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Halliday's Lecture on 16 November 2001 in NY



 

Talk given by Denis J. Halliday (former UN Assistant

Secretary- General)on 16 November 2001 at the Temple of the CONGREGATION B'NAI YISRAEL, Armonk, New York.

 

 

                           Vulnerability

 

 

  Good evening.  I am pleased and yet challenged to be here. I feel somewhat reluctant to speak publicly on Iraq, the Middle-East, Afghanistan or Terrorism since 11 September. I sense many Americans are not ready for a discussion. Not ready for views that may differ from the mass. I sense instead an atmosphere of 'dead or alive' justice, intolerance, endangered civil liberties, the unhealthy influence of Christian fundamentalism, militarism, even jingoism.  But I also  sense a new feeling of American VULNERABILITY and thus I am here tonight! And I was encouraged to do so by your Rabbi Douglas Kranz , who is a risk-taker!

On 11 September, I was in London en route to Damascus and thereafter to Baghdad. Like everyone here I imagine - I watched the TV in horror and disbelief as the Twin Towers were struck and then collapsed. Shock led to deep sympathy for the families, the children, who had lost loved ones. And I still feel that way.

And I still feel that way for the families of Iraq, Israel, Palestine and now Afghanistan who have lost and continue to lose loved ones everyday.

I was in London on 11 September because I am still involved - there is no choice - with the innocent children of Iraq. I was to travel on 12 September. My companions were to have been  former President Ben Bella of Algeria and a Canadian oil man - all three of us intending to convince the Government of Iraq to better communicate.

We had hoped to have Baghdad appreciate the importance of public opinion around the world, and to explain its position and extend flexibility in order to find an urgent solution via dialogue to the deadly UN embargo and impasse it represents, sustained for more than 11 years by the US and Britain.

The plan collapsed and instead I flew back to my Irish home on 12 September.

 Meantime in Iraq,  the deadly UN embargo continues - imposed and sustained on the people of that country by America and Britain - for reasons unrelated to Kuwait. Instead for reasons of vested self- interest, control of oil supplies, double standards,  stability not democracy (do the people of  our Saudi and Kuwaiti allies enjoy democracy?), or is it just simply due to fear with respect to an old friend and former ally in Baghdad, so helpful against Iran, when it suited us, that we punish the innocent? We strengthen Baghdad; we diminish any prospects for positive change.

But I can hear some of you saying - surely what's-his-name is at fault! It's not us! Well - despite the huge responsibility Baghdad must accept for the invasion of Kuwait, past and current human rights abuses, and antagonistic relations with the Iraqi Kurds of the north, there is no civilized justification for killing the children of Iraq. And that is what the UN embargo does. As you know, sanctions are designed to target civilians, destroy lives so that those who remain will rise up and overthrow the offending regime!

How simplistic and naive!  And the UN overseas this killing  in our name!

Weekly bombing by America reinforces  the terror that the embargo sustains.

This is exploitation of the most vulnerable to punish actions for which they were never responsible. Sanctions have become a genocidal tool in the hands of the Security Council. The UN embargo operates in breech of the Geneva Conventions intended to protect civilians - and rejects international law without regard for the fundamental  human rights of its victims. Some will tell you that the Iraqi people are being punished by Baghdad, if true, why do we punish them further? What does that achieve ? apart from underlining and reinforcing their vulnerability, and their sense of hopelessness.

In Iraq, our victims are the younger brothers and sisters of the children who suffered from obesity under the Baghdad Ba'athist social welfare system of the 1980s. A comprehensive programme of constructing civilian infrastructure,  health care,  free education, urbanization, housing, employment and social and cultural opportunities. And sadly - a period of vast military expenditure - of buying weapons  (now known by the same suppliers as weapons of mass destruction) from the  manufacturers and eager arms dealers of Europe, Britain and the United States. What a waste of resources! What a calamity for the Iraqi people.

 The warfare of UN sanctions on the people of Iraq continues with appalling results. We tend  to forget about it. The headlines dwell elsewhere. The media tends to focus on the latest form of terror, but the children of Iraq as reported by UNICEF are still dying at the rate of some 5000 every month. And that number only includes children up to the age of 5 years! Many families in Iraq have to face everyday -  the terror that we discovered for the first time here in New York City on 11 September. Iraqi families feel the pain of loss just as American families do. We are all the same human beings.

We are all the same. And suddenly we all are paying the price for policies, for foreign policy ambitions that, if consulted,  we would be unlikely to endorse. And this is equally and  tragically true for the Israeli mother and the Palestinian family  - regardless of right or wrong - who see their loved ones die needlessly. It may be new to many here in New York, but elsewhere many live with fear, uncertainty, and vulnerability each and everyday day. And now, we have added  the innocent of Afghanistan -  swept up in an illegal war, not of their making, and when "won" is just about guaranteed to lead to additional terrorism! How short-term self interest can blind us. Do we never learn?

As a European friend of mine has said - on 11 September around the world - we all became Americans! I wish I could say the same  in regard to ongoing killing elsewhere - we are all Iraqis, we are all Palestinians, Israelis and Afghani's. Because we need to understand that awful sense of vulnerability, new in the USA and that many in America now feel for the first time, if we are to do something positive about it! Not harassment, not military courts, not crusades and not cluster bombs  - but justice, and a real addressing of issues. Let's turn our new vulnerability inside out!

Clearly, here in the United States of America - away from the misery and ugliness of much of the Third World, the two billion who live in poverty, and the human rights violations of our allies, and others -  VULNERABILITY is a new phenomenon for many. Not for all, as surely many  must remember those who fled to this country from the Holocaust, and other terrors. They must understand. But for most Americans it is hard to accept that there is no safe corner, no where to hide from reality.  Can we hope that this new vulnerability, this need to be safe, can be translated into a realization that for Americans to be safe, others around the world must feel safe also? That would be a huge accomplishment.

For years I worked with an American in the UN by the name of Hank Shannon. Hank would say - "Denis - something good always comes from something bad". Well there is no denying that here in New York we have experienced something "bad". My instincts and I suspect the instincts of many, like your good-selves,  will be to find something good - to find something we can learn - from this terrorist attack of 11 September. Surely we want to move forward from this recent horror - a more aware, a more humble, a more understanding, and a more responsive people. That would be self-interest that serves all.

Surely that would be better for the United States, rather than retreat into revenge and retaliation - instincts many of us can undoubtedly understand, but must set aside intellectually. We can understand the fear and outrage that grew so quickly as of 11 September, but surely we must question the most effective, even moral, even legal way to proceed - a way consistent with the values, the democracy and even the so called "civilization", we say that we hold to be important.

For me, this new VULNERABILITY presents a fork in the road of our progress :  - one road leads to violence - an ugly and counterproductive route that will undoubtedly produce additional violence and increased vulnerabilities for Americans over time !  - and the other road that leads to greater understanding; a willingness to examine why the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers ? why America ? And then to begin the many and difficult tasks of change that will lessen and someday perhaps remove the underlying factors that lead to the recent terrorism America has experienced.

It would seem to me, that  we all need to examine and understand terrorism better. Are there any sovereign states existent today, that do not have in their history periods of violence on behalf of independence and freedom, including this one? Is terrorism not a response to religious persecution or ethnic cleansing,  that ugly expression for an ancient crime? Is terrorism not a cry for help - rather like suicide - from a people who see only hopelessness and the despair of endless poverty? Is it not a reaction to some great wrong? Is it not a response to neo-colonial ambitions that justify application of double standards?  - the kind of ambitions  that lead the West into arrogant self-serving breech of international law? Is it not the abuse of the United Nations and corruption of the Security Council and the Charter, the Declaration of Human Rights?

Terrorism  is all of these things, and more.

 It would seem that terrorism can be a perception - one man's legitimate struggle (as President Assad recently advised Prime Minister Blair) is another man's terrorism. For me, however, all violence; all forms of terrorism - state and non-state are unacceptable, and in breech of the rule of international law. There can be no justification for killing  the thousands of civilians in the Twin Towers - a crime against humanity. Just as there can be no justification for the killing of equally innocent Afghanis, Israelis, Palestinians, Lebanese, or Iraqis in the Middle East.

Apart from the moral and illegal aspects of terrorism, we know it does not work  - and does not produce the results sought. State terrorism that reduces the "good" guys to the level of the "bad" guys to obtain that perhaps might be a desirable end - is counterproductive and only sustains the circle of violence. And throws into question what kind of so-called "civilization" and human values are we protecting?

  In  Northern  Ireland, after many years of violence and terror, the British Government was finally persuaded that their military respone was not successful. A way of dialogue was opened.  The results - albeit imperfect - would seem to be moving the people of the North - Republicans and Unionists both -  in the right direction of peaceful co- existence.

  I still hope,  that we can not only ask : why America ? but begin to answer it. To say the event of 11 September was pure evil, would seem to be  simplistic and dishonest. To say is was an attack on democracy, or even more exaggerated  "our civilization, and "way of life" is even more bizarre, although comforting for the Washington decision makers.

Why not consider and maybe accept, that 11 September  was an attack on our neglect of poverty, despair and hopelessness; an attack on our greed for power and natural resources; an attack on our frequent application of double standards and the law of empire - self-serving double-think that only serves well ourselves, and sometimes our friends of the moment.

 We need to consider what route is best.  The truth is  - that we can no longer get away with neglect and ignorance, and our mistakenly assumed invulnerability. That has been shot down. We can no longer use the UN as the instrument of our self-serving foreign policy! We can no longer gobble up the worlds resources without a thought for others in desperate need. We can no longer accept that might is right. We can no longer exploit others and expect no reaction. For we have just witnessed the reaction.

 I suggest we have got to accept that this is not just about Al Qaeda and its leadership. This is much deeper. And more widespread. And just may be within us. Within our own communities of alienation as the Anthrax scare seems to imply. A military victory in Afghanistan is no answer - were that to occur. We need to start a war against poverty. We need to bomb injustice. We need to deal with ourselves and adjust. We need to adjust significantly to how we are perceived. If our new sense of vulnerability  is to lessen we have much work to do. We need a USA that will participate in the world, in the United Nations, and set aside Washington ambitions to dominate and control.

 It is our western policies which  have made this current form of Middle- Eastern  terrorism respectable; and turned its leaders into heroes. We have offended Moslem places by our western military presence and threatened moderate Islamic moral values by our western laxity. We have imposed ourselves and our values, where we and they may not belong. We have been too ready to exploit instead of collaborate; we have imposed  instead of ensuring that our values are shared. We have become blind to the dreams of others,  by our greed for cheap gas and the good life - the good life  for us alone.

Why are we surprised by 11 September?  We have had lots of warning signs, but we preferred to ignore them. We have the might; we have the right, we said to ourselves - as we dismissed the weak. After all,  as someone said -' why is our oil under their sand?' Our arrogance and often ignorance prevailed.

I suggest we focus on the impact of our policies. Control domestic greed that leads to overseas aggression - economic, or otherwise!  The first clearly drives the second! Lets ask ourselves - is it our demand for oil and gas pipelines from Central Asia to the Indian Ocean through Afghanistan that drives us, or do  we care for the women, the human rights, for the people of Afghanistan destroyed by Russia, raped by our allies and left to suffer under a  fundamentalist Islamic minority Government we assisted to power? Let's be honest -  in the absence of self-interest, and with greater stability throughout the country, would we not have continued to tolerate the Taliban?

After all, because it suits us, we tolerate the appalling  Saudi system - because it suits us. And we tolerate the fundamentalist Christian right  in this country? As I suggested, we have some thinking to do about many things, including our ready application of double standards.

 I suggest we need to have Washington consider a new approach not legislation to undermine civil liberties, and not the introduction military courts as decried in the New York Times editorial today. And certainly  not  greater investment in arms and the Pentagon. Instead - the diversion of your tax money away from the Pentagon -  the $300 billion plus - away  from military expenditures into a more productive kind of investment.

And by that I mean an investment in people - in the people of this country and those overseas without whom we cannot survive - surely we understand inter-dependence in a shrinking world? We have seen those staggering world population growth rates released  a few weeks ago. We need, even if only for the most selfish of reasons, to understand that by diverting monies into the well-being of people, we can best serve the well-being  of the American people. Wake up America.

America today, as does Europe, needs a world where people are content to live in their own countries. Where  travel is for education and  pleasure - not for escape and asylum. America needs a world that can buy wheat, consumer goods and the necessities and the good things of life without having to beg for them. America needs a world where globalization works for us all,  not just for  a few.

It seems essential that educated and worldly people such as yourselves here in Armonk  - think through and work on changing US domestic and foreign policy. Our new vulnerability needs to be directed at understanding, and a resolution to deal with the blatant inequalities throughout the world. The double standards, the exploitation and the lack of justice must change. For America indeed for the World to survive, we must tackle the unending poverty - the hopelessness that drives people into the streets and into the refugee camps of the world,  where desperation,  injustice and ultimately terrorism thrives. And while doing this, we need to look at our own society where the divide between rich and poor remains, in which we support state terror, where injustice is conspicuous, and where the excluded resort to one of the few attention-grabbing tactics left to them - terror.

We have our work cut out. When the killing of  the Afghan war ends,  we must not simply refocus on the next disaster, but push Washington preferably via the United Nations,  to begin to address the underlying causes for the terrorism that swept us all up in the madness of 11 September.

If we want to  remember those who lost their lives here in New York, as we surely do, then we must indeed change - and respond not with  more violence, but with an attempt to understand and respond to the real driving forces behind the tragedy that terrorism represents for us all.

 Thank you.

Denis J. Halliday

16 November

 


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