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Volume 3, Number 5              March 2 - 8, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines

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The Hypocrisy of the Humanitarian Case for War 

By Amin Saikal
The Age

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The American, British and Australian Governments are pressing for an invasion of Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein's regime "for the sake of humanity". It is a pity the same standard is not applied to end the plight of the Palestinian people.

No wonder the humanitarian argument is not persuasive, especially among Arabs and Muslims.

The leaders of "the coalition of the willing" are right to highlight the brutal aspects of Saddam's regime. His regime is indisputably abominable. But it is unfortunate they remained silent on this issue for so long.

Saddam has been in power for nearly 35 years. Despite his repressive measures at home and aggression against Iraq's neighbors Iran and Kuwait, no leader in the West had until the past few weeks firmly invoked the Iraqi dictator's inhumanity as the reason to get rid of him.

Even after Saddam's August 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the successful US-led military campaign against that invasion six months later, Washington, London and Canberra never issued a policy statement identifying considerations of humanity, or "liberation of the Iraqi people" as a principal basis for action.

Humanity and ethics did not enter their calculations in doing lucrative trade with Saddam's regime. They essentially adhered to an old and crudely "realist" dictum - "no morality in world politics".

They showed little leniency towards those victims of Saddam's repression who ended up on their shores in search of asylum.

Their sudden emphasis on humanity tallies neither with their past behavior towards the Iraqi dictator nor with the fact that they have close relations with many other dictatorships. None of the members of the coalition of the willing has had much to say about massive human rights violations in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan or Libya.

Indeed, Libya's Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has recently been rehabilitated by Canberra and London.

The condemnation of Saddam on humanitarian grounds is also in stark contrast with the silence the governments of the coalition of the willing have maintained over Israel's brutalities against the Palestinian people.

None of these governments has ever forthrightly condemned Israel's colonial occupation of Palestinian lands and use of military power against mostly unarmed and defenseless Palestinian people.

They have often expressed abhorrence at Palestinian suicide bombings, but have never matched this with an _expression of disgust at Israel's widespread and often indiscriminate brutalities, subjecting the Palestinian people to individual and collective punishment.

The excuse often advanced is that Israel is, after all, a democracy. But it is never admitted that democracies do not always produce good leaders. Israeli democracy has produced Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has never deviated from his long-held goal of suppressing the Palestinians and humiliating the Arabs. While Sharon has come under investigation for war crimes against the Palestinians, President George Bush has declared him to be "a man of peace".

Arabs and Muslims in particular, and the international community in general, have reason to remain very skeptical of the recent emphasis on humanity as a base for acting against Saddam.

There are many peoples other than Iraqis who are also crying for freedom against oppressive regimes. But they should not expect their cries to be answered unless they either have economic and geostrategic importance, like Iraq, or become a direct menace to the US and its willing allies, as Afghanistan did under the Taliban.

Amin Saikal is professor of political science and director of the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University in Canberra.

Copyright 2003 The Age Company Ltd

February 24, 2003


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