Friday, October 31, 2003

Tough Talk At The Corner 

One of those "girly boys" of the NRO is trembling with indignation again. The object of his ire, the Iraqi contingent of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Here's Cliff May's reaction to the news of the bombing at the Red Cross headquarters in Baghdad on Monday.

"Of course we don't understand why somebody would attack the Red Cross," said Red Cross spokeswoman Nada Doumani. "It's very hard to understand.

No, Ms. Doumani, it's actually quite simple. The Saddamite remnants and their foreign jihadi allies don't want life to get better for ordinary Iraqis. That's why they attack you. That's why the attack American troops repairing water lines and guarding hospitals. That's why they attack Iraqi police cadets. That's why they attack U.N. headquarters. That's why they attack Jordanian diplomats.

What do the terrorists and their allies want? They want to get Iraq and its resources – e.g. oil, weapons, cash, -- back into their sweaty hands so they can utilize them to further for their viciously destructive aims. They can accomplish that by killing as many all foreign infidels and their allies as possible, and by driving the rest out of Iraq.

That includes you, Ms. Doumani. You too, represent the hated Judeo-Christian West and it won't help for you to say you never eat at McDonald's and that you think George W. Bush is a unilateralist and uncultured cowboy. The fact is you're working for the Red Cross and people who remember the Crusades and the sacking of Baghdad by the Mongols remember what that cross used to stand for.

Can you feel the love, the sympathy, the moral imagination here? No? Okay, then notice the confusion; what point is being made by that last sentence; that the evil ones have obsessive memories of past atrocities and lack Christian forgiveness, or that they have a strong reason for being so angry?

What the context was for Ms. Doumani's remarks is ignored and Mr. May offers no link to the original news story. Couldn't it be that she was responding to a dumb question, that she was still in shock from what had happened. or that she was stating the obvious; aren't the motivations of anyone who blows themselves up in order to attack others for whatever cause ultimately hard to understand?

Other than its instinctive disdain for any international organization, even the Red Cross, for heaven's sake, what comes through most clearly in May's angry lecture to a group of people who have just experienced a profound tragedy, as it does in most of the comments about Iraq from this administration and its supporters, is a qualifty of abstraction. Their interest in Iraqis lacks immediacy, specificity, curiosity about the multiple and diverse actualities of what's going on in Iraq.

Does Mr. May know, for instance, any of what this article about the Red Cross's reluctant decision to withdraw foreign workers from it's Baghdad headquarters tells us about this ICRC? That it is a Swiss organization, that it stayed in Baghdad through-out our military campaign to remove Saddam, that it has about 600 Iraqi employees who will, of course, stay on duty, but that the important task of visiting prisoners held by the coalition, of which there are at least ten thousand can only be done by foreign personnel?

The ICRC is mandated by the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war to make such visits, to check on conditions and to enable prisoners to communicate with their families.

Do the folks at the NRO really want to win hearts and minds in Iraq? If they do, they need to pay a different kind of attention to what's happening there, the kind that Arthur Miller meant when he had Mrs. Loman say, "attention must be paid," specific attention, to the details, of individual, indivisible lives.

Like this young life, which is all about paying attention to what's around her.

The Red Cross have started pulling out their personnel. A friend of mine who works with the Red Crescent said that they were going to try to pull out most of their personnel, while trying to continue with what they're doing- humanitarian assistance. When I heard Nada Domani, the head of the ICRC in Iraq, say that they'd begin pulling out their personnel on Tuesday, I wished I could yell out, "Don't abandon us Nada!" But I realize that their first priority is to ensure the safety of their employees.

The Red Cross is especially important at this point because they are the 'link' that is connecting the families of the detainees and the military. When someone suddenly disappears, people go to the Red Cross and after a few grueling days, the missing person can often be tracked down at one of the prison camps or prisons.

Read the rest for a detailed, specific discussion of the complexities of understanding who is attacking what in Iraq, and why they might be doing it. Increasingly, Riverbend (also known as Baghdad Burning) is becoming mandatory reading for everyone who is committed to paying attention to what is happening in Iraq.

corrente SBL - New Location
~ Since April 2010 ~

~ Since 2003 ~

The Washington Chestnut
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