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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[casi] Discussion list rules: message from CASI committee.

Dear discussion list,

As promised, here is an email attempting to clarify the aims and
parameters of the discussion list. I apologise for the delay in sending it
out. It is the result of a CASI committee meeting last weekend and so
represents the views of CASI as an organisation, not just me (Abi) the
moderator. The message is rather long, as the issues involved are
complicated - but please bear with me! If you are very pressed for time,
please skip to the last four paragraphs and re-read the list rules at

The discussion list was set up by CASI in February 1998. It now has
approximately 230 members, mostly based in the UK but also from the US,
mainland Europe, Iraq, Jordan and many other countries. The membership
includes journalists, activists, politicians, NGO workers, academics,
students and many others.

Our aim in setting up the list was to provide a forum for campaigning and
information sharing about sanctions on Iraq and closely related issues.
The terms under which it operates are listed on the website at:
The most relevant sentence runs as follows: 'Messages sent to the list
should be relevant to sanctions on Iraq, concise, inoffensive, polite, and
should make a new point rather than just reiterating previous posts.'
These are the terms under which list members join the list, and which the
list manager is responsible for enforcing.

This does not mean we are interested in 'censoring' the list to fit our
ideological bent, nor that we are agents of George Bush, Tony Blair or
Saddam Hussein (all of which accusations have been levelled at us in the
past!). BUT it does mean that we cannot be all things to all people.
Therefore to those who disagree with the limits of the list: you may wish
instead to join another discussion groups on Iraq, which has a different
mandate - such as the IAC discussion list
( or the soc.culture.iraq newsgroup.
You are also of course welcome to set up your own discussion group! This
point is particularly relevant to those who have written to me in the last
few weeks saying that they dislike any moderation of discussions, and that
personal insults are essential to 'real' discussion. We do not argue that
the CASI discussion list is somehow 'best'. But it does fill a specific
niche that we are anxious to preserve.

I do not believe that the list needs any 'new' rules beyond those that
already exist. This message does, however, attempt to clarify these rules
in the context of recent discussions.

As said above, the mandate of the list is to give a forum for discussion
of issues relating to sanctions on Iraq and to their context. The problem
arises when it comes to defining what is and what isn't relevant context.
Clearly, issues are interconnected; what happens in Palestine and Israel
is not irrelevant to what happens in Iraq, for example. However, CASI has
to set the limit somewhere or the list would lose its usefulness as an
anti-sanctions campaign tool.

In the past, the perhaps arbitrary - but clearly defined - limit has been
as follows: if a message doesn't focus on Iraq, then it is almost
certainly not relevant enough to go onto the CASI discussion list. In the
past, the list has been relatively good at moderating itself along these
lines. It has also been relatively good at seeing when a debate has begun
to go around in circles.

In the past few months, two problems have arisen. The first is an
increasing focus on the internal politics of Iraq. The second is an
increasing inability of some list members to see that a debate has ceased
to be productive.

Put bluntly, the discussion has become 'stuck' on two issues:  whether
Saddam Hussein should be removed from power by the US, and how far the
human rights abuses of the Iraqi government should be linked to the issue
of sanctions. Put even more bluntly, there are two sides to the debate -
Saddam Hussein as relevant, and Saddam Hussein as irrelevant. Proponents
of both sides of the debate have written to me suggesting that the other
side is part of a grand conspiracy (CIA or SH-led depending on
perspective) to disrupt the list. Both claim that the other side 'started
it'. One side writes 'if I see any more messages on the list defending
Saddam Hussein, I will feel obliged to respond'. The other side writes 'If
I see more messages suggesting that Saddam Hussein is responsible for all
Iraqi suffering, I will feel forced to write saying that no, it is
sanctions that are responsible.' It is this taking of pitched positions
that has led to increasingly acrimonious and circular debates on the list.

In terms of defining acceptable list content, there is therefore a
problem. CASI is not arguing that any message dealing with the internal
affairs of the Iraqi polity is necessarily irrelevant for the discussion
list. If for example a US-led coup overthrew SH, clearly there would be
many issues that could legitimately be discussed on the list.

HOWEVER, it is clear that a vast majority of list members are tired of the
current focus of the list on internal Iraqi politics. At present, certain
list members participate only in the discussion to remind us of how the
discussion relates to their personal political position. In a similar way,
one list member a few years ago posted message after message arguing that
sanctions in Iraq could not be lifted until the Kuwaiti hostages held in
Iraq had been released. While the topic of the message in itself was not
irrelevant - and was clearly a deeply held and sensitive issue for the
person posting - it being repeated several dozen times (with minor
variations) *did* stray past acceptable list guidelines.

Acceptable list content cannot therefore be defined in a crystal clear
way. It is a matter of judgment - and of listening to the list manager
when he/she declares that a discussion has passed its sell-by date!  I do
not argue that these judgments are easy. For example, I allowed Yasser's
recent post because I felt that getting a letter published about Iraq in
several national newspapers was something that was justifiably 'news' for
the list. In fact I would accept the criticism that perhaps Yasser's post
did not add anything to his previous position.

However, I can now say in no uncertain terms that in terms of the current
discussion, any message that simply repeats one of the pitched positions
mentioned earlier *is* now UNACCEPTABLE.  Continued discussion of the
relative blame of Saddam Hussein, George Bush and Tony Blair for the
suffering of the Iraqi people has simply become unproductive. If new
developments arise, and there are *new* things to say, then feel free to
discuss them.

In conclusion, therefore, there are three key questions to ask
yourselves before posting a message:

1. does this message relate to the issue of sanctions on Iraq and their
immediate context?
2. Is it polite?
3. Am I contributing anything NEW to the discussion by my message? Or am I
simply repeating in a slightly different context a point that I have
already made?

This is not an exhaustive list - the important point is the spirit rather
than the exact letter of the guidelines. If you are unsure if your message
is acceptable, then write to the list manager (
and ask! I do make mistakes, but also try my best to remain as consistent
and neutral as possible. You are welcome to question the judgment of the
list manager in individual cases (to me personally first of all, to avoid
disturbing the list). BUT bear in mind that the overall parameters of the
list (such as the existence of a moderator and the prohibition on
aggressive/insulting messages) are not negotiable. At the list managers'
discretion, members that abuse the guidelines will have their automatic
posting privileges removed so that their future posts will need approving
by the moderator. This is not a step we take lightly, and messages from
"moderated" list members which do meet list guidelines will of course be

Our aim is not to censor your thoughts, merely to ensure that discussions
remain focused, relevant and useful to 250-odd thoughtful, committed and
BUSY members of the list! The list will remain moderated for a few more
days, but will soon be back in 'open' mode as usual.

best wishes,
Abi Cox, CASI lists manager - on behalf of the CASI committee.

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