July 29, 2003
What did we know about Iraq? Hardly anything. Stephen Zunes, a “progressive” activist academic, once acknowledged that “peace activists largely share with most Americans a profound ignorance of the Middle East, Islam, and the Arab world.” This was certainly true for our group, but we didn’t give it much thought. We saw ourselves as people of action, not reflection. Did we really need to learn the intricacies of Iraqi history and politics and plumb the broader political and economic issues? Who wanted to sit in the library when there were prayer vigils to organize? We opted to march, fast, and hold our signs. Here was a new cause, in need of champions, and that’s just what we were. Iraqi sanctions had to go! . . .
To be perfectly frank, we were less concerned with the suffering of the Iraqi people than we were in maintaining our moral challenge to U.S. foreign policy. We did not agitate for an end to sanctions for purely humanitarian reasons; it was more important to us to maintain our moral challenge to “violent” U.S. foreign policy, regardless of what happened in Iraq. For example, had we been truly interested in alleviating the suffering in Iraq, we might have considered pushing for an expanded Oil-for-Food program. Nothing could have interested us less. Indeed, we even regarded the paltry amounts of aid that we did bring to Iraq as a logistical hassle. When it suited us, we portrayed ourselves as a humanitarian nongovernmental organization and at other times as a political group lobbying for a policy change. In our attempt to have it both ways, we failed in both of these missions. . . .
I had also expected a deeper concern for the people of Iraq. But Voices would have nothing to do with the U.N. humanitarian effort. The closest it got to U.N. headquarters in New York was the sidewalk across the street. There, Voices’ activists, bellowing at the top of their lungs, preached against the American-induced apocalypse in Iraq. It was a mystery to me how such soapbox sermons, often quoting scripture, could possibly help the people of Iraq.
Indeed. Read this, too.