The lack of news from the south of the country may have lulled some into thinking that that the region was tranquil. It is certainly much more peaceful than the area in and around Baghdad. But Vincent claimed that this “peace” had come at a price and it looks like trying to discover just what that price was cost him his life.
In what was to be his valediction, for the New York Times, Vincent was scathing about how the British in Basra have allowed the city and surrounding region to slip into fundamentalism and corruption:
As has been widely reported of late, Basran politics (and everyday life) is increasingly coming under the control of Shiite religious groups, from the relatively mainstream Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq to the bellicose followers of the rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Recruited from the same population of undereducated, underemployed men who swell these organizationsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ ranks, many of BasraÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s rank-and-file police officers maintain dual loyalties to mosque and state.
“No one trusts the police,” one Iraqi journalist told me. “If our new ayatollahs snap their fingers, thousands of police will jump.” Mufeed al-Mushashaee, the leader of a liberal political organization called the Shabanea Rebellion, told me that he felt that “the entire force should be dissolved and replaced with people educated in human rights and democracy.”
Unfortunately, that is precisely what the British arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t doing. Fearing to appear like colonial occupiers, they avoid any hint of ideological indoctrination. In my time with them, not once did I see an instructor explain such basics of democracy as the politically neutral role of the police in a civil society. Nor did I see anyone question the alarming number of religious posters on the walls of Basran police stations. When I asked British troops if the security sector reform strategy included measures to encourage cadets to identify with the national government rather than their neighborhood mosque, I received polite shrugs: not our job, mate.
Which begs the question, if it’s not our job to instill democratic values and engender feelings of national pride in the Basran police, then whose is it? Why then did we invade?
In the ever-shifting reasons for invading Iraq, liberation, democratisation of the country and giving the people a better life than under Saddam were the ones our leaders and their supporters finally alighted on. So why have the people of Southern Iraq been abandoned to encroaching Islamism and gangsterism?
And to bring the argument home, who now speaks for the people of Basra in Britain? Before, during and after the invasion, those who were against the war were lambasted by those who were pro-war for abandoning the people of Iraq to their fate under Saddam. That was true for some but not all but that didn’t stop – notably – those on the Pro-War Left from lumping us all together as apologist and appeasers of the Baathist regime.
But those voices who shouted the loudest for Iraq’s liberation are now strangely silent now that the Iraqi people, previously lauded as a secular Muslim people with one of the most educated middle classes in the world, are slowly edging towards life under a different tyranny.
I’d offer that the Pro-War Left now find themselves in the same position as they placed the Anti-War Left before the war. The Anti-War Left were accused of forsaking the the people of Iraq to the depradations of Saddam, of taking a purely oppositional pose to the policy of Bush and Blair.
Now however, in the violent, bloody and botched aftermath of the war, we find it is the Pro-War Left who have abandoned the people of Iraq. I don’t recall an article by David Aaronovitch or Nick Cohen, or a post on Harry’s Place (and attendant “Decent Left” websites) condemning the wilfully blind eyes of the British-led military presence under which the current state of affairs in southern Iraq has been ushered. Perhaps someone can enlighten me otherwise.
Sure, everybody can speak out against suicide bombings but I’ve yet to see much condemnation of Steven Vincent’s death or the newly-introduced Islamist oppression of women. Maybe there are those who think that former Baathist officials deserve death by assassination at the hands of a corrupt police force but the death penalty wasn’t a major policy plank of the progressive Left the last time I looked. But then as Bertrand Russell notes in his Sceptical Essays, “the infliction of cruelty with a good conscience is a delight to moralists.”
That said, even though many of the predictions made by the Anti-War Left before the war have since come to pass, you won’t find many of them saying “I told you so” or speaking out against the hardships now being visited upon the Iraqi people either. Both the Pro-War and Anti-War Left are united in a dismissive shrug. The Antis say, “Iraq is in the past. It is now our job to make sure it never happens again somewhere else.” The Pros are busy accusing the Antis of supporting suicide bombers at home and abroad and anyway, it doesn’t serve their arguments to study the problems (Islamism, corruption and all) that their liberal intervention has brought to Iraq.
At the end of the day, this nit-picking over the stance of the various flavours of Left is dry, appeals to a narrow constituency and as Jamie at Blood & Treasure says:
“What Iraq means for the left” is, shall we say, at the very end of a very long list of relevant questions arising from the situation there?
(…and this is just about my last word on the subject. The “Progressive” Left is screwed. For a movement born out of compassion for others it is showing precious little of that commodity at the moment, in any its splinters, flavours and castes.)
Steven Vincent had lived in Basra for months and charted the decline in the people’s safety and freedoms. Where is the democracy that our awesome firepower was supposed to have given the Iraqi people? The British in Basra have sacrificed it in the name of a dubious stability. Last year, radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr was a dangerous bogeyman according to the coalition. In April 2004, Tony Blair said of him:
Moqtada al-Sadr does not represent, however, the vast majority of Iraq’s Shias. He doesn’t represent any of the values of the new Iraq. He represents a small band of extremists, he surrounds himself with an armed militia, and there’s absolutely no place for armed militias in the new Iraq. Iraq should be governed by democracy, not by militias or by demagoguery.
Now – if reports are to be believed – al-Sadr’s men control large parts of Basra with British acquiescence.
There are those who have found it difficult to summon sympathy for Vincent, a man shot three times in the head. He’s been called naive. He was certainly something of an idealist but that’s not a capital crime yet. He’s been been criticised for a romantic attachment to the Western values he wanted to see brought to Iraq, most notably greater respect for women.
But with Vincent dead, who now speaks for the people of Basra? The British Left? Not our job, mate.