Repeated lies

Thursday, December 25th, 2003

Nazis, Nazis, Nazis. Their famous utterances remain relevant even as their deeds remain everyone’s standard of inhumanity.

We invaded Iraq to forestall “another Munich.” Maybe that’s why the first name I thought of in the wake of our president’s extraordinary whopper at his last press conference was Nazi propaganda minister Paul Josef Goebbels, whose best-known observation is that a lie repeated often enough becomes the truth.

George Bush was quoted thus in The Washington Post the other day: “One of the things I think you’ve seen about our foreign policy is that I’m reluctant to use military power. It’s the last choice; it’s not our first choice.”

What was the first choice then? Conceding defeat in 2000?

The power of language is such that it can cut the ground of sanity from beneath our feet. Up is down; war is peace. And indeed, W’s recent comment pales in comparison to so many others in its surreal misrepresentation of the nature and purpose of the Iraq war, all of which, in combination, have succeeded brilliantly at quieting the American conscience and fobbing off neocolonial barbarism as the precondition of democracy.

The only known antidote to a home-front propaganda war, a la Goebbels, is the truth, and thus I celebrate the efforts of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, which is sponsoring a tour of Iraqi women in the United States, who bear witness to what a dozen years of U.S. handiwork — two invasions and a strangling embargo — have done to their country.

The fellowship’s history dates to 1914, when an English Quaker and a German Lutheran pledged to work for peace even as their countries shelled and gassed each other in a gruesome and pointless war; and 89 years later the organization is still at it.

“Everyone is talking about Saddam. This is Iraq — it’s not one man!”

This is the lament of Amal al-Kehdairy, founder of al-Beit al-Iraqi, or Iraqi House, a cultural and crafts center in Baghdad on the Tigris River. The old stone house took a direct hit in Gulf War 1 — “it was like hell opened its gates on us” — was rebuilt, then destroyed again in the early bombardment of Gulf War 2.

I heard her, along with Iraqi journalist Nermin al-Mufti, speak in Chicago last week, with surprising equanimity, goodwill and faith in the American public, considering what we’ve done to their country.

“All the ministries were burned and looted except the ministry of petrol and the refineries. It was not liberation — it was only the petrol they wanted and they couldn’t get it without destroying Iraq,” al-Kehdairy said.

“Our economy is now completely in the hands of the occupying government. They put themselves in Saddam’s palaces and rule from the palaces. Instead of Saddam on TV every day, we have Mr. Bremer, talking to us in English!”

About the time I heard the two women speak, we were locking down Tikrit in the wake of Saddam Hussein’s capture there, and in the process doing our best to turn a mass murderer into a champion of human dignity and symbol of heroic resistance.

For better or for worse, Saddam was admired in Tikrit, and after his capture, there were pro-Saddam demonstrations — unarmed, mind you — which the bearers of democracy met with tanks, Bradley armored vehicles and helicopter gunships.

And U.S.-backed regional governor Hussein al-Jaburi rode through town in a military vehicle, his voice blaring over a public address system: “Any demonstration against the government or coalition forces will be fired upon. This is a fair warning.”

His message to the people of Tikrit, according to Reuters, went on: Demonstrators face a year in jail; civil servants and teachers will loose their jobs. All demonstrations are illegal in the province.

Quite a neat trick, using Saddam’s tactics to exert our will and making him look like the good guy. According to al-Kehdairy and al-Mufti, some 10,000 Iraqis are now sequestered in makeshift U.S.-run prisons, rounded up on suspicion of Allah-knows-what and held — to the anguish of loved ones — incommunicado: the disappeared.

Democracy is a means, not an end, but for the occupying forces of Iraq, violence and repression are the means. The end is pseudo-democracy: a cowed people who think (and vote) the way we want them to.

And turn their country over to us.