The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
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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 -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To be removed/added, email firstname.lastname@example.org, NOT the whole list. Archived at http://linux.clare.cam.ac.uk/~saw27/casi/discuss.html