Wednesday, January 30, 2002

Why I'm still opposed to war in Afghanistan

But, Natt, they say, it was all such a long time ago. Just leave it alone. We won. Us. The good guys. Triumphed over evil, yay! You know, how it was meant to go. World safe, home in time for tea, freeing the poor and the oppressed...

Bollocks. Utter sweat-laden (if you'll excuse the pun) bollocks. We in the first world are good at making horrific mistakes in other people's countries, and this was one of the most blatantly unjustified and vicious attacks on a developing country, pursued more openly, and supported with more fervour than any I can possibly remember. And here's why:

1) The lack of blue hats - After the Second World War, with most of Europe smouldering, humanity tried to come up with a better was to resolve conflict. It came up with this aim: "We the people of the United Nations determined to save future generations from the blight of war, which twice in our lifetimes has brought untold suffering to mankind". This was perhaps the second moment in human history when there had been a concerted effort by the governments of Western nations to bring war to an end. It can hardly be a coincidence that this was at the close of one of the most damaging conflicts the world has ever seen.

War is a terrible, terrible thing, as our grandparents experienced at first hand, and, in order that we should never have to experience it they set up a means of resolving conflict without having to kill people. They called it the United Nations. However, when faced with the greatest test of its abilities, and despite the sympathy of the Security Council, the UN was deliberately sidelined by Britain and the USA, and the other allies in the conflict.

In a situation in which is was vital that the Muslim world see that what was being done had legitimacy, we ignored the structures for ensuring it which we had worked so hard to put in place. If ever there was a time for the United Nations to rally, this was a surely an opportunity for it, but we denied it the opportunity, we preferred to act on our own, rather than on behalf of the community of the world, and, because of it, we caused untold damage to the cause of peace.

We did it, however for a very good reason: the problem with the UN is, it's full of bloody foreigners.

2)This further undermined efforts to ensure that international relations are governed by the rule of law - We don't trust the UN because it's always disagreeing with us. They let Communists, Frenchmen and even poor countries into it!

Which country was it that vetoed the setting up of an International Court of Criminal Justice in the summer of 2001? The USA. Why? Because that would have held it as accountable as everyone else for atrocities committed overseas. We simply don't like the idea of being subject to anything, especialy not the kind of law that respects everyone as equals under it.

3) We bombed one of the poorest countries in the world. I htink that speaks for itself. We bombed one of the poorest countries in the world which, we conceded, had not been engaged in the terrorist attacks on America.

We never asserted that the Taleban were involved in these attacks, or that the people of Afghanistan were complicit in the flying of planes in to the World Trade Centre, and yet we had no compunction about bombing civilian areas (including the capital city), and yet claiming that this was not a war against the people of Afghanistan. They were just 'collateral damage'.

We have justified this since, saying that everyone in Afghanistan is much happier without the Taleban, they can play rock music and throw their burqas away, but let us not forget that this was not the aim of what we did, and should not be used to justify it after the fact. If we were truly fighting for human rights, we should have been bombing Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, China, and Iran. It is disingenuous and insulting of us to suggest that we were on a humanitarian mission. They tend not to include killing thousands of civilians.

4) Our 'proof'. Although we now have seen videotapes that suggest that Bin Laden was, indeed, behind the attacks in the US, at that time we could simply produce one document of 11 pages.

The opening paragraph of this document says that it would not be considered 'proof' under law. That is, we need more evidence to convict someone of shoplifting than we felt we needed to bomb civilian areas of one of the poorest countries of the world.

5)We were determined to punish the Afghans as well as Bin Laden. The Taleban, as you may remember, offered to hand Bin Laden over to a neutral country. In a country with a significant amount of Islamic fundamentalism, this is a significant concession, and one that should have been entirely acceptable to us under international law.

However, this provoked George Bush's "I said 'no negotiation', and that means 'no negotiation'" response. Not only is this patently untrue, as the ultimatum to hand Bin Laden over to a country allied to the West was, in essence a negotiation, but it was quite clearly a rejection of an acceptable method of resolving the situation without a resort to conflict.

6)Our attitudes towards 'terrorism'. It has been said many times that it was the CIA who trained Bin Laden, as part of the mujaheddin in Afghanistan during the 1980s. This was done in order to exploit Islamic fundamentalism, and reduce the Soviet Union's sphere of influence in Middle East. Terrorism is all rightwhen it's directed against those we don't like.

Also, the question arises: is terrorism always bad? Would we support the bombing of Northern Ireland (or Eire for its sympathy to republican aims)? Would we support the Chinese if they started razing Tibet in response to 'terrorism'? Will our forces beon the ground with Russia's next time it puts down Chechnyan 'terrorism'? All of these groups have used violent means of expression for their discontent.

Israel itself is a country formed as the result of a campaign of terrorism. Who can doubt the influence of the Stern Gang and similar organisations in bringing about an Israeli state? America itself was created as a republic by the use of arms against its mother power. America is a living testament to the power of the use of armsto achieve political ends, and none would say that that wasn't a good thing. Our concept of what is terrorism and what is legitimate action is neither sophisticated nor robust enough to justify the actions we have taken.

7) Our lack of concern for the law. It is a mark of our civilisation that we create structures to govern dicputes between ourselves. We agree conventions, saying that this is how we treat each other, and these are the rules governing our behaviour. That the Bush administration (in much supported by the Blair government) shows such a contempt for the rights of prisoners, who have not been tried, in Guantanamo Bay, that the Secretary of State can say that he wishes people to be executed without trial is a sad indictment of the world in which we are living. It is far removed from the noble aims of our grandparents.

8) It didn't work. Quite frankly, it didn't. Many died, a famine was exacerbated, and many more may die because of what we have done, and yet where is he? We are assured that he is in caves, which we sweep and say that he must be in Somalia, and the truth is we just don't know. We are no closer to the head of the Al-Qaida network than we were in October, and yet we have caused a huge amount of misery. This is something about which we must all mourn.

And that's it. Mainly. I have other reasons, but I feel that I have ranted enough. I'm sure you'll all disagree, so it's just as well I know I'm right. Feel free to rant back at me.

Peace, quite literally, out...