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War. What is it good for?

22nd July 2011

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Nationalism is our form of incest, is our idolatry, is our insanity. ‘Patriotism is its cult.    -    Erich Fromm

Had I been born into one of the oppressive, autocratic regimes that have dominated the Middle East for decades, it is feasible to suggest that my current right to an identity could be perceived as sacrificing some sort of national identity, that my current rights to Freedom of Speech could be perceived as a threat to some sort of tyrannical leader and his tyrannical followers. For an 18 year old female student living in Britain this notion seems unthinkable. Yet, up until quite recently the plight of thousands of civilians suffering in poverty has gone unquestioned. Imagine a life where to challenge the unbearable conditions of your existence would make you a dissident and thus put your life and the lives of those close to you in danger. The general idea is if government represents the values and morals of the nation then one individual act of rebellion is not just against the government but against the nation. And this is one way the ruling classes justify the brutalities inflicted on nations of people. There have been unmentionable atrocities carried out in the name of “national interest.”

Innocent Libyan civilians are painting the walls with caricatures of the brutal autocrat Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. One such image was accompanied with the appropriate statement “I’ll either rule you or I’ll kill you.” I am lucky to have grown up in a world where a bit of satirical street art is not so unacceptable as to get me killed. Yet for Qais al-Halali, art cost him his life. Now alongside murder, unlawful imprisonment, torture, persecution and forced disappearances there are further allegations against Gaddafi and his soldiers of the calculated rape of hundreds of women as a weapon against rebel forces. After reading up about the Libyan crisis I was reminded constantly of the systematic attacks against the civilian population. I was reminded that the rebels are just civilians with guns, that NATO is bombing Tripoli to nothing, just to protect the civilians. The news is constantly flooded with images of young boys brandishing their guns in desolate locations supposedly leading the revolution. Yet the civilians appear faceless. Where are the women and the children that are living through this hell while sons, fathers, brothers are slaughtered and daughters and mothers raped? 

The ‘Slutwalks’ that have taken place in America have taken place in London on Saturday the 11th of June 2011, which is the evidence that women are still victimised even in our advanced society. This demonstration is aiming to raise issues about sexual assault and freedom of expression but the impression the unfortunate title imposed on me is that numerous girls have the opportunity to parade around Piccadilly Circus in skimpy clothing. We achieved the right to wear what we want a long time ago and this new wave of protesters doesn’t compare with the many innocent protesters dying in the streets of numerous Arab countries. However the ‘slut walks’ are still providing the youth of today with an incentive to protest about real women’s issues which certainly isn’t a bad thing.

In this country from an early age citizenship lessons confront children with the question of what it means to be British. Yet this question can never be adequately answered without first attaining knowledge of how the other half live. This is not my war and I do not think that I am the only student who feels completely detached from these revolutions that civilians and soldiers are fighting and dying for in the Middle East. The revolutions I have grown up learning about, the wars other people have lived through seem a million miles away from my life so it is easy to think that all the wars have been fought before. To be British and female in the UK allegedly means having the right to vote, the right to freedom of speech, the right to an education and numerous other human rights. Yet the battle is not over and there are still people in this country and evidently all over the world that have their voices smothered because of the fatal misconception that there is nothing more to fight for.

Having the right to an identity should be a universal right but the revolutions in the Middle East prove that this is not the case. As an apathetic student looking for something to protest about, legalising cannabis can wait, Thomas Fuller remarked that “Poor men’s reasons are not heard,” surely for those of us that can be heard it is worth voicing the plight of those less fortunate, whatever nation. 

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