maandag, oktober 04, 2004

The strange tale of the two Simonas

Having written some days ago about the kidnapping in Iraq of the two young Italian women (both named Simona and both 29 - which is not a bad age at all), it is with honest relief that we can read in the last few days of their release, along with their Iraqi comrades.

It seems that most of the Italian press is taking it as a given, despite denials, that the country's government paid a ransom of US$1 million for the release of the two aid workers, whose left-wing NGO was opposed to the sanctions, the war and is opposed to the occupation. The left-of-centre La Repubblica said a "ransom was paid and that is nothing to be ashamed of" in a front page report, and reportedly much of the country agrees.

At the same time, a few days ago, Naomi Klein together with Jeremy Scahill, a reporter for Democracy Now, had published in the Guardian an investigative piece that raised a number of disturbing questions about this particular hostage-taking.

According to Ms Klein and Mr. Scahill, who quote witnesses, the kidnappers were clean shaven and bare-faced where generally the mujahedeen generally hide their face. Some were also wearing business suits. One of the kidnappers addressed the others as 'sir'.

'Most are opportunistic attacks on treacherous stretches of road. Torretta and her colleagues were coldly hunted down in their home… Witnesses say the gunmen questioned staff in the building until the Simonas were identified by name, and that Mahnouz Bassam, an Iraqi woman, was dragged screaming by her headscarf, a shocking religious transgression for an attack supposedly carried out in the name of Islam.

'Most extraordinary was the size of the operation: rather than the usual three or four fighters, 20 armed men pulled up to the house in broad daylight, seemingly unconcerned about being caught. Only blocks from the heavily patrolled Green Zone, the whole operation went off with no interference from Iraqi police or US military…Strangest of all is this detail: witnesses said that several attackers wore Iraqi National Guard uniforms and identified themselves as working for Ayad Allawi, the interim prime minister.'

The kidnappers reportedly also carried 'AK-47s, shotguns, with silencers and stun guns', instead of the usual rusty old Kalashnikovs, and while an Iraqi 'government' spokesperson has denied any connection to the events, ' Sabah Kadhim, a spokesperson for the interior ministry, conceded that the kidnappers "were wearing military uniforms and flak jackets".'

As a Marxist, I am not normally given to conspiracy theories, expressive as they are of the viewpoint that if we get rid of the conspirators - the bad men - then the rest of the system will be hunky dory, rather than looking at the (given) crimes that occur as products of the system itself. Nonetheless, as Watergate and Iran-Contra show, there are indeed actual, real-life conspiracies, which have nothing to do with lizard men, grassy knolls or Area 51.

All of this stinks like the dodgy 'vanilla-orange' toilet deodoriser I bought from the discount store last month that didn't work at all until it broke open upon inspection, causing your humble servant and the toilet floor (but not the toilet) to smell like a citrus-y urinal cake for a day.

But more generally, despite the barbarism of all these kidnappings, and the torturous, death-row-like waiting that both the victims and their families experience, and their headline-grabbing nature, one must ask why the death or kidnapping of a handful of Westerners, as wrong as it is, warrants more concern than the dozens, then hundreds, then just dozens again - but never less than dozens - of Iraqis that die every few days from US bombs and helicopter gunships?

In one week in April, US Marines killed over 600 people in the space of a week. As horrific as the kidnappings are, we must not forget this.

Indeed, the two Simonas themselves have now, in their first public appearances, called on the Italian government to withdraw from Iraq and caused quite a brou-ha-ha in Italy by saying they continue to support the Iraqi resistance despite what happened to them.

From the BBC:

'"Guerrilla warfare is legitimate, but I am against the kidnapping of civilians," Simona Torretta…told Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

'"You have to distinguish between terrorism and resistance - I said it before and I repeat it today," she added.

'Ms Torretta went on to describe Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's administration as "a puppet government in the hands of the Americans". ' [italics added]


Needless to say, the Italian right feels the young women are being somewhat ungracious, with the editor of Il Foglio, a daily newspaper allied to the Prime Minister, suggesting that they return the $1 million by collecting it from the rest of Italy's anti-war movement. I myself am waiting for Hitchens, Hari or whoever to make the obvious but cheap Patty Hearst comparison.

It will be interesting to see if the two Simonas will also be able to shed some light on who in fact were their captors. Nonetheless, the courageous words of the two young activists have gone some way in undermining the public relations benefit Berlusconi may has gained at the expense of the Italian anti-war movement as a result of the kidnapping.