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Green Left Weekly: Baghdad Comes To London

Baghdad Comes To London

Julian Coppens, London
Green Left Weekly

Riding the number 30 bus to the annual Marxism conference today, the day after a bus on that route was attacked, I caught a tiny glimpse of the terror in terrorism. When I went upstairs to sit down as usual, it was empty. As we came into Kings Cross, a jam of red buses were trying to get past scores of TV crews and journalists, kitted out with lights and umbrellas. I noticed there were only a few people on the top decks of all the buses. We glanced at each other with blank faces and watched the movements of fellow passengers who came up the stairs.

As we moved on to Euston, and the entrance to Tavistock Place, there were more TV crews and white plastic sheets covering the view of the destroyed bus. Dried human flesh and blood were still smeared over the walls of the British Medical Association. My mother called me while I was on the bus to check again that I was OK. I didn’t tell her which bus route I was on.

Two weeks earlier, in my English language beginners’ class for refugees, a middle-aged Iraqi student answered her mobile phone. She lives alone in a bed-and-breakfast near Kings Cross. Her husband is dead, killed by Saddam, and her five children live in Baghdad. For the last two years, she has been unsuccessfully trying to get permission from the Home Office for her children to join her in London. When she finished speaking on the phone, she returned to the class in tears. It was her daughter telling her a bomb had gone off that morning in the market in Baghdad — 30 dead so far. She was distraught.

Today the first 10-15 pages of every newspaper are devoted to the bombings in London. Unless Western soldiers or contractors are involved, the bombs in Baghdad only get a few paragraphs in the middle. Now, the papers are full of eyewitness accounts: dozens of near-miss testimonies — ‘‘lucky I had two coffees instead of my usual one’‘; minute-by-minute accounts from survivors; the tragedy of the dead and their loved ones; the flowers and the memorials; and the stoic Londoners getting on with business. We will be watching and reading all about it for weeks, in London and around the world, thanks to all those TV cameras filming the tube station entrances and the white plastic sheets.

But, as Respect MP George Galloway said on TV last night, what about the dead in Baghdad and Fallujah? In Mosul, Basra and Tikrit? In Afghanistan? In the refugee camps of the Gaza strip and the West Bank? When the bombs fall from 10 kilometres in the air, so high you can’t even hear the planes, and kill thousands, or they rip through busy streets and market places in Baghdad, we don’t hear their stories of near escapes, chance decisions or the tragedy and sorrow of their families. We don’t see the blurry images from mobile phones.

In Baghdad, do they stare out the window of the bus wondering if or when another explosion will bring death to the city? Do they keep away from that bus route, street or market stall for a few days? Or do they lie in bed desperately trying to hear the almost imperceptible rumble of a B-52 miles above? Do the authorities erect white plastic sheets to hide the body parts?

When our governments bomb them, do they have hundreds of ambulances, fire engines and police bringing out the wounded and rushing them to hospital, all within 20 minutes? Or do they just bleed to death on the pavement? When we bomb them does it matter if they die?

Our bombers have expensive planes and millions of dollars of training, nice uniforms and the advice of expensive lawyers. They are sanctioned by ‘‘democratically elected’‘ governments.

So now, to paraphrase the Queen Mother, we Londoners can look the people of Baghdad in the eye. But is it really the same?

From Green Left Weekly , July 13, 2005.
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