Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

Some Things are Worse than War 

 “The time is out of joint.” Here are a few samples, randomly picked. 

A recent Canadian opinion poll plumbing attitudes toward President George W.  Bush (a popular pastime in this country) “established” that one third of the respondents believed President Bush to be a greater threat to the world than Saddam Hussein. 

On January 20 The United Nations’ Commission on Human Rights elected a representative of Libya, a country notorious for its human rights violations.  Next day, the new chair and a former reporter, Najat Al-Hajjaji, rejected the suggestion that member nations should meet certain minimum human rights standards.

She told reporters: “By proposing these criteria, it means there are bad guys and good guys in the commission and the intention will be to stop the bad guys from joining the commission…This really is a very serious threat.”  Asked whether there really aren’t some bad violators of human rights, she responded” “I don’t think there is any country free of human-rights violations in the world.” 

Thomas Walkom of the Toronto Star recently commented on the stand-off between the U.S. and North Korea.  The North Koreans threatened to build nuclear weapons - in clear violation of the non-aggression pact they had signed. Walkom wrote as if the North Korean tyrant, who is ruling this county with Stalinist cruelty, is quite right in re-starting its nuclear weapons program. He concluded his column “Who can Blame N. Korea?” as follows: “It is arming itself to stave off what Bush has all but promised. Any sensible country would do the same.”(Toronto Star, January 14) 

Is it any wonder that some of us are beginning to despair about the future of Canada? 

Confusion closer to home 

There is even more of this kind of confusion closer to home. Christians are now embroiled in a vigorous debate about how to defend ourselves against the terrorists who have declared war on the West in the name of Allah. The focus of this controversy is the American preparations for war against Iraq. There are three discernable positions. One is essentially pacifist and hardly distinguishable from the anti-American left.  The other, relying on the historic just war principles, supports the American determination to bring about a regime change in Iraq, if necessary by military means. In the middle are those who decide on the basis of their latest conversation or reading. They are confused and do not really know what to think of this dilemma. 

Jim Wallis, editor of the Sojourners magazine is a leading spokesperson of the pacifist position. This magazine produced a position paper online: “ A World at Odds: Conscience in a Time of Terror,” which strongly condemns the United States’ preparation for war against Iraq. The authors of this piece agree that there must be a regime change in Iraq, but they believe that nonviolent resistance of the Iraqi people can accomplish this. They write: “Fortunately there is an answer [to the question how Saddam Hussein can be removed by non-military means]: civilian-based, nonviolent resistance by the Iraqi people, developed and applied in accordance with a strategy to undermine Saddam’s  basis of power.” 

They list a number of resistance measures such as strikes, boycotts, civil disobedience, disrupting the functions of government, and nonviolent sabotage, as part of strategy for undermining an oppressive regime. They say that it has been done in other countries, for instance in Chile, and they are optimistic that it can be done in Iraq. They acknowledge that Saddam’s rule is as brutal as Stalin’s but they think that Saddam does not have the entrenched control that Stalin had. In fact, they reason that the frequent reports of Saddam’s repression confirm the lack of loyalty among the Iraqis. 

Church leaders in the U.S., Europe and Canada echo these sentiments. They   are engaged in a busy campaign of lecturing the U.S. and British governments that war against Iraq is immoral, unwise and illegal, although they concede that Saddam Hussein’s regime is oppressive and should be replaced. They back their counsel with the famous quotation from Isaiah 2:4, “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” 

Many of the anti-war advocates believe that the restrictions placed on Saddam after the Gulf War are responsible for the suffering of the Iraqi people. There are some who insist that the horror stories about Saddam’s rule of terror are untrue. A few  have travelled to Iraq to form a human shield against military attacks. Even American and Canadian politicians have met with top representatives of the Iraqi government to express their solidarity with the current Saddam regime..

In late January Liberal Member of Parliament Colleen Beaumier travelled to Iraq and met with that country’s deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz. She explained her opposition to the U.S. war preparations: “If there are no weapons of mass destruction, then the United States is definitely travelling the wrong path.  And if there are no weapons of mass destruction found, then we are going to have to look at other motives that may possibly be behind the American attack.” During a previous debate in the House of Commons she had praised Saddam Hussein and said that Iraq is “a progressive country with health care for all and education and human rights for women, which is far more advanced than other friendly Middle Eastern countries.” She also expressed the opinion that Iraq is a “secular state offering a relative degree of equality for all its citizens.” (Toronto Star, January 25, 2003) 

Who is speaking the truth, whom should we believe? Visitors who are met with smiles and compliments and allow themselves to be seduced by the “Potemkin village“ treatment or the countless survivors and refugees who tell a very different story? 

The Cruel Reality 

In his address to the United Nations on September 12, 2002, President George W. Bush, recited numerous instances of Iraq’s violation of the U.N. resolutions adopted to stop Iraq’s production of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear arms. In addition, he enumerated Saddam Hussein’s brutal treatment of the Iraqis whose human rights are trampled and who are subjected  to imprisonment, torture and death on a massive scale. President Bush warned that if we do not act now the Iraqi people will continue to live in brutal submission, neighbouring countries will be threatened, and the danger that Iraq will obtain weapons of mass destruction will become reality. If Saddam ever succeeds in this scheme, there is no limit to the mischief he will then be able to wreak. 

Margaret Wente wrote about her interview with Mr. Yahya al-Jaiyashy, who had spent years in Iraqi jail where he witnessed and experienced indescribable horrors at the hands of Saddam’s thugs (Globe and Mail, November 23, 2002). The first time he was picked up by the police he was soon released. Others were not. “One was killed by immersion into a vat of acid. Ten others, he recalls, were put into a room and torn apart by wild dogs. Several prominent religious leaders were also executed. One was a university dean, someone Mr. Jaiyashy remembers as ‘ a great man.’ They drove a nail through his skull.” 

Saddam has built a police state modeled after the terror machine of Stalin, where police and other security enforcers keep a close eye on the population, assisted by hundreds of thousands of informers. Iraq is a “self-policing totalitarian state, where everyone is afraid of everyone else.”  Wente continues: 

“’This is a regime that will gouge out the eyes of children to force confessions from their parents and grandparents,’ writes Kenneth Pollock [a leading U.S. expert on Iraq], in his new book, The Threatening Storm. ‘This is a regime that will hold a nursing baby at arm’s length from its mother and allow the child to starve to death to force the mother to confess. This is a regime that will burn a person’s limbs off to force him to confess or comply. This is a regime that will slowly lower its victims into huge vats of acid…’ 

“’This is a regime that practises systematic rape against the female victims. This is the regime that will drag in a man’s wife, daughter or other female relative and repeatedly rape her in front of him.’ And if he has fled the country, it will send him a video.” 

Mr. Jaiyashy spent nearly two years in prison. After his release he was forced to  do military service. Then he was again taken prisoner and tortured. Among other cruelties, “He was beaten with a water hose filled with stones .When he passed out he was shocked back into consciousness with an electric cable. They hung him by his legs, pulled out a fingernail with pliers, and drove an electric drill through his foot.” 

He was jailed again from 1981 till 1989, and finally managed to escape Saddam’s torture chambers by being accepted as an immigrant to Canada, He arrived in Toronto in 1996, and is immensely grateful for living in this country.

Saddam’s rule has brought misery to the Iraqis, ruined their economy, and destroyed entire villages, cities and families. Millions have been exiled, hundreds of thousands killed, and the marshlands in southern Iraq turned into a desert, destroying a centuries-old culture.       

Some Things are Worse than War 

Wente’s column is just one of the many chilling descriptions of the unmitigated disaster that has befallen the Iraqis. No one has an excuse not to know the awfulness of this regime that has turned Iraq into a place of fear and terror - and therefore of the Lie. No one should be excused for visiting Iraq, befriending the bullies of that nation and then report back to us that this is a well-governed and progressive country where all the hardship suffered by the people, including the death of one million children, is the fault of the U.S. and the U.N. imposed sanctions.

The long-suffering Iraqi people are longing for the day of their deliverance. They were once promised that the West would come to their aid. That was ten years ago, and they were then cruelly  abandoned. Now there is again the prospect of liberation. Yet there is also a rising chorus of opposition to the use of military force, which many believe is the only realistic way to bring about liberation.    

There is no doubt that war is terrible and brings in its wake grave dangers and risks. But sometimes the alternative, the perpetuation of a horrendously cruel and deeply entrenched evil regime, is worse than war. It strikes me that those who speak of nonviolent alternatives to removing Saddam and his coterie of tyrants have never once experienced what the enslaved and betrayed Iraqi people are now enduring. 

That’s why I welcome the advice of Margaret Wente with which she concluded her January 21 column, “What do Iraqis fear more than war? More Saddam”   

“There are many reason to oppose war. But the best interests of the innocent Iraqi people are not among them. And the sight of the sanctimonious Westerners pretending to speak for them, and demanding that they be kept enslaved by the most brutal dictator outside North Korea, is not an edifying one.

War is terrible. But there are worse things. Just ask the people of Iraq.”     

“The time is out of joint,” Shakespeare’s Hamlet said, as he reluctantly prepared himself to take action against a ruthless and brutal dictator. Hamlet’s delay came at the price of the lives of those most dear to him.  

 “Some Things are Worse than War 

Potemkin Village: Staged places and events that supposedly represent normality in totalitarian regimes, such as the Soviet Union, Communist China and Cuba, designed to impress foreign visitors with the progress of the regime and the happiness of its subjects. Some of the great newspapers, including The New York Times, have served as propaganda tools for the most oppressive regimes during the past century. In such instance we can speak of  useful village idiots,” to paraphrase Lenin. 

I have found the following sources helpful in understanding the current debate about war and peace in relation to Iraq. 

Jon Lee Anderson, “No Place to Hide: Travels through a terrorized land,” The New Yorker, November 25, 2002. 

Mark Bowden, “Tales of the Tyrant: What does Saddam Hussein see in himself that no one else in the world seems to see?” The Atlantic Monthly, May 2002. 

Con Coughlin, Saddam: King of Terror, Harper Collins, 2002, 350 pp. 

David Gelernter, “The Roots of European Appeasement,” The weekly Standard, September 23, 2002. 

Patrick Graham, “Killing was the way to go about getting respect,” The National Post, January 11, 2003; “Scorched Earth,” The National Post, January 18, 2003. 

Victor Davis Hanson, “Wishing War Away,” National Review Online, April 5,2002. 

Robert D. Kaplan, “Slave State: Why Saddam is worse than Slobo,” The New Republic, October 21, 2002, p.10. 

Paul Marshall, Islam at the Crossroads: Understanding its Beliefs, History, and Conflicts, Baker books, 2002, 121 pp. 

Daniel Pipes, “Jihad the Professors,” Commentary, November 2002. See also his website: www.danielpipes.org. 

Norman Podhoretz, “America at War: ‘The One Thing Needful,’” American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, Washington, D.C., February 13, 2002. 

James Skillen, “Iraq, Terrorism, and the New American Security Strategy,” Public Justice Report, First Quarter, 2003, The Center for Public Justice, Washington, D.C. 

George Weigel, “ Moral Clarity in a Time of War,” First Things, December 2002. 

David Warren, Ottawa Citizen columnist. Website: www.davidwarrenonline.com.

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