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Hope in protests
as war shifts the focus

Penny Jamieson


I had thought that this week I would write about euthanasia,  an issue that has arisen once again in our Parliament,  by the luck of the draw,  the parliamentary ballot of private members' bills.

But it seems an unconscionable luxury,  to speak relatively,  to be considering the issue of voluntary death when so many people are living with the fear of invasion,  of shattered homes,  injury and death in a  "liberation"  that is not of their choosing.

The  "Iraq issue"  has dominated the world news for over six months now,  but since the invasion began last week the stakes have risen considerably.

The  "diplomatic process"  is now in tatters,  although it was always doubtful whether the armies encamped around Iraq were there as threat or provocation.   The United States and its allies have chosen their own path of decision–making on this grave issue,  thus beginning a major war.

They have chosen a path that disregards established processes,  international law,  the opinions of long–enduring friends and the convention that war,  as a means of negotiation,  always fails to achieve the desired outcome and should never be used to save pride,  or from impatience or for gain.

Sure,  some 37 countries have given their names in support of the cause.   It is hard not to support a country as economically powerful and determined on achieving world dominance as is the current United States administration.   Such half–hearted support is a response of fear and submission to an overwhelming power.   We have seen the tension and the loss that Turkey,  where most people are Muslims,  has been through as it seeks uneasy compromise with the White House.   It has uneasily forgone a large aid package in refusing to allow United States troops to be based in the country.

Now that the invasion has begun,  the ground begins to shift.   This is largely,  I would have to say,  because of the non–stop jamming of our airwaves and our press with the news that the United States wants us to hear.   We receive hour on hour coverage of the destructive power of the United States military.   The media often has a taste for stories of conflict and this is the best one that they have had for a long time.

Not only have the intensity levels risen but the grounds of the conflict have shifted as well.   For some months,  the top–of–the–bill argument that we have been invited to watch was between the United States and those who opposed the use of war as a means of disarming Saddam Hussein.   Now,  the conflict that fills the airwaves is the war itself and those of us who opposed it are left praying that it will be over quickly and the loss of life will be minimal.   How could we wish otherwise?

It would seem that,  now the war has begun,  attention has shifted away from the argument about war as a means of negotiation to a charting of its progress and the successes of the coalition troops.   The moral argument has slipped quite a lot further down the news lists and has metamorphosed into reports of protests,  and there are a lot of those.

Much of the moral discussion has been lost in the dust and vicarious interest in the battle details.

Now,  the moral ground has slipped to an all-time low.   This war sets a precedent for preventative violence,  which is a very strange,  self-contradictory concept and it is a very dangerous precedent.   But it will only become an established precedent if that moral argument is allowed to drop out of sight.

But I don't think it will.   We are seeing now a world in which governments are acting in ways that are really at odds with their people,  and the protest movements have acquired a new and more vital focus.   Despite the fact that  "all the world always loves a winner"  (and winning is clearly not in doubt in this most unfairly matched of conflicts),  there is massive opposition in both Britain and Australia,  and it is also considerable in the United States.   There are governments all round the world that are attempting to control demonstrations because they see all too clearly the risks of opposing the United States.

I wonder if we are seeing the beginning of the globalisation of democracy and it will not be the same as we know democracy now.   It is a democracy that is saying a very clear  "No"  to war as a means of achieving diplomatic ends and  "Yes"  to the uniquely human means of solving argument  –  that of listening,  talking and more listening.   If this is so there is some hope.

I,  for one,  have appreciated the way our prime minister has articulated our shame at the failure of the diplomatic process and at the outbreak of this war.

Penny Jamieson is the Anglican Bishop of Dunedin.
This article was printed in the Otago Daily Times of March 26,  2003


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