Sun, Nov 16, 2003 - Page 18 News List

Firebrand UK author takes a look at `the recolonisation of Iraq'

Tariq Ali has gained a reputation for being a fearless left-of-center writer and his new book is as polemical as ever

By Bradley Winterton  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Asia features prominently in this book. The history of American influence in the Philippines is mulled over, post-World War II Japan scrutinized, and US tactics in the Korean and Vietnam wars rehearsed once again.

Elsewhere, there are extravagant claims. "Bush wants Syria and Iran, while his deputy-sheriff in London wants to take over Zimbabwe and Burma (two former British colonies)." The World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund are "crucial to maintaining tooth-and-claw capitalism" in power. The UN is "a permanent fig leaf for new imperial adventures," and Japan's and South Korea's prime-ministers when put to the test reveal themselves as stooges of the West. But can we really believe these things?

One major virtue the book does have is its quotations from Iraqi poets, some of whom Ali knows personally. Their laments for their country as a battleground between conflicting forces are often very moving. (Ali's own previous book was called The Clash of Fundamentalisms, by which he meant Islamic and Western ones). There's also a useful history of Iraq and Kuwait.

One-sided views of world events are routinely offered by both parties in any conflict. When I was a child in England, the prevailing view of WW II was that the Germans and the Japanese had perpetrated unspeakable horrors, and the Italians were cowardly battle-avoiders. The British, by contrast, were a naturally fair-minded people, a collection of cheerful Cockneys serving under witty officers, good-humored even in captivity, where they plotted ingenious escapes under the eye of humorless and overweight German guards. Nothing of the massive bombing of German cities, and hence of German civilians, was ever mentioned.

I now believe that in war most men (though probably not most women) will do almost anything, however heinous, if they feel themselves under attack. Even before they start you can assume that all conflicts will produce atrocities of one sort or another from both sides. As for the truth, it usually lies somewhere in the middle.

If you're already inclined to believe a scenario in which the US is the big bad wolf, perhaps you ought to read something else because this book will certainly only serve to confirm your suspicions. If, on the other hand, you tend to believe in things such as the threat formerly posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq, or that the US stands for democracy, freedom and an open mind just as importantly as it stands for military action, then this book will certainly give you reasons to re-assess your position. Its subtitle, incidentally, is The Recolonisation of Iraq, which neatly sums up its essential argument.

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