Hi. Yasir Assam emailed me this piece, his debut for Webdiary. "I'm a freelance software developer living northern NSW," he wrote. "'m British, of Iraqi origin and a permanent resident. I'm not a professional writer, commentator, intellectual, academic or otherwise "qualified" to write serious articles, but I hope that doesn't make my piece less worthy of consideration." Certainly not!
Lest we forget Iraq
by Yasir Assam
When you vote in the coming election, how much will morality play when you make your choice?
I hear a lot about who’s better at managing tax, employment, health, education and so on. I refer to these as “practical” issues, every day issues that affect “me” the average voter, and in deciding which party is better at dealing with them, the question is largely one of self-interest.
Self-interest is fine, but what about morality? What about the issues that don’t necessarily affect me or my family directly? The assault on civil liberties and due legal process, the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, the treatment of Indigenous Australians, the effect that global warming will have on future generations (especially the poor abroad) are just some of the moral issues we face. I concede that to some extent all election issues have a moral content, but these latter ones have a much stronger moral flavour than the practical ones I mentioned earlier. I’d like to focus on one moral issue, though the others are no less important.
Australia’s 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq was a clear act of unprovoked aggression against a country that posed no imminent threat to Australia or the US. According to recent estimates, 1.2 million Iraqis have met violent deaths since the invasion. We were told it was for WMDs, terrorism and democracy, but it’s clear the main reason for invading is a 3 letter word beginning with O and ending in L, as Alan Greenspan, General Abizaid and Brendan Nelson have admitted. And if their admissions aren’t convincing enough, consider the Iraq Oil Laws which the US have been keen to push through, allowing foreign companies to reap large profits from the massive, high quality, easily extractable and proven oil reserves.
Iraq is often portrayed as a “mess” in the media, implying (by some) that though the cause was noble, the execution was flawed. In other words, we had the moral right to invade, it’s just that those guys (Bush et. al.) were incompetent. But this argument evades the central fact: the invaders knowingly invaded a defenceless nation, without the consent of its people, in order to take control of its resources, leaving death and destruction in their wake. It is the supreme war crime.
What sort of morals does a government have, who are willing to invade a nation and kill countless people in order to control its resources? More importantly, are you willing to vote for them, even if you think their policies benefit you more than those of some other parties?
During the Nuremberg Trials, the Chief American Prosecutor Robert H. Jackson said:
To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole’, where the ‘accumulated evil of the whole’ includes the 1.2 million dead and 4.2 million displaced.
He also said:
We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well’ (my emphasis).
These words were echoed recently by another chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials, Benjamin Ferencz, who in 2006 (whilst Saddam was on trial), said that Bush should also stand trial for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Although Australia’s presence in Iraq is minuscule compared with the US, our presence there gives substantial moral support and credibility to the US, and to an extent greater than its share of troops, Australia bears moral responsibility for the crime.
Let’s take a hypothetical situation. Suppose you were a parent able to pick which head teacher your school employed. You find a candidate: he’s a sharp operator, a real whiz. He has a great record from other schools: fantastic grades. But it turns out he’s a serial killer – he kills old ladies. He never murders children – your kids are safe – but he’s unrepentant and likely to kill again. Even though your kids are safe and assured fantastic grades under him, would you employ him, knowing he’s a killer?
Some may think the analogy outlandish or even offensive, but isn’t 1.2 million dead a tad more offensive? That’s murder on an unimaginable scale, and our leaders (with our consent) have participated in it lock, stock and barrel. What’s more, there’s every indication they’ll do the same again (Iran?).
In fact, my analogy doesn’t go far enough: the war in Iraq has undoubtedly increased the threat of terrorism to the very populations (e.g. Australia’s) it was claimed to protect. It has also sent a clear message to the rest of the world that the rules of international law and justice are irrelevant, that the strongest will invade the weakest at will. This unspoken yet clear message will undoubtedly lead to greater tensions internationally and the increase of nuclear proliferation: grim consequences for all of us.
They are war criminals, and whatever good they may (or may not) have done domestically does not lessen the severity of their crime. If we vote for them for any reason, we also share in that crime.
My point is, this one moral issue (and there others) trumps all the practical ones. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the present government really is better at managing the economy than anyone else, we must still not allow these murderous criminals to rule over us and commit crimes in our names. I for one would rather suffer the mother of all recessions than have my leaders spill innocent blood in my name. That’s what taking a moral stand means to me.
The vote was hard-won by our heroic forebears. Let’s not squander our inheritance. Think less what your country can do for you, and more on what its leaders will likely do unto others less fortunate than ourselves.