Not in your name

Michael Gove’s column in The Times today is, once again, right on the mark:

Women in an Arab nation taking their place as free individuals alongside men, their voices and votes at last given equal weight. But not in your name, Robin. The Kurdish people, victims of chemical attack, ethnic cleansing, savage repression, at last voting to take their equal, respected, place in a new Iraq. But not in your name, George. The Shias of the south, after years in which their culture was marginalised, their lives held cheap, their faith mocked and their relatives tortured, now, at last, assuming a share of power in their own land, through the ballot box. But not in your name, Douglas. And an Arab nation, defying the racist stereotypes of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s camel corps, shows itself not just ready but enthusiatic for democracy. It is a victory for the principle that human rights can have a universal application. But not in your name, Menzies.

Just as the Spanish Civil War and the Cold War compelled people to take sides between democracy and oppression, so the Iraq war forced a choice on us. All of us. It was a choice that became inevitable after the events of September 11.

….Those of us who believe this to be a noble and worthwhile exercise, indeed the only strategy likely to offer a long-term answer in the War on Terror, have hitherto been relatively isolated voices. The leader writers of this newspaper, far-sighted liberals such as David Aaronovitch, Nick Cohen and Christopher Hitchens. Oh, and George W. Bush. We have not been without our critics. I’ve listed a few, just a very few, of their names above.

For the past few months, whenever discussion has turned to the wisdom of the Iraq war, or the prospects for Iraq’s future, in our newspapers and on our airwaves, the critics’ voices have been dominant. And their opposition to what has been happening doom-laden.

But there are other voices who were not heard, indeed had not been heard for many years. On Sunday they spoke at last. The people of Iraq told Robin, Menzies, Douglas and George something I had been longing to hear. Their message was simple.

When you tell us that it was wrong to get rid of Saddam, foolish to press ahead with an election, naive to believe in Arab democracy, you exercise a valuable, cherishable freedom. But not in our name.

It really is worth reading in all.

But is it really fair or useful to keep sticking the boot into the anti-war left and right as Gove does?

Of course it is. For two years supporters of liberation in Iraq have been mocked for their ‘naive illusion’ that there would be a free vote for all Iraqis as part of the transition to self-governing democracy. It would be damaging to the credibility of the debate not to remind the war critics of how utterly wrong they were – yet again.

But, as we have argued here for months, it is also necessary to move on and to pull war sceptics into the pro-democracy camp:

Aaronovitch sums things up very well in the Guardian.

A unilateral decision about troop withdrawal would be a fit continuation of the west’s record of amorality and error in Iraq. But, after Sunday, we have no more excuses. The elections, so vilified in some quarters, were a revelation. Those anti-war people who could escape their hooks saw millions of ordinary people delighting in the process of voting, and many thousands risking everything (where we would risk nothing) to cast their ballot.

That, now, is all that matters. Not whether you were for or against the war, for or against Blair, for or against Bush. Are you for or against democracy in Iraq? The rest is air.