If you think nothing was gained from invading Iraq, remember the purple finger

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June 25, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith

I’ll never forget the minute Moussa (not his real name) walked into my classroom with a smile on his face and a purple stain on his finger. The 18-year-old boy, whose limited grasp of English had hindered his ability to take part in the heated debates we had had on the invasion of Iraq,  stood tall and stationary, waited until the politics A-level class was quiet, took a deep breath, and then began to speak. He gave what I can only assume was a speech he had spent a long time preparing.

“While you have all sat here telling me that the invasion of Iraq has done nothing good, I have listened and not spoken much, because I am not able to put into words why I disagree with you. I grew up in Iraq and my parents were attacked by the Saddam Hussein regime so badly that they escaped to Syria and then here. Now they have just seen their son go to the Iraqi embassy and vote in a free election. They had tears in their eyes because they never thought it would happen. But it did. So don’t ever tell me again nothing good has come from the invasion of Iraq, because democracy, when you haven’t had it before, feels better than good. It feels amazing.”

Moussa sat down in his seat. The class was silent. They never changed their view of the invasion, but they at least had seen that there were some nuances to the issue. The shame about this story is the number of people who will want to stick their fingers in their ears and shout “la-la-la-la” at the top of their voice once they realise what I am talking about. Too many people seem afraid or unable to apply any nuance to arguments for or against the 2003 invasion of Iraq. (This particularly applies to Tony Blair’s involvement – click here for my comment on that)

But ask the people of Kurdistan what it has felt like. In 1988 Saddam Hussein’s air-force attacked the Kurdish town of Halabja, gassing to death more than 5,000 Kurds. His complete suppression of them had continued until he was deposed. These days, the region of Kurdistan has been freed to develop as an economic and political unit, and there are things happening there that provide a model of what Tony Blair would argue he was trying to bring to Iraq…there appears to be a functioning democracy with freely assembled parties, and the other day they even had a peaceful protest against one of the policies of the local Kurdish government….a rare example of pluralism in that area.

I am not saying the invasion of Iraq was the right thing to do. I’m not saying that there wasn’t an alternative to deposing Saddam (although to anyone who says the Arab Spring would have done for him I would point at Syria and Assad). I am saying that it is possible to debate it, and link it to what is happening now, without conceding that there has been SOME good done. If you are having a problem doing so, remember Moussa, and his purple finger.

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