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Some profess to be worried about how recklessly wide-ranging in its prosecutions the International Criminal Court could become. I, and others, are increasingly concerned that its role is limited to hounding relatively small-scale, third-world scoundrels (Omar al-Bashir may be a president, but despite its vastness Sudan is a weak and isolated nation). This is singularly convenient for the world’s major powers, many of whose leaders – current or retired, going as far back as Henry Kissinger – have so much blood on their hands that all great Neptune’s ocean could not wash them clean.
The real “ghost” raised by Robert Harris’ intelligently compelling novel and Roman Polanski’s no less skilful film – in which the ICC exhilaratingly corners a former British prime minister, Adam Lang (a.k.a. Tony Blair) – is the ICC itself, which in fact haunts only the nightmares of African war-lords and petty tyrants. If the ICC’s Prosecutor, my eminent compatriot Luis Moreno-Ocampo, is prevented by realpolitik from targeting the world’s most nefarious criminals (we all know who they are), he should denounce this situation and resign in disgust, rather than help sustain a spectral ICC that brings to justice only a picturesque assortment of thugs whose principal common denominator appears to be the colour of their skin.
Published in a slightly modified form in The International Herald Tribune on April 8, 2010.
Mr. Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric may be emotionally extreme and occasionally odious, but his country has invaded no other nation within living memory (Iran was the victim in the horrendous Iran-Iraq war during the 1980s, initiated by Saddam Hussein with full Western support), and there is no concrete reason to believe that he’s about to attack anyone, with or without nuclear weapons. Even if he had any such intention, the world’s established nuclear powers (which automatically claim the moral high ground despite their appalling historical record of aggression and atrocities) wouldn’t let him get very far – as former French president Chirac once put it rather brutally, Teheran would be flattened within seconds of launching a single hostile missile.
It’s disingenuous to assume that Ahmadinejad’s discourse must be taken literally, as if significant cultural differences did not naturally lead to blustering hyperbole in some political contexts and sinister understatement in others. What count are res, non verba – actual deeds, not mere words. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Tony Blair and other US and British aggressors may never have said or written anything truculent or blood-curdling, but between them they are directly responsible for at least 600,000 Iraqui civilian deaths and more than two million refugees (not to mention the carnage in Afghanistan). Soft-spoken Henry Kissinger, widely regarded and respected as the grand old man of Western politics, has so much blood on his hands that all great Neptune’s ocean could not wash them clean (if my compatriot Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, had the guts to do it, Kissinger should be indicted without delay, while he’s still alive).
No one is his right mind can particularly want the bizarre North Korean regime to be fooling around with nuclear weapons; but the fact remains that North Korea – unlike the USA, Great Britain and Israel – has attacked no one since the early 1950s. And it’s a cliché worth repeating that the only country ever to have used nuclear weapons – twice, for good measure, and on civilians, at that – was the United States.
If we focus on deeds rather than words – as indeed we should – it is spectacularly evident that the humble citizens of this planet have far less to fear from Ahmadinejad’s intemperate outbursts than from the White House, the Pentagon and Downing Street’s suave and polished communiqués.
As for the unrivalled Western media, who crushingly impose throughout the world their version of what the “international community” thinks about every issue under the sun, and their predictable knee-jerk assumption that Ahmadinejad and his followers somehow rigged the recent presidential election in his favour: where’s the specific evidence? Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t, but it’s by no means inconceivable that he has the support of a majority of Iranians; though clearly his largely proletarian supporters are less interesting and have less access to the BBC and CNN than Teheran’s middle and upper classes, who significantly demonstrate with signs in English.
Similarly, it was instantly taken for granted that the Iranian-US journalist Roxana Saberi could not possibly be guilty of spying for the US, despite the verdict of an Iranian court. Well, perhaps she wasn’t a spy, but considering how infiltrated Iran once was by the CIA, it seems not improbable that it is still being targeted by US espionage; the Iranian authorities would have to be suckers to think otherwise. Why, then, should we automatically exclude altogether the possibility that a charming and seemingly innocent young woman, posing as a journalist, might have been involved in intelligence work for one of her two countries? There is an implicit racism in systematically discounting the legal processes of “exotic” countries (particularly countries that try to stand up for themselves in the face of Western arrogance). If we are expected to believe that their juridical (or electoral) procedures are in some way faulty, corrupt or manipulated (which in certain cases they may well be), let’s first see some objective and verifiable evidence, please.