Monday, 3 February 2003

Betrayal Of A Noble Legacy

by John Pilger

The Palestinian writer Ghada Karmi has described "a deep and unconscious racism [that] imbues every aspect of western conduct toward Iraq". She wrote: "I recall that a similar culture prevailed in the UK during the 1956 Suez crisis and the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, when Nasser was the arch-villain and all Arabs were crudely targeted. Today, in Britain, such overt anti-Arabness is unacceptable, so it takes subtler forms. Saddam-bashing, a sport officially sanctioned since 1991, has made him the perfect surrogate for anti-Arab abuse."

Reading this, I turned up the Observer's tribute to its great editor, David Astor, who died in 2001. In opposing the British attack on Suez in 1956, Astor, said the paper, "took the government to task for its bullying and in so doing defined the Observer as a freethinking paper prepared to swim against the tide". In a famous editorial, Astor had described "an endeavour to reimpose 19th-century imperialism of the crudest kind". He wrote: "Nations are said to have the governments they deserve. Let us show that we deserve better." The present-day Observer commented that "the richness of [Astor's] language and relevance of the sentiments resonate today".

The absence of irony in this statement is bleak. Little more than a year later, in its editorial of 19 January 2003, the Observer finally buried David Astor and his principled "freethinking" legacy. Pretending to wring its hands, the paper announced it was for attacking Iraq: a position promoted by its news and feature pages for more than a year now, notably in its barren "investigations" seeking to link Iraq with both the anthrax scare and al-Qaeda. The paper that stood proudly against Eden on Suez is but a supplicant to the warmongering Blair, willing to support the very crime the judges at Nuremberg deemed the most serious of all: an unprovoked attack on a sovereign country offering no threat.

Not a word in the Observer's editorial mentioned the great crime committed by the British and American governments against the ordinary people of Iraq. Withholding more than $5bn worth of humanitarian supplies approved by the Security Council, Washington, with Blair's backing, maintains a medieval blockade against Iraq. Cancer treatment equipment, water treatment equipment, painkillers, children's vaccines, to name a few of the life-giving essentials that are maliciously withheld, have resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of vulnerable people, mostly infants under the age of five. Extrapolating from the statistics, the American scholars John Mueller and Karl Mueller conclude that "economic sanctions have probably already taken the lives of more people in Iraq than have been killed by all weapons of mass destruction".

When the Observer celebrates the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, with pictures of exhausted Iraqis "thanking" their liberators, will it explain to its readers that as many as a million people, mostly children, could not attend the festivities thanks to the barbaric policies of the British and American governments? No. A contortion of intellect and morality that urges participation in what has been described as "a firestorm of 800 missiles in two days" censors by omission.

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