Who are they? Do they live among us? Do they use a secret handshake to recognise each other and do they conspire against the West in catacombs their grandparents died digging? And where exactly does East become West? At the Urals? At the Sea of Marmara? At the point where country names start ending in "-an"? Realising that ignorance is no excuse, I can only resolve that either
- I need to get out more, or
- Mr. O'Connell is a paranoid racist who perceives everything unfamiliar as hazardous and would like to see the world turned into one big shopping mall.
Since this is, again, a matter of opinion, I shall proceed no further but leave it to your, always subjective, judgement.
I fare ye well.
Symeon Charalabides (cosmopolite trainee)
P.S.: Here's my (subjective) case for opposing a war against Iraq:
Do I want Saddam Hussein removed from power? Certainly.
Do I want this to happen by killing more innocent people, degrading the environment of my planet further, and disrupting the status quo of an already unstable area by a force that lacks public support, legal and moral grounds? No, not really.
Maybe it's because the next time I hear a general give a press conference to the effect that "Our not-so-smart weapon lost its guidance system and hit a bunker with 40 [real number: 400] civilians, but, hey, life goes on for us", I'll take to the streets with a chainsaw looking for tone-deaf buskers (and they're ten-a-dime in Galway, let me tell you brother).
Or maybe it's because all this could have been avoided years ago, if the US had simply declined to sell Saddam Hussein the weapons he used to massively gas dissidents, and the UK hadn't set up a factory that produced them in Iraq. Why did they? Because they wanted him to. Fair enough, but they have squandered their right to cry over the killing of innocents now.
For the above reasons, as well as the fact that 1,000,000 Iraqis have died as a direct results of the UN-enforced sanctions during the last decade, I cannot bring myself to believe that a US-UK-led UN is the right apparatus to rescue Iraq from its grievances.
In retrospect, I see that it bites more than I set it out to. However, I have not been presented with any new arguments that I hadn't countered in my previous letter. I don't like repeating myself like the columnist in question obviously does, but simply had to act on the indignation that befell me on reading unsubstantiated propaganda on the local press. One too far? Maybe, but the e-mail was alread gone and, in fairness, I wouldn't change it if I had the chance.
Too long a soldier, I know...