“we the people, who took to the streets in unmatched numbers to oppose the war, were wiser and assessed reality with more foresight than our masters”
This blog is ten years old this month. I’ve written previously about the impetus for starting to write, and my reasons for persisting with it.
A key factor was the Iraq War of 2003. The arguments about the decision to invade, the human rights abuses that followed and the obtuse behaviour of our leaders were a staple of the ‘blogosphere’ at that time, and I got stuck in.
I have just uploaded some digitised super 8mm cinefilm footage I took in 2003, of the anti-war demonstrations in London.
I sent the original reels to the producers of the We Are Many documentary. They have crowd-sourced footage of the biggest mobilisation of people in history. Sadly, my footage did not make it into the final cut (too much panning, maybe!?) but they provided me with the digitised footage anyway. I am making it available online under a Creative Commons Licence.
Watching the footage a decade after I took it, I am amused by how the vintage cinefilm adds an extra sheen of history to the images. Its also serendipitous that I received this footage back just as Instagram launched its video service. The quick cuts and grainy film in my clips are mirrored in the new content being produced today by social media enthusiasts. I was using Instagram Video before it was cool!
The impulse to create art is as powerful as any other thing that drives us because art connects us to experiences and to one another. Good is besides the point when the need behind it is to create something honest and true to the way we see the world. It’s not about realism. The vintage-tinted Instagram filters are derided for adding a nostalgic cast to the mundane, but what they do is allow users to share their world in the same emotional shades they see. The photo becomes not just a document of a moment, but a story told from a point of view.
This speaks to why I chose to document the protest with Super 8mm cine-film in the first place. The political mobilisation of early 2003 felt historic, and I wanted to convey that in my personal record of the day.
We have a duty to protect these people. Failure to do so would not only be a moral outrage – it would damage the reputation of British forces abroad and make it much harder to recruit local translators for future military operations.
A few years agao, I blogged about the campaign to save the Iraqi translators who had worked for British troops in the country. Appallingly, the British Government refused to give them asylum, even though it was their work helping (perhaps, even keeping alive) British soldiers that had got them into trouble in the first place.
Via Aavaz, I learn that the British Government may now repeat this shameful episode in relation to translators working with British forces in Afghanistan. They want to give compensation, in lieu of asylum.
This really is not good enough. We have a duty to protect these people. Failure to do so would not only be a moral outrage – it would damage the reputation of British forces abroad and make it much harder to recruit local translators for future military operations.
Why does the British Government drag its heels on these ethical no-brainers? I worry that it is down to the confused debate about immigration in this country. Asylum seekers, refugees, economic migrants and illegal immigrants are all very different types of migrant, but they are all spoken of as similarly illegitimate and unwelcome. We cannot allow an immature debate at home to hobble our soliders working abroad.
Amid all the frantic late night comments about the UN resolution to finally act in Libya, this tweet from @techsoc stood out:
All intervention is risky & w/ great downsides. A non-intervention is also an intervention; letting Gaddafi kill using weapons we sold.
I think this an interesting companion thought to Sunder Katwala’s bolshy piece on the subject of whattaboutery (a topic Johann Hari previously dealt with in this hardy perennial). Sunder explains why it is worth intervening in Libya when we might not do so elsewhere. First, there has to be a clear and present humanitarian crisis (this is not present in most examples of despicable oppression, a small mercy). Second, intervention has to be possible and practical. This generally means the support and assistance of major regional players like the Arab League or African Union, who are notoriously lethargic. And third, the intervention requires a legitimacy, again related to what important external stakeholders think, but also what those inside the country ask for. These three checkboxes provide a case for what Sunder calls contextual universalism. It matters – at least to me – because it articulates why I had a gut feeling that the Iraq war was wrong, and the current intervention is right. This is despite the fact that the documented brutality of Saddam Hussein was ever bit as bad as that of Colonel Gaddafi.
The cautious approach is clearly a response to the bungling of Iraq. I watched some of the collegiate House of Commons debate on the issue yesterday, and most of the contributions, from Nicholas Soames to John McDonnell, were infused with the considerations that Sunder lays out. This approach to Foreign policy – the need for practicality and legitimacy, the need to be seen to be going to war for the right reasons – is obviously influenced by how unsuccessful the hawkish and shameless approach of Bush/Blair turned out to be. in 2006 I wrote in this space how protest actually serves to influence future policy more than current policy. I quoted Tim Ireland of Bloggerheads, who wrote:
… someone has to be called to account or the next batch of power-mad bastards – here or abroad – will think they can get away with exactly the same thing.
Well, Tony Blair was not forced kicking and screaming from office in the way Tim hoped. Nevertheless, the way the British and American Governments have acted during this current crisis is telling. It is clear that they have been profoundly affected by the uproar we caused last time. David Cameron is rightly being praised for his handling of the crisis, but his course of action was defined by the parameters set for him by recent history. And those parameters were set by us, the awkward squad of protesters and dissenting bloggers. For that, I think we can claim some credit.
I wonder if his gaffes were as accidental as is being reported
Reading the reports of Nick Clegg’s unsteady Deputy Prime Minister’s Question Time performance yesterday, I wonder if his gaffes were as accidental as is being reported.
He ‘mispoke’ on two occasions: First, he announced that the Yarl’s Wood detention centre will be closed down, only to have to clarify that it would only be the (horrendous) familiy detention unit that will be abolished. Second, he referred to the “illegal invasion of Iraq” at the despatch-box in the House of Commons. Government press officers spent the rest of the day trying to conjour up a new constitutional convention that would distinguish between Clegg’s “personal” view and the government line.
Everyone is discussing Clegg’s political ineptitude, but I wonder if he has pulled off a clever feint that shifts the political debate on these two issues firmly in favour of his long held views. Closing Yarls Wood is surely a Liberal priority, so I suppose that his words could be described as a Freudian slip. But clarifying that an unpopular or morally questionable government policy will continue, rather has the effect of re-opening the debate as to whether it should continue. Clegg has given this question much greater prominence, and surely both Liberals and liberals will welcome that.
Meanwhile, Clegg’s “illegal” gaffe reminds me of a tactic employed by Josiah Bartlett, the West Wing‘s fictional President. In Season 3, Bartlett accidentally-on-purpose calls his election opponent an idiot. He takes the political flack and issues an apology, but questions over the other candidate’s intelligence begin to dominate the news cycles for the rest of the week. Back in real-life, the Deputy Prime Minister is certainly being criticised, but I do not see how it will dent his political capital among the Liberal Democrat MPs and party members. They believe that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was illegal and it is in their interests to establish this as consensus. Clegg’s comment unquestionably advances this aim.
So while the conventional wisdom is that Nick Clegg stumbled at his first appearance at the despatch box, it looks to me that he has advanced the Liberal Democrat agenda – at the first available opportunity, no less.
The reason we actually went to war is not the reason we were told we were going to war. The issue of Iraq clearly needs a Frost/Nixon moment, where the concerns of the public are at least acknowledged by the ex-leader at the heart of the controversy.
Unfortunately, a busy week at work meant that Blair’s appearance at the Chilcott Inquiry pretty much passed me by. After The Event news reports confirmed what we all expected anyway – Mr Blair refused to apologise or admit any wrong-doing.
My take: Put aside for a moment all the issues of legality, post-war planning, the monstrosity of Saddam’s regim, and oil. (They are huge issues, admittedly… but put them aside anyway). We are still left with a central dischord, which is this: Prime Minister Blair’s actual reason for waging to war, is not the reason we were told we were going to war. This is untenable in a democracy, regardless of the ultimate morality of the conflict, of the death we caused.
We, the people, know this.
Tony Blair knows this.
Moreover, we know he knows this. Moreover moreover, he knows we know this. And we know he knows we know. And he knows that we know that he knows. Ad nauseum. Yet, no apology. It is an insult to everyone’s intelligence.
The issue of Iraq clearly needs a Frost/Nixon moment, where the concerns of the public are at least acknowledged by the ex-leader at the heart of the controversy. This is unlikely to ever materialise, which is why this is an issue that will continue to fester for a generation, or more.
To clarify, I’m not sure that the ideas of ‘leadership’ and ‘open source’ are mutually exclusive.
Yesterday at the Blog Nation Event, Dan Hardie gave an account of his experiences running his Iraqi Interpreters campaign. He mentioned my post on Open Source Campaigning, but said he thought that ‘open source’ wasn’t an appropriate label, because you need a heirarchy and a leader to run an effective campaign.
To clarify, I’m not sure that the ideas of ‘leadership’ and ‘open source’ are mutually exclusive. Open Source coding projects tend to have a core team of dedicated developers, but individual tasks to code are farmed out to volunteers. Likewise with Jay Rosen’s ‘open source journalism’ – an editor or lead journalist still writes up the piece, but dozens or hundreds of other journalists are able to perform the many discrete pieces of research required.
So it is with Open Source Campaigning. You still need someone like Dan to lead the campaign and make strategic decisions, but the leg-work can be decimated if the lobbying or writing to individual MPs is shared throughout the network.
Cross-posted at the Liberal Conspiracy website.
The BBC picks up on the betrayal of Iraqi interpreters by the British Government. The Panorama programme is a welcome addition to the campaign, providing more ‘mainstream’ evidence of the danger that these people face. Let us hope that these reports can also convey the urgency of the situation.
What the BBC article doesn’t do is convey the inadequacy of the British response. It is a shame that the Foreign Secretary thinks that the 12 month length-of-service criteria imposed on asylum claimants “gets the balance right“, when some of those who do not meet the criteria are now being terrorised. As I have said before, it is incongruous to impose such criteria on issues of asylum, which must be assessed purely on the basis of need.
Campaign leader Dan Hardie has more on how bureaucracy is stifling the application process, rendering the British ‘help’ pretty useless in tackling the issue. This is not the way to win hearts and minds, although, now we’re out of Basra, one wonders if this is still a priority.
Via the tenacious Dan, we find ourselves reading a Written Ministerial Statement on Iraq: Assistance to Locally Employed Staff.
While it is obviously good that the British Government is recognising that many Iraqis have been endangered due to their work for HM Forces, it is a shame that the 12 month criteria remains. It is a symptom of a wider malaise in our political culture, whereby asylum and different forms of immigration are conflated and confused. While it is reasonable that citizenship should have some length-of-stay or length-of-service proviso attached, this should not be the case for asylum claims, which should be judged purely on the basis of need.
The statement says that the current policy “is practical, realistic and preserves the integrity of wider immigration and asylum policy.” Are other types of asylum seekers subject to the 12 month rule?