The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

The Left Isn't Listening

The Stop the War coalition is the greatest threat to any hope for a democratic Iraq

Nick Cohen • 16 February 2003

When Saddam is sent to rendezvous with a judge in The Hague, or a rope on a lamppost, the democratic opposition in Iraq will need help. It has many enemies: Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the CIA and the Foreign Office want to replace the old tyrant with a new, compliant dictator - a Saddam without a moustache. As the moment of decision arrives, Iraqi democrats and socialists have discovered that their natural allies in the European Left don't want to know them. They must add the shameless Stop the War coalition to the enemies list.

Iraq is the only country in the Arab world with a strong, democratic movement. Yet I wonder how many who marched yesterday know of the dissenters' existence. The demonstration's organisers have gone to great lengths to censor and silence. How else could the self-righteous feel good about themselves? The usual accusation when whites ignore brown-skinned peoples is that of racism. It doesn't quite work in the Stop the War coalition's case. The Socialist Workers Party, which dominates the alliance, was happy to cohost the march with the reactionary British Association of Muslims. The association had blotted its copybook by circulating a newspaper which explained that apostasy from Islam is 'an offence punishable by death'. But what the hell. In the interests of multi-culturalism, the SWP ignored the protests of squeamish lefties and let that pass. The Trots aren't Islamophobes, after all. The only Muslims they have a phobia about are secular Iraqi Muslims who, shockingly, believe in human rights.

The Iraqis made a fruitless appeal for fraternal solidarity last month. The Kurdish leader Barham Salih flew to a meeting of the Socialist International in Rome to argue for 'the imperative of freedom and liberation from fascism and dictatorship'. Those marchers who affect to believe in pluralism should find his arguments attractive, if they can suppress their prejudices long enough to hear him out. Salih explained that the no-fly zones enforced by the RAF and USAF had allowed his Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdish Democratic Party to build a fair imitation of democratic state in liberated northern Iraq. The Kurds promote the freedom of journalists, women and religious and racial minorities. Naturally, the local supporters of al-Qaeda agree with Baghdad that this intolerable liberal experiment must end, and the Kurds are having to fight both Saddam and the fundamentalists.

Salih was prepared for that: what he wasn't prepared for was the enmity of the anti-war movement. Foolishly, he tried to reason with it. He pointed out that the choice wasn't between war or peace. Saddam 'has been waging war for decades and he has inflicted hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties.' Indeed, he continued, the ethnic cleansing of the Kurds who are still under Baghdad's control continues to this day. 'I do not want war and I do not want civilian casualties, nor do those who are coming to our assistance,' he said. 'But the war has already begun.'

What, he then asked, about the strange insistence of the anti-war movement that Iraqis must not be liberated until Israel withdraws from the occupied territories? Would the converse apply? If the Palestinians were on the verge of seeing Israeli rule overthrown, would hundreds of thousands take to the streets of London and bellow that Palestinians could not get rid of Sharon until Iraqis got rid of Saddam? Salih doubted it and also had little time for those who say war should be opposed because 'it's all about oil'.

So what? he asked. 'Iraqis know that their human rights have too often been ignored because Iraqi oil was more important to the world than Iraqi lives. It would be a good irony if at long last oil becomes a cause of our liberation - if this is the case, then so be it. The oil will be a blessing and not the curse that it has been for so long... So to those who say "No War", I say, of course "yes", but we can only have "No War" if there is "No Dictatorship" and "No Genocide".'

Readers with access to the internet can read the whole speech at I urge you to do so because you're never going to hear democratic Iraqi voices if you rely on the anti-war movement. For most of the time, the comrades pretend the Iraqi opposition doesn't exist.

Harold Pinter is the most striking member of a British Left with its hands over its ears. In 1988 he staged Mountain Language, a play about the banning of Kurdish in Turkey. The conceit was all too realistic: the world would never know of the suffering of the Kurds because the Kurds would never be allowed to speak. ('Your language is forbidden,' an officer bellows at Kurdish women. 'It is dead. No one is allowed to speak your language. Your language no longer exists. Any questions?')

In 2003 when Iraqi Kurds found the words to ask for aid in an anti-fascist struggle, Pinter turned Pinteresque. He refused to hear the mountain tongue he had once defended and became a noisy supporter of the Stop the War coalition. The current issue of the left-wing magazine Red Pepper takes evasion into outright falsehood. It condemns journalists - well, one journalist, me - for being conned into believing the Iraqi opposition supports war. Only American stooges in the Iraqi National Congress want war, it announces with mendacious self-confidence. The main Iraqi parties - which Red Pepper lists as the Kurdish Democratic Party, Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan - are with the peace protesters.

It's a convincing case, spoilt only by the fact that the Iraqi National Congress is an umbrella organisation whose members include the Kurdish Democratic Party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution and, indeed, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, whose leader flew to Europe to beg the Left to get its priorities right and support a war against tyranny.

If evasion and lies won't do, vilification is the last resort. The writings of the Iraqi intellectual Kanan Makiya have inspired the opposition and brought him many enemies, not least Saddam Hussein, who wants him dead. Edward Said has been only slightly less forgiving. Makiya, he wrote recently, is a man 'devoid of either compassion or real understanding, he prattles on for Anglo-American audiences who seem satisfied that here at last is an Arab who exhibits the proper respect for their power and civilisation... He represents the intellectual who serves power unquestioningly; the greater the power, the fewer doubts he has.'

I like a good polemic and used to have some time for Said. But he too has fled into denial. Like the rest of anti-war movement he refuses to acknowledge that Makiya, Salih and their comrades are fighting the political battle of their lives against those 'Anglo-American audiences' in the powerhouses of London and Washington who oppose a democratic settlement. (See Makiya's article on page 20.) The democrats are struggling without the support of Western liberals and socialists because they don't fit into a pat world view.

Here's why. The conclusion the Iraqi opposition has reluctantly reached is that there is no way other than war to remove a tyrant whose five secret police forces make a palace coup or popular uprising impossible. As the only military force on offer is provided by America, they will accept an American invasion.

This is their first mistake. American and British power is always bad in the eyes of muddle-headed Left, the recent liberations of East Timor, Sierra Leone and Kosovo notwithstanding.

Then the uppity wogs compound their offence and tell their European betters to think about the political complexities. The British and American governments aren't monoliths, they argue. The State Department and the CIA have always been the foes of Iraqi freedom. But they are countered by the Pentagon and a US Congress which passed the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998 - a law which instructs the American government to support democracy. Not one Iraqi I have met trusts the Foreign Office. However, they have had a grudging admiration for Tony Blair ever since he met the Kurdish leaders and gave them a fair hearing - a courteous gesture which hasn't been matched by the Pinters, Trotskyists, bishops, actresses and chorus girls on yesterday's march.

The Iraqis must now accept that they will have to fight for democracy without the support of the British Left. Disgraceful though our failure to hear them has been, I can't help thinking that they'll be better off without us.


This article first appeared in the Observer and is carried here with permission from the author.




Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the dangers of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of 'crackpot' than the stigma of conformity. And on issues that seem important to you, stand up and be counted at any cost.
- Thomas J. Watson

Index: Current Articles

23 February 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Knowing Too Much and Saying It Too Well: Bernadette McAliskey Barred from US
Anthony McIntyre


A Unity of Purpose Against the War
Aine Fox


UK Complete Me
Jimmy Sands


The Left Isn't Listening
Nick Cohen


The Letters page has been updated.


20 February 2003


The Shadow of the Gunman
Paul Dunne


'Ulster Says No!' to a Bush Bomb Blitz
Newton Emerson


The Rally
Anthony McIntyre


Impressions of the NYC Anti-War Demonstration
Sandy Boyer


In Praise of Father Mc Manus
Congressman Ben Gilman


"Just Get Out!"
Gabriel Ash




The Blanket




Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices