Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

The War About the War in Iraq

April 2003

 

I have been musing about the reason the American-led war against Iraq is so contentious even among family members and friends. What is it about this war that makes so many gingerly tiptoe around this topic for fear that they might alienate someone or, horrors, end up in a shouting match? 

Not a few articles have been written about people losing friends or fearing such loss if they let it be known on which side of the Iraqi war they are on. I have been met with incomprehension and surprise when I said that the war against Iraq is justified under existing circumstances. 

It is safe to say that those who support this war are not very popular not even in certain quarters of the Christian community. One of the reasons is that we Christians are called to be peacemakers not warmongers, 

And those who make that claim are right. We are indeed called to be for peace not war, but…. 

By this time in the conversation you better be prepared for a sharp rejoinder: “But what! There you go again, stating a position and then weaseling out of it.  You agree that we are to follow Christ in being agents of reconciliation. How can you then favour the killing of people, because that is what war is about?” 

A Tough Row to Hoe 

This is not an easy question to answer, especially not with a thirty  second sound bite that silences the questioner. So let me skip this question for now, and simply admit that it is a difficult one that needs to be answered. 

So I begin with conceding an important point to the Christians who are against this war. We all should abhor war and seek peace. 

Further, the anti-war position has the advantage, at least at first sight, to be morally superior within the Christian context. It is far easier to state that we are to love our neighbour than to kill him. (I deliberately pose the issue in the starkest and least appealing terms.) 

There is no doubt; the anti-war proponents occupy the moral high ground. The pro-war people, on the other hand are defending a position that makes them in some sense co-responsible for the destruction of human life.  After all, war is nasty and cruel. There is no way around that ugly reality. People, sometimes innocent people, get killed or mutilated. And who would want to have that on their conscience? 

There is a further difficulty faced by those on this side of the war controversy. The public debate about substantial choices, such as life or death, war or peace, freedom or slavery, good or evil, truth or falsehood, now largely occurs within a moral, historical and religious vacuum. 

The deepest problem of our culture is that we no longer have a generally shared conviction about an authoritative, abiding standard by which we are able to distinguish between right and wrong. Not that this is entirely lacking. If this were so, all decency, humanity and civility would disappear, and ordinary life would be destroyed. (There are plenty of places where even now that is happening. Think Zimbabwe, and the Congo.) 

Nonetheless, we have to face the unpleasant reality that a broadly shared consensus about right and wrong has certainly been severely battered and weakened. And the Christian community has not escaped the effects of that disease. The blame for that lies with the growing popularity of the belief that truth is what we say it is. Not thought (certainly not biblical thought) and reasoning, but feelings and impressions now rule supreme. This is what makes us ripe for the picking by fanatics and nutbars. (Think of Jesus’ warning against an empty house that is invaded by seven evil spirits.)

 

The foregoing is simply the recognition that the pro-war position is the more difficult one – at least on the surface. Therefore, those who take that position had better be prepared to row against the stream and have some very weighty reasons for their position. I have cited some in previous articles and plan to do so again in subsequent ones. Here I will concentrate on one important element of the war: the role of the media. My bias on this topic is that the media have by and large not helped to resolve but in fact have exacerbated the controversies surrounding the war in Iraq 

Is that Information, or What? 

It is fair to say that the media plays a major role in influencing, if not shaping, public opinion. Especially television, with its graphic images of spectacular events such as military battles, has a powerful effect on audiences. In my view they have all too often not served to enlighten but to create a preconceived impression and thereby add to the confusion surrounding this war. 

 This in no way detracts from the excellent and difficult frontline reporting done by some reporters often working at the risk of their lives. (Matthew Fisher, the only Canadian journalist “embedded” with the coalition forces, deserves an honourable mention.) But here I am focusing on the presence of a clearly anti-American and  anti-war bias so prevalent in the Canadian, European and even in the American  mainline media. 

Opinion polls show that a large percentage of those employed in the media  are of a liberal mindset. Most of them would consider themselves to be “progressive,” that is politically on the left, espousing interventionist public policies, and carrying large grudges against the United States.  During the Cold War, many of them were beholden to the idea that the United States and the Soviet Union were morally equivalent. According to this view, the Americans were just as guilty, if not more so than the Soviet Union for the East-West conflict with its attendant danger of all-out war. 

For example, they tend to regard the Cuban revolution as a form of political liberation, blaming the United States and not Fidel Castro for the misery of economic backwardness and political oppression in that country. 

The media treated the run-up to and the Iraq war itself in a similar way. They generally took a dim view of the United States’ attempt to force Saddam Hussein to comply with the numerous U.N. resolutions adopted after the First Gulf War in 1991. President Bush was depicted as a bloodthirsty warmonger who did not care about the suffering a war would unleash on the Iraqi people.  Some went even so far as to say that President Bush is more of a danger to the world than Saddam Hussein. A recent poll in France found that one-third of the population were hoping that Saddam would defeat the American-led coalition. 

There were many who predicted that the war against Iraq would end disastrously in a Vietnam-like quagmire. The U.N.’s warning  that the war would result in millions of refugees,  500,000 civilian dead and large scale infrastructure destruction were repeated endlessly, in the secular as well as the religious press. 

Once the war started on March 19, many of the reporters’ questions at the military briefings sounded more like accusation than questions of information. At one session I watched, more than one reporter insinuated that the military were lying. The antagonism of many of the newshounds was thick in the air.

Every setback or slowdown in the race to Baghdad was an occasion to find fault with the leadership of the military and the Bush administration. Often, there were plenty of pictures and reports of civilian casualties and sullen or antagonistic Iraqis while the evidence of Iraqis’ joy at their liberation was played down. Or when shown, such incidents were quickly contrasted with bad news for the coalition.  

How About a Little Gratitude? 

Before the fall of Baghdad after barely four weeks of fighting, some reporters concentrated on civilian casualties and on the hostility of the population towards the Americans. When the war was brought to a swift ending, the big story was not this truly amazing success and the low casualty rates but the destruction caused by the bombing and the looting that followed the evaporation of the Saddam  regime. 

Things have not improved much, as far as many reporters and editorialists are concerned. The military has come under heavy fire for not preventing the looting and destruction and not quickly restoring the supply of water and electricity. More doomsday scenarios are appearing as Shia clerics and their followers are demonstrating against what they call the American occupation forces and demanding that they leave the country forthwith. 

Ironically, these Muslims are able to freely gather at their religious festivals for the first time in decades. They are now free to do so and to express their animosity toward the Americans only because these very same Americans have liberated them from a regime that killed thousands of their fellow believers and  members of their own families. Would at least some recognition of that fact and gratitude not be in order? 

But perhaps we should not be too surprised about the ingratitude of these Shias. After all, they are enthralled by a religion that rigidly follows the dictates of the Koran as interpreted by a small number of those who are in possession of the truth. This form of religion divides people between us and them.

There is a second reason we should not be too surprised about what strikes some  of us as shocking ingratitude. The Arab and Islamic population has been subjected to a message, relentlessly proclaimed  in the name of Allah, that closes them off from the real world. Their world is shaped by the fiery denunciations from the pulpits of their mosques where the West, and especially the U.S., are depicted as the world of infidels that must be defeated. Their media reports only what advances that narrow and hate-filled  view of the world. No wonder that people who are systematically fed that sort of worldview are not open to reality. 

An Awful Prediction 

But what I consider even more astonishing is that right here in our own midst we find a mindset  that nurtures a view of the world that is as narrow and hate-filled as the poison spouted by the radical imams. Examples are plentiful, but I will restrict myself to quote from an exceptionally virulent attack on the American liberalization of Iraq. Here is a dispatch form Baghdad by Robert Fisk, on his website dated April 17, 2003, under this bold heading: 

“America’s war of ‘liberation’ may be over. But Iraq’s war of liberation from the Americans is just about to begin.” 

Then follows this opening salvo: 

It’s going wrong, faster than anyone could have imagined. The army of ‘liberation’ has already turned into the army of occupation. The Shias are threatening to fight the Americans, to create their own war of ‘liberation.’ 

After lambasting the Americans for imposing a curfew in Baghdad, Fisk continues: 

So now – with neither electricity nor running water – the millions of Iraqi here are   ordered to stay in their homes from dusk to dawn. Lockdown. It’s a form of imprisonment. In their own country. Written by the command of the 1st Marine Division, it’s a curfew in all but name. 

’If I was an Iraqi and I read that,’ an Iraqi woman shouted at me, ‘I would become a suicide bomber.’ And all across Baghdad you hear the same thing, from Shia Muslim clerics to Sunni businessmen, that the Americans have come only for oil, and that soon – very soon – a guerilla resistance must start… 

Marine officers in Baghdad were holding talks yesterday with a Shia militant cleric from Najaf to avert an outbreak of fighting around the holy city. I met the prelate before the negotiations began and he told me that ‘history is being repeated.’ He was talking of the British invasion of Iraq in 1917, which ended in disaster for the British. 

And so Fisk continues the litany for five full pages detailing the sins of omission and commission of the American and British military in Iraq. He is sure that this is a totally misguided effort that will only serve to foment more hatred of the Americans and cause more suffering for the Iraqi people.  He concludes this long list of gloomy predictions with this shot - laced with a generous dose of schadenfreude :

 It’s easy for a reporter to predict doom, especially after a brutal war that lacked all international legitimacy. But catastrophe usually waits for optimists in the Middle East, especially for false optimists who invade oil-rich nations with ideological excuses and high-flown moral claims and accusations, such as weapons of mass destruction, which are still unproved. So I’ll make an awful prediction. That America’s war of ‘liberation’ is over. Iraq’s war of liberation from the Americans is about to begin. In other words, the real and frightening story starts now. 

Peddling Falsehoods 

I wonder if Fisk ever stops to think of the irony that if he had lived under the Saddam regime and would write in the same critical way about that regime, he would be dead or wished he were - such is the horrific reality of the kind of torture its victims were subjected to. That freedom is a priceless gift, sometimes worth fighting for, seems to have escaped him. 

This is the reality: Iraqis were tyrannized by a regime dominated by one man who maintained control by fear and terror. It has the blood of hundreds of thousands of individuals and their families on its hands. This is in addition to the threat Iraq posed to its neighbours. Just ask the Kuwaitis. 

After 12 years of endless bickering and deception by the Iraqi regime, something unprecedented happened despite all the dire predictions to the contrary. Under the leadership of the United States, at great cost and risk to itself and its few allies, the Saddam regime was destroyed. For the first time in decades Iraq has the opportunity to make a fresh start, to release the skills and energy of its people and to put its immense resources to constructive ends. 

What is the response from the likes of Robert Fisk? It’s all wrong, they say. The U.S. is a power hungry bully guilty of the worst form of deception and indifferent to the true well being of the Iraqi people. Anyway, they warn, the U.S. may have won the war, but their attempt to establish a free and democratic Iraq is bound to fail – is already failing. 

Then they proceed to do their best to make sure that this honest effort of building a free and democratic society will indeed fail. Which it will, if the readers of this kind of falsehood refuse to see this poison for what it really is. 

I for one am cautiously optimistic, and I pray that by the grace of God somehow good will prevail and Iraqis will grasp the opportunities liberty provides. But it will not be easy, for the obstacles are daunting. And no thanks to Robert Fisk and all the other America-hating doomsayers of the media.