August 08, 2005

Christopher Hitchens on the Silence of Human Rights/Charitable Communities

A great column by Christopher Hitchens at

How can so many people watch this as if they were spectators, handicapping and rating the successes and failures from some imagined position of neutrality? Do they suppose that a defeat in Iraq would be a defeat only for the Bush administration? The United States is awash in human rights groups, feminist organizations, ecological foundations, and committees for the rights of minorities. How come there is not a huge voluntary effort to help and to publicize the efforts to find the hundreds of thousands of "missing" Iraqis, to support Iraqi women's battle against fundamentalists, to assist in the recuperation of the marsh Arab wetlands, and to underwrite the struggle of the Kurds, the largest stateless people in the Middle East? Is Abu Ghraib really the only subject that interests our humanitarians?


Question: Why have several large American cities not already announced that they are going to become sister cities with Baghdad and help raise money and awareness to aid Dr. Tamimi [the Mayor of Baghdad]? When I put this question to a number of serious anti-war friends, their answer was to the effect that it's the job of the administration to allocate the money, so that there's little room or need for civic action. I find this difficult to credit: For day after day last month I could not escape the news of the gigantic "Live 8" enterprise, which urged governments to do more along existing lines by way of debt relief and aid for Africa. Isn't there a single drop of solidarity and compassion left over for the people of Iraq, after three decades of tyranny, war, and sanctions and now an assault from the vilest movement on the face of the planet? Unless someone gives me a persuasive reason to think otherwise, my provisional conclusion is that the human rights and charitable "communities" have taken a pass on Iraq for political reasons that are not very creditable. And so we watch with detached curiosity, from dry land, to see whether the Iraqis will sink or swim. For shame.
Hitchens makes a really good point. Why are charitable organizations and donors ignoring the needs in Iraq? Why aren't rock stars lining up to do concerts to encourage humanitarian aid to the war-torn Iraqis or victims of Saddam's torture chambers? Where are the celebrities clamoring about debt relief for Iraq's new government?
Many of the humanitarian and charitable organizations are, in fact, run by Democrats and liberals (much to their credit, in my opinion). Many of the people running these organizations or donating to them do not want to do anything that might be construed as either supporting the President or supporting the President's policies. However, is their hatred of Bush so extreme that they are willing to ignore the humanitarian tragedies in Iraq? While this hatred may play a part, the answer, in my opinion, appears to be more complex (although equally indefensible).
If the humanitarian and charitable organizations acknowledge the occurrence of the terrible human rights tragedy that was pre-war Iraq, then they, in essence, help to justify the Bush administration's policy to remove Saddam. At the very least, it makes it more difficult to argue that this was the "wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time" or whatever their current catchphrase may be. After all, if you acknowledge the human rights tragedies occurring under Saddam, it is much more difficult to argue that Saddam should not have been removed from power (otherwise, you could be seen as arguing that the mass murders and torture should be continuing). So, these people are in a Catch-22. Rather than admit that even George Bush can be right, these people ignore or down play the issue.
Moreover, I imagine that many of these people disregard Iraq in order to avoid "fixing Bush's mistakes" (as one poster on Democratic Underground fumed). Essentially, the rationale is that Bush should have never invaded Iraq so let him deal with the resulting mess. If the U.S. fails in Iraq, then many Democrats believe that they may be able to do better at the ballot box (that, in my opinion, is morally reprehensible). Need proof? Listen to the Democratic politicians, read the DNC press releases or read the work of left-wing columnists. Rather than support the administration's efforts, the Democrats have largely been quick to point out mistakes made by the administration in entering into the war, mistakes made by the administration in the prosecution of the war, the alleged torture of detainees as a result of some alleged unwritten governmental policy and the ever increasing cost of the war in lives and money.
You can disagree with the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq or its handling of the war. However, if you sincerely believe in providing humanitarian aid where it is needed, then how can you pass up Iraq?
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