Sunday, September 12, 2004

And talking of international aid agencies ...

The far left in Italy now shares the general agony that France has been experiencing these two weeks. Last Tuesday two Italian aid workers were kidnapped in Baghdad by an unknown group that might be linked to Al-Quaeda or, even, to some of the ex-Baathists, still at large and still loyal to Saddam Hussein. There have been some demands but they do not seem to make a great deal of sense.

The French are upset because they thought their people were immune as France opposed the toppling of Saddam more vehemently than anyone else, and the two journalists were particularly anti-American.

Italy has supported the war and Berlusconi has announced that the kidnappings will make no difference to his policy. He has, however, sent the Deputy Foreign Minister, Margherita Boniver, to try to involve various Middle Eastern governments in the negotiations.

The interesting thing, however, is that the two aid workers, Simona Torretta and Simona Pari, did not support their own government. Like a number of the workers for the various international aid organizations and NGOs they are on the far left and have opposed the coaliton’s presence in Iraq.

The organization they worked for, A Bridge to Baghdad, numbers among its spokespeople, Ornella Sangiovanni, a well-known and vociferous opponent of the American-led war against terrorism.

She and others have voiced their horror that opposition to the war and dedication to the people of Iraq did not save the two young women. One rather wonders about their dedication to the people of Iraq. It did not lead them, for instance, to learn any Arabic, which meant that their knowledge of the country was rather limited. Nor did their dedication lead them to oppose the Iraqi people’s greatest oppressor, Saddam Hussein.

Yes, indeed, these two young aid workers did not simply oppose the war in Iraq, which many people do for all sorts of reasons; they both went to work in Baghdad while Saddam was still in power. No aid agency or NGO was allowed to do so if it voiced the slightest criticism of that bloodthirsty regime or showed the slightest friendliness to anyone who might have opposed it.

A Bridge to Baghdad, now called simply A Bridge set up shop in Baghdad in 1991 (presumably they opposed the first Gulf War as well) supposedly to help arrange humanitarian aid, which “was under embargo”. For the record, humanitarian aid was not under embargo at any time. A good deal of it, however, was siphoned off by Saddam Hussein, his delightful family and other friends and relations (when he did not decide to murder them). Much of it was used to buy support outside Iraq as the enquiries into the food for oil scandal have already shown.

What did the two aid workers do in Baghdad just before they were kidnapped? This is Signorina Pari’s description of her activity:
“My days begin early, between 7 and 7.30. All together we have coffee, our house is near the Hotel Palestine. Then it’s non-stop work in the office, meetings, the UN, Unicef, ministries. At 2 p.m. it all slows down and many stores close. In the afternoon I read, write and go out. Dinner at 10 then the curfew at 11.

I’m able to lead normal life and I know many Iraqis [presumably if they speak Italian or, perhaps, French or English]. The community is vibrant, there are many artists and intellectuals.”
Quite pleasant really. One wonders whether the artistic and intellectual community of Baghdad was quite as vibrant when Signorina Pari first went there but let that pass. However, as dedication to the Iraqi people that account may leave something to be desired.

One does not, of course, approve of kidnappings, particularly not of charming young Italian women. But one wonders whether behind all these events there might not be a completely new group that has become thoroughly fed up with westerners who, in the name of opposition to American policy and dedication to the local people, descend on these countries, impose huge parasitical bureaucracies and, in the process, undermine their economies. Perhaps their aim is to get rid of all aid agencies, NGOs and journalists who support Middle Eastern dictators in the name of progressive solidarity. Who knows? They might succeed. They might even prevent any more fact finding missions from the European Parliament.

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