Arabism was a constant theme throughout the first day of the conference. Although Iraq was the main focus, both Syria and Palestine came in for repeated mention. This is not only due to Israeli influence on the decision-making processes of the Neoconservatives and the Bush II Administration, but also speaks of a sense of Arab anguish with regards to both Palestine and Iraq, and foreign occupation. As Dr. Bishara pointed out, the Arab peoples—unlike the leaderships of their countries—were united in their distaste for foreign rule, and their commitment to Palestine. So it seems, Arabism is alive and well in the political and social discourse. Is this the case in the palaces, boardrooms, and the Arab streets? The severe injustices suffered by the Palestinians, Iraqis and Syrians are what motivate scholars to advance ideas of justice and accountability. Accountability was also picked up by one of our foreign guests, former UK Development Secretary Clare Short, who said “Although the wrong that has been done can’t be put right, the truth must come to light."
Another reoccurring theme is the issue of sectarianism. Dirk Adriaensens, member of the BRussells Tribunal Executive Committee, highlighted the current protests in Iraq against sectarianism and the partition of the country, offering the question, why are these protests generally ignored by the global media? Again citing sectarianism, Jonathan Steele from The Guardian says, “Syria has become the new Iraq” as the sectarian violence that is tearing the country apart suggests that the lessons from Iraq were not learned. Lastly, warning of the dangers of sectarianism and its use as a political tool to divide and rule, Clare Short again spoke her mind: “I have never before heard of this Shia-Sunni division that you now hear about endlessly. We must challenge this growing description of growing troubles in the region, that it’s all explained by sectarianism.” In accordance with her plea to challenge the sectarian rhetoric rampant in today’s Middle Eastern discourse, we must ask the question: who is propelling sectarian divisions and why do we choose to define ourselves along sectarian lines?
Tony Blair’s name cropped up a number of times during the first day of our conference on the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and not always in the most favourable light. His personal role in the events leading up to the war on Iraq was criticized by almost every individual. Dr. Azmi Bishara began by pointing out an absurd irony: Tony Blair was a peddler for the Iraq invasion who became a charlatan of peace in Palestine. He was a consultant to the former government of Libya, yet this was after he had urged Bush to invade that North African country. Clare Short, ex-Member of British parliament, expressed her regret for the amount of loyalty Blair received from the British populous, which he gained through “pure propaganda”. She also highlighted the rather stunning statistic that 25% of the UK population wants Tony Blair to be brought to trial. There were mixed predictions for the future. Although almost all participants in the conference expressed their wish for Blair to be brought to trial, many were skeptical of the possibility of this happening. Others remained optimistic in their faith in international justice, sighting the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal as great a sign of great progress. “We have solid evidence by having interviewed torture victims..we want to transfer this knowledge from a court of conscience in KL to a legal court,” said Ex-UN humanitarian coordinator Hans Von Sponeck. What possibility is there of bringing Blair to trial, and would this be a constructive development?