Comment, Comics and the Contrary.
The Stop the War Coalition
(StWC) has been accused of releasing a statement that contains the phrase ‘by whatever means they find necessary’. Members of the pro-war left, such a Nick Cohen
, Johann Hari
and the bloggers at Harry’s Place
have argued that this statement is unambiguous support for the atrocities being committed in Iraq, a point of view that has coalesced into a campaign by Labour Friends of Iraq
(LFoI) against the StWC. To place the phrasing in a historical context, it has been pointed out that the wording evokes several statements by Malcolm X along the line of this; ‘to use any means necessary to bring about his freedom or put a halt to that injustice’. Defenders of the StWC have argued that this phrasing was only included in an e-mail to StWC supporters and was edited out of the final, publicly issued, statement. Regardless, they argue, ‘by any means they find necessary’ does not equal the murder of trade unionists and other civilians. Posts making this case can be found at Lenin’s Tomb
and Dead Men Left
I would like to take a different tack with this determined assault on the StWC in particular and the anti-war left in particular. Accusations of being ‘objectively pro-fascist/Saddam’ are not new to people on the anti-war left. I argue that, whatever the truth of the story behind this particular phrase, for this to be the basis of an argument that persuades a person to support the war in and occupation of Iraq where they did not before requires that person to be, at the very least, a simpleton.
Why? Well, there is the question of what responsibility the producers of speech have for subsequent actions and events. I am not from the irrational school of that attempts to argue that ‘speech has no consequence’*, yet I do not believe that a statement e-mailed to StWC supporters can possibly have had a significant effect on the state of affairs on the ground in Iraq, except perhaps through changing the political debate in British politics first, which is then followed by a consequent change in the stance of British authority in Iraq. Of course, this simple truth has not prevented members of the pro-war left from arguing that the death of Hadi Saleh is a direct consequence of the position taken by the StWC.
On the other hand, statements by holders of political and military authority in Coalition nations do have an immediate effect on the state of affairs on the ground in Iraq. Whenever a member of the American administration or military authority (or indeed, their proxies in Iraq) delivers an ‘inappropriate’ speech, or writes ‘dubious’ memos, the pro-war left appear to be able to accept this as a necessary part of their fight against global tyranny, despite the fact that these words do have a direct effect on the scale of human destruction in Iraq. Furthermore, unlike Iraqi insurgents, the holders of this political and military authority in the Coalition are linked (theoretically) by democratic mechanisms to the pro-war left.
The statements by the holders of political and military authority are however, of a different category to statements by the StWC. Uncharitably, we might consider their relationship to the insurgents more akin to pro-war right, which produces such lunacy as ‘nuke fallujah’. Statements such as these are dismissed by the pro-war left as being of little or no consequence on the conduct of these people’s own government. Of course, in fact these statements are more closely tethered to the actions of the Coalition that the statements of the StWC possibly can be to the actions of Iraqi insurgents. But double standards apply. A statement by the StWC is held to change the reality in Iraq while columns in the right-wing US press are disregarded.
The argument of the pro-war right, if limited to being an argument for leaving the StWC, might hold water. But recognition must be made that the StWC is just that, a coalition, and as such is, or ought to be a place for debate. Complaining that it is a front for the Communist Party of Britain
(CPB) and the Socialist Workers Party
(SWP) tell us more about the problems of progressive politics in Britain than it does about the morality of opposing the war in Iraq. It is a terrible shame that a movement supported by millions of people could not find the organising expertise from within a larger, perhaps more representative organisations. If anything, the StWC vouches for the continuing value of the CPB and the SWP, as organisations capable of sustained campaigning effort, whether fighting racism, unfettered capitalism, or war. But if we must concede that the comment that appeared in the statement sent by e-mail to supporters of the StWC should force people to abandon the organised anti-war movement. In that case, statements of undoubtably greater horror, and indisputably of greater consequences for the state of affairs in Iraq, should compel all those on the pro-war left to abandon the Occupying Coalition. They should be bound to expose the Coalition as far greater practitioners of human destruction than the StWC could be in even the worst nightmares of the pro-war left.
One justification for the war in Iraq was set out by right-wing commentators in an attempt to tie an invasion of WMDless Iraq into the wider war on terror. This was the honeypot justification, which argued that an invasion of Iraq would act as a magnet to ‘jihadists’ from across the world, producing a non-US, but US-controlled, battlezone where jihadists could be killed en masse without the concerns that would bind the hands of their forces either at home or in independent states abroad. This would, it was argued, be the best protection that American citizens could hope to have from terror. Of course, the cost to the Iraqi people of this strategy, both at the hands of the US military and at the hands of the jihadists, remains unsaid in these justifications. Only Americans are people for these commentators, Iraqis and others are unpeople.
The Coalition might not be immediately responsible for the individual acts of terror and repression taking place within Iraq and carried out by Iraqis. But the Coalition is responsible for creating the conditions that allow this to occur. If the leaders of the Coalition could not foresee this, they are simpletons who deserve to be thrown out of office. If they could, they are wicked men who deserve to be thrown into jail.
*A position often held by those that will also claim that ‘unrestricted free speech is the greatest right’. It is difficult to understand how one could hold the apparently contradictory ideology that the greatest right is one with no consequences for society, but it can be explained by understanding that such defenders of free speech are more concerned with culture as a profitable commodity then culture as a means of democratic action. On the other hand, this argument is also but forward by disingenuous racists.