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The French are Iraqis

Hana Al Bayaty, BRussells Tribunal

March 26, 2006

Given mutually shared understandings, the people of France ought naturally to support the popular resistance in Iraq, writes Hana Al Bayaty

 

Past and present has proven that the French and Iraqis have an acute sense of history when popular conscience is at stake. To be sure, their historical experience diverges to a point of polarity: France was and is an imperial power, Iraq a country subject to waves of colonialism in the last century and ours. Nonetheless, they share at a core level a range of values and principles, including nation, citizenship, secularism and resistance to foreign occupation. The destruction of international law through the illegal pre-emptive war waged on Iraq threatens to break the fragile equilibrium developed by humanity for the peaceful coexistence among peoples. That the French have as tradition opposed blind power when the foundations of human civilisation are in danger was proven again in 2003 when France opposed the illegal invasion of the Iraqi sovereign state. Yet their current silence is deafening. Iraqis are at present facing this power alone, and resisting with a level of endurance that is breathtaking. It is increasingly urgent, in light of shared values and the general chaos brought down by the occupation on the Iraqi people, that a solidarity movement with the Iraqi resistance is born in France.

 

The first common value the French and Iraqis share is the way they conceive themselves as nations. There are two dominant schools of thought that developed the concept of nation. The first, the Germanic school, took the concept of common nation to derive from genetics, blood, biology, race, common language and culture. The second, developed in the French tradition — especially in Ernest Renan’s speech at La Sorbonne in 1882 — conceives the idea of nation as a kind of "social contract" in which its members, not necessarily sharing the same genetic origin, agree collectively to bear together past, present and future experiences in a common language and culture, for better or for worse. The right of soil in France is a good example of this tradition: nationality follows from the land on which you are born. Like France, Iraq shares this concept of nation.

 

Iraqis also share with French a concept of citizenship, where the French concept defines the relation between individual and state in favour of citizens. The state exists to defend the common and national interest, defined as the will of a community of citizens. Categorically secular, the citizen is a subject of defendable rights while embraced in equality within the community as a whole. In Iraq, the Abbassid era of the 13th century planted the seeds of the idea of "the state of citizens" rather than a state of sects and parties by confining religion to the interpretation of legislation. They declared the state founded not upon Islam as such, but equal recognition to all Muslims. Different confessions and ethnicities were afforded equal rights of access within all existing national institutions. In its contemporary history, Iraq has been secular since 1920.

 

The common principles shared between Iraqis and French can be summed up in one word: sovereignty. In France, the expression of sovereignty is popular consciousness, the welfare state, protest culture, resistance to uniformity and cultural exceptionality. In Iraq, it is the same — added to which a determined defence of the patrimony of national resources. Both the French and the Iraqis are revolutionary in this regard, both in spirit and in deed. In France, parties keep an ear to the street, which is the ultimate source of French sovereignty. In Iraq, self-determination was a driving force of pan-Arab independence and anti-imperialism, attested in the popular uprisings of 1920, 1958, its resistance to the 13 years of genocidal economic sanctions, and 2003 to this day.

 

For the past 4000 years, Iraq has been a geopolitical, social and economic entity composed of a variety of communities — including Arabs, Kurds, Turkmans and Caldo Assyrians, among others — who agreed to bear the burden of past, present and future, even at the risk of annihilation. Iraq has never experienced ethnic strife throughout these 4000 years. Cleavages inside Iraqi society are mainly political, with three main currents: nationalists, Islamists and leftists. All three are inherently anti-imperialist.

 

It is in this context that the current dominant media discourse of sectarianism must be appraised as an arm of imperial and colonial power. Indeed, in the tradition of empires expanding on the principle of divide and rule, the US has consistently promoted sectarian forces in Iraq. It organised the so-called political process for this purpose, including imposing a sectarian based Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), staging elections for an Interim National Assembly, and drafting a constitution that enshrined "permanently" a federal structure on a previously unitary nation. This policy was deepened with the most recent legislative elections.

 

The political forces championed by the occupation agree only on one point: the partition of Iraq along sectarian lines. They do not share the same understanding of federalism. The Kurdish movement hopes to constitutionally annex the oil rich city of Kirkuk and declare Kurdish independence in the future. Shia parties — Al-Dawa of Prime Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) of Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim — aim towards the de facto control of the central government and imposing a religious state similar to and allied with Iran. Recently they’ve defended the "right" and possibility of declaring an autonomous Shia region. As the Kurdish movement is secular, bitter disputes are tearing these sectarian forces apart.

 

The Iraqi resistance, which is mainly supported by the "Sunni" community, fights against sectarianism and refuses to be labelled as Sunni. It does not recognise the self-appointed "Sunni" representatives emerging from December’s elections. This anti-occupation movement insists there is such a thing as Iraq and an Iraqi people. It is struggling against sectarianism, globalisation and imperialism by military means. Its agenda is simple: that Iraqis remain sovereign over Iraq’s resources, territory and future.

 

In the name of breaking Iraq, the crimes and atrocities of the US-led occupation are an affront to conscience and constitute — legally defined — crimes against humanity. Since 2003 Iraq’s identity, society, state and nation have been systematically destroyed, its resources plundered, its holy sites desecrated, its cultural riches looted and its people brutally repressed. Occupation supported death squads are terrorising the population. In the past five months, the US intensified its massive bombing campaign directed against cities and villages. Thousands of sorties are sent out every month. It has used chemical agents, including white phosphorous — a weapon derived from napalm — on civilian populations, in particular in Fallujah and Tel Afar. Several cities have been levelled, including Fallujah, Al-Qaim, Tel Afar and Haditha, among others. Some estimate the civilian death toll to be more than 160,000 while the US military and its puppet regime holds around 82,000 prisoners, the majority detained without charge.

 

This catalogue of destruction is not a consequence of war but a stated and developed rationality emerging from the American far right. The Project for a New American Century (PNAC) has one thing to its credit: the breathtaking candour by which it announces US imperial plans for the Middle East and the world. Founded in spring of 1997 by neo-conservatives Robert Kagan and William Kristol, signatories to its mission statement include Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Jeb Bush (George W’s brother), Francis Fukuyama and Paul Wolfowitz, "architect" of the war on Iraq. Many of its members have direct ties with the military and oil industry as well as Zionist lobby groups. While the PNAC describes itself as "a non-profit educational organisation," its "Statement of Principles" is unequivocal: "The history of the 20th century should have taught us that it is important to shape circumstances before crises emerge, and to meet threats before they become dire." It is upon this philosophy that the pre-emptive doctrine of attack is founded.

 

With audacity that undermines over half a century of international multilateral cooperation, the PNAC drew up a four-point agenda to achieve its mission: (1) "We need to increase defence spending significantly if we are to carry out our global responsibilities today and modernise our armed forces for the future;" (2) "We need to strengthen our ties to democratic allies and to challenge regimes hostile to our interests and values;" (3) "We need to promote the cause of political and economic freedom abroad;" (4) "We need to accept responsibility for America’s unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles." In other words, military force will now be used to extend US imperial interests worldwide, and to put down and destroy all those who defend alternative values. The radicalism of the PNAC cannot be understated. It overturns the entire Westphalian tradition of sovereignty established in 1648.

 

In September 2000, the PNAC published a crucial report entitled "Rebuilding America’s Defences: Strategies, Forces And Resources For A New Century", wherein was established the mechanisms for American supremacy and the rationality for attacking Iraq: "The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein." The report argued for a large-scale upgrade of the US army, estimating that a yearly budget increase of $15 to $20 billion would be required to transform it into an "imperial super-force" taking the lead in "the revolution in military affairs". The PNAC was aware, however, that this agenda would meet resistance: "The process of transformation is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalysing event — like a new Pearl Harbor." The events of 11 September 2001 provided convenient cover.

 

The BRussells Tribunal (www.brusselstribunal.org) was formed to interrogate and expose the rationality, virulent arrogance and moral bankruptcy of the PNAC. Originally a hearing committee composed of academics, intellectuals and artists in the tradition of the Russell Tribunal set up in 1967 to investigate war crimes committed during the Vietnam War, The BRussells Tribunal hearing took place on 14-17 April 2004 at The Beursschouwburg and Les Halles in Brussels. Its formation originated in a petition launched by philosophy professor Lieven De Cauter, signed by over 500 artists, writers, intellectuals and academics. This petition called for moral — and legal, if possible — action against the PNAC and those responsible for the war on Iraq. After it became clear that legal action was unlikely to succeed — despite the illegality of the pre-emptive war — the idea of a "moral court" or "people’s tribunal", to condemn US government policy as well as the think tanks behind it, followed. This idea developed and spread into the organisation of a series of hearings worldwide, culminating in a final session in Istanbul in June 2005. The BRussells Tribunal was one of these commissions of inquiry; indeed, was the opening session of the World Tribunal On Iraq (www.worldtribunal.org).

 

The BRussells Tribunal is a network, not a formally structured organisation, and works on a zero budget. It has one goal: the end of the occupation of Iraq. The backbone of its Advisory Committee is composed of patriotic Iraqis, both from inside Iraq and from the Diaspora. The lead is taken from the Iraqis — in this alone The BRussells Tribunal stands in defence of Iraqi sovereignty. What The BRussells Tribunal aims to be is a bridge between the Iraqi and Western anti-war movement. As to the Iraqi resistance, it is not the duty of The BRussells Tribunal, or our right, to judge this resistance. Rather, The BRussells Tribunal acts in solidarity with all currents of the real resistance, in accordance with the conclusions of the culminating session of the World Tribunal On Iraq in Istanbul that stated clearly the legal right, under international law, of Iraqis to resist occupation. Resistance is resistance against rapacious power "by all means possible".

 

Most recently, on advice of Iraqis, The BRussells Tribunal launched a campaign on the assassination of Iraqi academics. Academics, doctors and scientists are being killed on a daily basis. Dubbed "a war on learning" by Robert Fisk in The Independent, according to an article in The Times Higher Education Supplement, "there is a widespread feeling among the Iraqi academics that they are witnessing a deliberate attempt to destroy intellectual life in Iraq." According to Dr Sinawi — a geologist formerly employed at Baghdad University — dismissals of academics and the accelerating covert campaign of assassinations will bring a "disruption of higher education in Iraq for years to come. This will dramatically affect the standard of teaching and research for generations." Until now, The BRussells Tribunal has compiled a list of over 160 assassinated academics. Thousands more have disappeared or been forced into exile.

 

The poverty of discourse of the mainstream media has routinely concealed the "Salvador Option" currently being conducted in Iraq. More than $3 billion of the $87 billion Pentagon budget for 2004 was allocated to create militias and support covert operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. No one hears that all factions of the resistance openly condemn the majority of barbarous acts committed daily against civilians. Only three per cent of victims of this occupation are killed by suicide bombs. And how would the resistance sustain the massive support it has in Iraq if it targeted civilians? Iraq’s occupiers use the same arguments the British did in the 1920s: "if we leave, there will be civil war." Most Iraqis and specialists on Iraq — like Denis Halliday or Robert Fisk — state clearly that there will be no civil war if US troops leave. On the contrary, if they stay, there will be civil war, because all the illegal laws that the occupiers have issued — including the recent constitution — are meant to divide the country along sectarian lines. Thus far Iraqi popular resistance to these imperial plans has remained rigid. But the forces bearing down on the Iraqi population are immense, and everyday US-backed agents in Iraq’s media and government poison the minds of Iraqis. How long could any people endure?

 

The invasion of Iraq was and is illegal. There is no concept of pre-emptive war in international law. Further, under the provisions of the 1907 Hague IV Convention, occupying powers are forbidden from changing the laws of occupied countries. All agreements, laws and contracts forged under the occupation are null and void, including the constitution. Elections were a farce. The so-called government is nothing but a puppet of the US occupation. There was no "transfer of sovereignty" in June 2004. Occupying powers have no right — indeed, are expressly prohibited under international humanitarian law — from ceding sovereignty to any body established under occupation. Until US troops and all foreign forces get out of Iraq, the sovereignty of Iraq lies — legally and morally — with the popular resistance. The right to self-determination is one enshrined at the heart of numerous instruments of international law. The right of the Iraqi people to resist, by any means at its disposal, foreign occupation is afforded by the UN Charter. Iraq never capitulated; its army did not sign an armistice.

 

Continuing to read the Iraqi situation through a sectarian lens prevents us from understanding what is really at stake; who is involved and why are the Iraqis resisting so fiercely. Behind the smokescreen of media ideology, the truth is simple. Iraqis, like the resistance to the Vichy government in France, are fighting for their country. They have been doing so since the sanctions regime was imposed in the 1990s. Prior to the Persian Gulf War, thanks to petrodollars and a social policy of redistribution, Iraq developed a large and educated middle class able to manage the country’s revenue and benefit the general interest. Iraq had the best health and educational system of the Middle East. This middle class knows it is not in Iraq’s national interest to allow full-scale privatisation of Iraq’s economy. Foreign corporations and local corrupted bourgeoisies are the only ones who would benefit. It is this class and its youth that is the backbone of the resistance. As such, the global struggle against neo-fascist globalisation is being fought face-to-face in Iraq.

 

The Iraqi resistance understands that occupation is the highest form of dictatorship. This occupation, in philosophy and deed, tries to impose its ideology by military means. After 13 years of genocidal economic sanctions and the recent destruction of the Iraqi nation and its institutions — the usurpation of its land, and levelling of its cities and villages — the youth has taken destiny into its own hands in French tradition, to push the occupiers out, save Iraq from being consumed by profit-thirsty corporations, and to establish the only condition which will guarantee democracy: Iraqi sovereignty and self-determination. In fighting this resistance, US-led occupation forces seek to divide the organic nation and promote local corrupted bourgeoisies and warlords who cannot — indeed refuse to — create a state of citizens. The brutal repression of the Iraqi people is but the means by which the conditions will be secured for the daylight rape of the Iraqi nation and the patrimony of Iraqi citizens.

 

The destruction of Iraq is not a matter for coffee-table chitchat. It is an element of the determined destruction on the part of reactionary neo-fascist forces of the very foundations of international society, legality and the possibility of a social contract between nations. The radicalism of this destruction is such that it is no longer enough to simply "protest" the effects of war on its primary front, Iraq. Artists and students and all those who believe in the fundaments of human creation should oppose the destruction wrought by American plans to impose a "state of emergency" on the whole world and the concomitant undermining of over 500 years of popular revolutionary struggle. Iraqis are fighting not only for Iraq but also for the heritage of half a millennium of popular struggles. All must recognise and support the popular resistance in Iraq while demanding the unconditional and immediate withdrawal of all occupation forces and supporting the claim of Iraqis to just compensation for the wholesale and intended destruction of Iraq. When you hear of the resistance in Western media you should know that it fights with its existence on behalf of all, against the global if not planetary agenda of the American Empire.

 

How French!

 

The writer is a member of the Executive Committee of The BRussells Tribunal (www.brusselstribunal.org).


:: Article nr. 21932 sent on 27-mar-2006 05:42 ECT

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