Haifa Zangana et al: Addressing the naked emperor with the courage lacked by poodles Blair & Howard Print E-mail
|  1 - 7 November 2006 | Issue No. 818

Speaking truth to power

Ferial J Ghazoul applauds the authors of a book on the Iraq war who dare say the emperor has no clothes

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Brian Eno, Harold Pinter, John le Carré, Richard Dawkins, Michel Faber, Haifa Zangana. Not One More Death. London: Verso, 2006

This little book is short and to the point; it confronts power with truth about the invasion of Iraq in 2003 by the US and UK. The book, written by six prominent intellectuals and artists, opens with a quotation from a New York Times reporter, following the demonstrations against the impeding war in mid-February 2003, in which he stated that the "huge anti-war demonstrations... are reminders that there may still be two superpowers on the planet: The United States and world public opinion." This book is published as a contribution to Stop-the- War Coalition, and acknowledges that the US invasion and occupation of Iraq is not an isolated wild adventure but part and parcel of a global imperial plan. The recent role of the US during the atrocities of Israelis in Lebanon and its blessing of Israeli occupation of Arab lands are another episode of the same cycle. This book's aim is to expose power and particularly to denounce the lies that were used by Prime Minister Blair and President Bush in waging the war.

The authors are public figures and intellectuals par excellence: Brian Eno is a well-known artist, musician, cultural critic, music theorist and producer. His albums include Another Green World and Apollo. Harold Pinter is Nobel laureate playwright and poet. John le Carré is a prolific novelist and the author of Absolute Friends and The Constant Gardener, among others. Richard Dawkins is a science professor at Oxford University and is the author of The Selfish Gene and The Ancestor's Tale. Michel Faber is an award-winning novelist and a short story writer. He is the author of The Crimson Petal and the Fahrenheit Twins. Last but not least, Haifa Zangana is an Iraqi pharmacist, novelist, painter and activist. She is the author of an autobiographical novel, Through the Vast Halls of Memory (translated by P. Hammond) and Women on a Journey: Between Baghdad and London (translated by Judy Cumberbatch), and writes regularly for the Guardian.

What the six authors say in their essays is pretty much the same: an abhorrence of war, a humanitarian concern with the dispossessed, and utter contempt for the imperial politics of US and UK. The difference in style and strategy of these intersecting essays is telling and works to complement each other.

Harold Pinter in his essay -- which reproduces the Literature Nobel address of 2005 -- entitled "Art, Truth, and Politics", distinguishes between the artist and the citizen. While the first plays on ambiguity and mixes the real with the fantastic, truth with fiction; the citizen on the other hand has the responsibility of distinguishing truth from falsehood and proclaiming what is true. Pinter does not mince his words; he is as clear as crystal. He gives examples from his plays, Homecoming, The Birthday Party and Old Times, showing how language is a "highly ambiguous transaction". Yet the search for truth should not stop, even though political theatre should avoid sermonising. Pinter contrasts the search of the writer for a language that portrays situations and the language of politics built on deception. The assurance of politicians that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and collaboration with Al-Qaeda were simply untrue, as Pinter points out. He takes that false assertion as a starter to go over the US foreign policy in the last few decades, including Nicaragua and Chile. Pinter's language is compelling: he moves from quoting a poem of Neruda, "and the blood of children ran through the streets," to stating facts on the grounds, "US now occupies 702 military installations throughout the world in 132 countries." Poking fun at George Bush language with its simplistic binaries, Pinter offers a speech for the president mimicking his ideology and verbal style: "God is great. God is good. My God is good. Bin Laden's God is bad. His is a bad God." This splendid essay of Pinter working on different registers, evoking and invoking, arguing and satirising, sums up its aim in his last paragraph: to restore "the dignity of man".

Haifa Zangana's essay, entitled "The Right to Rule Ourselves", alludes in its very title to the basic right that has been denied to Iraqis through occupation. She opens her critique by quoting Blair in a statement made on the eve of the invasion, saying how the war on Iraq would save the life of Iraqis and would make the Iraqi people celebrate! She goes on to show how exactly the opposite has taken place: "We are not celebrating. Death is covering us like fine dust." Despite the rhetoric of building a democratic nation, the Iraqi people suffer the abuses of the Occupation forces and their agents. Privatisation of the public sector has deprived citizens from basic services. Poverty increased dramatically and unemployment reached 60%. Iraq has become a ravaged country even though it is an oil-rich state. Corruption, nepotism, and Israeli-style collective punishment are the hallmarks of American-occupied Iraq. Zangana supports her argument with figures and incidents. Occupation forces denied access to the injured, killed children and proclaimed they are insurgents in different cities: Falluja, Tel Afar, Samarra, etc. She gives figures on women in prison, academics, writers, and doctors who have been detained or murdered under American occupation. But abused and murdered Iraqis cannot even claim their rights as the occupation forces have stated: "All foreign soldiers, diplomats or contractors implicated in the killing of Iraqi civilians are immune from arrest or trial in Iraq." This is colonialism with the slogans of democracy.

Brian Eno sets out to show how the war is anything but democratic and the British public opinion has been against it: "Bush and Blair seem quite indifferent to actual democracy. It's a useful banner to fly above their ambitions -- as though it's fine to destroy a country and several thousand of its people if, at the end of it, you can paste the label 'DEMOCRACY' over the mess you've left."

John le Carré in his essay, "The United State Has Gone Mad", explores the motivation of the US. The issue for him had never been weapons of mass destruction or fighting terrorism. These are ways of scaring and deluding the public. The real reason for the Iraq adventure which has been planned for long before 9/11 is different from what is claimed: "What is at stake is not an Axis of Evil -- but oil, money and people's lives."

Richard Dawkins, in "Bin Laden's Victory", shows how the war on Iraq has made of the US a hateful power, judged by the millions who expressed world opinion by taking to the streets in protest against the war and how American triumph has paved the way for a theocracy in Iraq. Thus the US served Bin Laden and accomplished his wildest dreams.

Michel Faber, in writing "Dreams in the Dumpster, Language Down the Drain", contrasts the simplistic -- almost moronic -- "language of Bush", "There are bad people out there, and they want to hurt us," with that of John Brady Kiesling, an American diplomat who resigned over the actions of his president; his "letter of protest was a masterpiece of dignity, eloquent reasoning, astute analysis, and most of all, humanity."

It is precisely the courage of a Kiesling and the contributors to this volume who dare say the emperor has no clothes that gives us hope that madness is not total and that there are still those who speak truth to superpower.