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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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 http://www.cam.ac.uk/societies/casi/lists.html#discuss 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: http://www.cam.ac.uk/societies/casi/lists.html#discuss 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 (http://leb.net/IAC/mailinglist.shtml) 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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 approved. 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. email@example.com _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email firstname.lastname@example.org All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk