Thursday, February 09, 2006

Iraq and revisionism

The United Nations Development Project, in its inaugural Human Development Index of 1990, ranked Iraq at #55, compared with Japan at #1 and Australia at #7.

The only other Arab countries that were ranked above Iraq – United Arab Emirates at #54 and Kuwait at #43 – were and still are both governed by hereditary rulers (which perhaps speaks for the virtues of benevolent despotism).

Thus Iraq, even under a despot like Saddam and after an exhausting war with Iran, was arguably the most advanced of the Arab republics. Yet the suggestion that Iraq under Saddam mightn’t have been such a bad place to live is considered by some a wicked heresy.

Why would someone baulk at the idea that Iraq up to the late 1980s was in many respects a highly developed society whose citizens enjoyed one of the highest standards of living in the Arab world?

Perhaps because the disgraceful debacle and slaughterfest of the 2003 invasion must be mitigated by the portrayal of Saddam’s Iraq as nothing less than a vast, unremitting death camp?

Could it be that only if one accepts such an unambiguously negative view of Iraq, can the deceit, squalor and epic violence of the invasion and occupation of Iraq be countenanced without wincing in shame?

One sees this kind of thing fairly regularly. For example, in this agitprop piece a while back, Matthew D’Ancona excoriated Michael Moore’s “deeply offensive” portrayal in his film Fahrenheit 9/11 of “an allegedly idyllic Iraq” with “children smiling, kites flying”, as a prelude and counterpoint to the ensuing depiction of shattering scenes of urban bombardment. The apparent subtext is that there was no joy, no normality, indeed no life worth living in Iraq until Bush & Co liberated that benighted country.

There’s also the matter of D’Ancona’s refusal here to assume good faith in his adversary. Moore is accused of dishonestly portraying an “idyllic Iraq” under Saddam, thereby perpetrating “an insult to the million or more Iraqis who died as a consequence of Saddam Hussein’s policies”.

In fact, the worst that one could possibly say Moore was guilty of was presenting a view that challenges a certain partisan orthodoxy.

Poor D’Ancona went on to lament that “The anti-war lobby has the slick movies of Michael Moore. And what do we hawks have? The sickening images of Abu Ghraib, that’s what.” So, one might ask, doesn’t that tell Mr D’Ancona something?

China, which at its worst can vividly resemble the worst of Saddam’s Iraq, will present its best face at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Western TV networks will cash in on the glamour coverage, and Western tourists will flock there by the thousands, oblivious to the ongoing state repression and murder.

Will D’Ancona and fellow travellers then flail about in moral outrage?


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