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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I think that in our campaigning, and particularly in relation to the
post-resolution situation, we have two broad goals:
(a) persuading people that lifting the economic sanctions is the only
solving the humanitarian crisis, and that this must be done unconditionally
and (b) persuading the 'converted' to actually take action which puts
pressure on governments to change policy.
There are many side issues which can distract people's attention from
_central_ issue of the humanitarian crisis.
I'm something of an agnostic on whether or not the term 'genocide' is
accurate in terms of what has happened in Iraq.
What does concern me is that the debate we've had on this list demonstrates
that this is the kind of side-issue which can distract people's attention
from the key questions: (1) is there a humanitarian crisis in Iraq? (2) how
can it be solved?
For this reason alone, I believe we should steer clear of the term to
getting into distracting side-arguments. I can imagine many people debating
the (in)accuracy of the term in order to put off facing the key issues.
Milan Rai has a problem with people discussing "side arguements" as she calls them. I understand that CASI is a non-political humanitarian organisation whose aim is to lift sanctions on Iraq. I feel, however, that a narrow debate will do this discussion list no justice. Their must be room for some degree of debate outside 'information gathering' and transcribing newspaper articles. 'Side arguements' are not disconnected from the main topic they are integral in giving a clearer understanding of the forces at work in the world (which currently confront the Iraqi people). For example, the debate on genocide was important because it served (hopefully) to break or at least illuminate the 'received truth' that in todays world only enemy states (non western or western clients) can and do commit genocide or major acts of state terrorism.. Activism backed up by a broader range of knowledge is the stronger for it. It allows for coherent arguement and the philolosphic application of reason to an issue rather than following the media or cultural models.
Amnesty International is also a non-political organisation, that doesn't stop the media and governments accusing it of leftist sympathies. To some (the corporations) a humanitarian is threat simply by virtue of being a humanitarian. It is a political statment whether you say it is or not. You cannot entirely depolitisize (see discussion list) a debate concerning the greatest military and economic power in the world systimaticly murdering hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians of a third world nation by war, disease and pestilence
I often encounter activists on the street campaigning about various crisis. When challenged over an issue they have no recourse beyond their very narrow knowledge of the situation directly in question. I am therefore left unconvinced that they have fully explored the issue.
Many people doubt the cruelties being afflicted on Iraq are the work of the west because their belief system does not allow them to believe the west are capable of indisciminate carnage. One reason is that people think that their political leaders and the business elite think as they do. They don't in most cases. This must be demonstrated (through evidence not unsubstantuated ideological blathering) in order to see that the situatiion is Iraq is not momentary abberation from US/western policy but a continuation of, and furthering of its goals. 'Side issues' help to illuminate these facts without resorting to a direct ideological/political tract which, I concede, would push the organisation in a different direction.
Finally the idea that, as Milan Rai suggests, people are debating these issues "in order to put off facing the real issues" is ludicrous and based on no evidence. In fact the main reason for debate is to broaden the perspective/knowledge on the issue in question. The implication that pehaps some people are not campaigning vigourously because they are discussing to many other related issues could be taken as offensive and in response I would suggest that I imagine many people cannot chew gum and think at the same time, pehaps this is why they have nothing to say for themselves.