Maybe the reason some Iraqis were dancing after the fall of Saddam is the Americans got their translation wrong. When they made their announcements in Arabic, they thought they were saying “Good news, from now on you’re all free.” But they were actually saying “Good news, from now on everything is free.”
Even so, the photo in this paper of the man cheerfully pushing a wardrobe along the street on a trolley shows how scenes like that could never happen in this country, because mass looting of furniture would have to involve raids on shops like Ikea. Then the Army would have no problem in pacifying the population, as for the next 10 days the whole country would be going “Attach bracket hinge B to swivel pin pivot F – there isn’t a pin pivot F, hang on, this next bit’s in bloody Italian.”
The fall of Baghdad was bound to be presented as a carnival of falling statues and cheering Iraqis, and reporters yelling statements such as, “Beneath me are extraordinary scenes as a group of young Iraqis are quite literally waving.”
But why have so many commentators have fallen for this propaganda? To start with, even around the falling statue there were only about 200 people. I went to school discos that had more people dancing than that. Maybe the BBC should have sent a camera crew there to yell, “I’m witnessing the most extraordinary scenes, and in front of me someone has put on “Blockbuster” by the Sweet and now people are literally drinking Fanta.”
The fall of that statue was presented as a spontaneous act of liberation, but every aspect was carefully planned to suit CNN and the cover of Time magazine. It had probably been rehearsed in a studio, with a director screaming, “Come on extras, now let’s see you dance. God, can none of you do handsprings, ooh, it’s as if Fame had never been made.”
One picture appeared in several newspapers under headlines such as “Young Iraqis celebrate their freedom”. But the picture was of four young Iraqis holding up their thumbs and smiling into the camera, which is what young people do to cameras everywhere. I suppose from now on, when a football manager is being interviewed after a match, and lads run behind him pulling faces, the commentator will say “Ah, and there in the background are some young Manchester City fans celebrating the fall of Saddam.”
Of course there were plenty of Iraqis genuinely delighted at Saddam’s demise, but it’s already clear the majority don’t see it that simply. If the numbers on the streets provides justification for the war, surely the numbers already demonstrating to get the Americans out must provide justification for being anti-war. Or do people on the street only count if they’re dancing? Similarly, we’re told that to show opposition to the war meant a refusal to listen to Iraqi exiles, but many Iraqi exiles are unequivocally opposed to it, including one I know who fled the Baath regime 25 years ago and has spoken at countless anti-war meetings.
But those who see the fall of Saddam as justification for the war see everything one way. Which is how papers that supported the bombing can launch appeals on behalf of the victims of that bombing. As if there’s no connection between the two. It’s as if Reggie Kray had shot Jack the Hat McVitie and immediately knelt down beside him yelling “Look at this poor sod, someone’s shot him through the head. Right, everyone sling a tenner in this bucket.”
Nor is the anti-war case refuted because the Iraqi regime was indeed overthrown. The argument was never that the Americans couldn’t manage it. If someone suggests strangling a kitten and ignores your pleas for them not to, it’s not much of a defence if they say later “What you were worried about, it hardly put up a fight at all.”
Any imperialist army is welcomed by some of the local population. Native Americans were friendly to the settlers in New York. If television reporters had been there they’d have yelled: “The squaws are literally waving as they witness the touching scene of a chief receiving a set of beads in exchange for Manhattan.” And this is the point here. Maybe the loss of life would be a price worth paying if the war had been fought to destroy a rotten regime. But destroying the rotten regime is only the first step in moulding a new regime that suits the handful of people who run America.
Which is why, if we’re going to judge the war on the basis of what seems popular, the pro-war lobby should have to answer why it is that almost the whole Arab world is still opposed to it, as is 90 per cent of Spain, 70 per cent of France, and a majority of almost every country in the world. And why the Egyptian president said the action had created 100 Bin Ladens. And why the next terrorist act against the West will undoubtedly be greeted by huge numbers dancing in the street. At which point I expect supporters of the war against Iraq to say “Oh well, I suppose it must be a good thing as some of them are literally waving.”