Iraq - this is no time to blame and shame
This mass roadside execution is what Sunni/ISIS/ISIL jihadists do to their Shia cousins. God alone knows what appalling fate awaits the Christians.
In a reasoned justificatory apologetic, Tony Blair says: "We have to liberate ourselves from the notion that ‘we’ have caused this. We haven't. We can argue as to whether our policies at points have helped or not; and whether action or inaction is the best policy and there is a lot to be said on both sides. But the fundamental cause of the crisis lies within the region not outside it."
General Sir Michael Rose lays the blame squarely at the feet of Tony Blair: "It goes without saying that if you start a war, you should be sure that the end result will be demonstrably better than the situation prior to the conflict," he said. "Only someone who has lost touch with reality could possibly claim Iraq today is more stable or that life has become better for its inhabitants."
The Guardian goes for Saddam: 'If there has to be a hierarchy of blame for Iraq, however, it must surely begin with Saddam, who brutalised his own society, embroiled it in a terrible war with Iran, wasted its resources, and provoked the world by his aggression against Kuwait.'
The UK's former ambassador to the US Sir Christopher Meyer said the handling of the campaign against Saddam was “perhaps the most significant reason” for the sectarian violence now ripping through Iraq. “We are reaping what we sowed in 2003. This is not hindsight. We knew in the run-up to war that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein would seriously destabilise Iraq after 24 years of his iron rule,” he said.
The media are full of claim and counter-claim; there are patchy historical analyses, superficial religious overviews and a plethora of variable truth assertions, each designed to bring a degree of political perspective and sociological understanding to the chaos that is engulfing the region. Innocent Iraqis - Kurd, Shia and Christian - are being systematically 'cleansed' from the land, and our political and military leaders are busy blaming and shaming.
One understands the instinct to deflect blame and self-justify, of course. But reflexive essays and philosophical theorising do nothing to resolve the gross violations of human dignity we are now witnessing. The West has spent so long defining human rights in economic and social terms to satisfy our cushy cosmopolitan universalism that we have lost sight of the fact that our most fundamental notions of freedom are simply not shared by millions in the Middle East. The moment that Saudi Arabia abstained on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, it ceased to be universal. It was Article 18 of that Declaration - enshrining the right to change one's religion - which was problematic for the Saudis, then the only explicitly Islamic UN member state.
Now there are many more Islamic states which are full members of the UN, but detached and unconvincingly demurring from certain freedoms afforded by the 'Universal' Declaration. We tolerate this tension in the name of globalisation, but the problems of relativism will not be overcome by cross-cultural empirical research to reveal and understand common patterns of belief.
Before this becomes just another theoretical essay leading to yet another moral blind alley on the ethics of discriminating between legitimate and illegitimate uses of force, let us pause to reflect - not on who or what is to blame and why or how, but on the need for peace, sacrificial mercy and moral leadership in a world in which the foundations upon which the moral beliefs of the past have disappeared without any compelling replacement emerging.
Those who are dying don't care of Bush, Blair, Obama, Saddam or Satan himself are to blame: they are confronted with evil, and the state is implicated. In 1991 we rushed to aid the Iraqi Kurds in the north and Shi'ite Muslims in the south by imposing 'no-fly zones'. In 2011 we intervened swiftly in Libya "to prevent a bloodbath". When ISIS have done with the Shia, they will surely turn their murderous zealotry on the Christians, whom they hate because they fear. Do we really do nothing now but play a pathetic game of blame and shame?