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Year 2005 No. 109, September 20, 2005 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

Blair’s Visit to China and India:

World’s People Will Not Accept this Universal Attack on Right to Conscience

Workers' Daily Internet Edition: Article Index :

Blair’s Visit to China and India:
World’s People Will Not Accept this Universal Attack on Right to Conscience

Clarke’s Proposals will Lead to Greater Miscarriages of Justice

We Should Expect the Policeman's Knock for What We Do, Not Think

The Rise of the Democratic Police State

America Bids Farewell to the Rule of Law

Women of the New Iraq

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Blair’s Visit to China and India:

World’s People Will Not Accept this Universal Attack on Right to Conscience

The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, conducted a four-day visit to India and China as part of Britain’s presidency of the EU. He visited China from September 5-6 and India from September 7-8. During his visit the Prime Minister participated in the annual EU-China and EU-India summits and held meetings with the leaders of India and China on a range of issues including international trade, the so-called “war against terrorism” and the UN 60th Anniversary summit. The Prime Minister was accompanied on his visit by representatives of the big monopolies eager to strengthen their penetration of the massive markets of both Indian and China. Britain remains India’s largest trading partner in Europe and the second largest worldwide. UK trade with China has doubled in the last five years. China is both a major importer to and a major investor in Britain, while Britain is the largest investor in China of all the EU countries and is seeking to increase such investments. 

            Throughout his trip the Prime Minister has not only championed the interests of the big monopolies of Britain and Europe but has also made it the occasion for the most reactionary statements and attacks on the rights of people throughout the world. He used the visit to China to make criticisms of that country’s political system, despite the fact that China’s Premier Wen Jiabao has explained that his country’s political system was being shaped by its own history and needs and that it was continuing along its own path of political reform and democratisation. Tony Blair’s arrogant views were clearly based on the premise that Britain’s political system and record on human rights, at home and abroad, were above any criticism and therefore should be emulated by other countries. In India, on the other hand, while ignoring the whole legacy of Britain’s colonial rule, Blair was keen to praise that county’s democratic credentials and emphasis the “common values” that it allegedly shares with Britain.

            The Prime Minister used his visit to India to announce the government’s draft resolution to the Security Council meeting at the UN summit, urging all countries to ban “incitement to terrorist acts”. The drafting of the resolution, which had already been made public last month, clearly demonstrates that the government wishes to attempt to extend the draconian measures it has already announced on August 5 for Britain to the whole world. The draft calls on countries to "prohibit by law the incitement of a terrorist act or acts through the adoption of such measures as may be necessary and appropriate and in accordance with their obligations under international law". It says all countries should take appropriate measures to counter "violent extremist ideologies, including steps to prevent the subversion of educational, cultural, and religious institutions by terrorists and their supporters". The draft also says that countries should deny refuge to people if there are "serious reasons for considering that they have been guilty of such conduct" and take measures to see they are apprehended.

            It is clear that the government under the guise of the “war on terrorism” wants to launch a major offensive against all those who are opposed to what it refers to “universal values”, the eurocentric values of the big powers. As the Prime Minister expressed it, there is concern with combating “ideas and ideology”.  But not surprisingly, while constantly expressing outrage at various acts of individual terrorism, the Prime Minister is totally silent about state terrorism, the illegal invasion of Iraq and other countries, the murder of innocent civilians in Palestine and elsewhere, and those who have incited and support state terrorism, the big powers themselves, those who are also guilty of inciting and facilitating individual acts of terror. At the same time the government seeks to use the instability it and the other big powers have created in order to attack the people’s rights. While championing “democracy” and “human rights” on the one hand, Blair is advocating and orchestrating the most fundamental breach of human rights on the other, attacking even the right of conscience, not only in Britain but also throughout the world.

Article Index

Clarke’s Proposals will Lead to Greater Miscarriages of Justice

Islamic Human Rights Commission, September 15, 2005

The Islamic Human Rights Commission is outraged at Charles Clarke’s latest anti-terror proposals which include detaining terror suspects for three months without charge.

            IHRC notes that an identical law is in operation in Algeria who is regularly condemned for its poor human rights record by the UN and others.

            IHRC notes that Britain has a very poor history of miscarriages of justice involving terror suspects both from the Irish community and more recently, from the Muslim community.

            IHRC regards the latest measures to outlaw “glorification” of terrorism and “acts preparatory to terrorism” as unworkable and yet another infringement on basic rights including freedom of speech and association.

            IHRC Chair Massoud Shadjareh stated: “These measures, coupled with faulty British intelligence, will increase the witch-hunt against Muslims similar to that conducted against the Irish community. Let us not forget that even the current Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain was placed under surveillance whilst a young activist. If criminalisation of glorification is the way forward, why don’t we have legislation against the glorification of drug use and gangsterism which kills many more people than terrorism.”

Article Index

We Should Expect the Policeman's Knock for What We Do, Not Think

The Times, September 17, 2005

Like a dodgy auctioneer offloading family furniture in a distress sale, Charles Clarke fingers his hammer and moves from pile to pile of once-cherished items.

            “Lot number 47: Ancient Liberties. Now what am I bid? Suspension of Habeas Corpus – three months? Will anyone give me three months’ detention without trial? The police tell me it’s worth three months, but I’ll take a lower bid to start us off – yes, you there, sir, in the Liberal Democrat hat: still sticking at 14 days? Come on, let’s get this sale moving. Have I no Tory bid? Downing Street’s getting twitchy . . . six weeks, somebody – a snip at six. Just 42 days – they’ll fly by in no time – I’ll swallow my pride and let it go at six. Going, going . . .”

            But one item may prove impossible to shift: a new crime of “glorifying” terrorism. It won’t have been Mr Clarke’s idea to put people in prison for praising an idea. Home Office lawyers will have told him that it cannot be done and (one hopes) his instincts will anyway have been against the attempt.

            No, there is only one possible source of this folly. The notion that you can make the world a better place by making it illegal to say nasty and dangerous things has the intellectual sloppiness, the headline-seeking shallowness, the philosophical carelessness and the creepy mix of the sinister with the sanctimonious, that marks it out as absolutely characteristic of our Prime Minister’s mind.

            When I was about 7, urged to say my prayers before bed, I came up with what seemed a succinct and catch-all formula. “Please God,” I would whisper, “make everybody be as they ought to be and do as they ought to do.” By the age of 10 it had occurred to me that my prayer did not do justice to the complexities of life, and I moved on. I rather think that Tony Blair is still stuck at this stage.

            But enough of Mr Blair’s mind. What of his idea? This is worth discussing, even though the likelihood is that the relevant section of any terrorism Bill will be shredded by the Lords and abandoned. Then Mr Clarke can tell No 10 that he did his best but the old fuddy-duddies threw it out.

            The old fuddy-duddies will be right, but the fact that rationalists shelter behind a wall of ermine to defend Enlightenment values is a commentary on our times. The rules of what Mr Blair calls “the game” have not, as he suggests, changed, but muscles are being flexed in that purpose.

            The easy way to fight the idea of speech-crime is to show why it will not work. No watertight legal definition will be found for the kind of terrorism whose glorification a Home Secretary might seek to criminalise.

            I would not myself praise Archbishop Makarios, the Stern Gang, Jomo Kenyatta or even the perpetrators of the Boston Tea Party, but who seriously suggests that it should be a crime to glorify their struggles? Researchers more ingenious than I will find youthful speeches by the likes of Charles Clarke, Jack Straw, Peter Hain and probably Tony Blair too, glorifying terrorists. So the proposed law will include powers for government to “certify” past terrorist movements who may, or may not, be “glorified”.

            What madness is this? Are ministers and civil servants to work through history books, ticking boxes? Are we to have (retrospectively) approved terrorists? Truly, as Paul Flynn MP has said, under new Labour “only the future is certain; the past is always changing”.

            Nelson Mandela, the Free French Resistance, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, Abdul Nasser, the Easter Rising . . . oh, what’s the point? No wonder Mr Clarke is talking about a 20-year “cut-off” point before which we should be able to praise terrorists. That takes us conveniently back to a time after he and Mr Blair left university. But what is he saying? That we should be able to praise Mandela now, but it should have been illegal to praise him them? There are a hundred struggles, a hundred leaders, some good, some bad, in which terrorism has arguably played a part. Arguably. We have to be able to have the argument. People have to be able to make the case for terrorism as an agent for change, and (arguably) change for the better in history.

            A year or so ago I argued, on this page, that in a world where a giant superpower was ready to use either crushing conventional military force or the threat of nuclear annihilation against small countries, the rest of the world might as well give up tanks and fighter-planes and take refuge in combination of the greatest and the least: independent nuclear capability at the top, and a capability for bloodthirsty insurrection on the streets. Around the same time Jenny Tonge, then the Liberal Democrat spokesman, declared that if she were an impoverished Palestinian she might have reacted as Palestinian terrorists have. Either or both of these statements could plausibly be represented as “glorifying” terrorism; they were intended to invite sympathy for this method of resistance.

            Because I am a Times columnist and Dr Tonge was a parliamentarian, we should have been unlikely to be prosecuted. But if less mainstream voices are to be threatened with imprisonment for saying similar things, their counsel will not be short of evidence for their defence. Were Mr Blair’s idea to become law, only minutes would elapse before George Galloway tested that law by glorifying terrorism in Commons debate. If parliamentary privilege were to cover such speeches, Mr Galloway would repeat his on the streets of Bow. The effect would be wholly counter-productive. Such thoughts must haunt the Director of Public Prosecutions.

            So it will not do to say, as poor Vera Baird, Mr Clarke’s parliamentary private secretary (her boss being unaccountably unavailable) tried to on Newsnight on Thursday, that “surely we all know what we mean” by the type of speech being targeted. Some legal nets have to be bigger than their intended catch, and goodwill and common sense may remedy the imprecision. But here goodwill will be absent. People will be actively seeking prosecutions. This law will never work.

            So it will not pass. But I said above that the easy way to resist it was on practical grounds like these. Where, however, one’s real objection is in principle rather than in practice, the easy way is not the most honest.

            So now for the hard way. I object to creating speech-crimes even if the legislation could be tightly drafted and made to work. I object to the banning of ideas, theories or arguments. I object to the prohibition of sentiments. Difficult as the boundary is to mark or police, I see the line between thought and action as absolutely central to the rule of law in a liberal society. Good law ties hands; it does not stop mouths or minds. It is for what we do, not what we think or say, that we should expect the policeman’s knock.

            Of course words may lead to actions. Of course thoughts can be incendiary. Of course shouting “fire!” in a crowded theatre is behaviour with direct consequences. But somewhere a line must be drawn between willing things and doing things, and how we draw that line is what defines us as believers – or not – in freedom of conscience. The Prime Minister’s disregard for this most important of distinctions is deeply troubling.

            In my Britain a man or woman is free to say they admire a terrorist and support his aims, but not to offer any practical support to him in his work. The difference is fuzzy and we are doomed to agonies of indecision about the marshy ground which lies between taking stands and taking part, but how we negotiate that marsh, and whether we think it matters, is what marks us out as caring about individual liberty.

            I don’t think Tony Blair cares. I doubt he even recognises the problem. For this he should not be forgiven, and never be trusted. Charles Clarke, who knows better, should feel ashamed to have anything to do with this measure.

Article Index

The Rise of the Democratic Police State

By John Pilger, August 18 2005, first published in the New Statesman

Thomas Friedman is a famous columnist on the New York Times. He has been described as "a guard dog of US foreign policy". Whatever America's warlords have in mind for the rest of humanity, Friedman will bark it. He boasts that "the hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist". He promotes bombing countries and says world war three has begun.

            Friedman's latest bark is about free speech, which his country's constitution is said to safeguard. He wants the State Department to draw up a blacklist of those who make "wrong" political statements. He is referring not only to those who advocate violence, but those who believe American actions are the root cause of the current terrorism. The latter group, which he describes as "just one notch less despicable than the terrorists", includes most Americans and Britons, according to the latest polls.

            Friedman wants a "War of Ideas report" which names those who try to understand and explain, for example, why London was bombed. These are "excuse makers" who "deserve to be exposed". He borrows the term "excuse makers" from James Rubin, who was Madeleine Albright's chief apologist at the State Department. Albright, who rose to secretary of state under President Clinton, said that the death of half a million Iraqi infants as a result of an American-driven blockade was a "price" that was "worth it". Of all the interviews I have filmed in official Washington, Rubin's defence of this mass killing is unforgettable.

            Farce is never far away in these matters. The "excuse makers" would also include the CIA, which has warned that "Iraq [since the invasion] has replaced Afghanistan as the training ground for the next generation of 'professionalised terrorists'." On to the Friedman/Rubin blacklist go the spooks!

            Like so much else during the Blair era, this McCarthyite rubbish has floated across the Atlantic and is now being recycled by the prime minister as proposed police-state legislation, little different from the fascist yearnings of Friedman and other extremists. For Friedman's blacklist, read Tony Blair's proposed database of proscribed opinions, bookshops, websites.

            The British human rights lawyer Linda Christian asks: "Are those who feel a huge sense of injustice about the same causes as the terrorists – Iraq, Afghanistan, the war on terrorism, Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib – to be stopped from speaking forthrightly about their anger? Because terrorism is now defined in our law as actions abroad, will those who support liberation movements in, for example, Kashmir or Chechnya be denied freedom of expression?" Any definition of terrorism, she points out, should "encompass the actions of terrorist states engaged in unlawful wars."

            Of course, Blair is silent on western state terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere; and for him to moralise about "our values" insults the fact of his blood-crime in Iraq. His budding police state will, he hopes, have the totalitarian powers he has longed for since 2001 when he suspended habeas corpus and introduced unlimited house arrest without trial. The Law Lords, Britain's highest judiciary, have tried to stop this. Last December, Lord Hoffmann said that Blair's attacks on human rights were a greater threat to freedom than terrorism. On 26 July, Blair emoted that the entire British nation was under threat and abused the judiciary in terms, as Simon Jenkins noted, "that would do credit to his friend Vladimir Putin". What we are seeing in Britain is the rise of the democratic police state.

            Should you be tempted to dismiss all this as esoteric or merely mad, travel to any Muslim community in Britain, especially in the north west and sense the state of siege and fear. On 15 July, Blair's Britain of the future was glimpsed when the police raided the Iqra Learning Centre and book store near Leeds. The Iqra Trust is a well-known charity that promotes Islam worldwide as "a peaceful religion which covers every walk of life." The police smashed down the door, wrecked the shop and took away anti-war literature which they described as "anti-western".

            Among this was, reportedly, a DVD of the Respect Party MP George Galloway addressing the US Senate and a New Statesman article of mine illustrated by a much-published photograph of a Palestinian man in Gaza attempting to shield his son from Israeli bullets before the boy was shot to death. The photograph was said to be "working people up", meaning Muslim people. Clearly, David Gibbons, this journal's esteemed art director, who chose this illustration, will be called before the Blair Incitement Tribunal. One of my books, The New Rulers of the World, was also apparently confiscated. It is not known whether the police have yet read the chapter that documents how the Americans, with help from MI6 and the SAS, created, armed and bankrolled the terrorists of the Islamic Mujahideen, not least Osama Bin Laden.

            The raid was deliberately theatrical, with the media tipped off. Two of the alleged 7 July bombers had been volunteers in the shop almost four years ago. "When they became hardliners", said a community youth worker. "They left and have never been back and they’ve had nothing to do with the shop." The raid was watched by horrified local people. who are now scared, angry and bitter. I spoke to Muserat Sujawal, who has lived in the area for 31 years and is respected widely for her management of the nearby Hamara Community Centre. She told me, "There was no justification for the raid. The whole point of the shop is to teach how Islam is a community-based religion. My family has used the shop for years, buying, for example, the Arabic equivalent of Sesame Street. They did it to put fear in our hearts." James Dean, a Bradford secondary school teacher, said, "I am teaching myself Urdu because I have multi-ethnic classes, and the shop has been very helpful with tapes."

            The police have the right to pursue every lead in their hunt for bombers, but scaremongering is not their right. Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner who understands how the media can be used and spends a lot of time in television studios, has yet to explain why he announced that the killing in the London Underground of the Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes was "directly linked" to terrorism, when he must have known the truth. Muslim people all over Britain report the presence of police "video vans" cruising their streets, filming everyone. "We have become like ghettoes under siege," said one man too frightened to be named. "Do they know what this is doing to our young people?"

            The other day Blair said, "We are not having any of this nonsense about [the bombings having anything] to do with what the British are doing in Iraq or Afghanistan, or support for Israel, or support for America, or any of the rest of it. It is nonsense and we have to confront it as that." This "raving", as the American writer Mike Whitney observed, "is part of a broader strategy to dismiss the obvious facts about terror and blame the victims of American-British aggression. It's a tactic that was minted in Tel Aviv and perfected over 37 years of occupation. It is predicated on the assumption that terrorism emerges from an amorphous, religious-based ideology that transforms its adherents into ruthless butchers."

            Professor Robert Pape of the University of Chicago has examined every act of suicide terrorism over the past 25 years. He refutes the assumption that suicide bombers are mainly driven by "an evil ideology independent of other circumstances." He said, "The facts are that since 1980, half the attacks have been secular. Few of the terrorists fit the standard stereotype... Half of them are not religious fanatics at all. In fact, over 95 per cent of suicide attacks around the world [are not about] religion, but a specific strategic purpose – to compel the United States and other western countries to abandon military commitments on the Arabian Peninsula and in countries they view as their homeland or prize greatly... The link between anger over American, British and western military [action] and al-Qaeda's ability to recruit suicide terrorists to kill us could not be tighter."

            So we have been warned, yet again. Terrorism is the logical consequence of American and British "foreign policy" whose infinitely greater terrorism we need to recognise, and debate, as a matter of urgency.

Article Index

America Bids Farewell to the Rule of Law

Siddharth Varadarajan, The Hindu, September 12, 2005

Virtually four years to the day terrorists levelled the World Trade Centre, a federal court in the United States has delivered another shocking body blow to the edifice of civil society in that country. In a unanimous verdict on Friday, the US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld as legal one of the most controversial weapons the Bush administration has armed itself with in its "global war on terror": the power to incarcerate anybody – including US citizens – indefinitely, without charge. The ruling was made in the case of Jose Padilla, a US citizen who has been kept in a military detention centre in South Carolina since May 2002. Mr Padilla is accused of being a member of Al-Qaeda and of conspiring to explode a "dirty bomb" inside the US. The administration, however, refuses to charge him or test the veracity of its allegations in a court of law, claiming instead that it has the right to hold him indefinitely in the interests of national security.

            The Court of Appeal has now upheld that claim, ruling that the US Congress – in passing a joint resolution soon after 9/11 for "Authorisation for Use of Military Force" – had "provided the President all powers necessary and appropriate to protect American citizens from terrorist acts”. Those powers "include the power to detain identified and committed enemies such as Padilla, who [was] associated with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime, who took up arms against this Nation in its war against these enemies, and who entered the US for the avowed purpose of further prosecuting that war by attacking American citizens and targets on our own soil...," the court said.

            What this means is that unless the Supreme Court overturns this verdict, Mr Padilla – like the non-US prisoners at Guantanamo – will remain in legal limbo. And since the war on terror has been described by US officials as "an endless war", the period of incarceration could also be endless. Indeed, the US administration is now at liberty to invoke the power of indefinite detention against anyone it likes, since the Appeal Court considered the exercise of presidential powers to be unconstrained by any consideration about the authenticity of allegations levelled against an individual to be detained.

            While the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) bravely insists the judgment "does not authorise the government to designate and detain as an 'enemy combatant' anyone who it claims is associated with Al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups", the bitter truth is that neither national or international legal covenants and jurisdictions or the possession of US citizenship will protect individuals from being deprived of their liberty if the administration decides they are a threat to US national security. Once the President decides to lock someone up in the name of national security, no Bill of Rights and no court can stand in the way.

            The legitimisation of this extraordinary power is precisely what the Italian scholar, Giorgio Agamben, means when he says the “state of exception” – which in “democratic” countries is meant to be a “provisional measure” – has become a normal, routine, paradigmatic form of rule. In his State of Exception , published in 2004, Mr Agamben writes: "President Bush's decision to refer to himself constantly as the 'Commander in Chief of the Army' after September 11, 2001, must be considered in the context of this presidential claim to sovereign powers in emergency situations. If, as we have seen, the assumption of this title entails a direct reference to the state of exception, then Bush is attempting to produce a situation in which the emergency becomes the rule, and the very distinction between peace and war... becomes impossible." (Translated by Kevin Attell).

            In designating Mr Padilla an “enemy combatant”, President Bush invoked his authority as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces and instructed Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to detain him indefinitely. In his Writ of Habeas Corpus , filed on July 2, 2004, Mr Padilla said he disputed this designation – and the allegations on which it was based – and wanted to be able to go to trial so that the true factual position could be established:

            "Padilla is not an 'enemy combatant'," his writ stated. "He has never joined a foreign army and was not arrested on a foreign battlefield. He was arrested in a civilian setting within the United States. Padilla carried no weapons or explosives when he was arrested. He disputes the factual allegations underlying the Government's designation of him as an 'enemy combatant'."

            So confident were Mr Padilla's lawyers of their client's right to due process – and so pressing the urgency for a legal remedy since he had already been in detention for more than two years – that last October they filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that he was "entitled to judgment as a matter of law even if all of the facts pleaded [in the Government's allegations] are assumed to be true”.

            That confidence proved well-founded when a district court in South Carolina on February 28, 2005, granted the summary judgment motion and habeas petition and ordered that Mr Padilla either be released or charged with a crime. The Bush administration went on appeal and has now won. The September 9 judgment was written by Judge J Michael Luttig on behalf of a three-judge bench. Described in 2001 by CNN as "a rising star among conservatives", Judge Luttig is one of several judges in the running for a US Supreme Court slot.

Chilling Logic

            The Appeal court essentially relied upon the recent US Supreme Court ruling in the Hamdi case (involving another US citizen alleged to be a member of Al-Qaeda) and the Quirin precedent, involving the case of German saboteurs who entered the US during the Second World War and were detained as enemy combatants.

            However, it rejected Mr Padilla's argument that if Quirin were to apply, then he should be given the benefit of a trial as one of the defendants in that case, Haupt, also a US citizen, had been.

            The court said the "availability of criminal process cannot be determinative of the power to detain, if for no other reason than that criminal prosecution may well not achieve the very purpose for which detention is authorised in the first place – the prevention of return to the field of battle. Equally important, in many instances criminal prosecution would impede the Executive in its efforts to gather intelligence from the detainee... "

            Implicit in this logic is the possibility that a criminal prosecution might not go in the government's favour if the original allegations – which the appeal court assumed to be correct – turn out to be false. One would have thought the very possibility that the government's evidence against Mr Padilla is infirm is reason enough to insist on a trial. However, in declaring that a man detained by Presidential order has no right to challenge his detention, the court is essentially saying a detainee should not be put on trial if a court is likely to find that he is innocent and that this "may well not achieve the very purpose for which detention is authorized in the first place”.

            In other words, Judge Luttig and his colleagues have legitimised preventive detention without a time limit and without the need to demonstrate either necessity or proportionality.

            President Bush has declared a war against a faceless, stateless enemy, and the power to detain “enemy combatants” is paramount, not the right of a citizen to contest the basis of his detention.

Article Index

Women of the New Iraq

By Haifaa Zangana*

In an effort to pressure politicians framing Iraq's new constitution not to limit women's rights, a forefront group of Iraqi women recently met the US ambassador. Many Western feminist groups and some Iraqi women activists fear Islamic law, if enshrined as a main source of legislation, will be used to restrict their rights, specifically in matters relating to marriage, divorce and inheritance. The US shares this concern. Iraqi women more generally do not. Why?

            Most Iraqi women recognise and try to sensitively cope with the predicament of dealing with occupation and the rise of reactionary practices affecting their rights and way of life. This applies across the political and social class spectrum, to the secular left as much as to moderate Islamists and nationalists. They also feel that writing the constitution is not their priority for the time being. They believe that to write such a crucial document it is important for people concerned to be able to think clearly, to think of tomorrow. To do that one must be liberated from today's fears and able to enjoy basic human rights, such as walking safely in the streets of one's city. Iraqi women are not.

            Despite all the rhetoric about "building a new democracy", Iraqis are buckled under the burdens of abuse and plunder committed by the US-led occupation and its local Iraqi sub- contractors. Daily life for most Iraqis is still a struggle for survival, with tragedies and atrocities engulfing them. Human rights under occupation have proved to be a mirage similar to weapons of mass destruction. Torture and ill treatment of members of political and armed groups, even the torture of children held in adult facilities, is widespread. Depleted uranium and other banned weapons have been used against various Iraqi cities by US-UK troops, including the MK-77 incendiary bomb, a modern form of napalm.

            Iraqi women were long the most liberated in the Middle East. Occupation has confined them to their homes. A typical Iraqi woman's day begins with the struggle to get the basics: electricity, petrol or a cylinder of gas, fresh water, food and medication. It ends with a sigh of relief for surviving death threats and violent attacks. For a majority of Iraqi women, simply venturing into the streets harbours the possibility of attack or kidnapping for profit or revenge. Young girls are sold to neighbouring countries for prostitution.

            In the land of oil, 16 million Iraqis rely on monthly food rations for survival. They have not received any since May. Privatisation threatens all free public services. Acute malnutrition has doubled among children. Unemployment at 70 per cent is exacerbating poverty, prostitution, backstreet abortions and honour killings. Corruption and nepotism are rampant in the interim government. Gender is no obstacle. Layla Abdul-Latif, minister of transport under Iyad Allawi's regime, is under investigation for corruption. Her male colleague Ayham Al-Sammarai, minister of electricity, managed to flee the country.

            Women's political participation in the interim government, national assembly and even the committee appointed to write the constitution, follows a quota system imposed by Paul Bremer, ex-US-imposed de facto ruler of Iraq, who engineered a process for reproducing the US-appointed Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), to prolong the occupation and incite sectarian and ethnic conflicts. Iraqi women's historical struggle against colonial occupation, for national unity, social justice and legal equality, has been reduced to sheer bickering among a handful of "women leaders" over nominal political posts. The quota system has widened the gap between women members of interim governments and the majority of Iraqi women.

            Powerless, holed up in guarded areas or the US-fortified Green Zone, venturing out only in daylight with armed escorts, and with no credibility among Iraqi women, the failure of these "leaders" is catastrophic. Like their male colleagues, they have adopted a selective approach to human rights, principally US-oriented. The suffering of their sisters in cities showered with napalm, phosphorus and cluster bombs by US jet fighters, the death of about 100,000 Iraqis, half of them women and children, is met with rhetoric about training women for leadership and democracy.

            Documents released 7 March 2005 by the American Civil Liberties Union show 13 cases of rape and abuse of female detainees. The documents revealed that no action was taken against any soldier or civilian official as a result. The documents also provide further evidence that US troops have destroyed evidence of abuse and torture in order to avoid a repetition of last year's Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal. The silence of women members of the National Assembly, interim government and all USAID-financed women NGOs, is deafening. "Women's rights" in Iraq has become an absurd discourse chewing on meaningless words.

            No wonder that US-financed women NGOs, who publicly preach women's rights and democracy, are suspected of being vehicles for foreign manipulation and are despised and boycotted, however much they manage to recruit liberal or left personalities.

            Iraqi women know that the enemy is not Islam. There is a strong antipathy to anyone trying to recruit women's issues to the racist "war on terror" set up against the world of Islam. Women also know that traditional society, exemplified by the neighbourhood and extended family, however restrictive at times, is not the enemy. In fact, it has been the mainstay and protector of women and children in both physical safety and welfare, despite lowest common denominator demands on dress and personal conduct. The enemy is the collapse of the state and civil society. And the culprit for that is the foreign military invasion and occupation.

* The writer is a London-based Iraqi novelist.

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