Hasan Abu Nimah, Electronic Iraq
26 March 2003
Last Friday evening, Al Jazeera television started to broadcast revolting scenes showing several corpses of Iraqi civilians, including children, soaked with blood and savagely mutilated. They were, according to the Al Jazeera reporter, victims of American-British bombardment of the southern Iraqi city of Basra. The same film included pictures of many other injured civilians, victims of the same shelling,
who were laid down on the floor of a local hospital, with medical staff struggling under visibly severe and far from adequate conditions to provide help.
|Screen capture from the Al-Jazeera network, depicting an Iraqi child, one of several civilian casualties depicted.|
A young woman was also shown on camera in the middle of a gathering crowd describing the horror, saying that it was a massacre of innocent civilians who were not involved in any fighting or carrying any arms when shells started falling on them. Neither were they in the vicinity of any military installation or presence, the frightened woman also shouted.
The scenes were indeed painfully sickening, not because such horrific images are unfamiliar to us in this turbulent region; Israeli ongoing atrocities have for long been a source of endless supply. There have also been many vicious wars, tragedies and boundless suffering. The particular grief in this case, though, is probably due to the fact that this senseless, and by no means solitary massacre, instantly heightens the parody of an ostentatious war ending up, actually starting, murdering the very people it came with the big promise to liberate.
Those poor victims have never asked to be "liberated" in the first place. And if they failed to have ready the bouquets of flowers to welcome their invading liberators with, as the Washington analysts and their Arabist experts ascertained that they would do, they did not show any sign of hostility either. Why, then, were they so brutally and viciously murdered?
One day later, the same TV station showed what looked like the ground of a recent battle, with scattered around corpses of American soldiers apparently killed while fighting their way through the fierce Iraqi resistance of the defenders of the city of Nassiriya, which blocked their advance to their final target, the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
|Screen capture from Iraqi TV, 23 March 2003, depicting the bodies of American troups.|
Then the camera moved around to show brief interviews with four young men and one young woman who were clearly American prisoners of war taken in the same battle. Each of them had to answer a couple of questions and there was no visible signs of mistreatment or humiliating harassment.
I find it very hard to say, just to say, that in such situations, and when our humanity is battered and severely undermined, one may rejoice at such a quick punishment of an invader who came to kill, and that he brutally did. Yet, this was not the case. The scenes of both the Iraqi dead and badly injured innocent civilians in Basra, and the American killed and captured soldiers in Nassiriya, were equally painful and deeply disturbing.
Watching with distress one of the prisoners intensely terrified while answering simple questions: "I came here because I was ordered. I did not want to kill anyone. I was ordered to shoot if only I was threatened," I could not resist the feeling that this young man was probably also a victim of this terrible war project as, in fact, many others like him could be.
We are often told that those soldiers are volunteers and if they indeed are, that should not make much difference, because it is still hard to believe that such a young man could be driven by any willful motivation to come to fight and kill Iraqis were it not for the malicious and hostile environment that leaders create and the poisoned atmosphere of hatred and racist contempt for the others they dangerously incite and instigate.
I thought that the America which we are forced to resent because of its deplorable policies, its injustice, power blindness, double standards, for its unlawful support for Israeli aggression and defiance of the United Nations, and for recruiting those young men and women for such an
ignoble expedition is the same America which also produced the finest examples of dedication, the highest forms of altruism and the most noble of principles and causes, such as Rachel Corrie, Kathy Kelly, and many more fine men and women who deserve our utmost admiration and recognition.
|Rachel Corrie confronts an Israeli bulldozer (Joseph Smith).|
Only days ago, Corrie had set a monumental example of cardinal sacrifice for a cause supposedly distant from her and strange to her upbringing and culture in her remote home in Washington State. All the way she came from her home town, Olympia, to Gaza and, as a member of the International Solidarity Movement, she courageously tried to block with her small body a gigantic bulldozer that was advancing to demolish a Palestinian house. In the end, it was her fragile body that was crushed under the destroyer's chains and the Palestinian house was saved.
When the Palestinians wanted to honour her sacrifice by organising a mock funeral, they wrapped the coffin with the American flag. It was the same flag of Stars and Stripes that was held with respect and veneration on this occasion while, on many others, it would be burnt by the same people expressing their anger at unjust America. Let us, therefore, keep these two pictures adjoined.
This, however, is just a single aspect of the irony in a situation bursting with paradoxes and contradictions. In this crazy war, millions of propaganda leaflets were dropped over Iraqi cities, inciting people to rebel against their government. The answer was that millions of Americans and Britons took to the streets in New York, Chicago, Washington, San Francisco and London demonstrating anger at their own governments for their aggressiveness and unlawful belligerency.
|Palestinian children carry a mock coffin covered with an American flag for Rachel Corrie during a memorial service in Rafah refugee camp, Gaza, 17 March 2003. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra) |
Again, US officials have been repeatedly calling on Iraqi soldiers to drop their arms, save their lives and refrain from fighting for a regime which they had already declared as something of the past, "history", as it was described by Donald Rumsfeld. And while many in Washington and London were truly hoping, and optimistically expecting, an Iraqi soldier to turn his gun at Saddam's head, a soldier did turn his gun, but it was an American soldier and his target was not Saddam but fellow Americans in their Kuwait camp next door tent, waiting, as he also was, for orders to join the killing of Iraqis and the destruction of Iraq.
This does indeed send a very powerful message to the war group in Washington and London that the conspiracy is being exposed, and that no matter how skillfully and maliciously it was woven, the massive, worldwide, anti-war movement gathering force by the day will eventually contain this evil.
The role of the Americans themselves, and for that matter the Britons, in curbing this invading danger will be greater than many may expect. The message to us, in this part of the world, should also be very powerful. We have often complained of racial profiling and stereotyping when we were the target of such sweeping generalisations.
Many of us, especially those who live or visit the US, are constantly experiencing the agony of being blamed or being held responsible for a wrong committed by another, simply because both belong to the same ethnic or religious group. Judging from the same experience, and indeed learning from it, we should beware of the danger and of the harm of committing the same wrong: blaming every American and every Briton for the hostile policies of their governments.
A better alternative is for all the enemies of this war, anywhere on the globe (they are already many and likely to grow) to join hands and build a wall of peaceful resistance, not just to this war but to the ominous tendency in Washington and London to put international law aside and pursue outdated neo-imperialist policies, undoing centuries of human progress towards a safer and a more peaceful world.
One way to do that is to keep in mind that many who may be seen as enemies now could be potential friends and supporters of a common cause.
The writer is former ambassador and permanent representative of Jordan to the UN.
Page last updated: 26 March 2003, 12:50 CST