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Edward Said

A Monument to Hypocrisy 

It has finally become intolerable to listen to or look
at news in this country. I've told myself over and over
again that one ought to leaf through the daily papers
and turn on the TV for the national news every evening,
just to find out what "the country" is thinking and
planning, but patience and masochism have their limits.
Colin Powell's UN speech, designed obviously to outrage
the American people and bludgeon the UN into going to
war, seems to me to have been a new low point in moral
hypocrisy and political manipulation. But Donald
Rumsfeld's lectures in Munich this past weekend went
one step further than the bumbling Powell in unctuous
sermonising and bullying derision.

For the moment, I shall discount George Bush and his
coterie of advisers, spiritual mentors, and political
managers like Pat Robertson, Franklin Graham, and Karl
Rove: they seem to me slaves of power perfectly
embodied in the repetitive monotone of their collective
spokesman Ari Fliescher (who I believe is also an
Israeli citizen). Bush is, he has said, in direct
contact with God, or if not God, then at least
Providence. Perhaps only Israeli settlers can converse
with him. But the secretaries of state and defence seem
to have emanated from the secular world of real women
and men, so it may be somewhat more opportune to linger
for a time over their words and activities.

First, a few preliminaries. The US has clearly decided
on war: there seem to be no two ways about it. Yet
whether the war will actually take place or not (given
all the activity started, not by the Arab states who,
as usual, seem to dither and be paralysed at the same
time, but by France, Russia and Germany) is something
else again. Nevertheless to have transported 200,000
troops to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, leaving aside
smaller deployments in Jordan, Turkey and Israel can
mean only one thing.

Second, the planners of this war, as Ralph Nader has
forcefully said, are chicken hawks, that is, hawks who
are too cowardly to do any fighting themselves.
Wolfowitz, Perle, Bush, Cheney and others of that
entirely civilian group were to a man in strong favour
of the Vietnam War, yet each of them got a deferment
based on privilege, and therefore never fought or so
much as even served in the armed forces. Their
belligerence is therefore morally repugnant and, in the
literal sense, anti-democratic in the extreme. What
this unrepresentative cabal seeks in a war with Iraq
has nothing to do with actual military considerations.
Iraq, whatever the disgusting qualities of its
deplorable regime, is simply not an imminent and
credible threat to neighbours like Turkey, or Israel,
or even Jordan (each of which could easily handle it
militarily) or certainly to the US. Any argument to the
contrary is simply a preposterous, entirely frivolous
proposition. With a few outdated Scuds, and a small
amount of chemical and biological material, most of it
supplied by the US in earlier days (as Nader has said,
we know that because we have the receipts for what was
sold to Iraq by US companies), Iraq is, and has easily
been, containable, though at unconscionable cost to the
long-suffering civilian population. For this terrible
state of affairs I think it is absolutely true to say
that there has been collusion between the Iraqi regime
and the Western enforcers of the sanctions.

Third, once big powers start to dream of regime change
--a process already begun by the Perles and Wolfowitzs
of this country --there is simply no end in sight.
Isn't it outrageous that people of such a dubious
caliber actually go on blathering about bringing
democracy, modernisation, and liberalisation to the
Middle East? God knows that the area needs it, as so
many Arab and Muslim intellectuals and ordinary people
have said over and over. But who appointed these
characters as agents of progress anyway? And what
entitles them to pontificate in so shameless a way when
there are already so many injustices and abuses in
their own country to be remedied? It's particularly
galling that Perle, about as unqualified a person as it
is imaginable to be on any subject touching on
democracy and justice, should have been an election
adviser to Netanyahu's extreme right-wing government
during the period 1996-9, in which he counseled the
renegade Israeli to scrap any and all peace attempts,
to annex the West Bank and Gaza, and try to get rid of
as many Palestinians as possible. This man now talks
about bringing democracy to the Middle East, and does
so without provoking the slightest objection from any
of the media pundits who politely (abjectly) quiz him
on national television.

Fourth, Colin Powell's speech, despite its many
weaknesses, its plagiarised and manufactured evidence,
its confected audio-tapes and its doctored pictures,
was correct in one thing. Saddam Hussein's regime has
violated numerous human rights and UN resolutions.
There can be no arguing with that and no excuses can be
allowed. But what is so monumentally hypocritical about
the official US position is that literally everything
Powell has accused the Ba'athists of has been the stock
in trade of every Israeli government since 1948, and at
no time more flagrantly than since the occupation of
1967. Torture, illegal detention, assassination,
assaults against civilians with missiles, helicopters
and jet fighters, annexation of territory,
transportation of civilians from one place to another
for the purpose of imprisonment, mass killing (as in
Qana, Jenin, Sabra and Shatilla to mention only the
most obvious), denial of rights to free passage and
unimpeded civilian movement, education, medical aid,
use of civilians as human shields, humiliation,
punishment of families, house demolitions on a mass
scale, destruction of agricultural land, expropriation
of water, illegal settlement, economic pauperisation,
attacks on hospitals, medical workers and ambulances,
killing of UN personnel, to name only the most
outrageous abuses: all these, it should be noted with
emphasis, have been carried on with the total,
unconditional support of the United States which has
not only supplied Israel with the weapons for such
practices and every kind of military and intelligence
aid, but also has given the country upwards of $135
billion in economic aid on a scale that beggars the
relative amount per capita spent by the US government
on its own citizens.

This is an unconscionable record to hold against the
US, and Mr Powell as its human symbol in particular. As
the person in charge of US foreign policy, it is his
specific responsibility to uphold the laws of this
country, and to make sure that the enforcement of human
rights and the promotion of freedom --the proclaimed
central plank in the US's foreign policy since at least
1976 --is applied uniformly, without exception or
condition. How he and his bosses and co-workers can
stand up before the world and righteously sermonise
against Iraq while at the same time completely ignoring
the ongoing American partnership in human rights abuses
with Israel defies credibility. And yet no one, in all
the justified critiques of the US position that have
appeared since Powell made his great UN speech, has
focused on this point, not even the ever-so-upright
French and Germans.

The Palestinian territories today are witnessing the
onset of a mass famine; there is a health crisis of
catastrophic proportions; there is a civilian death
toll that totals at least a dozen to 20 people a week;
the economy has collapsed; hundreds of thousands of
innocent civilians are unable to work, study, or move
about as curfews and at least 300 barricades impede
their daily lives; houses are blown up or bulldozed on
a mass basis (60 yesterday). And all of it with US
equipment, US political support, US finances. Bush
declares that Sharon, who is a war criminal by any
standard, is a man of peace, as if to spit on the
innocent Palestinians' lives that have been lost and
ravaged by Sharon and his criminal army. And he has the
gall to say that he acts in God's name, and that he
(and his administration) act to serve "a just and
faithful God". And, more astounding yet, he lectures
the world on Saddam's flouting of UN resolutions even
as he supports a country, Israel, that has flouted at
least 64 of them on a daily basis for more than half a

But so craven and so ineffective are the Arab regimes
today that they don't dare state any of these things
publicly. Many of them need US economic aid. Many of
them fear their own people and need US support to prop
up their regimes. Many of them could be accused of some
of the same crimes against humanity. So they say
nothing, and just hope and pray that the war will pass,
while in the end keeping them in power as they are.

But it is also a great and noble fact that for the
first time since World War Two there are mass protests
against the war taking place before rather than during
the war itself. This is unprecedented and should become
the central political fact of the new, globalised era
into which our world has been thrust by the US and its
super-power status. What this demonstrates is that
despite the awesome power wielded by autocrats and
tyrants like Saddam and his American antagonists,
despite the complicity of a mass media that has
(willingly or unwillingly) hastened the rush to war,
despite the indifference and ignorance of a great many
people, mass action and mass protest on the basis of
human community and human sustainability are still
formidable tools of human resistance. Call them weapons
of the weak, if you wish. But that they have at least
tampered with the plans of the Washington chicken hawks
and their corporate backers, as well as the millions of
religious monotheistic extremists (Christian, Jewish,
Muslim) who believe in wars of religion, is a great
beacon of hope for our time. Wherever I go to lecture
or speak out against these injustices I haven't found
anyone in support of the war. Our job as Arabs is to
link our opposition to US action in Iraq to our support
for human rights in Iraq, Palestine, Israel, Kurdistan
and everywhere in the Arab world --and also ask others
to force the same linkage on everyone, Arab, American,
African, European, Australian and Asian. These are
world issues, human issues, not simply strategic
matters for the United States or the other major

We cannot in any way lend our silence to a policy of
war that the White House has openly announced will
include three to five hundred cruise missiles a day
(800 of them during the first 48 hours of the war)
raining down on the civilian population of Baghdad in
order to produce "Shock and Awe", or even a human
cataclysm that will produce, as its boastful planner a
certain Mr (or is it Dr?) Harlan Ullman has said, a
Hiroshima-style effect on the Iraqi people. Note that
during the 1991 Gulf War after 41 days of bombing Iraq
this scale of human devastation was not even
approached. And the US has 6000 "smart" missiles ready
to do the job. What sort of God would want this to be a
formulated and announced policy for His people? And
what sort of God would claim that this was going to
bring democracy and freedom to the people not only of
Iraq but to the rest of the Middle East?

These are questions I won't even try to answer. But I
do know that if anything like this is going to be
visited on any population on earth it would be a
criminal act, and its perpetrators and planners war
criminals according to the Nuremberg Laws that the US
itself was crucial in formulating. Not for nothing do
General Sharon and Shaul Mofaz welcome the war and
praise George Bush. Who knows what more evil will be
done in the name of Good? Every one of us must raise
our voices, and march in protest, now and again and
again. We need creative thinking and bold action to
stave off the nightmares planned by a docile,
professionalised staff in places like Washington and
Tel Aviv and Baghdad. For if what they have in mind is
what they call "greater security" then words have no
meaning at all in the ordinary sense. That Bush and
Sharon have contempt for the non-white people of this
world is clear. The question is, how long can they keep
getting away with it?

*Al-Ahram Weekly

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