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RE: On doing all evil deeds [long]

Reply to Pbrooke:
* Correction - I may have been wrong about the SNP. Salmond opposed Desert
Fox - but do they oppose sanctions? I can't find evidence. Anyone? *
Peter talked about the 'sins' of a society. I don't hold with this 'sins'
stuff: and I think a large part of the difference between Peter and myself
(which I am about to set out at great length) is down to the fact that I'm a
I don't feel personally guilty about sanctions, or about many other crimes
going on this minute around the globe. To take all the guilt in the world
onto my shoulders would render me powerless to act. I even shield myself
from a lot of knowledge about Iraq because it would probably drive me to
despair rather than to renewed activity: no solution. The thing to do is not
to reach any kind of mystical identity with the victims, or to save my own
soul. It's to solve the problem. So, no, I don't feel guilty. 
As well as the 'sins and guilt' issue, I think that I also differ from Peter
in my view of what the best 'unit of suffering' is. Because I'm also an
anarchist, I don't like to talk about the objective existence of nations
with measurable experiences. Peter writes about 'Britain's experience' in
the second world war. But 'the British' didn't have an experience. Nor did
'Serbia'. 'Iraq's' not having one, either. For some Britons (think about the
bocage, Burma, Coventry) WW2 was every bit as horrifying as what many Iraqis
have been through in the last 20 years. Some Iraqis (many, but not all,
within the Ba'ath Party) are doing very well indeed at the moment. I do not
think that I can apply average standards of suffering to 'a society'. I'm
forced to talk in terms of 'Iraq' because that's how the sanctions operate,
but this is the definition that my enemies' acts force me to repeat: not one
that I should consider as objectively true. And even within geographically
defined 'Iraq', there's not a unity. If the south and centre had the
sanctions regime of the north, for instance, I would expect mortality in
those areas to have been substantially lower.
Peter then moves into overstatement. How can 'all European governments' be
responsible for a policy that some of them have had absolutely no hand in
formulating and implementing. Sweden? Malta? We need to get our facts right
in this argument, or our credibility suffers. Everyone - please do me a
favour and point out any factual errors in what I write.
I disagree  . . . er . . . 'vigorously' with Peter's assessment that the
attitudes of 'minor parties' are 'belated and half-hearted'. Let's take the
Scottish Socialist Party as an example. It's minor (only has 1 MSP) and
hasn't been in existence long. Yet its progenitor organisations have always
been against imperialism. If Peter expects me to join him in sneering at its
stand, then he has a long wait ahead of him. Last year I marched through
London against sanctions. Lots of people from minor parties were there. The
mainstream was totally absent. Yes, Dalyell is an honest man (when I was in
the Labour Party I used to vote for him in NEC elections for precisely this
reason, despite the fact that I disagree with him *spectacularly* on most
policy issues) but why is he any more honest than Tommy Sheridan or any
member of the Green Party? Answer - he isn't.
I do not hold a brief for the LibDems, I disagree with their foreign policy,
and I have an inherent mistrust for anyone whose real surname is probably
'the Merciless, Emperor of Mongo'. Still, their announcement that they
oppose sanctions is welcome. Along with the Chicago Tribune - and many many
other institutions whom we must convince, if we are to end sanctions this
side of a world revolution - they are not particularly nice people. They
have some reprehensible views. So what? Who cares about 'virtue'? What
matters is results. As long as they helping to end sanctions on Iraq, they
could be doing it to win souls for the church of Satan as far as I'm
concerned. It ain't the way that you do it, it's what you do, as the Fun Boy
Three and Bananarama didn't say. 
When sanctions collapse, in a couple of years time, it will be because there
is highly disparate coalition of interests and organisations ranged against
them. Hayekians will oppose any interference with free trade. Foreign Office
and State Dept Arabists will oppose them on the basis that they are
undermining their cosy relationships with murdering feudal bastards.
Intelligent Zionists will oppose them because they are worried that if the
double standard gets yet more obvious, they might suffer a backlash.
Lobbyists for manufacturers of spy satellites and precision weapons will
oppose them on the grounds that their hardware can do the same job for less
money. V-P Cheney will oppose them because his old mates in the oil services
industry will make giant profits on the rebuilding contracts. 
All these people are scum, and we all know that. So what? As long as they do
the business, people will stop dying, which is something that I care about. 
This, I think, takes us back to the question of faith, or lack of it. I
don't have any, so I don't care about motives on anything other than a
tactical level; it is after all generally useful to know what peoples'
motives are in order to figure out the best way to change their minds. But
aside from that, results, measured materially, aren't the most important
thing, they're the only thing. 
There are two alternatives to 'working with bastards': the first is to wait
for some kind of spiritual awakening and the rule of the saints on the
earth; the second is to work for a world libertarian socialist (I'd settle
for an anarcho-syndicalist one, though - I'm not choosy) revolution that
will overthrow all these evil governments. Sometimes I put a bit of work
into trying to accelerate the revolution, but it's not something I think can
arrive in the next decade (more's the pity). 
As for the blood that drenches the hands (so Peter writes) of everyone
living in state whose government supports sanctions, I disagree there, too.
As far as I'm concerned, there is an equation for us all: have we done
enough to offset the personal benefit we get from the imperialist world in
which we live? I might well be guilty of this - I am a notorious lazy
hedonist. But is John? Is Dave? Mil? Colin? Seb? Felicity? From the dealings
I've had with these people I've reached the conclusion that they, along with
many others, have put in far more than enough hours to offset any possible
material benefit they get from living in an imperialist country. I am
unlikely to change my mind on this issue.
There is also the issue of 'sins' verses 'crimes'. Peter is right in
pointing out that 'crime' is breach of a man-made law. But I still prefer it
to 'sin', which implies breach of a God-made law. This is rhetoric that
about 30% of us in the UK will automatically discount, because we don't
believe that there is a God. 'Crimes' is still consistent. There are all
sorts of things that I consider to be crimes, though the law of the land
does not. As a human, I can make laws (though I can't enforce them very
well) and define things as crimes. So I do. Perhaps here we might be able to
compromise (as Peter apparently does in his title) on references to 'evil',
which I imagine we can mainly agree on.
Peter then appears to contradict himself with the issue of the
responsibility of Cook et al. He holds them personally responsible for not
dissociating themselves from the past. If redemption is possible on this
basis for people who continue to work for HMG, surely it's possible for us
to reduce the level of responsibility we personally bear by dissociating
ourselves from the past. Has Peter ever heard of the slogan 'Not in my
name', which is a fave in peacenik circles?
I'll not respond to the anti-Marxist comments - this is a different kind of
rant altogether!
Now, (and here is where many of you lot who are nodding along with me might
stop nodding), I've never really got off on this morality-based approach. I
think that there are limits to the amount of people it can mobilise,
precisely because it bases itself on a spiritual process: recognition of
sin, responsibility for sin, renunciation, and symbolic dissociation.
Historically, evangelists in the UK have never managed to hold onto more
than 10% of the population for long. They have a better record in the US, so
it might be a viable tactic there. But here? Hmm....
Evangelists have won here in the past - they abolished slavery. They did so
by successfully labelling it as something that was chiefly done by nasty
other people: something that 'we' - the people they were talking to at the
time - could dissociate ourselves from the consequences of so long as we
joined the movement to abolish it. More recently, socially committed
Christians have tried the same thing with the Jubilee 2000 project. This
also has tended to say 'these specific named people are guilty of not doing
something about it' rather than 'we are all guilty'. Of course, Jubilee 2000
hasn't worked yet either. But really, I'd be happy to line up alongside
people advocating all sorts of distinctions of personal guilt (or its lack)
provided that the line ends up being wide enough that it can't be ignored.
As for 'penitence', where's the good in that? As the motto of Leicester
Secular Society goes: 'Hands that help are better than lips that pray'. Job,
conscious of his sinful nature did sod all on the ashpit except feel sorry
for himself and praise the Lord. Peter, of course, does a lot more than
that, for which I am grateful, but I don't think his world-view is
necessary, or even necessarily helpful in the struggle for a better world.
for international solidarity
Chris Williams

> -----Original Message-----
> From: pbrooke []
> Sent: Friday, October 20, 2000 1:36 AM
> To:   casi
> Cc:   Eliazar; Kamal Selmassi
> Subject:      On doing all evil deeds
> 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:
> 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
> -- 
> -----------------------------------------------------------------------
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