Iraq: Belfast and the countdown to war #2
Here, as a follow-up, I thought I'd post the text of the speech I gave in front of Belfast City Hall, just a few days into the war (March 22, 2003).
There were a fair few speakers that day, including writers like local journalist Malachi O'Doherty, who directly took on David Trimble's pathetic 'rally behind the flag' argument that we should shut up, go home and 'support the troops'; and American poet Chris Agee, who was able to deliver the 'not in my name' argument more eloquently than anyone else that day.
About 5,000 dispirited but defiant people attended that demo, in contrast to the 15,000-plus at the more hopeful February rally.
You can judge for yourself, with the benefit of hindsight, whether you think I got the issues, the messages and the tone right.
Given all that we know now, I am fairly content for my words to be compared against, for instance, those of the Prime Minister of the time, to see which better stand the test of time.
"It’s good to see so many people here today. You should be really proud of yourselves.
Tony Blair, George Bush, you have said this war is about morality. The leaders of all the main Christian churches and indeed most of the world’s religious leaders have rejected this so-called morality. They don’t believe you.
You have said this war is about the integrity of the international community. The international community isn’t with you. They don’t believe you.
You have said this war is about defending United Nations resolutions. The UN Security Council won’t back you. They don’t believe you.
You have said this war is about Saddam’s links with Al-Qaeda. This is so ludicrous that even you don’t believe you.
You have said this war is about weapons of mass destruction. Hans Blix and Mohammed Baradei said they couldn’t find any. They don’t believe you.
Now Clare Short, she doesn’t know who to believe, but Robin Cook – a man who ought to know as a former Foreign Secretary – has said Iraq probably has no weapons of mass destruction. He doesn’t believe you.
You have even said this war is about human rights. But why now? For decades, the US and the UK Governments have ignored persistent calls from Amnesty International asking for help to end the suffering of the Iraqi people.
Saddam Hussein is a monster who Britain and the US helped create. They nurtured him and armed him, didn’t mind when he killed Iranians, didn’t mind when he killed Kurds and didn’t mind when he imprisoned, tortured and killed his political opponents in Iraq. But now that he is no longer their pet monster, they say that it is concern for the Iraqi people which motivates them. People gathered in cities across the world today do not believe you.
Belfast does not believe you. The world does not believe you.
I want to salute the students from schools and colleges who have been taking action in the last few days and weeks in solidarity with the people of Iraq.
You know, they are about to introduce a new subject into schools here, something called Citizenship. Well let me tell you, there are young students in Belfast and throughout Northern Ireland who already know what it is to be a citizen … to be a citizen of the world.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with the long-suffering people of Iraq is citizenship.
Taking to the streets to stand up for democracy and the rule of law is citizenship.
Rejecting the tyranny of B52s and F-16s is citizenship.
This is citizenship.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, George Bush Snr talked about creating a new world order. Just a decade or so later, his son seems determined to create a new world disorder.
A world whose only superpower launches pre-emptive strikes.
A world where anything goes as long as you say it is part of the 'war on terror'.
A world where human rights are trampled upon, where people are imprisoned without trial.
A world where the United Nations is flagrantly ignored.
A world where might is right and international law is replaced by the law of the jungle.
Over the days ahead the Iraqi people face a terrible war.
We hear a lot of talk about smart bombs and precision bombing, yet we know too that the US and UK forces have huge stockpiles of cluster bombs and anti-personnel mines. These are indiscriminate weapons, which cannot tell the difference between a member of Saddam’s Republican Guard and an Iraqi child.
We know too that Saddam will not worry unduly about innocent civilians in Kuwait or elsewhere killed by his missiles. We must ensure that any war crimes are investigated and exposed and any war criminals brought to justice – whatever side they are on.
We must ensure that there is a humanitarian safety net in place for the people of Iraq as their food, water and medical supplies are put at risk.
We must ensure safe refuge for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who may be forced to flee their homes as the bombs rain down.
And what of post-war Iraq?
If we look at Afghanistan, the scene of Britain’s and America’s most recent military adventure, we can clearly say that some Afghans are definitely freer than they were under the Taleban, but in most of Afghanistan human rights abuses continue, women and girls are afraid to leave their homes and George Bush has put warlords and war criminals at the heart of the new Government.
Past conflicts have shown that no short-term political fix – however attractive – has ever succeeded in establishing lasting peace and justice. Our fear is that Iraq will be no different.
The Iraqi people have no voice in this war. We have a voice.
We are a majority in the world and a majority in this country. We refuse to be a silent majority; we refuse to be silenced.
We will use our voices in solidarity with the Iraqi people and in support of the rule of international law. We will continue to use our voices loud and clear."
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