February 17, 2003

Ripping Apart Jill Nelson, and

Ripping Apart Jill Nelson, and Something Else to Ponder

I don't like Jill Nelson, but I read her because she provides a good exercise on how to disassemble baseless arguments. So, let's start ripping apart her latest.

NEW YORK, Feb. 15 — On a bitterly cold day, as the temperature began falling a few hours after sunrise, thousands people came to New York City.

One thing I've never been able to understand is why it's so important to point out that protesters battle the weather. So, it's bitterly cold, so what? Is the weather conspiring to keep them from demonstrating? What's you damned point? Also, please note her reference to "thousands" of people, as I'll be referring back to it.

They were people of every age, religion, ethnicity and color; people in wheelchairs, carrying signs and flags, holding hands or pushing strollers; people in Islamic veils and labor caps and fur coats. There were people carrying puppets and people carrying signs that were angry and signs that were funny. Many were bearing American flags. They came to declare their patriotism and their right to protest a pending war in Iraq at a time in which our president has intimated that to question his goals and methods in pursuit of Saddam Hussein is to flirt with treason.

How does one flirt with treason? Do you coyly bat an eye, maybe give a come-hither glance? Come on, Jill, if demonstrating against a war in Iraq is truly flirting with treason, then the whole lot of protesters would have been herded into paddy wagons and would be awaiting a court date. If you honestly believe that you're being labeled for treason, I suggest you go to some other country, oh, I don't know, Iraq, and see how treasoness voices are actually dealt with.

THERE ARE FEW transcendent moments in public life, those rare occasions when a diverse array of people share a commonality of values, vision and commitment. Today in New York and in cities around the world, such a moment was shared, as millions of people raised their voices against the war and in favor of a more peaceful alternative to strip Saddam Hussein of his weapons of mass destruction.

Notice that she says "in favor of a more peaceful alternative" without actually giving any examples. "Give peace a chance!" Any ideas how that might be accomplished? "No, but give peace a chance!"

Yet in the end those who would protest rose above the bullies, and the authorized rally for 10,000 became something far greater: crowd estimates at day's end varied from 100,000 to 400,000.

Here's what President W would call "fuzzy numbers." First, she says "thousands," now she's giving the outrageous range of 100,000 to 400,000. Who the hell made those estimates? A drunken hobo in a box? You can't just conjure 300,000 people.

Tens of thousands of people attempting to walk east to the United Nations rally were instead herded by New York City police, often with embarrassment and chagrin and sometimes with barricades and rearing horses, to march north.

Now we're back down to tens of thousands of people. Make up your damned mind. And rearing horses? I'd rear too if I saw a crowd of 400,000 people suddenly disappear into tens of thousands. I like how she makes it sound as if the government was trying to quell the protestors by issuing terror alerts and hindering their march to the U.N. Newsflash, Jill, but when a marching crowd consists of people of every ethnicity, and some of them are wearing veils, yeah, they're going to get a little fidgety when you try marching on the U.N. It's nothing personal, and certainly it's not anti-protest. They're just trying to keep a cap on potential terrorism. Hope you don't mind.

And so we walked north, sometimes chanting, sometimes silent, occasionally singing. The nature of the march, and the moment, was proud, peaceful and inclusive. This was a peace march: there was no violence. Instead, in unison, half a million people, without losing face or the peace, adapted. Would that the Bush administration could do the same.

Good idea. Let's send our troops to Iraq and have them chant and sing. Oh, and by the way, did you notice how Jill just plopped on another 100,000 people? Now it's half a million. Curious. Watch those horses rear now.

Such a moment was profoundly needed as the Bush administration continues to bully its allies into a war that few people want. Just when I thought the administration had reached rock-bottom last week, with Secretary of State Colin Powell's initial presentation to the United Nations, things got worse. Several days later the terrorist alert level was raised to orange; no doubt the administration was hoping that fear of terror would make their poll numbers might go up, too. Yet by the end of the week their war drums seemed to lack their desired effect: administration officials acknowledged that information about an impending terrorist threat was an informant's "fabrication" — that's a plain old lie to the rest of us.

I know that this is her own opinion column, but jeez, that entire paragraph was one slushy puddle of innuendo and half-truths after another. If the Bush administration was truly bullying the people into war, we'd be at war by now instead of playing additional U.N. games. We have all the justification and appropriate resolutions we need, but we haven't acted yet. Bullying my ass. And, although I'm no fan of the terror alert system, it's a pretty big leap to think it's simply a tool used to bolster poll numbers. If anything, pushing the alert to orange hurts polling numbers. I don't know about you, but if we keep toggling to higher alerts, I'd want to elect someone who could do a better job at keeping it down. And, finally, why all the buzz about "fabrication" versus "lie." In either case, the informant didn't tell the truth, and a higher level of alert was the result. What's Jill's point?

France, Germany, Russia and China, all members of the United Nations Security Council, and the majority of the member nations, do not support a war with Iraq. According to a recent New York Times poll, 59 percent of Americans feel the weapons inspectors should be given more time to do their work. Yet the President Bush and his advisors, not to mention the pundit class, engage in an orgy of Europe-bashing. It is as if they regard the nations of the world as merely client states, beholden to obey; and the media respond as if beating the drums for an impending war against Iraq is a smart career move.

I've already given my lengthy dissertation about the U.N. Synopsis: it doesn't work, particulary now that France has its finger on the veto button. Hitler himself could rise from the grave and revive the Third Reich, and France would still insist on a peaceful alternative. And China? Jill emphasizes China? China disapproves of everything the U.S. does. China. Jeez, she had to scrape the bottom of the barrel for that one. And enough with the drums already. I get it. They're beating drums. They sit in the situation room beating little bongo drums, and Rumsfeld does a neat solo on a kick ass drum set that used to belong to Motley Crue. Time for a new analogy, Jill. The drums are getting old. And the media is beholden to obey? Then how the hell did you get into print on MSNBC.com, Jill?

Today, surrounded by tens of thousands of people I have never seen before and may not again, the drums of war were muffled. I felt protected and affirmed. It was as if people all over finally realized not how differently, but how similarly we see the world. They understand the in spite of the specificity of all the differences, our belief in the power of negotiation and peace - and our right to both — unites us.

Back down to tens of thousands of people, and more fucking drums. Muffled drums, no less. Negotiation and peace, two things Saddam totally understands and adheres to.

And now, stepping away from Jill, let's visit the opposing side, borrowed from Tony Blair, so my apologies to him for an outright copy and paste.

Iraq and "War"*

Dear All,

I am writing this email after a lot of deliberation about whether I have the right to use my strange and unique position (within our group) to argue the case FOR an invasion in Iraq. But in the end I have decided that I have more to lose if I keep quiet.

Firstly, my parents, my family, are from Iraq. My parents fled from Iraq some 23 years ago leaving everything and everyone behind when at that point 17 of our relatives had been "disappeared" or imprisoned for no reason whatsoever. They sought refuge in Kuwait for 4 years, but once again were forced to flee with us (my brother and I) in tow when Saddam had the Kuwaitis deport the Iraqi men back to Iraq. On the border he had these returnees shot dead.

We were lucky; we made it safely to Britain. My father was lucky - his brother was caught trying to escape and tortured. So here I am, 19 years later, never having set foot in the country of my parents.

The anti-"war" feeling prevalent amongst people I speak to seems to me totally misjudged and misplaced. I have to be honest here and say that I feel it is based partly on a lot on misunderstanding of the situation in Iraq and partly on people's desire to seem "politically rebellious" against the big, bad Americans. And let me say, that I also agree the American government is indeed big and bad; I have no illusions about their true intentions behind an attack on Iraq.

More than you or I, the Iraqis know the ignorant and truly atrocious attitude of the American government towards most of the world's population. Iraqis felt the effect of this when America (and the rest of the West in fact) eagerly supported and supplied Saddam when he waged his war-of-attrition against Iran causing the death of 1 million Iraqis and Iranians and the disappearance of many more - there was no anti-war movement to help them.

They felt the effect of this attitude when America and the West ignored, supplied even, Saddam's use of biological weapons on the people of Halabja, killing 5000 people in one day, and causing the deformed births of babies in the area to this day.

Iraqis know well the untrustworthy nature of the Western governments when the coalition gave Saddam permission, a few days after the end of the Gulf War, to massacre the uprising peoples of Iraq when they had wrested control from him in most cities of Iraq.

The people of Iraq echo our discontentment with America and the West's policy in Iraq, for they know the realities of such a policy far better than any of us shall ever know.

I want to ask those who support the anti - "war" movement (apart from pacifists - that is a totally different situation) their motives and reasoning behind such support. You may feel that America is trying to blind you from seeing the truth about their real reasons for an invasion. I must argue that in fact, you are still blind to the bigger truths in Iraq. I must ask you to consider the following questions:

Saddam has murdered more than a million Iraqis over the past 30 years, are you willing to allow him to kill another million Iraqis?
Out of a population of 20 million, 4 million Iraqis have been forced to flee their country during Saddam's reign. Are you willing to ignore the real and present danger that caused so many people to leave their homes and families?
Saddam rules Iraq using fear - he regularly imprisons, executes and tortures the mass population for no reason whatsoever - this may be hard to believe and you may not even appreciate the extent of such barbaric acts, but believe me you will be hard pressed to find a family in Iraq who have not had a son/father/brother killed, imprisoned, tortured and/or "disappeared" due to Saddam's regime. What has been stopping you from taking to the streets to protest against such blatant crimes against humanity in the past?
Saddam gassed thousands of political prisoners in one of his campaigns to "cleanse" prisons - why are you not protesting against this barbaric act?
An example of the dictator's policy you are trying to save - Saddam has made a law to give excuse to any man to rape a female relative and then murder her in the name of adultery. Do you still want to march to keep him in power?
I remember when I was around 8 I went along with my father to a demonstration against the French embassy when the French were selling Saddam weapons. I know of the numerous occasions my father and many, many others haves attended various meetings, protests and exhibitions that call for the end of Saddam's reign. I have attended the permanent rally against Saddam that has been held every Saturday in Trafalgar Square for the past 5 years. The Iraqi people have been protesting for YEARS against the war - the war that Saddam has waged against them. Where have you been?

Why is it now that you deem it appropriate to voice your disillusions with America's policy in Iraq, when it is actually right now that the Iraqi people are being given real hope, however slight and precarious, that they can live in an Iraq that is free of the horrors partly described in this email?

Whatever America's real intentions behind an attack, the reality on the ground is that many Iraqis, inside and outside Iraq support invasive action, because they are the ones who have to live with the realities of continuing as things are while people in the West wring their hands over the rights and wrongs of dropping bombs on Iraq, when in fact the US & the UK have been continuously dropping bombs on Iraq for the past 12 years.

Of course it would be ideal if an invasion could be undertaken, not by the Americans, but by, say, the Nelson Mandela International Peace Force. That's not on offer. The Iraqi people cannot wait until such a force materialises; they have been forced to take what they're given. That such a force does not exist - cannot exist - in today's world is a failing of the very people who do not want America to invade Iraq, yet are willing to let thousands of Iraqis to die in order to gain the higher moral ground. Do not continue to punish the Iraqi people because you are "unhappy" with the amount of power the world is at fault for allowing America to wield. Do not use the Iraqi people as a pawn in your game for moral superiority - one loses that right when one allows a monster like Saddam to rule for 30 years without so much as protesting against his rule.

Some will accuse me of being a pessimist for accepting that the only way to get rid of Saddam is through force. I beg to differ; I believe I have boundless optimism for the FUTURE of Iraq, where Iraqis are able to rebuild their shattered country, where Jews, Muslims, Christians, atheists, communists - all peoples of any and all backgrounds are able to live in peace and safety and without fear of persecution. I beg you to imagine such an Iraq, such a democracy in the Middle East, and ask where in that do you see pessimism? Such an Iraq is what is being envisaged and sought by many millions of Iraqis; such an Iraq is where I hope I will be able to take my children.

If you want to make your disillusions heard then do speak out, put pressure on Blair, Bush & Co to keep to their promises of restoring democracy to Iraq. Make sure they do put back in financial aid what they have taken over the years, and make sure that they don't betray the Iraqis again. March for democracy in Iraq. If you say that we can't trust the Americans then make sure that you are a part of ensuring they do fulfil their promises to the Iraqis.

So I conclude by asking you to consider your REASONS for supporting the anti-"war" movement, and if you are going, the anti-"war" demo. If you still feel that what I have said does not sway you from this stance, then I can do no more.

In some ways I do admire the movement because it proves what people can achieve when they come together and speak out. Unfortunately for Iraq nobody spoke out earlier.

Please feel free to email me with your counter-arguments, comments, thoughts etc.

Rania Kashi

(* I use apostrophes with "war" because in truth it will be no war, but an invasion. A war presumes relatively equal forces battling against each, with resistance on both sides. A US-led force will encounter NO resistance from the Iraqi people or the army.)

Posted by Ryan at February 17, 2003 03:17 PM
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