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Methods of Campaigning Against Sanctions on Iraq



Dear Everyone

I am surprised that my e-mail to the list has produced such a heated
response and that people's inboxes must already be very full.  I hope list
members will forgive me for taking this opportunity to respond to some of
the more critical responses.  I apologise for the length of this message,
but I feel that it is better for me to respond to them in a single e-mail.

First of all, I am quite disturbed that some people who replied to my
message both on and off the list seem to have completely misinterpreted my
message and been unduly abusive and sarcastic.  I don't think that's very
helpful, and I don't think making an abusive phone call to me was very
helpful either (so whoever you are please don't do it again - I'm always
happy to talk to people, but a one-sided volley of crudities was, I feel,
somewhat unnecessary).  I think it's a shame that people can't seem to
understand that just because I don't think that the Foreign Office
constitutes Satan's embassy on earth and I don't approve of criminal
damage, that doesn't mean that I am supporting sanctions or making excuses
for past and present failures in Western foreign policy, and it certainly
doesn't mean that I want to see millions of Iraqis die.

What I have been saying is that I do not agree with throwing paint at the
Foreign Office or similar activities because they are ineffective in
opposing sanctions.  In fact, they may be counterproductive and lead to
the Iraqi people suffering for even longer than they otherwise would.  And
I don't agree with Andrea Needham that I am wrong to believe that it is an
important point that sanctions are ineffective in undermining Saddam
Hussein.  In certain circumstances, it is inevitable that people will
suffer in order for a necessary end to be pursued.  If you don't believe
that then you would have to condemn the allies in World War II, when many
German and Japanese civilians lost their lives because there was no other
way to halt Hitler's fascist army.  That is the argument used by the
Foreign Office: that sanctions are there to do a job.  The fact that they
are useless is one of the most effective arguments we can use to persuade
the government to lift the sanctions.  Their cruelty is so much worse when
it is pointless.

Why do I believe that such paint attacks are counterproductive?  Because
unlike other direct actions, like disabling Hawk jets destined for
Indonesia, the public cannot see any point in it.  Vandalising a public
building does not stop anyone being killed, and is likely to result in
negative publicity.  The simple truth is that the only way the British and
US governments are going to find a better and more humane way to deal with
the Iraq situation is if they and public opinion are persuaded that
sanctions are both cruel and ineffective.  One of the biggest barriers to
doing this is the public perception of Islam as the major internal and
external threat to our security.  Kidnappings of Westerners, bombings of
US embassies and the like have made people very fearful of muslim people
everywhere.  Combined with the regular news stories about
terrorist/extremist training camps in England (one of the most notorious
is in my home town), the perception of a muslim held by the average
British or American is of an extremist potential terrorist who is a threat
to security and public order.  And that perception colours all media
coverage of middle eastern affairs.  Any extremist activities are
therefore counterproductive because they do nothing to present a picture
to the public of a reasonable group of people challenging sanctions
without supporting Saddam Hussein, using peaceful and legal means.

I am opposed to sanctions because I have been convinced of the argument
against them.  Like most people in this country, I am fairly moderate and
conservative, and am put off by what seems like wanton criminal
intemperateness when I see acts of vandalism on TV and in the press.  We
need to win the argument.  And the signs are that we are (and I use the
term "we" here because I think Andrea and a few others ought to realise
that we're actually all supposed to be on the same side).  In the past few
weeks, many commentators in the press and people generally have started to
question the sanctions and Western policy towards Iraq generally.  So why
do anything to spoil this change by appearing extreme and unreasonable?

Because frankly, some people who have written messages to the list put
across an image of being exactly that.  Views like, "Grafitti is one of
the most widely used forms of protest.  I think one might reserve the term
criminal damage for something more spectacular - like bombing a building
for instance" show exactly why many politicians and members of the public
both fear the antisanctions lobby and question our status as reasonable
people wanting to live in a democratic society.

Andrea said that I have been "unnecessarily vitriolic".  Members of the
list who read the rest of her message will no doubt make their own
judgment about whose e-mail that description best applies to.  I cannot
agree with her that I am wrong to say that the primary responsibility for
the suffering of the Iraqi people lies with Saddam Hussein.  Andrea, Robin
and Thushara seem to think that means I'm ignorant of every failing in the
history of Anglo-American foreign policy towards Iraq, or that I agree
with everything George Robertson says, or have a blind trust in the
Foreign Office.  Of course I don't, and those who know me well will know
that I spend as much time as anyone questioning the morality of British
foreign policy around the world and our country's human rights record.
But I also think we need to have a sense of proportion.  We don't come
across as reasonable people if we keep attacking the government with venom
or thinking up absurd conspiracy theories.  We won't win the argument or
the respect of the public or MPs by blaming our government for everything
and protraying them as the slightly more bloodthirsty than Genghis Khan,
whilst being retiscent in commenting on the more weightly blame upon
Saddam Hussein.

To illustrate: When Desert Fox began, George Galloway was quick to charge
Tony Blair with just about every heinous crime under heaven.  What got
reported in the press was Tony Blair's response to George Galloway and Tam
Dalyell that he found it amazing that any member of the Labour Party could
speak about the situation in Iraq without once condemning the atrocities
committed by Saddam Hussein.  So being unreasonable doesn't help win the
argument.  We need to show balance and proportionality.  So I repeat my
view that, yes, sanctions are terrible and should end, but the primary
blame for the suffering of the Iraqi people lies with Saddam Hussein.  All
the time that he is in power, the people will always suffer, Iraq's
neighbours will always be in fear, Iraqis will not be free and Iraq will
not be a prosperous member of the international community.  He invaded a
sovereign state, attacked its people, killed British and American service
personnel, took people hostage, attacked his own people with chemical
weapons, failed to cooperate with weapons inspections, and murdered
political and religious opponents.  To imagine that the wrongheaded
policies of a confused democratically-elected Labour government dealing
with a very difficult problem to which none of us really know the answers
make a Cabinet including former members of CND and the likes of Clare
Short, Robin Cook and Mo Mowlam into a group more culpable than the
world's most dangerous war criminal Saddam Hussein is quite unbelievable.

I appreciate that people are angry about the suffering of the Iraqi
people, but why take it out on me just because I don't believe breaking
the law is the way to go about getting change?  Andrea clearly has not
read my e-mail properly - she seems to think I believe she will be tried
by a judge when in fact I was using the term for members of the judiciary
generally, and specifically stated that the matter would probably be dealt
with by a stipendiary magistrate.  As for any length of imprisonment she
might face, I specifically stated that this might be more towards the six
month maximum if she had committed other offences we don't know about -
and we now know she has previously been sentenced to two months.  I am not
as ignorant or naive as she or Jeff believe.  I have attended many court
sittings and simply do not recognise the description Jeff Vernon gives of
the British legal system.  Of course it isn't perfect, but it's as good as
the very best in the world, and unfairness is the exception, not the rule.
And I don't agree that I have rushed to judgment without hearing the
evidence.  But if you were the judge in the case, how could you fail to
convict people who we have been told threw paint on a building and daubed
grafitti on a wall of criminal damage, and whose defence appears to be
that they think they have some kind of moral authority to do that sort of
thing?  Because if you believe they should be acquitted, then presumably
you would also allow the BNP to daub racist views on the walls of black
people's homes, and would also acquit antiabortionists who believe they
are preventing murder by attacking doctors' cars in hospital carparks?
Extremism tends to spiral into greater and greater wrongs always excused
by some supposed higher moral justification.  I just ask where you'd draw
the line?

I wish the defendants the very best for their court appearance.  I hope
that once they are convicted, the judge will recognise that their hearts
were in the right place and take that into account in sentencing.  But I
will not be coming to the court as Andrea suggests to protest against
sanctions - I believe protesting should take place outside Parliament, not
outside a courtroom where press attention will inevitably associate the
protest with illegal tactics.  And I simply cannot concur with Jeff
Vernon's view that when someone is arrested, the question is whose side
one is on: "Sometimes you decide to support an action PRECISELY BECAUSE
you wouldn't have done it yourself."  No.  Just as I believe that as a
citizen I bear some responsibility for the wrongs done by our government,
I also believe that when I support an action I must bear some
responsibility for it.  When we take action or support actions of others,
we must do so with careful consideration for the moral issues involved.
And when we have democratic avenues of protest open to us, I cannot
support an action that involves an unnecessary and counterproductive
violation of our laws.  Because as imperfect as those laws are, they are what
ensure that we enjoy the freedoms the Iraqi people can only dream of.

**************************
ALAN BATES
Christ's College
St. Andrew's Street
Cambridge
CB2 3BU
Tel: 01223 767817

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