In a very disturbing, irrational development, members of the Iraqi resistance have kidnapped four Italian hostages from Un Ponte per Baghdad (A Bridge to Baghdad), an Italian left-wing NGO that opposed the sanctions against Iraq, opposed the war and opposes the occupation.
From the report on the kidnapping on Democracy Now:
'On Tuesday 20 men armed with AK-47 assault rifles and pistols with silencers stopped vehicles in a busy commercial area of the capital and raided a building housing the humanitarian organization A Bridge to Baghdad, which has operated in Iraq since 1992. The gunmen took Italians Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, along with Iraqi staffers Raad Ali Abdul Azziz and Mahnaz Bassam. Witnesses say the gunmen dragged Bassam away by her hair screaming.
'A statement posted on an Islamic Web site by a group calling itself Ansar al Zawahiri, claimed responsibility and said the kidnapping marked "the first of our attacks against Italy." The group demanded that Italy withdraw its troops and "stop killing Muslims in Iraq and cooperating with American forces."
'During the more than a decade of economic sanctions against Iraq, most humanitarian organisations refused to operate in the country. But A Bridge to Baghdad defied that in the belief that the suffering of civilians should not be used as a political bargaining chip. The group opposed the sanctions, it opposed the invasion, and it opposes the occupation. In Italy, the group has been a leading critic of the government's decision to join the US-led coalition.'
Now let's not be sentimental here. I, and anyone else in the anti-war movement cannot abandon our opposition to the occupation simply because it's one of our own that has been kidnapped. If we fold now, then all we do is show our lack of empathy for every other civilian who has been killed by the Iraqi resistance. Pro-war so-called left types like Hitchens, Johann Hari, Norm Geras and the tankies over at Harry's Place will surely dangle this abduction in the face of the anti-war left with a swaggering, spitting I-told-you-so.
But we must not let them have their juvenile moment.
Of course this is a stupid act made by those who are ignorant of the anti-war movement. More than that: it is wrong and the four should be let go. Of course. But still we must support the resistance.
And we can support the resistance in spite of this, and indeed in spite of the other beheadings and kidnappings, because if it is easy enough for Hitchens and others to support the war but oppose and find sickening the murder and torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, then it should be simple enough for us to support the resistance while opposing attacks on civilians.
And let us not forget that as we denounce these and similar acts there is silence at best and endorsement at worst by our opponents over the between 11,000 and 13,000 Iraqi civilians killed by Coalition troops. When have Hitchens, et al denounced those deaths? Never. They say that there were 'minimal casualties' due to the exquisite discrimination of our smart bombs.
Ask yourself: which is worse? The beheading of a few dozen N.G.O. staff, Filipino truck drivers and Nepalese construction workers - as wicked as all of this is - or thousands and thousands of families and, God, how many children bombed from on high? The difference between the thugs that make up part - and only a part - of the resistance is that they at least have the gruesome honesty to film their rabid, lupine acts and send them to al-Jazeera for the world to see, while the US and UK just bark at stroppy reporters that they 'don't do body counts'.
What were Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt's comforting words to Iraqis who were disturbed by television images of civilians killed by coalition troops? “Change the channel.”
And let's add to that 13,000 the at least 4,000 civilians killed during the bombing of Afghanistan - some 1,000 more than were killed on 11 September in New York and Washington. In the attack on the village of Kama Ado, 100 of the village's 300 residents were killed in one night. U.S. forces denied the attack occurred, but journalists who visited the village saw massive bomb craters, houses turned to rubble, scattered children's shoes, dead cows and sheep and graves that told them otherwise. Not that, despite the visit by journalists, you've heard of Kama Ado before, while you've certainly heard of or even seen beheadings in Iraq. That might have something to do with memos like the one sent to reporters at Florida's Panama City News Herald by executives:
'DO NOT USE photos on Page 1A showing civilian casualties from the U.S. war on Afghanistan.'
'Our sister paper in Fort Walton Beach has done so and received hundreds and hundreds of threatening e-mails."
'DO NOT USE wire stories which lead with civilian casualties from the U.S. war on Afghanistan. They should be mentioned further down in the story. If the story needs rewriting to play down the civilian casualties, DO IT.'
And then there is the tale of the thousands of prisoners who surrendered to the US military’s Afghan allies after the siege of Kunduz. According to Afghan Massacre: The Convoy of Death - a film about the incident, some three thousand of the prisoners were forced into sealed containers and loaded onto trucks for transport to Sheberghan prison.
'When the prisoners began shouting for air, U.S.-allied Afghan soldiers fired directly into the truck, killing many of them. The rest suffered through an appalling road trip lasting up to four days, so thirsty they clawed at the skin of their fellow prisoners as they licked perspiration and even drank blood from open wounds.
'Witnesses say that when the trucks arrived and soldiers opened the containers, most of the people inside were dead. They also say US Special Forces re-directed the containers carrying the living and dead into the desert and stood by as survivors were shot and buried. Now, up to three thousand bodies lie buried in a mass grave.'
So when you read that Chechen militants left their prisoners in School Number One to drink their own urine to quench their thirst, we left our prisoners to drink their own blood.
Our apostate friend has already had a good kicking at Naomi Klein in his Slate column attacking her for her article in the Nation, republished in the Guardian, Bring Najaf to New York - which, if nothing else, suggests that he only read the headline.
'In its "GOP Convention Issue" dated Sept. 13, the editors [of the Nation] decided to run a piece by Naomi Klein titled "Bring Najaf to New York." If you think this sounds suspiciously like an endorsement of Muqtada Sadr and his black-masked clerical bandits, you are not mistaken.'
Which, of course, it was not. What Ms. Klein does do is correctly note how:
'…before Sadr's supporters began their uprising, they made their demands for elections and an end to occupation through sermons, peaceful protests and newspaper articles. US forces responded by shutting down their newspapers, firing on their demonstrations and bombing their neighborhoods. It was only then that Sadr went to war against the occupation.'
She recognises that Sadr is a far from wholesome figure, but that however reactionary his politics, if he has organised peaceful protests and the result was that he was fired upon, he absolutely has a right to fire back.
Then Hitch goes on to clarify who Naomi Klein is to his blinkered and bourgeois Slate readers, exposing to us how far he has travelled that he has to explain who the author of No Logo is.
'Ms. Klein is known as a salient figure in the so-called anti-globalisation movement, and for a book proclaiming her hostility to logos and other forms of oppression: She's not marginal to what remains of the left. Her nasty, stupid article has evoked two excellent blog responses from two pillars of the Nation family: Marc Cooper in Los Angeles and Doug Ireland in New York. What gives, they want to know, with a supposed socialist-feminist offering swooning support to theocratic fascists?'
I am fathomless as to how anyone can still proclaim Hitchens to be a man of the left when, apart from his whole Islamo-fascism-war-on-terror hard-on, he is this dismissive of the global justice movement, (né anti-globalisation movement) - the most dynamic, most internationalist, most successful left manifestation since 1968, or perhaps even 1936. And to invoke the holy name of the Nation's own apologist for Otto Reich and Venezuela's comprador opposition, Marc Cooper, hardly brings his argument any credibility. Mr. Cooper has written extensively in both the Nation and on his own advertisement-happy blog in recent weeks on the essentially reactionary nature of Hugo Chavez! I look forward to his presumed upcoming précis of why Augusto Pinochet should not be tried.
But let us be clear here: neither Klein nor I am arguing that we should support the likes of Muqtada al Sadr specifically.
The left and the anti-war movement should support the resistance in the broadest terms and wish devoutly for the defeat of the Coalition forces. Iraq is under foreign occupation. Legally and morally they have a right to resist militarily, no different from if the UK were under, say, Icelandic occupation (however benign that undoubtedly would be). Of course, if the mullahs maintain their hegemony within the resistance, then we are looking at the potential of an Iranian Revolution-style routing of U.S. forces, which, as in Iran, while being a defeat for U.S. imperialism, would also objectively be a defeat for the Iraqi working class. Thus, as I have said before, the key is for left/socialist/trade union/democratic forces to gain hegemony within the resistance.
But concretely, how do we in the West aid in that? I propose that the European and North American Left begin by organising Iraqi Resistance Solidarity Committees in Western cities, doing fundraising, benefit shows, awareness raising - the usual leaflet-and-bake-sale business that is the bread and butter of being on the left, with the proceeds going to progressive non-collaborationist forces within the resistance and civil society in Iraq. If I am honest, I would say that I don't think the anti-war movement has grasped the importance of this yet. In particular I would argue that given the centrality of the U.K. within the U.S. Coalition, the U.K.'s Stop the War Coalition needs to think beyond the electoralism of Respect - as impressive as some of its results have been - and start building such solidarity committees and organising such fundraisers. First on the list to benefit from such work, to my mind, should be the Workers' Communist Party of Iraq, who reportedly have not inconsiderable support within the nascent trade union movement there and which is opposed to both the occupation and the likes of Sadr - not least because some Islamist elements of the resistance are attacking trade unionists (just as Coalition forces are).
Now, as I have said before, this is the correct formulation within Iraq. Externally, perhaps a loose analogy can be drawn with the Spanish republicans. The Communist Party in Spain steadily gained hegemony amongst republicans, and achieved this by, amongst other tactics - and I don't want to go into a detailed history of the machinations of the C.P. in Spain during the Civil War - but essentially by massacring anarchists, socialists and members of the P.O.U.M. The strategy the C.P. called for ultimately led to the Republic's defeat. The Stalinists of the C.P. were at least as bloody as Sadr and co. and many people knew it, - but does that mean that the non-Stalinist left washed its hands of the republican side, saying 'Neither Franco nor Stalin'? Manifestly not. All good women and men worked for the Republic's victory, despite Stalin's betrayals.
Hence we wish victory for the resistance, and hegemony of the left within that resistance.
Equally so, does this mean we are not horrified by the abduction of the Italians, or anyone else for that matter? No. We are as horrified as we would have been upon learning of the murder of Andrés Nin and other republicans at the hands of the C.P. in the late 1930s. And still we work for the victory of the resistance.
But still, but still…those bastards had better let the comrades from Un Ponte per Baghdad go.