AFTER eleven years, thousands of lives, and trillions of dollars wasted since 9/11, the fallout from those events is still with us. And even though Osama Bin Laden, the architect of the attacks, is dead, his toxic ideology continues to delude young Muslims around the globe.
In ways he could never have foreseen, the Al Qaeda leader has changed the world for the worse. As we in Pakistan struggle to contain the tide of extremism threatening our very existence, the West has become a very different place, too. Security concerns have now reached such paranoid levels that everyday freedoms, once taken for granted, are at risk.
Apart from the cost in blood and treasure, 9/11 and the subsequent ‘war on terror’ has made the destabilising concept of pre-emptive war acceptable. The restraints of international law have been greatly weakened after the attacks on Iraq and Libya. Even as I write this, the crescendo of voices demanding similar action in Syria and Iran is growing.
In Afghanistan after 9/11, there was an international consensus reflected in a UN Security Council resolution calling upon the Taliban to hand over Osama Bin Laden to the US. Mullah Omar’s refusal brought even greater misery to his people than they had already been through.
But there was no such global agreement in or out of the United Nations over the invasion of Iraq. This military action, driven by the neocons in Washington, discredited both Bush and Blair. The fact that Saddam Hussein had no WMDs, and certainly had no links with Al Qaeda, made it clear that there was no legal or moral justification for the war.And yet, despite the clear illegality of their actions, both Bush and Blair continue to enjoy a peaceful retirement, and in the latter’s case, a very lucrative one. Just a few days ago, he was brokering a multi-billion dollar takeover bid. Through his personal appearances and consultancy, he is making millions. Understandably, whenever he appears on TV, he looks extremely pleased with himself.
However, he recently received a rare snub when Bishop Desmond Tutu refused to appear with him at an event in South Africa. Tutu has often been described as the ‘conscience of Africa’, and in a recent article in the Observer, he showed us why:
“On what grounds do we decide that Robert Mugabe should go to the International Criminal Court, Tony Blair should join the international speakers’ circuit, Bin Laden should be assassinated, but Iraq should be invaded, not because it possesses WMDs, as Mr Bush’s chief supporter, Mr Blair, confessed last week, but in order to get rid of Saddam Hussein?
“The cost of [this] decision has been staggering… Last year, an average of 6.5 people died there each day in suicide attacks and vehicle bombs… More than 110,000 Iraqis have died in the conflict since 2003 and millions have been displaced. By the end of last year, nearly 4,500 Americans had been killed and more than 32,000 wounded.
“On these grounds alone, in a consistent world, those responsible for this suffering and loss of life should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in The Hague…
“… If it is acceptable for leaders to take drastic action on the basis of a lie, without an acknowledgment or an apology when they are found out, what should we teach our children?”
I have quoted Bishop Tutu at some length because of the importance of his message. In fact, I urge readers to read the full article online. Last year, I heard the South African cleric speak at the Hay Literary Festival and was deeply moved by his simplicity and his gentle humour.
In a world where cynicism has largely replaced morality, it is important to heed the occasional call for ethical behaviour. There are far too few voices speaking out against the likes of Bush and Blair for us to ignore the ones that do break through the fog of callous pragmatism.
Another voice to call consistently for Blair to be tried belongs to George Monbiot. In a recent article in the Guardian, he pointed out that the UN Charter only permits wars in self-defence, and that Blair could be tried for dragging Britain into an illegal war.
Indeed, Monbiot has set up a fund through which people are paid for carrying out citizens’ arrest of Tony Blair (www.arrestblair.org). Four such arrests have been attempted thus far. So while it is unlikely that Blair will actually be tried for his crimes against humanity, his public ostracisation might serve to remind others that there is a price to pay for acting like “playground bullies”, to use Bishop Tutu’s words.
Against this backdrop of idealism and citizen activism, it was sad to learn that Ed Milliband, leader of the Labour Party, has announced that he will welcome Tony Blair back into the fold. Forget morality: even on grounds of political expedience, it appears foolish to even touch the ex-prime minister with a ten-foot bargepole. More than its economic performance, Labour supporters blame the party leadership for failing to stop Blair from taking Britain to war in Iraq.Ordinary Brits still fume at the lies they were fed by Blair to obtain Parliament’s support for the decision to invade. However, as I remind friends in England, the reality is that even after it became apparent that there were no WMDs in Iraq, they still re-elected Blair for another term.
By letting off people like Bush and Blair, we have made it clear that illegal wars will go unpunished, thereby lowering the bar for the unilateral use of power. We can see the results in the ease with which states now send their forces to intervene abroad.
Now, when Israel threatens to attack Iran, few point out that such an action would be strictly illegal under international law. But Israel has seldom heeded UN conventions. The real danger is that the region may again be sucked into armed conflict.