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By Valson Thampu
There is something significant yet simplistic, noble yet naïve, about the resistance put up by peace activists to the Anglo-American misadventure in Iraq. It is naïve, for example, to assume that the cause of peace is served merely by opposing war, as though peace implies nothing more than the absence of war. Enmity to war need not, in itself, amount to a sufficient espousal of the cause of peace.The dilemma that confronts peace activists is this: how can the evil of unilateral aggression by the Allies be opposed without legitimising Saddam's repressive regime? The long-suffering people of Iraq deserve something better than the yoke of Saddam. But will they be allowed to combine freedom with dignity? Regrettably, worldwide anti-war rallies have transformed Saddam into a secular icon and potential martyr, which he does not deserve to be.
How come it never bothered us when over 4,00,000 children were dying over a period of 10 years in Iraq, from avoidable malnutrition and infectious diseases? It is doubtful if the total toll of the current war would even remotely approach this. What are we to make of the one million Iraqi and Iranian lives sacrificed in the 10-year long senseless war between these two countries, besides the thousands of Kurds gassed or Shias massacred? It would be a pity if peace activism were to lend legitimacy, even unwittingly, to dictators and tyrants.
It would seem plausible to argue that only the people of Iraq have the right to overthrow Saddam. Granted; but are they in a position to do this, if they wish to? If they were, wouldn't Saddam have been eliminated years ago? The Basra uprisings of 1991 that the Allies betrayed and Saddam so brutally crushed still rankle in the memory of that city. Has any dissenter, including his own kinsmen, ever survived, much less succeeded, in Saddam's Iraq? Could Germans in the '30s of the last century have brought down Hitler? Even if they could, would they have wished to, given the deception and power of propaganda?
It is high time peace activism evolved for itself a radical vision for peace within the unfolding global scenario. It is common knowledge that all through history wars have been mostly economic enterprises masquerading themselves as political compulsions. Peace activists, especially in the Euro-American bloc, need to know that the logic of war is written into the lifestyle they endorse and enjoy.
From the colonial period onwards the west has plundered the resources of peoples in non-western societies.Globalisation is colonisation by other means; and economic and military aggression is encoded into it. George Bush cannot give tax cut to the tune of $670 billion, without bringing in commensurate revenue from some other source. No one is in any doubt as to how allergic the Americans, including the peace
activists there, are to the idea of scaling down their lifestyle. "The American way of life," as President Bush Sr. declared in Rio a decade ago, "is not up for negotiation". If the Americans cannot pay, someone somewhere must. For the time being, it will be the Iraqis. Oil and arms are the two wheels on which the juggernaut of western prosperity runs. That being the case, can war-making be honestly and effectively opposed without fighting arms-making and the unsustainable life styles it subsidises? The already obscene, and still aggravating, economic disparities are the main catalysts for tension and conflict in the global village. Hence the resonant symbolism of bringing down the World Trade Center. A single major terrorist episode on the American soil smaller in human toll than Bhopal gas tragedy has plunged that country into a paranoia of insecurity. This feeds into the compulsion for economic and military domination and activates the logic for war that defies the authority of the U.N.
It is not enough, in such a scenario, that thousands of Americans protest. For their protest to translate into an authentic commitment to peace, it is imperative that they address the issue of Euro-American lifestyles. To see this in perspective, it is only necessary to note the instructive predicament of Jaques Chirac. The French President is as keen to secure for France an ample share in the spoils of re-building post-Saddam Iraq as he is to oppose the war to oust him! It took the amassing of an awesome fighting machine at his doorstep to tame Saddam into paying heed to resolution 1441 of the U.N. Could it have been expected that an assemblage that cost the $30 billion would be de-mobbed and sent home to oblige the U.N., merely to do an encore when it pleased Saddam to play up again?
The pullback, from the brink of war, in the case of the recent Indo-Pak standoff, in which a million soldiers stood eyeball-to-eyeball for months and retreated, reportedly under American pressure, does not contradict our argument here. This huge mobilisation that cost us Rs. 8,000 crores, given its inequalities of size, would have eventuated into war but for the nuclear twist that compensated Pak. disadvantage. In the case of Iraq too it was the overwhelming superiority of the Allied forces that settled the issue in favour of war. The moral of the story is that peace activism needs to expose the U.N. hypocrisy that degrades disarmament discourse into a means for perpetuating inequalities that makes aggression on some nations an attractive proposition. The irony in the Iraq scenario is that it is disarmament that paved the way for the war! That leaves us with only two options: either all must disarm or none should.
(The writer is a social activist.)
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