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George has seen the Dervishes Dancing
Journal of a Futurist - 26 February 2003
The Art of War, the Poetry of Freedom, a Jittery Pope
Sydney's massive, cheerful and heterogeneous peace stroll was a delight to experience, all the more because it unhinged our Prime Minister, John Howard. (A "traitorous mob" was his talkback kickback). Some placards evoked a bygone age: make love, not war, phone Bruce on... This captured the prevailing spirit: war is sooo 20th century. Later in the day, apprehensively, I farewelled the brave and gifted artist, George Gittoes, who flew off to Baghdad to bear witness, as he often does, to the impact of state terror on the street. www.gittoes.com The weekend was capped with a visit to the Entertainment Centre, when a ticket to Bob Dylan unexpectedly flew into my hands. The show was stolen by a dreadlocked poet half his age, inciting some in the audience with her antic. About which more later.
To Bomb or Not to Bomb
People of goodwill stand on both sides of the divide over the bombing of Baghdad. Not all hawks are oil thirsty imperial sadists blind to the sufferings of the innocent. Because Iraq is a vast torture chamber, they argue, a quick dethronement of Saddam Hussein is in the best interest of humanity. Whereas we squawking doves prolong the pain of the victims.
Each time I hear a bone-crushed Iraqi survivor recount the horrors of life under Hussein, I ask myself ,what if I'm wrong? What if our Prime Minister is right? What if our protests are a cruel impediment to righteous justice? An impressive escapee, Zainab al-Auwaij pleaded last night on ABC's Lateline, that it was time "stop the war INSIDE Iraq". She has a point.
Could my distrust of the American war machine be blinding me to the urgency of liberation? What if the invasion is swift and surgical, the populace dances in the street, tyranny is routed, hunger ameliorated, water purified, sewers restored and General Tommy Franks ignites democracy, re-shaping the Mid-east to the tune of an Israeli-Palestinian choir belting out a rap version of God Bless America? If only. Truly, I yearn to be wrong. Don't we all want freedom to bloom in the Baghdad rubble, like a rose in Spanish Harlem? If it does, just one teeny pink petal, I'll eat my beanie. And enjoy it.
Agatha Christie, Hans Blix, al Q'aida
Yes, there are people of goodwill who are wise in the ways of Arabian politics, raring to bomb, whose expertise exceeds my own by a million miles, and yet still will I fly with the doves. Why?
- Saddam Hussein poses less of a threat to anyone, apart from his own people, than at any time since the 1991 Gulf War. Despite George Bush's claim to the contrary, citizens of the West have little to fear from the armories of Iraq. If it is right to change one foul regime, it is right to change all foul regimes. By what law? By whose judgment?
- A massive assault on Baghdad is likely to kill & main a vast number of civilians, though this slaughter will be masked by the media, especially in America. (After Hans Blix delivered his last weapons report to the UN, the "transcript" was published on CNN's website. The 800 word chunk of Blix's rebuttal of Colin Powell's slide-show, the so called "compelling evidence", was omitted). The Afghan war is still promoted as a triumph, yet a one estimate of Afghan casualties has topped 20,000. (According to John Pilger, quoting The Guardian newspaper.) As recently as Feb13, the notoriously cautious New York Times reported that US Special Forces had killed "at least" 17 civilians, including women and children in a one operation. None of these soldiers will be charged or compelled to face the relatives of the victims.
- Years ago Agatha Christie said that murder was a stupid crime. So is a colonial war. Whatever the final verdict of the impact of American bombing on Afghanistan - reports are mixed - there is no doubt the campaign is one long recruiting commercial for Al Q'aida. While the Pentagon declines to count dead Muslims, the families of victims are less indifferent. Time and again, as shown in a recent SBS doco, outraged locals proclaim their only recourse is to support Al Q'aida. As a military force, this network may be subdued. As an idea, it keeps rising & expanding, like a mushroom shaped cloud. Surely a ruined Baghdad will further sow the seeds of hatred.
When Slaughter Backfires
- If the Coalition of the Willing and the Bribed is motivated by compassion, as lately claimed, UN sanctions would have been eased ages ago. As John Pilger asked the crowd at the Hyde Park rally: why is the United States currently blocking more than $5bn worth of humanitarian supplies for Iraq already approved by the Security Council? What's more, why isn't this information being reported? (Because most journos are lily livered corporate hacks, seemed to be the verdict of the crowd.)
- For many Australians, the stance of our government is macabre. The leader of our armed forces, General Cosgrove has admitted in public that our support for the Vietnam war "was a mistake", this 30 years after the peace protesters had come to the same conclusion. If the Coalition of the Willing & Bribed really cares about toppling tyrannies - let's not mention Saudi Arabia - how come nothing is done to expose or mitigate the human rights abuses in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, our newfound allies in the War to Propagate Terror? Amnesty reports the torture & jailing of critics in Kazakhstan, including women, children & politicians; while the persecution of Muslims in Uzbekistan has the adornment of anal rape by police truncheon. The depth of Australian humbug can be gauged by our Immigration Department which takes delight in deporting refugees back to the very regimes from which they have fled. Such is the deceit & cruelty of our Immigration Minister, Philip Pinocchio Ruddock, that he recently ordered the onboard imprisonment of a pitiful, emaciated Iraqi stowaway, to prevent the assertion of his legal rights in Australia. The plan was to get him back to Baghdad in time to be bombed. Happily, the alertness of maritime workers prevented such barbarism.
A Jittery Pope, The Mad Professor
If the Coalition of the Willing & the Bribed are so anxious about weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of rogue states, why is Israel exempt? The Professor of military history at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, Martin van Creveld, was recently quoted as saying that Israel has the capacity to strike most European capitals with nuclear weapons (Arab News, Feb 9, Saudi Arabia's first English language daily): "We possess several hundred atomic warheads and rockets and can launch them at targets in all directions, perhaps even at Rome". No wonder the Pope is jittery. Creveld says the Palestinians "should all be deported" and that "he is sure" Aerial Sharon agrees. "He knows that nothing else we do will succeed". The distraction of Baghdad has speeded up Israeli assassination squads and the driving of Caterpillar D-9 bulldozers into the living rooms of families guilty of being related to the liquidated. The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits collective punishment & the destruction of personal property in occupied lands. What the hell. Israel is already in defiance of sixty-nine separate United Nations Security Council Resolutions, shielded by US vetoes. Incidentally, the Caterpillar code of conduct states: "As a global company we can use our strength and resources to improve, and in some cases rebuild, the lives of our neighbours around the world." Except for the neighbours of Israelis.
Looking for the Middle Way
Let's come back to the persecuted people of Iraq. In 1979, Dr Shahristani was the head of Iraq's Atomic Energy Commission. He was jailed for more than a decade and tortured, after refusing to help Saddam develop nuclear weapons. In the chaotic aftermath of the Gulf war he escaped and now lives in London. Last Sunday Dr Shahristani was interviewed on Channel 9. "No, I do not support an attack on Iraq", he said, much to my surprise. "I think it's utterly unjust for the Iraqi people to put them in one box with the regime of Saddam and call that Iraq, and then direct sanctions against them, or attack them". Dr Shahristani believes any military action should be "focused on Saddam?s power base, on his elite republican guards, on his security apparatus, on his party headquarters, presidential palaces, and spare the Iraqi people yet further suffering". From his perspective, and that of many Iraqis, this view seems reasonable. Is it possible? Where lies the way ahead between a maniacal "shock & awe" invasion and continuing complicity with a tyrant?
Johan Galtung, the Co-Director and Founder of TRANSCEND, has proposed a prolonged Conference for Security and Cooperation in the Middle East, possibly hosted by the European Union. Participants would be Middle Eastern/West Asian countries, with Germany/EU as facilitators. On the agenda would be Iraq, Kurdistan and Israel-Palestine. Galtung's "possible outcomes" for Iraq include
- a federation of semi autonomous states, Kurds, Sunni and Shia muslims;
- Kuwait as an independent zone could be associated with Iraq, with open borders, shared harbour facilities, a joint oil regime;
- a lasting UN inspection force for weapons of mass destruction, making the point that this also applies to Israel; a UN election monitoring of free elections for a possible regime change, making the point that this also applies to the USA. Thanks John, the last one should go down well with the White House. In aspiring to solve old problems in a new way, a fledgling generation of peaceniks see themselves more as citizens of the world than as slaves of states which have squandered all moral authority.
Blowing in the Mind
Okay, so there I was at the soulless Sydney Entertainment centre on Monday night, so eager to break the vicious cycle of homework & housework, that, unlike some of my friends, I turned up in time for the supporting acts. The Waifs, from Western Australia, pumped out a vibrant blend of swamp rock meets Stevie Nicks, plus goddess voices and a few jabs at George Bush. Then came a dreadlocked power tool lugging a guitar as big as a double bass, Ani DiFranco, whose chutzpah & verve took my breath away. The love child of a boyish Bob Dylan and a brain enhanced Alanis Morrisette, she ended her mesmerizing set with a dare. "I want to fling out a new poem at you", she said, having shred her guitar, "I was in New York on 9/11" A poem in the entertainment Centre? This must be a first, I thought, as the first bursts of Self Evident erupted into the auditorium, tough, strange, evocative ... soon to jolt me upright:
"that every jackass newscaster was struck dumb and stumbling
over 'oh my god' and 'this is unbelievable' and on and on
and i'll tell you what, while we're at it
you can keep the pentagon
keep the propaganda
keep each and every tv
that's been trying to convince me
in some prep school punk's plan to perpetuate retribution
even as the blue toxic smoke of our lesson in retribution
is still hanging in the air".
I couldn't believe it. The voice of truth searing the night, and then:
"so here's a toast to all the folks who live in palestine
A paunchy guy jumps to his feet and yells for her to stop lying. "Go home" spits another, while Ani diFranco alone under the spot keeps drilling:
'cuz take away our playstations
and we are a third world nation
under the thumb of some blue blood royal son
who stole the oval office and that phony election
it don't take a weatherman
to look around and see the weather
jeb said he'd deliver florida, folks
and boy did he ever
and we hold these truths to be self evident:
#1 george w. bush is not president
#2 america is not a true democracy
#3 the media is not fooling me
cuz i am a poem heeding hyper-distillation
i've got no room for a lie so verbose
i'm looking out over my whole human family
and i'm raising my glass in a toast
here's to our last drink of fossil fuels".
To quote anymore would be theft. Google along to her sites. Ani DiFranco was brave and magnificent, bursting the bubble of entertainment in a place that was built for nothing but, blaring her language of truth from the rooftops, re-kindling passion in a crowd too long without passion, a crowd that has seen too many movies and not enough marches, a people ready to bask in old melodies from fading masters suddenly confronted with wild verse from a rising star. How could Dylan match that? He couldn't. Better than usual by far, having junked his zimmerframe & found his groove, Bob was still disconnected from the events swirling around his host city and much on the minds of the audience, to whom he said not a word. What the hell. It was still a weekend to remember. Self Evident. And for a delirious 48 hours in Sydney, people stopped talking about real estate.