Fooling enough people enough of the time — and the role of the West’s unfooled

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Iqbal Siddiqui

Jumada' al-Ula' 27, 1432 2011-05-01

Opinion

by Iqbal Siddiqui (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 40, No. 3, Jumada' al-Ula', 1432)

There were a slew of new revelations about the politics of the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq last month, when the Independent newspaper in Britain published details of documents recently obtained under the Freedom of Information.

Iqbal Siddiqui, Perspectives

There were a slew of new revelations about the politics of the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq last month, when the Independent newspaper in Britain published details of documents recently obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. These showed that British government ministers and British oil multi-nationals had had meetings in 2002 — the year before the war officially began — discussing how Iraq’s oil resources would be administered once the US and Britain were occupying the country, and what the government would do to ensure that British oil companies were properly rewarded for Britain’s political support for the US in the build-up to the invasion. The full details of the documents — more than 1,000 — and much more besides are in a new book, Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq, by Greg Muttitt, published in Britain on April 20.

Almost as an aside to this story, the Independent (4-20-2011) also quoted a senior Tory Party MP, who unsurprisingly asked not to be identified, as saying that the revelations

“…come as no surprise to me… In May 2002 a serving officer at the Ministry of Defence said to me: ‘We are planning for ground operations to start of March 19 next year.’ He said they couldn’t give a damn about the politics. There is no question that the armed services knew it as a racing certainly when the war would start.”

The response to the latest revelation has been lukewarm at best. Few other papers have bothered to report it, and there is no question of the dishonesty and deceit, which they confirm, becoming a political issue of any substance. In general, responses in Britain and elsewhere can be divided into three kinds. For some, it’s a case of “Yes, so what? That’s not news, we knew that all along.” For others, these are just more conspiracy theories, the product of loonies still banging on about oil and imperialism. And for the vast majority, including many in both the previous camps, this is all just old news, something historic and irrelevant nearly a decade later, when things have moved on inexorably, in terms of both domestic politics in Britain and the US (in both countries, the administrations of the time have been voted out of power), and what is happening in Iraq.

There are answers to all these responses, of course. The only possible explanation for those who still dismiss such revelations — of which there have been a constant stream for many years, dating back to almost immediately after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 — as conspiracy theories, is that they are wilfully blind, determined to maintain the self-justifying facades that they have created (or have been presented with) in order not to have to confront the realities that are now indisputable. Such people are either the authors of such lies, or have chosen, consciously or unconsciously, to align themselves with the authors because they share the same interests and objectives. Confronted with such people, the only reasonable answer is to tell them it is obvious they are deluding themselves for reasons that are clear to all others with more open and critical minds. Such people will never be convinced simply because reality does not suit them.

Then there are the apathetic majority, who may or may not accept the facts, but regard them as irrelevant in any case, as things have moved on. The charge of irrelevance is easily answerable: the relevance of such revelations are twofold, first that crimes have been committed whose effects are ongoing and should be answered for; and second, that the same crimes are very likely being repeated again and again by the same people or their successors, largely because there were no consequences to the last time they were committed. What we are seeing now in Libya is a case in point. Whatever else such issues may be, therefore, irrelevant they are not.

However, such arguments are unlikely to have any effect, because for most who use the irrelevant argument, it is only really an excuse for doing nothing because they are not concerned enough to do anything. Like many in the supposedly “democratic” West, politics and public affairs are only a spectator sport, rather than something with which they actively engage. They follow the news much as they follow sports or television soap operas — as entertainment they enjoy from afar but feel no need to get involved in, whatever their level of awareness may be. And when, every few years, some of them do bother to take part in elections, they vote largely on selfish short-term bases, rather than on principle of any kind, and are for the most part easily manipulated by whichever of the contending elite parties happens to be in the ascendance.

Then there are those who do actually recognise and acknowledge the reality of the West’s dishonest politics in domestic terms and murderous aggression internationally. A minority, like Greg Muttitt, are moved, engaged and committed enough to do the research necessary to write books such as this one. Many such people are otherwise also engaged in good works of various kinds, in terms of development, charities, campaigning work, and so on. Muttitt himself recently became Campaigns and Policy Director for the anti-poverty charity War on Want. It is also such people who turn out for anti-imperialist demonstrations of various kinds in Western capitals, for all the impact those have. But among such people too, there is an element of apathy, hence the responses — common on the Independent website when these articles were published — that such stories are hardly news, seeing as they only confirm what many people have known all along. To all these people, many of whose efforts are much appreciated, we should say one thing: so what? What is the actual impact of your awareness and campaigning? How come, in an open society with Freedom of Information legislation, and freedom to speak, publish, debate, organize, and so on, these things happen again and again, with no consequence for the vast majority of perpetrators, and no protection for the victims, past, present and future?

The fact is that what we see in such cases is the hard reality of so-called democracy. US president Abraham Lincoln, who was assassinated in 1860, famously said that “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” This is supposed to be a key element of democracy: that the people as a whole cannot be fooled, and therefore truth will out and dishonesty be punished. The reality is rather different.

Modern democracies work on the basis that you can fool enough of the people enough of the time. And such is the dominance of the moneyed elites over all significant institutions in society that the un-fooled minority can be safely ignored, or even encouraged and suborned to the elites’ purposes — a process made all the easier by the acceptance of most of these dissidents of the self-justifying and legitimising myths and facades of democracy. It is this that makes it possible for many campaigning NGOs and charities to work with and tacitly support the Western political agencies and agendas in places like Iraq, supposedly in order to promote democracy and help the people of those countries, even as they are severely critical of many of the policies of the same Western powers, not least in terms of domestic manipulation, political militarism and economic exploitation.

Many Muslims in Western countries are very supportive of such bodies, regarding them as domestic dissidents who share our view of the nature of Western imperialism. This is understandable enough. But the utter failure of such bodies to make any real difference to Western policies ought to tell us something. The real opposition to Western imperialism comes not from the dissidence of such Western groups but the direct action of groups representing the victims of the West, particularly the mujahideen involved in direct resistance in various places. Supporting such groups is undoubtedly more complicated, and often problematic for a variety of reasons; but such are problems we must face up to as members of the global Ummah whose fortune has been to find ourselves living in the West.

And what is more, we should demand the same from Western dissident activists and movements who claim to oppose Western imperialism without actually and effectively opposing it. Those who refuse are no real dissidents at all, and no friends to the victims of the West’s many crimes.

Iqbal Siddiqui is a former editor of Crescent International (1998–2008). He now publishes a personal blog, ‘A Sceptical Islamist’: http://scepticalislamist.typepad.com.

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