a bone jarring suprise.

  1. 1,781 Posts.
    February 8 2003

    The selective compassion of left-wingers must give way to a refusal to tolerate any injustice, writes Pamela Bone.

    A reader who says he has lived in Iraq emailed from London: "I am eclectically left-leaning in politics, but I cannot comprehend how the left can blithely leave the Iraqi people in the hands of one of most monstrous regimes imaginable. I hear a strong voice of isolationist hedonism in the Western left on this issue. I suspect that the left of George Orwell would never have doubted what was right."

    In a 1945 essay, Notes on Nationalism, Orwell wrote: "The majority of pacifists either belong to obscure religious sects or are simply humanitarians who object to taking life and prefer not to follow their thoughts beyond that point. Pacifist propaganda usually boils down to saying that one side is as bad as the other."

    Two years ago Amnesty International documented the public executions in Iraq of women accused of prostitution. The women were beheaded with swords in front of their families and their heads were nailed to the doors of their houses as a lesson to other women not to "dishonour" their country. The real crime - of those who hadn't been driven to prostitution to feed their children - was that they opposed Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath regime.

    Putting Saddam before the International Criminal Court, where he belongs, should be reason enough for the civilised world to act on Iraq. (And yes, I fervently hope it can still be achieved without war. Doesn't everyone?)

    The other argument for intervention is that criminal states cannot be allowed to have weapons of mass destruction. It is a perfectly valid argument and one that Prime Minister John Howard astutely judges more likely to appeal to the majority of Australians.

    Because while many who oppose war are, in Orwell's description, "simply humanitarians" who cannot face the thought of innocent children being killed, more of the opposition is based on the fear of what consequences might follow from an attack. This is shown by the fact that according to opinion polls, a slight majority are prepared to support action if it has the backing of the United Nations.

    Of course it is preferable that if there is war it is seen to be on behalf of the international community, and not just America. But we should not pretend that one fewer Iraqi child will be killed just because an attack has been sanctioned by the UN.

    Iraqi children are in fact already dying. In the 12 years of UN sanctions, infant mortality has more than doubled, nearly a quarter of children under five are stunted in growth, and deaths from common childhood diseases have increased 10-fold. Meanwhile, Saddam has continued to build palaces and monuments to himself.

    And so are children in other parts of the world dying. In southern Africa and Ethiopia 30 million people are at risk of starvation because of famine, and the most vulnerable, as always, are children. There are 13 million AIDS orphans in Africa being cared for by grandmothers, by their 12-year-old sisters, or by no one.

    In Malawi I met a 15-year-old girl who was dying of AIDS, who pleaded, so politely, for medicine so that she would not be too sick to look after her orphaned brothers and sisters, because there was no one else. This is happening in a world in which there is money enough, food enough and medicine enough to save them.

    Is it only in war that the suffering of children is to be condemned? Why is the left not holding protest rallies to save these children? Why no marches on parliament, why no hard questions from left-leaning journalists about the fact that Australia's overseas aid budget is at the lowest level on record? Why not ask John Howard why, if he is so keen to emulate George Bush, he does not follow the recent US example and triple funding to fight AIDS?

    This is Stephen Lewis, the UN special envoy on HIV, in an emotional speech to the recent G8 meeting in Canada: "I've raged against injustice but I've never seen anything like this. I don't know how to get a grip on it. I don't know how to make sense of it. Is the behaviour of the Western world just appalling insensitivity, is it unacknowledged racism, is it the comfortable assumption of hopelessness in order to avoid contributing money? Is it possible that the political leadership is completely out of touch with (its) populations?"

    I wish I could say the leadership was out of touch. I wish I did not suspect that the popular resistance to this war, combined with the widespread indifference to poverty, was not the result of a half-conscious awareness that the masses of suffering humanity in Africa can't attack us (yet).

    I have always thought of myself as "left" (maybe "eclectically left-leaning" is a better way of putting it), but I'm not sure I know what the left stands for any more. I don't understand a left that is so imbued with cultural relativism that it thinks America, or Australia, is just as bad as Iraq. I don't understand a left that is so selective in its compassion.

    If the old, left ideas of internationalism mean anything, they mean we should be trying to rid the world of Saddam Hussein, and every other rotten dictator like him. It means absolutely refusing to tolerate any longer the massive inequalities between countries. It means that everyone who goes to a peace rally should donate at least the price of a caffe latte to Oxfam.

    Pamela Bone is a staff writer.

    from The Age.
arrow-down-2 Created with Sketch. arrow-down-2 Created with Sketch.