I went out to Russia in 1991 – still just the Soviet Union – certain that anyone who had not fought against, or stood up in some way against the regime was a collaborator. I went out partly to understand how a society of collaborators, collaborators on a mass scale, a scale of many millions – how it could exist. What was the mind of a collaborator like? How did they square their personal principles with what was happening around them? How did they excuse their failure to condemn the evil acts of the regime and their continuing participation in the structures set up by that regime – all essential to its continuing existence?
Little did I see that our collaborators here are far more dangerous; in some ways more despicable, because they are not even held in train by fear, or by the much more arduous daily struggle for existence faced by those in Russia and the former communist bloc.
Our collaborators lead lives of unbounded comfort and luxury compared with the enormous mass of people around the world. Our collaborators are well-educated, secure in the knowledge that speaking out will not (in general) land them behind bars, let alone behind bars somewhere in Siberia. Our collaborators do not just sit and suffer under an ignominious regime – they support its business, advertise it, do its propaganda for it; and they benefit from its crimes.
Just imagine if in the last 4 years, the British Government had rained down bombs on hundreds of English towns, shot up British leisure centres, supermarkets, offices and businesses with tank shells tipped with depleted uranium; imagine if the British police had forced its way into thousands of quiet English homes and dragged the residents to be tortured in a prison camp outside Reading. Imagine if 2 years ago we had laid siege to Birmingham and that the town was now a ghost town: no electricity, no running water; food supplies critically low, and hospitals lacking basic medicines; residents kept in and non-residents kept out. Imagine if we had by this means managed to eliminate, remove, murder over a million upstanding British citizens. Imagine if 4 million more had had to escape to France to save what was left of their miserable lives.
Of course the British government would be careful never to do such a thing: the British government has always been supremely good at doing its dirty business far away from British shores – and the British people supremely good at averting their gaze, not least because we benefit from dirty business. We export our human rights violations, because we suspect that British citizens might not put up with over here, what we do in other countries of the world.
But it is only racism which makes it any more acceptable to do it to Iraqis (or Afghanis) than to upstanding British citizens. And it is only willful ignorance that allows us to continue to enjoy our privileged position, rather than using every means at our disposal to stop the killing machine.
So our collaborators are those who have the intelligence and the opportunity to know – but who choose to remain in ignorance. They are those who know, but manage to put it from their mind while they build themselves up and show themselves off; and they are those who use their leisure and intelligence to beautify their lives, their bodies and their minds still further, rather than address the hideous crimes inflicted by their government on other human beings.
The British countryside is littered with placards announcing: ‘Fight Prejudice, Fight the Ban’.
‘Fight Prejudice’, perhaps, against Iraqis, whose lives and country we have allowed our government to destroy? Fight Prejudice against Muslims, against whom the right wing press is conducting a none-too subtle campaign? Or maybe we should fight the prejudice which sees nothing wrong with malnourished children round the world producing fashion garments for us to wear – because, of course, we could never ask upstanding British children to do that.
But no! The prejudice and ban the privileged classes in Britain have to fight is that which has made fox-hunting illegal; that which brought 1 million people into the centre of London to demonstrate. Those are the human rights battles our privileged collaborators think it important to fight. They fight them because the ban concerns them and their lifestyle. But while they continue that lifestyle and fail to fight the real prejudice in our society – Iraq burns.