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Once all was lost, but now there's hope

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Don't ask me. I'm still wondering why millions of people marched last year not to denounce the world's worst dictator but to prevent the overthrow of that dictator.
  • by Pamela Bone

July 3, 2004

Source: the Age

Ali Abbas, the 12-year-old boy who lost both arms and was orphaned in the Iraq war, and who became an international symbol of that war, has just had a holiday in the Canary Islands, paid for by the Kuwaiti royal family.

After Ali was injured, offers of money, of adoption, of nationality, poured in from around the world. In the London hospital where he was flown to have new limbs fitted, a special room had to be set aside for all the toys sent to him. His story was bought by the Daily Mirror for £75,000 ($A195,000).

It goes without saying that nothing can compensate Ali for the loss of his parents or his arms. It goes without saying that the people who sent gifts and money were good people.

In Melbourne, eight-year-old Mohamed is being well looked after too. He is being treated by the Victorian Foundation for the Survivors of Torture. Mohamed, who was then five, was made to watch his father tortured and beaten by officers of Saddam Hussein. Then his father was made to watch as Mohamed was beaten, and an arm slowly crushed and broken.

Mohamed's story, told on this page last Saturday, raised no discernible outrage. No Leunig or Tandberg cartoon; not even one little mention on the Letters page.

Is this because Australia was part of the war coalition, and we therefore felt more responsible for Ali than Mohamed? Then again, compassion for Ali poured in from people in countries that were not involved in the war. Does it mean that for many in the West it only matters if children are hurt by American bombs rather than by their own governments?

Don't ask me. I'm still wondering why millions of people marched last year not to denounce the world's worst dictator but to prevent the overthrow of that dictator.

And now: Saddam is in Iraqi custody, a new Iraqi Government that has the unanimous support of the UN Security Council has been sworn in, the Prime Minister, Ayad Allawi, is talking about national reconciliation, and the people of Iraq, for all the privations, violence and terrorist attacks they will continue to endure, are free.

But instead of daring to hope, as many Iraqi people are beginning to hope, this is instead a time of renewed cynicism for the anti-war lobby. Words like "liberation" and "sovereignty" are put in quotation marks.

The words "sham", "puppet" and "disaster" must be frequently employed.

Yes, things might still go terribly wrong. In an ideal world, Saddam would be in The Hague, being tried by an international court for crimes against humanity.

I oppose on principle the death penalty, which the US occupation suspended and which the Government of Iraq has just reimposed. But this is a far from ideal world. It is going to take a very long time, if it ever happens, for Iraq to become the modern democracy America wants.

Yet those who accuse supporters of the war of hypocrisy because (a) the US has supported dictators when it suited it in the past, or (b) there are other dictators around whom the US doesn't try to remove, should look at the beam in their own eyes: because there are deep human miseries (Rwanda 1994, Sudan today) for which there are no protest marches, no Michael Moore documentaries. Hypocrisy might indeed be the middle name of the human race.

Because I'm asked so often to explain myself, I'll say it again: I supported the war for the same reason the Nobel laureate Jose Ramos Horta, Bernard Kouchner (founder of Medecins Sans Frontieres), Paul Berman, Robert Korvath and many others who concern themselves with human rights supported it. Because I believed that by the 21st century the world should no longer stand by while genocidal dictators continued to kill and torture their people.

I might have been wrong. The price - the deaths of between 9000 and 11,000 civilians, according to the most honest estimates - was high, too high. Yet, as Ayad Allawi said this week, 1 million Iraqis are missing because of Saddam.

I also believed the chance of beginning a reform of the Middle East, of bringing those countries into the community of decent nations, was a chance worth taking. Again I might have been wrong. Yet for those who are interested in good news, there is some: in Egypt, a group of prominent intellectuals recently issued an Arab "Magna Carta" for reform in Arab countries. In Syria in March, a public demonstration demanded an end to the country's state of emergency. In April, Morocco brought in a new family law giving close to equal rights in marriage. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are debating women's rights.

Across the Arab world there is now serious talk about reform. It might or might not have anything to do with Iraq. But countries that have the rule of law, accountable governments and respect for human rights are better than countries that don't. Many people in the Middle East realise this.

We should know it too.


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Created by keza
Last modified 2005-01-04 01:31 AM

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