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(en) US, defenestrator #29 - Iraq Under Siege: The Occupation and Responsibility By Bronwyn Lepore

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Fri, 14 May 2004 07:04:06 +0200 (CEST)


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I attended a talk at the A-Space* by independent journalist
Dahr Jamail, who is currently reporting on Iraq for The New
Standard, a publication of PeoplesNetWorks -
www.newstandardnews.net - on March 19th, and when I
mentioned to a friend how horrified I was at the conditions in Iraq
he presented (so different from anything I'd seen and read in
mainstream media), he said that he didn't really feel that it was
something that affected him, that he had his own problems to
worry about and couldn't really be concerned about what's
happening to the people there.

"Â…a vast conspiracy of silence has spread all about us, a
conspiracy accepted by those who are frightened and who
rationalize their fears in order to hide from themselves, a
conspiracy fostered by those whose interest it is to do so." Albert
Camus, "Neither Victims nor Executioners," 1946

I attended a talk at the A-Space* by independent journalist Dahr
Jamail, who is currently reporting on Iraq for The New Standard,
a publication of PeoplesNetWorks - www.newstandardnews.net -
on March 19th, and when I mentioned to a friend how horrified I
was at the conditions in Iraq he presented (so different from
anything I'd seen and read in mainstream media), he said that he
didn't really feel that it was something that affected him, that he
had his own problems to worry about and couldn't really be
concerned about what's happening to the people there.

I mention this, because such a response also horrifies me (it
reminded me, though of course my friend isn't in a powerful
government position, of the response Colin Powell gave when
asked about Iraqi casualties during the Gulf War that "It's not a
number I'm terribly concerned with."); and what's most
disturbing is that it's a fairly common response (he's certainly not
the only friend, or colleague, or student I've heard say this) - -
even though most of us like to think of ourselves as "good,"
moral, caring people, and though the sentiment is arguably less
awful than the "let's give Iraqi's a bitch slapping" macho talk (a
staff writer in the City Paper recently made this remark);
undoubtedly, such passivity or lack of concern, or not sincerely or
productively realized concern, though arguably understandable
(for multiple reasons) is absolutely connected to the continuation
of our government and military's behaviors in Iraq and elsewhere
and needs to be challenged. I am an anarchist and therefore not
keen on leaders, but Martin Luther King Jr. continues to be a
moral inspiration for me, and I often think of his voice and his
speeches and letters and responses to such passivity (and anyway,
anarchism, at its best, has been/is the moral conscience of
activism and social/political philosophy - refusing
domination/hegemony/hierarchy, desiring both the liberation of
singularity - multiple I's/voices - and the ethical glue of mutual
aid in collective life). "This is no time to engage in the luxury of
cooling off," King wrote in one of his final speeches," or to take
the tranquilizing drug of gradualism" "Â…the world is all
messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion
all around." "We are caught in an inescapable network of
mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects
one directly, affects all indirectly."

"Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness," King
encouraged the packed church in Memphis, Tennessee gathered
in support of the striking sanitation workers, the day before he
was assassinated. He tells the story of the Good Samaritan (a
story of mutual aid) reversing the strongly individualistic tendency
in US culture of self-protectionism. King asks his listeners to
overcome fear, to stop asking, "If I stop to help this man, what
will happen to me?" but instead "If I do not stop to help this man,
what will happen to him?" (Human solidarity and collectivism).
We in the US (and many are involved already in anti-occupation
activism and should be credited for their efforts), but not nearly
enough to raise a loud enough clamor, must not turn away from
what is happening in Iraq (and connectedly in Israel/Palestine and
elsewhere, around the globe): "What has happened? What is
happening? What will continue to happen to them (the people of
Iraq, as well as the U.S. and other soldiers wrongly stationed
there) if we do not stop (even at some risk to ourselves) to offer
our solidarity and aid?" are questions that must be asked and
honestly answered.

"I couldn't just sit by and allow this travesty to occur" Jamail
writes as to why he felt compelled to go to Iraq; " without
standing up for something. I grew weary of talking with people
who were the self-appointed pundits, all knowing, and doing little
or nothing. So I asked myself, 'What can I do? What is it that I
can do that might help?'" What he decided was that he could
leave his home in Alaska and go to Iraq and see for himself and
write and witness and share his uncensored reporting with others.
We can't all go to Iraq, but each of us can, should and must do
something, because what is happening in Iraq is horrible, and
what is happening in the US is horrible, (to jobs and to the
environment and to the millions incarcerated under our unjust
and inhumane prison system, and to civil liberties and to
immigrants), and these things are interconnected, and this is not
a time for silence. And I am most troubled by liberal/progressive
people I know, who complain in the halls at work, and in bars and
over coffee, that "yes, isn't it horrible, what our government's
doing, and, oh, what a travesty, but I'm too busy at work, or with
my kids, or shopping, or whatever, to care really (in a way that
matters), or to get involved, in actually creating change."

So what is happening in Iraq? Over a million lives were lost
during the 90's because of the brutal sanctions imposed (mainly
by the US) on ordinary Iraqi's. This following the hundreds of
thousands of lives lost during the Gulf War. The entire country,
which once had one of the finest educational and healthcare
systems in the Middle East, was devastated during the Gulf War,
and further destroyed during the recent war: schools, museums,
factories, supermarkets, bombed and sitting empty. "As we get
deeper into the city," Jamail writes, entering Baghdad " bombed
out buildings abound. Hussein [his driver] points out a severely
damaged and crumbling building that was a television station,
whilst two huge tanks roll down the street to our leftÂ…the
devastationÂ… is heartbreakingÂ…apartment buildings, a
theatre, a shopping areaÂ…" Why bomb all of this? So it can
be rebuilt, not by Iraqis, but by private multinational corporations
who are greedily staking their claims. Order 39: Foreign
Investment (implemented by the CPA - Coalition Provisional
Authority - under the Bush administration) allows the
privatization of state-owned enterprises, 100% foreign ownership
of businesses in all sectors except oil and mineral extraction,
unrestricted, tax-free (so Iraqis will not benefit at all from private
corporations using their land, their resources) remittance of all
funds associated with the investment and 40-year, optional
renewal of ownership licenses. So the first reason I tell my friend
he should care is that 51% of his tax dollars are basically going
towards the US military's guarding the "rights" of multinational
corporations to make big bucks (in Iraq and elsewhere) that
neither we nor the people of Iraq will profit from in any way shape
or form.

Mainstream media (with the support, of course, of the
govt./military and its embedded reporters) is responsible for
promoting many myths about what's happening in Iraq now.
They defy logic, but that's how myths work, and despite some
general distrust of mainstream media, such myths are effective,
rationalizing death. Here are just two: Myth 1 is that we liberated
the people of Iraq, and that therefore, no matter how much
information comes out about the pre-planning of this war, the
myriad lies told to manipulate the people of the US (though really
we partly have ourselves to blame for believing, being so easily
manipulated by such illogical propaganda, provided by a bunch of
greedy wackos), the 16, 000 or more Iraqi lives lost during the
war (I include Iraqi soldiers in this count as they were also human
beings), the looting of artifacts and destruction of important
cultural and historical sites, the continuing deaths and
dismemberment caused by landmines and cluster bombs, the loss
of US lives, the mental and physical damage suffered by our
troops, the detainment of tens of thousands of Iraqi's in prison
camps, etc., etc.; it was/is all well and good and necessary,
because, after all the people of Iraq are just a backwards bunch
anyway, and now they can have "democracy" and free market
capitalism just like us. I am not exaggerating here either, having
heard such views parroted (by normally intelligent people) many
times. What Jamail discovered was that though many (not all)
Iraqis are glad to have Hussein out of business "100% of the
people I spoke with in areas South of Baghdad, say their living
conditions are worse now than when Saddam was in power."
Myth 2, which I hear often from students (a myth perpetuated in
indoctrinary grade, junior and high school textbooks that the US
is a big helper nation) is that we are doing all this great stuff for
Iraqis - universal healthcare, new schools, jobs, etc., etc.; you
know, getting them up to spunk with us more "civilized" types -
instead of for people here (the myth is pretty widespread, with
many believing that the US is really in the role of the big helper,
handout nation; that we "give" tons of money to other countries,
when really foreign aid accounts for less than 2% of the national
budget and is often sent to help buy guns to take care of "rebel"
dissidents).It's a myth, as I'm sure our government knows,
designed to create animosity towards those distant "others." And
it works. Taking attention away from how both the Iraqi people
and we are getting screwed by the same chumps in power.

Though 20 years ago most people in Baghdad had regular
employment, unemployment in Iraq is now 70%; in some places
higher. For Iraqis lucky enough to find employment wages are
very low - about 60 US dollars a month - and they must often
work overtime, 11-13 hour days, though there is no overtime pay.
Not a penny of the 87 million earmarked for Iraq's
"reconstruction" is going towards Iraqi wages or unemployment
benefits. Coalition forces control finance and wages, further
adding to the many daily indignities Iraqis are already suffering:
checkpoints, tanks in the streets, barb-wire surrounded villages,
curfews, cultural disrespect, workers being shipped in from other
countries because Iraqis are not to be trusted (in their own
country). Inflation is out of control.

There is ongoing violence and insecurity. Gas is in short supply -
people wait in lines for hours just for small amounts - and
incredibly expensive. Many families face hunger, illness and
dislocation. Iraqis are routinely shot and killed at demonstrations.
Homes are randomly searched, looted and destroyed by US
military. Iraqis are often "mistakenly" shot and imprisoned as
everyone is suspect. There is concrete evidence that detainees are
being tortured and often families have no idea why or where
family members are being held, or for how long. Electricity is still
not up in many parts of the country, and where it is working it's
only for a few hours at a time. Most Iraqi's do not have access to
clean water as water systems/infrastructure were completely and
intentionally destroyed during the Gulf War, further destroyed
during last March/April's bombing campaigns, and though the
CPA promised to fix or replace (through private companies,
which, of course, will charge Iraqis more for their services)
structures, they have more "pressing" concerns, like making big
bucks for themselves. Because people are forced to drink from
dirty, often contaminated, water supplies (mud puddles that have
collected rain, or dirty streams that are also used to clean laundry
and dishes) a majority, especially small children, of the
population suffers from cholera, dysentery, kidney stones,
diarrhea, nausea and other bacterial infections. One man reported
"The whole area is like this. We have over a million people here
(Sadr City), and all of us suffer. Sometimes we have to drink the
sewage. Yesterday our water smelled like petrol because there is a
station nearby and we all know the benzene leaks into our water."
And this is only the short list. Endless promises made to the Iraqi
people by the CPA have been broken, leaving the majority of
Iraqis feeling justifiably betrayed and angry and frightened.

Suppose I posit to my friend that since our government and
military (and thus us by proxy) are directly responsible for much
of this suffering and we are therefore morally and ethically obliged
to do as much as we humanly can to stop it, and he tells me that
he still doesn't care; these people are, after all, not people that he
knows or has any direct contact with and he really doesn't see
how anything he would do could help them anyway. "Look at all
those people who marched against the war," he cites, "What
difference did it make? The government's going to do whatever it
wants anyway."

Multiply such a perspective by billions, throw in a bunch of racist,
right wing pro-war/anti-Arab, Rush Limbaugh types, the rich,
who actually seem to relish such suffering (show me a rich
person and I'll show you the history of exploitation behind his or
her wealth), and you pretty much get a picture of where we are
now, with too few actively involved in demanding an end to the
occupation.

"All right," I say," so you're obviously not concerned with the
Iraqi people, let's look at the damage being done to the US and its
people."

The numbers change every day, but last time I checked there
were more than 560 US soldiers dead. Hospital records (soldiers
are mainly flown into hospitals in Germany and media people are
barred from photographing the wounded) show that
approximately 12,000 soldiers have been admitted for treatment
(about 10,000 from the War on Iraq and another 2, 000 from the
now mostly forgotten War on Afghanistan). Just because there
are no pictures in the papers of soldiers missing limbs, parts of
skulls, etc. etc. doesn't mean it's not happening. Suicides (rates
are high) are mostly unreported. Depression, PTSD (Post
Traumatic Stress Disorder) low morale, as well as varying other
psychological disorders are commonplace. "The lot of them are
young guys," writes Jamail, " Many don't even look like they
need to shave. All of them look around all the time, afraid, as they
slowly make their way down the streets, checking all the loose
bricks for bombs." The effects of Depleted Uranium and chemical
agents used during the Gulf War on both US military personnel
and the Iraqi people are well documented as is the psychological
damage created by the killing of others (often innocent civilians)
and/or seeing one's comrades killed: Gulf War Syndrome,
increased rates of cancer, birth defects, etc. Close to 200, 000
veterans of the Gulf War are on permanent disability and over 10,
000 are dead. It is likely that soldiers returning from this war and
occupation will suffer similarly. Pawns of the rich, shouldn't my
friend and others like him at the very least care about young men
and women being used this way? "For God and CountryÂ…" I
don't think so, more likely for Bechtel and Halliburton.

Richard Clarke, former CIA top dog, who just published a book
accusing the Bush administration of extreme negligence in
preventing September 11th, stated during hearings last week that
the unnecessary War on Iraq is a setback to anti-terrorism efforts
and will increase terrorism, making people in the US less, not
more, safe. "We will export death and violence to the
four-corners of the earth in defense of our great nation," Bush
swore; how this could later be translated into promoting
democracy and liberation once again defies logic. Middle East
experts who wrote of the tinderbox effect a War on Iraq would
create there, were largely ignored. According to the Bush
Doctrine the US (the largest purveyor of state-sanctioned
terrorism in the world), allies itself with Christ and goes to war to
rid the world of evil. At what cost? Humanly? Economically?
Environmentally? One Iraqi man, pointing to his nephew Halaf,
told Jamail: " The Americans are creating the terrorists here by
hurting people and causing their relatives to fight against them.
Even this little boy will grow up hating the Americans because of
their policy."

"So you are not concerned about all the tax-dollars (that have
caused massive cuts in social spending/programs, education, etc.
etc. stateside) going to fund the war and profit machine, about the
suffering of the Iraqi people, about the damage caused by and
done to US soldiers, what about the self-interest of your own
safety," I ask my friend. "Do you really feel safe, think the world
is safer, now? "

"Terrorism as a phenomenon may never go away, " wrote Indian
author and activist Arundhati Roy in "The Algebra of Infinite
Justice," But if it is to be contained, the first step is for America
to at least acknowledge that it shares the planet with other human
beings who, even if they are not on TV, have loves and griefs and
stories and songs and, for heaven sakes, rights. Instead, when
Donald Rumsfeld, the US defense secretary, was asked what he
would call a victory in America's new war, he said that if he could
convince the world that Americans must be allowed to continue
with their way of life, he would consider it a victory."

Whose victory? Who, besides the rich, are winning anything
really?

Our country brought an unjust war against the Iraqi people and
this war, in all its ugliness, continues under the Occupation.
Whose responsibility, if not ours, is it to get them the hell out of
the country thus preventing further devastation? We must create
a culture of "dangerous unselfishness" to confront this horror and
indignity if we are to have any dignity for ourselves. So what can
be done? How to get involved? Education is key. There are plenty
of ways to get better information other than what's offered in
mainstream media: www.thenewstandardnews.net ,
www.electroniciraq.net , www.informationclearinghouse.net ,
www.juancole.com , www.defenestrator.org (will hook you up to
more specific philly anti-war activism). www.unitedforpeace.org ,
www.afsc.org/iraq/relief/default.shtm , www.vvaw.org ,
www.uslaw.org, www.warresistersleague.org . What steps you
take are, of course, up to you, but do something - lives depend on
it.

Addendum: It's April 9th and the situation in Iraq has drastically
worsened. Just in this past week, according to body counts, over
50 U.S. troops were killed and many more wounded. A mosque
was bombed yesterday and Fallujah is under attack, with huge
civilian losses there and elsewhere. If you go to the Al-Jazeera
news website, you'll find photos that are not being printed in U.S.
papers of civilian casualties.

"To come to terms, one must understand what fear means: what
it implies and what it rejects. It implies and rejects the same fact:
a world where murder is legitimate, and where human life is
considered trifling. This is the great political question of our
times, and before dealing with other issues, one must take a
position on it. Before anything can be done, two questions must
be put: 'Do you or do you not, directly or indirectly, want to be
killed or assaulted? Do you or do you not, directly or indirectly,
want to kill or assault?' All who say No to both these questions
are automatically committed to a series of consequences which
must modify their way of posing the problem." Albert Camus
*The A-Space, located at 4722 Baltimore Ave, is an anarchist
community center. The Philadelphia Anti-War Forum meets
there twice a month to plan educational forums against the war
and occupation in Iraq and around the world. See defenestrator
calendar/website for more info. All are welcome and encouraged
to join us.


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