Hard News by Russell Brown

Knowing what we believe

The last year and a bit of war in Iraq has demonstrated that none of us know as much as we think we do; and that we all tend to fall back (some fall further than others) to simply knowing what we believe.

I'm extremely grateful, then, to Aaron Oxley for drawing my attention to Open Democracy's interview with Yahia Said of the London School of Economics, who is currently on the ground in Baghdad on a mission for the Centre for the Study of Global Governance, which in part involves staging debates and discussion with Iraqis about issues that are of most concern to them. Unsurprisingly, his account has rather more authority about it than most of what we read about Iraq.

Said is frank about the mood of Iraqis:

People are furious. There has been quite a pivotal point sometime between the last time I was here in January and now. A lot of it has to do with Fallujah, the al-Sadr insurgency, the so-called uprising. Fallujah was like the last straw. It was the last act of recklessness by the coalition that Iraqis could handle. And now all this anger is bursting out. Every Iraqi starts the discussion with how fed up they are, and how they feel. The word that everybody uses is an Iraqi word that means predicament, entanglement, quagmire.

But he's also realistic. Fallujah, he points out, had a security problem:

If you had a situation where the city had been taken over by a bunch of paramilitaries what do you want to do? What’s the alternative? If that was happening in the United States you’d bring in the National Guard. You don’t bring Amnesty International to solve the problem.

He confirms the view that the new prison abuse pictures have provoked a "surprisingly low-key" response within Iraq:

Part of the reason was that rumours and tall stories, as well as true stories, about abuse, mass rape, and torture in the jails and in coalition custody have been going round for a long time. So compared to what people have been talking about here the pictures are quite benign. There’s nothing unexpected.

And concludes thus:

People need to appreciate that Iraqis are really tired of violence and instability, and that there’s a huge will to get on with a normal life. And Iraqis are prepared to make some compromises along the way to achieve that.

But especially amongst progressive left circles, there’s a feeling that all Iraqis are going to rise up against occupation, make sacrifices and jump to freedom. Despite all the anger, that is far from being the best-case scenario. Instead, Iraqis would just like things to settle down, but they believe the coalition is no longer part of that equation because of all the broken promises.

What is also being under-appreciated is how much effort the coalition and ordinary Iraqi engineers, doctors, and policemen have put into rebuilding, and how much they’ve done to restore electricity, to restore the economy. A lot of the good news gets buried and forgotten because the next atrocity comes up or because of what they’ve done with the detainees. But it’s not all in the same direction.

It’s a very complex situation. It’s not good versus evil.

Meanwhile, the New Yorker's Sy Hersh follows up last week's Abu Ghraib abuse story with a look at the chain of command.

The facts continue to point towards my original hunch on the Daily Mirror's black-and-white prison abuse pictures: the abuse was for real, the pictures are fakes. The paper, I see is trying to work its way out of the corner with semantics, declaring that: "we remain absolutely confident that those pictures accurately illustrate a serious abuse of a detainee by members of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment." Accurately illustrate? As in "reconstruction"? But British ministers are hardly off the hook.

Bush praises Donald Rumsfeld for "courageously leading our nation in the war against terror" , while a leading US military newspaper lays into what it describes as "a failure of leadership from start to finish". DefenseTech lists Rumsfeld's failures and follows the progress of the abuse scandal. And a senior general and a Republican senator both point the finger at Rummy.

By all means, read Pat Snedden's latest speech, which he has kindly made available to Public Address. In it, Pat displays his familiar eloquence and humanity in considering the meaning of the Treaty for Pakeha. But I found myself a little disappointed at the way all the obligations seem to fall on Pakeha.

I have no problem with the idea that Maori - or, rather, the institutions to which they belong, and which signed the Treaty - have a special constitutional status in New Zealand: but what responsibilities go with the rights of rangatiratanga? It's not a blank cheque, surely?

I'm excited about and proud of the Maori renaissance that has taken place in my lifetime, and pleased at the role Ngati whatua plays in keeping the soul of my city. But what practical forms of governance are appropriate in a modern nation? Should I expect Ngapuhi to get its act together on Waitangi Day? I'm happy with the RMA consultation process in principle (and generally in practice) but what guarantee as a taxpayer and Treaty partner should I have that the process won't be run off with by one group - as may have happened in consulting over prisons in both Ngawha and the Waikato? Surely that can't simply be put down to Pakehas' imperfect grasp of history?

Am I entitled to be annoyed when a Tainui hikoi spokesman appears on Holmes and declares that Maori own the whole coastline and I'm to go there only by invitation? (I should note that I agree with Mikaere Curtis's statement that the Maori scholarship on the foreshore issue has generally been first-rate.) Is it solely the news media's fault that more attention has been devoted to Tariana Turia's equivocation than the content of the legislation? Are we entitled to regard our modern, liberal ideas about the rights of the child as better than those of some iwi fundamentalists who seem to regard children as the property of the whanau?

I'd be interested in Pat - or anyone who wants to have a crack - opining on those issues. Feel free to get in touch.

And, farewell then, NZ Idol. I don't know why people sling off at it- and even get angry at it. It's just a TV format, and South Pacific Pictures appears to have handled it really well (the occasional attack of hubris from Andrew Shaw notwithstanding). It had all the tears and cheers the format demands, and a few really good performances (I thought Big Dave made the ghastly Elton John song 'Empty Garden' sound heavenly last night) and Ben was the right call. And it wouldn't have been anywhere near as good without Idolblog. And no, I have no interest in watching American Idol at all …