Our weasel words betray these decent Iraqis

No one talks about the murderous psychopaths who kill the people brave enough to help us

Nick Cohen
Sunday October 7, 2007
The Observer

Almost everyone discusses the second Iraq war in the passive voice. It’s as if a censor in the head clips out every mention of the crimes of Baathists and Islamists from their prose. So we read that an interpreter for the British army was assassinated; Iraqi Christians are the victims of a pogrom; British soldiers have been killed by roadside bombs.

Schoolchildren learn that they must always say who is doing what to whom. In the case of Iraq, many find it impossible to declare who is killing interpreters, Christians and soldiers, and why. Clear English might threaten preconceptions, and that would never do.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is proving a master of the evasive style. Returning from visiting Iraqi refugees in Syria last week, he declared: ‘Women in Christian communities were regularly forced to wear the hijab and were followed as they went to church.’

Yes, yes, Your Grace, but who is forcing and threatening them? He couldn’t speak plainly, because if he admitted that al-Qaeda in Iraq kill Arab Christians for being Christians, he would have to accept that their persecution isn’t the responsibility of Britain and America, but of the psychopathic adherents of theocratic ideology.

I suppose the Archbishop sees himself as a liberal, but Tories can be just as slippery. In his speech to the Conservative conference, David Cameron declared: ‘I think that if we have learnt anything over the last five years, it’s that you cannot drop a fully formed democracy out of an aeroplane at 40,000 feet.’ Almost without exception, the British servicemen and women who are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t RAF pilots sent on a preposterous mission by a Labour government to drop democracy like bombs. They are squaddies on the ground fighting totalitarian enemies in close combat. The leader of the opposition must read the press reports of their deaths – or have aides who can read them for him – but can no more acknowledge their sacrifice than the Archbishop can face up to the true nature of al-Qaeda. Denial makes better propaganda.

Tomorrow Gordon Brown will tackle the case of the persecuted Iraqi interpreters who have worked for the British army, and we will see if he too is prepared to bite his tongue and mangle his sentences. Scores have been hunted down by Muqtada al-Sadr’s death squads. You can blame their murders on Britain and America only if you recognise a fascistic version of Islamism as ‘the resistance’ or wish that Saddam Hussein had remained in power. Although many think both in private, few outside the pseudo-left will say so openly. So the issue for public consumption is how to protect them.

To date, the British government has been prepared to let them die. When interpreters asked for asylum in Britain they were told by David Miliband’s Foreign Office to go to a third country and apply at a UK embassy for a visa to come to Britain. It is the oldest trick in Whitehall’s book, and you have to know the intricacies of the immigration rules to appreciate its deviousness. Put simply, if an Iraqi interpreter asks embassy staff in say Jordan to give him a visa because he wants to come to Britain to apply for refugee status, they will order him to leave. Even if he lies, they still won’t give him a visa if they suspect he intends to claim asylum. You can’t get a visa to claim asylum, and without it the airlines won’t let you board a plane.

If he can afford to pay criminals to smuggle him here, he’ll probably be left unmolested. The old Home Office lost control of immigration and hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants are living shady lives here out of sight of the law. That said, the honeyed words of the Foreign Office disguise reality as effectively as the partial accounts of Rowan Williams and David Cameron. When the FO tells Iraqis who have risked their lives in helping the British army to take the legal route and apply for visas, it is directing them up a dead end, and must know it.

Last month US senators insisted that America ‘must keep faith with the Iraqis who have worked so bravely with us’. It looks as if Brown will say the same tomorrow. He will not announce a general lifting of visa restrictions on all Iraqis, just a special measure to help an exposed group. Still, he will deserve praise if he does it – as long as the numbers add up.

Some leaks from the MoD say that asylum will be offered to only the 91 translators currently working with the British army. If true, Brown would be engaging in gesture politics at its most debased. What about interpreters who have retired and gone into hiding? What about the other staff? When even Basra’s laundry girls have been pulled out of taxis and shot in the head for the crime of working for the army, it is laughable to pretend that a promise to a few interpreters fulfils Britain’s obligations. Leaving debts of honour to one side, who will work for the armed forces, Foreign Office or Department for International Development in other conflict zones if they see Britain betraying its friends?

Other leaks say that hundreds will be rescued. Let’s hope the spinners are being honest. On Tuesday, there’s a meeting in the Commons organised by Richard Beeston of the Times, who has led the media campaign for these Iraqis. If Brown has the moral compass we hear so much about, he will make it a victory celebration rather than a protest rally.

During the Yugoslav wars, John Major and Douglas Hurd refused to intervene to help the Bosnians. Then they used the visa trap to stop them fleeing to Britain. When protests grew, they let in a select few and paraded them for the cameras, a trite and insulting stunt compounded the original offence. If Brown and Miliband have any doubts about what to do, they should look at how history judges Major and Hurd; do they want the same verdict passed on them?

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