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This is a reply to Chris Williams' recent note on my piece on the UN Compensation Commission. Chris says: "I want to take issue with Peter's aside about 'we'. For two reasons. The first is that although the UK is some kind of democracy (we could go into the many ways whereby many decisions are not taken democratically), this doesn't stop often large minorities within from having their wishes and efforts over-ridden. I have no intention of identifing with these people who control the UK, even though they're doing it with my taxes. The second is more factual. The SNP and the Lib Dems have both declared their opposition to the current sanctions policy. The Greens are against it too. I'm not sure about Plaid Cymru, but I imagine they are also. I'm not sure about the SSP (should be), but I'd be shocked if they weren't. So of the parties with quasi-national representation, only Labour and the Conservatives are in favour. I'm not sure if the UKIP has policy on it. Together, this adds up to 'a substantial section of political life', contrary to Peter's assertion." and this is my reply: ON DOING ALL EVIL DEEDS Chris Williams takes issue with my statement that we are all (even CASI list members) collectively responsible for the sins of the societies in which we live. I would like to explain a little more clearly what I mean and why I think its important. In doing this I know that I risk leading us all off on another wild goose chase. Sorry, Ali. First, though it may not seem necessary for the CASI list, let us remember what we are talking about. We are talking about a government policy which has resulted in some million or so people dying, slowly and horribly, who would not have died otherwise. We are talking about a policy of devastating a country's industrial infrastructure and then depriving it of the materials that are necessary to rebuild. Of continual, relentless, often inconceivably petty-minded acts of humiliation. And all this has been going on for ten years on top of an 8 year war (the Iran-Iraq war) which I described in a previous piece as more terrible for the populations concerned than the Second World War was for us (the British. The war in eastern Europe - as it was experienced by Serbs, for example - was something else). And the governments that are chiefly responsible for this the USA and the UK governments, but all European governments without exception are responsible, together with the near totality of their national media present themselves to the world as examples of moral rectitude with a right to pass judgment on other peoples quite independently of the existing structure of international law (the International Court of the Hague, not the War crimes Tribunal which has been established to replace it in the public imagination by a body dependent on the US) and even the UN Security Council, even though it was almost but not quite 100% under US control. As for the UN General Assembly, who is there among us who remembers that such a body exists? In the face of such evil, the belated and half hearted resolutions of some minor parties in Britain, who will not make a major issue of it, do not amount to very much. They are certainly less worthy of our respect than the longstanding and very courageous activities of the Labour minority George Galloway, Tam Dalyell and friends in parliament. But so much for the convictions most of us share and which fill us all with righteous anger, a pleasing sensation that enables us to feel we are not responsible: THEY are the guilty ones. Straightaway, this poses a problem for campaigning, and Colin Rowat has, I think, on occasion, tried to draw attention to it. We, many of us, believe our government is guilty of a sin comparable to the sins of the Nazis. I use the word 'sin' rather than 'crime' because a crime is an offence against a man-made law and since we, as one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council, control the law it is not possible for us to commit a crime; just as, once the Nazis got control of the German legal system, it was not possible for them to commit a crime in Germany. Perhaps if we make this comparison we may conclude that what the Nazis did (at least after 1942) was worse but, nonetheless, it is a comparison that suggests itself. But how can we expect Mr Blair, or Mr Cook or Mr Hain ever to think such a thing? They have collectively assumed the responsibility not just for what happened under their own stewardship but also for everything that happened in this domain under the previous administration; and, through their steadfast, uncritical alliance with the US government, they have in addition assumed moral responsibility for all the horrors which that government has performed throughout the world, horrors that are being chronicled with patience, skill and even, improbable as it may seem, calm by the great Noam Chomsky. Mr Blair is, very publicly, a Christian and has been known to read the Bible publicly in Church. If he were to accept our view of these matters (the view that most of the active contributors to the list, myself included, seem to share) he could only resign his office, enter a monastery and devote the rest of his life to prayer and penitence. Oh, that we should live in a society where such a thing would be possible, but I think it is unlikely. So the sort of arguments which are likely to succeed, to change the government's policy, are not the outbursts of rage that are so appropriate to the horror of the situation, but a weasel argument which goes something like this: 'Sanctions aren't working ... People suffering not Saddam ... Palaces ... Whiskey and cigarettes ... Only way to get the inspectors back etc etc' the sort of line that is currently being pursued in the editorials of the Chicago Tribune (which adds that, should Saddam continue to misbehave even after sanctions are lifted, the country should be nuked Chicago Tribune editorial, August 24, 2000 in the News Supplement, 20-27/8/00). But why go so far afield as the Chicago Tribune when we have an example closer to hand in the Lib Dems' Robert Menzies Campbell, quoted by Chris Williams as an example of virtue in British politics: "The ordinary people of Iraq are the oppressed not the oppressors. Their suffering is not caused by sanctions- it is caused by the evil exploitation of sanctions by Saddam Hussein But, remove the sanctions and you remove the opportunity for that exploitation. Remove the sanctions which are used by the regime in Iraq to justify the systematic degradation of the Iraqi people by its own government and you take that weapon away from Saddam Hussein." And in case anyone might have missed the point: "Non-military sanctions do not hurt Saddam Hussein and the elite who surround him. But they are used by him to hurt his own people. After ten years it is time [indeed! PB] to deny that opportunity." No monasteries for Mr Menzies Campbell! But this argument may not be very convincing, since, as I keep on trying to say, 'lifting sanctions' means restoring control over their economy to the government and (though probably to a much lesser extent) people of Iraq; it means kissing goodbye to compensation money, at least on the scale with which it has been lashed out up until now; and it means a real possibility that Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, will come back as a major player on the world stage, with a great deal of prestige for having faced down the mightiest power the world has ever known. So there are actually 'good' reasons for keeping sanctions, or at least Oil for Food, in place. And behind it all there is of course the very 'good' political reason that we wish to secure control over the world's oil supply. Why? Because we you and I like to think that, when we press a switch, the light will come on; and that when we press an accelerator, the car will start. And we don't like to think that a bunch of excitable Arabs could do to us what we have just done to the Serbs withhold heating oil in Winter from the people we don't like and supply it to the people we do. We are part of a system made up of parts that are wholly interdependent. It is called ' the economy' and it is a system that goes beyond individual responsibility. John Smith, as a Marxist, is probably the contributor to this list best equipped to explain this. And yet, and yet ... The particular variety of Marxism John Smith espouses has never been reduced to practice for any length of time. The variety of Marxism that was reduced to practice (and which, indeed, caught the imagination and engaged the hopes of half the world's population) is now generally discredited. The mass murder of around a million Iraqis and the 'bombies' that are still killing hundreds of people each year in the Plain of the Jars in Laos, are part of the logic of our system; the Gulag was part of the logic of their system. As individuals without responsibility we can imagine ourselves to be outside the systems. But we are fooling ourselves. And the day we win, the day we actually take power, is the day we become aware of the fact. The point is well illustrated throughout political history. Wrongs are righted and replaced by a multitude of new wrongs. Slavery in the United States gives way to the sharecropper system; and the pattern is repeated on a world scale, as the end of the colonial system gives way to control through debt, through the IMF. The countries of the world have a brief illusion of independence (which they often use to settle scores among themselves) and then a new yoke descends. And what do we do about it? The Israeli/Palestinian conflict has imposed itself recently on our limited attention span. Most contributors to this list sympathise with the Palestinians (no-one has yet ventured a timid pro-Israeli sentiment). The existence of Israel its very existence, not just the politics of its government is a wrong done to the Palestinians. So how can the wrong be righted? By the destruction of the state of Israel? If the Arab world was not divided, largely by the US policy we all abhor; and if Israel was not supported by huge financial subventions from the US, that would be a feasible project. It would be highly satisfying, would it not? A highly satisfying bloodbath. No matter where we turn, who we support, what we do, our hands, OUR hands, are drenched in blood, and if it is not real blood, that is largely a matter of circumstances. The circumstances under which we live here in the UK are very protected. They are protected by the USS Cole, among many other things, not to mention the bending of the economy of the entire world to serve our needs and our whims, to provide us with our Nike trainers, and our coffee in the morning. At the time that the Gulf War broke out, I was a Baha'i. I left the Baha'is because I could find nothing in the Baha'i scriptures that corresponded to the enormity of the situation (I simplify things a little). The only thing I could find that suited was the Book of Isaiah. Christianity, insofar as it deserves to be taken seriously, is based on what used to be called 'consciousness of sin'. The consciousness that sin is the normal condition of our life, and that we all share in it, seems to me to be the only possible rational standpoint from which the operations of the world can be understood. Peter Brooke -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq For removal from list, email firstname.lastname@example.org Full details of CASI's various lists can be found on the CASI website: http://www.casi.org.uk