Words & Meanings
- News for Anarchists & Activists:
Apr. 4, 2003.
Words and meanings
by GWYNNE DYER
The first casualty of war is not truth, which generally dies
well before hostilities begin. It is language. Consider how
Iraqi resistance fighters belonging to the Fedayeen
organization and the Baath Party militia have been renamed
in only a week.
At first American spokespersons referred to them using
neutral words like "irregulars" and "guerrillas," for even
if they are not wearing uniforms their actions are legal so
long as they are clearly armed and not pretending to be
civilians. But after the first suicide bomb attack the
Pentagon started calling Iraqi militiamen "terrorists" even
if they are fighting in the open against American and
British soldiers and U.S. Defence Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld began to talk about "death squads."
This change of terms helps to buttress the fiction, now
believed by 55 per cent of Americans, that Saddam has links
with the Islamist terrorists of Al Qaeda. Indeed, 42 per
cent of Americans have been tricked into believing that
Saddam Hussein was responsible for the terrorist attacks on
the United States on September 11 thanks to the relentless
juxtaposition of the two in President George W. Bush's
speeches (though he never lies outright by actually saying
so). But this cynical manipulation of language pales by
comparison with Saddam's latest change of skin.
Saddam Hussein joined the Arab Socialist Baath (Rebirth)
Party as a teenager, and has shared its secular and even
anti-religious views all of his life. But last Monday, he
wrote this in an appeal to the Iraqis and the broader Arab
and Muslim worlds: "The aggression ... against the
stronghold of faith is an aggression on religion ... and on
the land of Islam. Jihad is a duty. Whoever dies will be
rewarded by heaven...."
Iraq the stronghold of faith? Jihad as a duty? Give us a
break. Iraq's Baath Party is modelled on the Eastern
European Communist parties of the 1950s (including party
militias, torture chambers, and hostility to religion).
Saddam's hero is Joseph Stalin, not Osama bin Laden. But
just as Stalin enlisted the Russian Orthodox Church in his
struggle against the German invasion in 1941, Saddam is
willing to ally himself with popular Islamic sentiment in
his moment of supreme crisis.
He's actually done it before, praying in the great Shia
mosque in Karbala (though he himself is of Sunni stock) at
the height of the war against Iran in 1985. As a highly
politicised and radical interpretation of Islam gained
ground across the Arab world during the 1990s, Saddam tried
to pre-empt it with public displays of devotion and a lavish
programme of mosque-building. But Islamist enthusiasm
continued to be a career-killer in Baathist circles, and
Iraq remained the most secular of Arab states.
Now the Iraqi regime faces its gravest crisis, and suddenly
it's all about jihad and the "land of Islam." And the
Islamists of the Arab world, every bit as cynical as Saddam,
are willing to let bygones be bygones.
Iraqi military spokesman Hazim al-Rawi declared on Sunday
that "martyrdom (suicide) operations will continue not only
by Iraqis but by thousands of Arabs who are coming to Iraq,"
and sure enough the Palestinian rejectionist group Islamic
Jihad promptly announced "the arrival of its first martyrdom
attackers in Baghdad ... to fulfil the holy duty of
defending Arab and Muslim land." They still privately
despise Saddam, but as anger builds across the Arab world,
Palestinian extremists are not going to miss out in a chance
to associate their cause with Iraq's.
Everybody in this conflict is sailing under false colours
and that certainly includes the "coalition forces." The
United States and Britain always use this phrase because it
links their enterprise, at least verbally, to the
legitimate, U.N.-backed coalition that drove Iraqi troops
out of Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf War. That was a genuine
coalition of 28 countries, 13 of them Arab, most of them
with significant numbers of troops on the ground.
Mr Bush's "coalition" has no U.N. authority because the
overwhelming majority of U.N. members, including a large
majority of Security Council members, saw an invasion of
Iraq before the arms inspectors had time to finish their
work as a wanton act of aggression. It includes no Arab or
Muslim countries except Kuwait. Indeed, not one of the
non-Western countries that did enlist in this coalition of
the bullied and the bribed has actually sent combat troops.
Several of the European countries that the White House
claimed as members of the "coalition" turned out not to be.
Slovenia strenuously protested against its inclusion (the
State Department confused it with Slovakia), Croatia denied
that opening its airspace to U.S. planes made it a member,
and the Czech Republic still denies that it supports the war
even though former president Vaclav Havel sent some Czech
chemical warfare specialists to Kuwait. The right-wing
governments of Italy and Spain publicly back the United
States, but faced with 90 per cent-plus popular disapproval
for the war can make no concrete gesture of support.
Poland, Romania and Bulgaria sent a couple of hundred troops
each, but dare not commit them to combat because their own
voters so strongly opposed. The Antiguas, Angolas and the
Marshall Islands in the "coalition" stay bought, but do
nothing. The reality of the "coalition" this time is two and
a bit English-speaking armies American, British, and
around 2,000 Australians attacking an Arab country all on
The independent Arabic-language television network
al-Jazeera started out calling the U.S. and British troops
by their own preferred title, "coalition forces," but now it
just refers to them as the "invaders" or "occupiers." Its
viewers got fed up with the hypocrisy.
Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent Canadian
journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.
Now available: _The Unspeakable and Others_
All my fiction through 2001 and more. Intro by S.T. Joshi.
Lord Weÿrdgliffe and Necronomicon Page:
News for Anarchists & Activists:
Said Smygo, the iconoclast of Zothique: "Bear a hammer with
thee always, and break down any terminus on which is
written: 'So far shalt thou pass, but no further go.'"
--Clark Ashton Smith