Filed under: Capitalism, Democracy, Imperialism | Tags: Bill 94, Canada, Dana Olwan, Naema Ahmed, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Niqab, Quebec, rabble.ca, The Minister's Black Veil, The Veil
In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil” (1836), Parson Hooper causes a sensation in the sleepy New England town of Milford by donning a black veil without explanation. Parson Hooper continues to wear this veil throughout his life while his bizarre behaviour convinces his clergy that the veil must hide some sinister, unspeakable sin. On his deathbed, the Puritan citizens of Milford demand that he remove the veil:
“Never!” cried the veiled clergyman. “On earth, never!”
“Dark old man!” exclaimed the affrighted minister, “with what horrible crime upon your soul are you now passing to the judgment?”
Father Hooper’s breath heaved; it rattled in his throat; but, with a mighty effort, grasping forward with his hands, he caught hold of life, and held it back till he should speak. He even raised himself in bed; and there he sat, shivering with the arms of death around him, while the black veil hung down, awful at that last moment, in the gathered terrors of a lifetime. And yet the faint, sad smile, so often there, now seemed to glimmer from its obscurity, and linger on Father Hooper’s lips.
“Why do you tremble at me alone?” cried he, turning his veiled face round the circle of pale spectators. “Tremble also at each other! Have men avoided me, and women shown no pity, and children screamed and fled, only for my black veil? What, but the mystery which it obscurely typifies, has made this piece of crape so awful? When the friend shows his inmost heart to his friend; the lover to his best beloved; when man does not vainly shrink from the eye of his Creator, loathsomely treasuring up the secret of his sin; then deem me a monster, for the symbol beneath which I have lived, and die! I look around me, and, lo! on every visage a Black Veil!”
The moral of the story is clear: we are all of us sinners, and the Parson, good disciple as he is, wears the veil so that none of us need to. Yet this act of martyrdom nevertheless provokes darker feelings in his fellow townspeople, as if they knew all along that his act of contrition remained above all an unsaid implication of their complicity, an exposé of their confederacy of sinners.
Somehow, Hawthorne’s construction of the veil in the nineteenth-century American imagination doesn’t enter into our current obsession with a different veil. Naema Ahmed and Québec’s Bill 94 remain in the forefront of our collective minds, as Dana Olwan’s recent article at rabble.ca demonstrates.
Commentators suggest that the bill has received overwhelming and broad support in Quebec and outside it. A much-cited Angus Reid online-poll that surveyed a sample of 1,004 Canadians found that 80 per cent of respondents approved and 16 per cent disapproved of Bill 94. Put differently, four out of five Canadians are today likely to be in favor of this legislation.
Apparently, whatever its genesis, the veil still gets us North American settlers riled up. The niqab presents a problem to Canadians: it is a conspicuous manifestation of the inequality of the sexes, propped up by traditional patriarchy and old-school religion. Many Canadians, particularly those from a Judeo-Christian background, view the veil as an ominous statement of persecution and oppression. Of course, such statements are all around us: cheerleading at football games, magazine stands, T4 slips, Engineering faculties. Which is to say, we are inundated every day in this country that women are not treated as equally as men. Yet for some reason the public response to the niqab—indeed, their “outrage”—is signally disproportionate to the symbolic message of the veil. To wit, that women aren’t equal to men.
As Olwan asks, the troubling thing about this legislation is not what it reveals about Canada and Quebec’s dedication to the principles of liberalism and democracy and so on, but rather, what it conceals:
What are the narratives that enable the writing of the bill and the broad support it is receiving across Canada? What are the consequences of this legislation for Muslim Canadian women who wear the niqab, Muslim Canadians and religious minorities? How do we unpack the announced intentions of Bill 94 from their real and material effects on Muslim women in Canada?
What gives stories like Ahmed’s the extra oomph is not that a university-educated, urbane Muslim woman living in Canada is being oppressed—by whom? by her religion? by her family? by her Egyptian cultural roots?—but that her otherness, her foreignness, draws a line under her received inequality. It is as if legislation like Bill 94 acts as its own veil, directing our attention to the sins of others and away from our own misdeeds. It’s no secret that the West fetishizes the veil, but perhaps this fetish is not simply an over-investment in otherness, but a symbolic compensation for the oppression we enact and instantiate on a daily basis. Like the Puritan townspeople of Hawthorne’s Milford, we know we are not whole, but staring at the niqab allows us to ignore our fissures and shortcomings, illuminating the fault, the plight of the Other—as all of ours fall dark.
Perhaps the West’s recently developed obsession with the veil stems from some sort of cognitive, if unconscious, link with our culpability and complicity in the sufferings of Middle Eastern women, through our imperialist wars, our addiction to petroleum, our appetite for opiates. What we really object to is that the niqab walking around in our comfortable, commodity-strewn Western world, shortens the chain of this link and makes it plain. It is as if the Niqab, like Picasso to the Third Reich when asked if he was “responsible” for painting Guernica, responds to our question thusly: No! You are responsible! This is the result of your politics!
Inequality makes a democracy itch; but it’s accusations of complicity that make us rage. Especially when they are true.
Filed under: Democracy, Imperialism, Justice, Uncategorized | Tags: First Nations, Haida, Policing, Vancouver, Vancouver Police Department, World Police and Fire Games
The 2009 World Police and Fire Games kicked off in Vancouver this weekend. More than 12 000 police officers from around the world will compete in 65 sporting events over the next ten days. The event has prompted the Vancouver Anti-Poverty Committee to call for a mobilization against police brutality both locally and internationally, under the banner ‘Police brutality is not a game’. It is curious, then, that the Games chose this ‘Eagle Spirit’ image, by traditional Haida artist Garner Moody, as the official logo. The 1329-strong Vancouver Police Department boasts a meagre twenty-one First Nations officers (about 1.5%), and even fewer (if any) actual Haida officers. While this substantially less than the 4.4% First Nations make up the general population, perhaps the Games decided not to honour this small contingent by rooting their national heritage for the official crest, opted instead to salute the overrepresentation of First Nations our boys and girls in blue incarcerate: First Nations make up 18.5% of our national prison population, a bias even more acute in British Columbia.
This shameless appropriation of First Nations’ cultural heritage by the state has become a popular past-time in British Columbia, perhaps the most infamous example the Inukshuk logo of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. At least the Haida, unlike the Inuit, can be found within the borders of the province.
The audacity of the World Police and Fire games to choose the national art of the people they most brutalize and incarcerate as their logo bespeaks gross ignorance and criminal blindness. The fact that the choice was probably meant to sell Canada’s ‘multicultural’ society internationally adds further insult. Just as the purpose of our police forces is not to protect its citizens, but to protect the state against its enemies—in this case, the autonomy and nationhood of our First Nations—its gamesmanship and recreation extend this defence to new fronts. By appropriating without honour or good faith, the ‘correctional services of Canada’ engage in an act of cultural violence against the artistic heritage of its favourite victim, the First Nations of Turtle Island.
Filed under: Democracy, Imperialism, Media | Tags: 'Free and Fair', Axis of Evil, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, George W. Bush, Hamid Dabashi, Iran, Iranian Election 2009, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, Mohammad Khatami
‘Free and Fair’ elections is quickly becoming a registered trademark, patented by the West, used only in the negative against enemies of Western hegemony. To wit, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, and most recently and most sensationally, Iran, all attract Western solicitude, debutante champions of ‘democracy’ soberly measuring the ‘freedom’ and ‘fairness’ of brown people everywhere. When, I wonder, was the last time the Globe and Mail announced ‘Stephen Harper wins free and fair federal election’? Perhaps it would be better for Iran to follow the American-allied Saudi example: if you don’t hold elections at all, no one can complain about their legitimacy.
Hamid Dabashi, the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York, calls the assumption of a fixed election in Iran a ‘social fact’. That is, it is no longer a question whether or not President Ahmadinejad and his followers rigged the election, a critical mass of Iranians now believe they did, and they are fighting with their lives. This makes it easier to ignore the frenzied Western media and their self-righteous braying in the name of free and fair elections (without, it is fair to say, a trace of irony), while still supporting the Iranian people and their struggle for democracy.
I don’t know enough about Iran to pass comment on the status of their revolution, so it would be prudent to start by contextualizing the West’s concern for the state of democracy in Iran. First: since, as written at Revolutionary Flowerpot Society, all elections held in Iran occur within a theocratic system. This means, contrary to what American and Israeli hawks have been successfully insisting since 2002, the presidency of Iran is not the highest executive office in the country: that privilege, as our media is slowly learning, belongs to Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Aside from the fact that such a heirarchy suggests that no election in Iran has been ‘free and fair’ since about 1951 (and the Americans and British made sure those results didn’t stick), the result of this incongruous mixture is that Khamenei has emerged in the Western press paradoxically as a grandfatherly, judicious sage, pleading for stability and pondering a recount, rather than a theocratic patriarch who remains the largest barrier to Iranian democracy (a fact, it should be needless to add, not lost on Iranians).
Furthermore, the incessant tendency of the Western media to deliver heroes and villains to its readership means that since Ahmadinejad is our demon, Mir-Hossein Mousavi must be our angel. Consider first that Mousavi and democracy are rather recent bedfellows, and second, that his chief supporter, Mohammad Khatami, was the recipient of George W. Bush’s infamous ‘Axis of Evil’ prize in 2002 when he, and not Ahmadinejad, was president of Iran. Moreover, the reason that Ahmadinejad is grossly popular with the poor and dispossessed may have less to do with fundamentalist chicanery (although its draw cannot be ignored) and more to do with adroit local politics (h-t croghan), forging populist policies that afford full insurance to impoverished women and free university classes to Azeris. This toxic mixture of ideology and praxis defrauds the West’s monolithic view of Iran and pits oppressive fundamentalism against disenfranchisement of the poor, possible comfort to the Israeli-US war machine and potential of outright anti-revolutionary betrayal. An uncomfortable choice for a Western liberal not up to speed on 100 years or so of Iranian history.
More distressing is the inextricable relationship these elections and the attendant Western response share with the two imperialist wars in the Middle East, the subsequent occupations, and their genesis. The revelation that those who a few years earlier were advocating an American bombing campaign of the Iranian people are now suddenly concerned about their welfare should incite us to revisit what is motivating our desire for Iranian freedom and fairness. Such an impulse, cognate with the liberal support in 2002 for the Iraq war, suggests that urging a bourgeois revolution in Tehran is consonant with murdering the people behind it; that is, the people involved in both scenarios remain invisible to us. Both are spectacles of our narcissism, fantasies of our media, and betray Western imperialist desire.
The only rational conclusion that can be drawn, then, is to support neither the neo-liberalism and cross-class appeal of Mousavi or the populist, yet theocratic craft of Ahmadinejad. Indeed, as outsiders, it is neither our responsibility nor our purview to comment (a sentiment, surprisingly enough, shared by the American president). The election itself, whatever degree of fraud we choose to apply to it, is no longer an issue. A recount, now counselled by Khamenei, seems like an absurd solution in the wake of recent events. Our obligation, therefore, is to keep our ‘free and fair’ label in our pockets—to support enthusiastically, joyfully and without reservation the struggle on all sides of the Iranian people who can now glimpse a better world, plumbed from the depths of the delerious and frenetic soup of hope and tragedy in which they have been submerged.
Filed under: Literature | Tags: 16 June 1904, Bloomsday, Dublin, James Joyce, Leopold Bloom, Molly Bloom, Nora Barnacle, Stephen Dedalus, Ulysses, Yes
On 16 June 1904, James Joyce and Nora Barnacle had their first date, after Nora has stood up James two days prior. They walked to Ringsend, a small park near Dublin’s harbour, and may-or-may-not have engaged in intimate speculation. At any rate, the date made enough of an impression on Joyce that he used that day as the genesis of one of the masterpieces of the twentieth century, Ulysses (1922). The novel charts the diurnal, prosaic activities of Stephen Dedalus, Leopold and Molly Bloom, along with dozens of other Dubliners, and whatever else occurred on today’s date, 105 years ago. Not only did he set his most famous book on the date, he married her. When Joyce’s father heard that his son had run away with a 20-year-old chambermaid from Galway, he replied with characteristic caustic wit, ‘Barnacle? She’ll never leave him.’
Whatever Barnacle’s effect on the characters in Ulysses (particularly to Joyce’s updated Madame Bovary, Molly), she seems to constitute his only irreplaceable relationship. To celebrate their relationship, and the frustrating but virtuoso writing that it produced, here is the perambulatory, exhausted mind of Molly Bloom thinking fondly, tragically, beautifully of her cuckolded husband as she drifts off to sleep after a day of decadence, dissent and delicious adultery:
God after that long kiss I near lost my breath yes he said I was a flower of the mountain yes so we are flowers all a womans body yes that was one true thing he said in his life and the sun shines for you today yes that was why I liked him because I saw he understood or felt what a woman is and I knew I could always get round him and I gave him all the pleasure I could leading him on till he asked me to say yes and I wouldnt answer first only looked out over the sea and the sky I was thinking of so many things he didnt know of Mulvey and Mr Stanhope and Hester and father and old captain Groves and the sailors playing all birds fly and I say stoop and washing up dishes they called it on the pier and the sentry in front of the governors house with the thing round his white helmet poor devil half roasted and the Spanish girls laughing in their shawls and their tall combs and the auctions in the morning the Greeks and the jews and the Arabs and the devil knows who else from all the ends of Europe and Duke street and the fowl market all clucking outside Larby Sharons and the poor donkeys slipping half asleep and the vague fellows in the cloaks asleep in the shade on the steps and the big wheels of the carts of the bulls and the old castle thousands of years old yes and those handsome Moors all in white and turbans like kings asking you to sit down in their little bit of a shop and Ronda with the old windows of the posadas 2 glancing eyes a lattice hid for her lover to kiss the iron and the wineshops half open at night and the castanets and the night we missed the boat at Algeciras the watchman going about serene with his lamp and O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and the pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.
Filed under: Personal | Tags: Accents, Cask-Conditioned Ale, Football, Forth Rail Bridge, Hillwalking, Pubs, Roads, Scotland, Seafood, The Sea, Whisky
It’s been a busy month for BMWAP. Yesterday morning I woke up with the sun rising over the Forth Bridge, grabbed my bags and took a taxi to Edinburgh airport. Yesterday evening, I found myself driving down Highway 2 through the cornfields of Ontario. As I work through the trauma of leaving behind the old country, please indulge me. Blind Man with a Pistol presents: ten things I will miss about Scotland.
10. The Roads
A Canadian tourist from Nova Scotia once complained to me about how long it took to drive from Edinburgh to Aberdeen (3 hrs) considering the short distance between the two great cities (200 km). I told him he was missing the point. Scotland might not have the ten-lane monstrosities that infest the 401 corridor, but if you want to get quickly from the lowlands to the highlands, take the train. Otherwise, relish the winding roads through rugged, barren landscapes where your only company may be a few sheep who have strayed off the heather. The stunning drive between Ullapool and Achiltibuie takes an hour even though the two towns are only 10 miles apart as the crow flies. But, as my 80-year-old cousin from Aberdeen says, sometimes, ye just cannae go as the crow flies.
9. Cask Ale
This is the first of three alcohol-related entries, but a necessary one. Cask ale (or ‘Real’ Ale’) is unfiltered and unpasteurized beer fermented in the barrel and hand pulled directly from the cask without the use of gas. The result is a splendid thing, a diverse beverage that can be light and citrusy or dark and brooding. And there are dozens of great choices throughout Scotland (some of my favourites: Cairngorm, Skye Breweries, Fyne Ales and Kelburn). Wherever you are in the nation, pull up to the local and expect anywhere from one to twelve cask-conditioned options brewed within a few miles of where you sit. It might not have the punch of a good Bohemian Pilsner or the depth of a Belgian Trappist, but damn, it is wonderful stuff.
8. The Sea
The wind is fierce in Scotland, year round, and on it you can taste the sea, even if you are miles inland. But it is only when you are on the coast, or on one of Scotland’s hundred isles that the force of the sea overcomes you. It’s not like Canada’s lakes, or the calm of the Pacific West. Surely our maritimers know a thing or two about the Atlantic, and its colder, rougher cousin the North Sea, but it was Scotland where I first understood the sea. Scotland was built from its waters: fishing, shipbuilding, and now off-shore oil drilling, and this history is evident throughout. Fishing for mackerel while standing on a rock in the middle of the north Atlantic, casting my rod directly into the sea, is one of my fondest memories of the past two years. Whether you’re on the Victorian holiday resort of Portobello beach, the Fife fishing harbour of Anstruther, or the evocative, prehistoric rocks of Skye and Islay, the Scottish sea’s call is compelling and unforgettable.
It’s simply everywhere. Withdrawal will start soon. I lived a few blocks away from Easter Road stadium where Edinburgh Hibernian FC play. On Derby day, when the Leithers play the Jam Tarts (that’s Heart of Midlothian FC, natch), the entire neighbourhood heaves. On any day of the week from Spring to Autumn, I can head over to the Links or to the Meadows in a t-shirt and trainers and withing five minutes I’m accosted and propositioned by someone looking for a few more players. It doesn’t matter where you go in Britain (and, indeed, with the exception of Canada and the United States, the world) football crosses all barriers of language, culture and class. Did you see Nakamura’s free kick? Aye, what a cracker. What about Mulgrew’s red card? An absolute disgrace. Lafferty should be ashamed. From the wit of supporters’ songs to the grace and grit of the beautiful game, this is a void that hockey can scarcely try to fill.
6. The Forth Rail Bridge
I f’n love this bridge. And I’m not ashamed to say it. Completed in 1890, it will have to wait until well into the 22nd century before it needs to consider retirement. Its neighbour, the Forth Road Bridge, on the other hand, a wee bairn in comparison, opened in 1964 and will need to be closed by 2020. I’ve spent many hours in South Queensferry admiring the Victorian elegance of this beautiful, Industrial-age construction.
If someone who speaks two languages is bilingual, and someone who speaks more than two multilingual, what do you call someone who only speaks one language? British, the old joke goes. But this isn’t entirely true (save in Benidorm). While the chance that an English speaker from Halifax and one from Vancouver sound pretty much the same is fairly good, the chance that a Rangers supporter from Govan and a Banker in Morningside have the same accent is virtually nil. Indeed, two people born and raised at the top and bottom of Leith Walk in Edinburgh are likely to have completely different brogues. Geography, education, and class are so tightly knit up in the accents of the British Isles that just hearing a Scot speak releases a highly wrought narrative of place and time.
4. Fresh Seafood
I used to think I liked fish. I had no idea. When mussels and scallops that were swimming happily in the North Sea in the morning are on your dinner plate by sunset, you realize that you have been deceiving yourself all these years. At the fishmonger, you’re overwhelmed with a spread of creatures you’ve never heard of before, with evocative names that may as well be a different language: coley, witch, sea bream, plaice, razor clams. Served up simply and fresh, little beats the fruits of Scottish seas. Even the common chippy assumes a certain elegance when they can serve up freshly battered haddock, with chips and mushy peas, like the Anstruther Fish Bar. I’m not sure I can ever eat fish again from a place where I cannot see or smell the waters from which it came.
3. The Hills
From Arthur’s Seat that rises majestically over Edinburgh, to the evocative, desperate hills of Glencoe that still weeps with a century-old tragedy, to the primeval, fantastical mountain of Skye, the hills of Scotland are singular and magnificent. In the spring, the ewes bring out their lambs, who can barely walk, and who express a playfulness and curiosity that delights the soul. In the late summer, heather splashes rich purple wide and far across the deep-chrome green of the highlands, releasing its unique spicy, honeyed scent to the breeze. In winter, the hills are unforgiving, lashed with maritime wind and rain over long, dark nights. And they wait just outside the major urban centres of Glasgow and Edinburgh, a short drive or train ride away. I never felt more connected to the story of Scotland than when I was on the hills.
Not ‘Scotch’, never ‘whiskey’, but maybe usige beatha, whisky flows through the veins of Scotland. It’s just that no one in the world does it like the Scots. The world beverage industry is overrun witm multi-mationals: Diageo, owners of Guinness and Seagrams, oversee some of the best whiskies in the world. Only three distilleries in Scotland, out of hundreds, remain independent. So whither the romance? No matter how hard capitalism might pressure whisky towards broad appeal and blandness, whisky, more than any other beverage, is rooted to the land. The way the water supply runs over peat grass, the way the sea salt seasons casks aging on the docks, the way Border-grown barley is malted and dried, the distillation of Scottish whisky cannot be reproduced and cannot be rushed. Lagavulin now sells almost every single barrel it produces as single malt, rather than dishing off extra to make cheaper blends, but Diageo cannot increase the distillery’s production. I make this much whisky, Lagavulin says, and I cannot make any more. And the land is there, in the glass, when you drink it: the peat bogs of Islay, the heather of the Orkney islands, the volcanic rock of Skye, the sweetness of the River Spey and the crystal-clear burns of the bright Scottish Lowlands. I might miss the whisky, but as long as I can find a dram of Talisker, Ardbeg or Glenfarclas, I will never miss Scotland.
1. The Pubs
Let me tell you something, America. A pub does not need retro replicas of Guiness adverts. It does not need faux-oak pannelling or overpriced imported beer (N.B. Tennents Lager? NOT A LUXURY ITEM). It might need a fire place. A pub (it’s short for ‘public house’, remember?) need only be a meeting place for a group of people tied perhaps by geography, perhaps by philosophy, where they can rest, talk, decompress and love. Some pubs in Britain are known as ‘free houses’: pubs that owe no bond to breweries, landlords or holding corporation. They are for no one except themselves and those they care for. Some pubs open at 6am to serve the dockworkers coming off the late shift (and, admittedly, a few wishing to wash their mouths out with whisky before work). Some pubs serve (generally bad) espresso and a choice of wine for their upscale clients with different tastes. Some are folk music meccas where musicians sit in amongst the clientele, because we’re all, after all, just out at the pub. Some are out-and-out boozers that offer one lager, one ale, house spirits and cider, so drink up because we’ll take no hassle after last orders. All are vibrant, wonderful places, where you can bring your dog and North-American-style booths are eschewed for walls lined with benches on which you might have to sit beside someone you don’t know. A pub is a place for young men and old women, and everyone else in between. There are a few public houses in Canada in this tradition (and very few of them advertise ‘Extra Cold Guinness’) but in Scotland there are thousands, a land spoilt for choice. There is nothing I will miss more than a bright Scottish pub with my favourite cask ale on offer, a freshly stoked coal fire, and a green-eyed lassie with an empty glass. Cheers.
Filed under: Democracy, Imperialism | Tags: 15 February 2003 anti-war demonstration, 7/7 Bombings, 9/11, Afghanistan, British Armed Forces, Great Britain, History, Iraq, Iraq War, Jack Straw, Madrid Bombings, Michael Ignatieff, Shock and Awe, Terrorism, United Kingdom, United States, World Trade Center
On 20 March 2003, under false pretences, under the grotesque banner of ‘shock and awe’, despite the protests of the largest demonstration the world had ever seen, despite two-million marchers in London on 15 February that year, the armed forces of the United Kingdom invaded Iraq. On 30 April 2009, with 179 British soldiers and untold hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens dead, UK combat operations ceased.
As someone who demonstrated against the invasion with 150 000 others in -30 C Montreal weather, an ‘I told you so’ has never come at a higher price. Exhausted with questions of the Downing Street Memo, the Dodgy Dossier, and Weapons of Mass Destruction, both now stale even as running jokes with the late-night talk show set, the question posed by the nation in the wake of the British withdrawal is: ‘Was the UK mission in Iraq a success?’
What a question. A success for whom, one might wonder; and for what? Certainly the original rationale and legality of the war have been so crippled and enfeebled to render the prospect of success farcical. For those of us with functioning memories the answer is simple: there were no weapons of mass destruction, therefore any injury, incurred or evinced, returns a negative sum. Despite the fact that then-Home Secretary Jack Straw was caught on tape saying that the case for war was based on ‘thin’ evidence, on Question Time recently he desperately clung to a tortuous justification that would have made Michael Ignatieff proud: based on what we knew, we made the best decision we could; those who made what turned out to be the right decision, therefore, did so for the wrong reasons, and may God have mercy on their souls.
So much for weapons of mass destruction. But there is another helix to this double coil: the war on terror. Britain, who fought fascism alone in the streets of London, would rise again to help their American allies in the desperate wake of 9/11. Never mind that none of the World Trade Center hijackers came from Iraq. Never mind that Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party espoused pan-Arab secularism and was historically at odds with the fundamentalist Islamic al-Qaeda. If We Do Not Take The War To Them They Will Take The War To Us. Except they did. Would the 7/7 2005 bombings of London occurred if Britain was not in Iraq? Perhaps. Although the Spanish people thought otherwise when the Madrid underground was attacked: they almost immediately deposed the sitting government and voted in José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s leftist party who promised to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq. One question, however, renders such speculation instantly moot: are there less terrorists in Iraq now than there were on 20 March 2003? The answer is an emphatic and resounding no.
So our men and women in parliament turn to a new charade. The charade of democracy. Perhaps we did go into Iraq for the wrong reasons but look what we’ve done: we’ve deposed a tyrannical and genocidal dictator and given democracy to the Iraqi people. As if it was ours to give. As if the Iraqi people needed it given. What is democracy anyway? Listening to the cheerleaders of the invasion, you’d think it was a show of theatre: blue thumbs, long queues, smiles and broken English. But this is not democracy. It is a circus.
Such arguments that hope to rectify, if not erase, the lies and deception fostered by those we trusted to lead us want to cleave justice from history. Well, here we are now boys, in the bed we made, and by gum we will make a game of it. But, those who make this case, those who would have us believe that history is beside the point, forget, as always, that history is the point. History shows us that Saddam Hussein, the vanquished ace in the hole for Iraq warmongers, is himself a product of Western imperialism and meddling. History shows us that every time the Iraqi people attempted to rise up in chorus, they were thwarted by an empire promising first pacification, then civilization, now democracy.
Democracy is the people. Democracy is not a gift bestowed upon a willing nation by a guardian parent who feels its offspring is ready. It is not a thing that can be pounded into a square inch of dust like embossing in so much beaten copper. It is of the people, by the people and for the people; and its genesis in Iraq has been baffled by British egotism throughout the last one hundred years. But the thing about democracy is that it will not be baffled forever. Like murder, it will out. And no one knows this better than the citizens of Iraq, who, despite being bloodied, abused and beaten, have now seen the backs of British soldiers three times in a century.
So Britain continues to laud its military efforts, with soldiers who are kinder, gentler, than their American counterparts, and made the best of a bad situation. Keep calm and carry on, goes the motto. Besides, victory in Afghanistan awaits. So too, I hope, does democracy for Iraq. It’s been a long time coming.