European humanism taken hostage

Article published on Sept. 23, 2004
community published
Article published on Sept. 23, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Europe can no longer distance itself from suffering in Iraq, but it is important for us to acknowledge that the suffering is not ours alone

We live in a time where questions seem to have no objective answers, where interpretation has gained momentum since Kofi Annan called war in Iraq ‘illegal’. Europe faces a threat to its citizens and its concern is justifiable, but at the same time Europe often forgets its pledge of universal values and flees from moral responsibility of its own actions.

Increasing kidnappings mean every European in Iraq is a ‘hostage’ of his identity and faces threats to his security. However, the number of Europeans suffering from the war, which supposedly ‘ended’ on 1 May 2003, falls short of the number of Iraqi hostages and casualties which remain off-screen for average Europeans. We tend to focus on only the sufferings of Westerners and ignore what the Iraqi people have to endure.

Iraqi life less important than European life

More than 100 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq and at least 27 of them have been executed. At least five other Westerners are currently being held hostage, including two French reporters, a Briton and two female Italian aid workers who have been threatened with execution. But does anyone in Europe care about the 18 Iraqi National Guardsmen, part of the Iraqi reconstruction team, freed on Monday by their captors?

This war is not conventional, neither are its demands and methods. ‘A war is never clean’, say specialists who denounce kidnappings and bombings as unlawful methods. But doesn’t the moral and physical humiliation that the US military performed in Abu Graib prison show the worst side of the West? Most people don’t support the methods of either side, but I tend to believe that terrorism, although utterly condemnable, is a last resort to attract attention to one’s demands, whereas Western mockery of Arab prisoners has no excuse.

Reconstruction or profiteering?

We talk of reconstruction of the country but when Iraqi president Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer arrived in France to talk just about that, President Chirac did not see him, citing the security of French hostages held in Iraq as the reason. Germany, on the other hand, sent top officials to meet with the Iraqi President and is ready to fill German company pockets with money from reconstruction deals, but repeatedly refuses to send troops to help regain control over the country divided by war.

Being at war does not diminish the worth of a human life nor install inferiority of certain people. We count our 1,168 casualties while Iraqi people mourn their 12,778 deaths (according to Iraq Body Count). This was never ‘our’ war so we cannot see the point in our men dying there, but neither should Europe ignore their suffering once she has decided to join the Coalition of the Willing. And what about the suffering of the Iraqi people who are being killed, injured, and having their houses destroyed? Once again it is Iraqis who are paying the major human cost of the war.

Media responsibility

The number of deaths increase every day and we single out the ones that are ‘related’ to us, Italian, Polish, Spanish, Ukrainian, deaths...but these numbers are no where near the number of dead Iraqis. One-sided or biased media coverage deepens the ‘clash of civilisations’ and forms self-centred public opinion all across Europe, failing to raise a new and responsible European generation.

I don’t know if any constructive approach is possible in this destructive environment. But while Europe is busy building its fortress, the perpetrators of kidnappings and murders sink deeper into more dreadful actions. Let’s hope that our indifference to the other side of the story will not lead to desperate Iraqis, or their supporters, following the example of those such as the Chechens in Beslan.