If war, as Thucydides says, is a stern teacher then the war in Iraq is one of the best.
I hope and pray by the time this op-ed hits print British hostage Kenneth Bigley is free, as are now the two Italian women Simona Pari and Simona Torretta.
Irish newspapers until recently covered the news story of Bigley as "another" hostage. But when it was reported he was legally Irish (as well as British) because his mother was born in Dublin the Irish media gave his story prominence.
I have never understood why someone’s life should be considered more important because they are of one nationality or another. A hostage, who got little attention in Irish news before his roots were known, is now worthy of a lot more attention simply because he could (but does not) hold an Irish Passport.
Earlier, the plight of the two Italian aid workers kidnapped in Baghdad was met with unprecedented expressions of solidarity and support by Muslim organizations in Italy.
As part of a campaign for the release of the hostages, thousands of Muslims in Italy took to the streets all across the country.
Just a week before taken hostage, rockets hit a house opposite the offices of their aid agency “A Bridge For Baghdad” and there have been similar incidents in nearby areas resulting in civilian Iraqi casualties.
But the Italian press did not cover the Iraqi causalities then and Italian Muslims did not protest.
I believe the calls for mercy for hostages because of their nationality -” while we ignore others in similar circumstances -” is partially due to the fact that we know their names and their history. We have heard the words of their mothers and brothers and their view of why they were in Iraq.
In contrast, the others are largely nameless statistics for most of us. It is easy to feel pity for a human being so much like us. But it is hard to feel pity for numbered people.
We should feel pity for the person we’ve seen on TV, but we should feel the same pity for all of the others in the same situation who are not seen, and whose names are not known.
When the two French journalists, Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot, were taken hostage, the call for their release was correlated to the fact that France opposed the war on Iraq. Protests were not because they were journalists trying to do their job in a war zone.
In a first of its kind the kidnapers demanded that France overturn the law banning students in state schools from displaying any religious symbols in their dress, including headscarves -” hijab -” for Muslim girls.
France succeeded in mobilizing the Arab and Islamic world on its behalf. In less than a week, Minister of Foreign Affairs Michel Barnier was dispatched to Egypt then to Jordan and the Gulf states to seek a solution to the hostage crisis.
And it was time for French Muslims to confirm their identity as French citizens. This crisis brought to their consciousness the fact that they are French citizens first and that nobody from the outside has the right to interfere in their disputes with their government.
They made it clear to the kidnappers that the law banning religious dress in schools, concerns the Muslims in France and them alone.
But the U.S. appointed Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi used the French hostage case and said in an interview with Le Monde that France’s opposition to the war in Iraq did not spare it from terror.
Allawi attacked President Chirac in an Iraqi newspaper editorial saying: "Chirac, who wants to present himself as fair, must take his share of responsibility for the kidnapping of his two compatriots as he opposed all international resolutions aimed at restoring Iraq’s security."
Canadians have a lot of lessons to learn from the war on Iraq. But Canadians should first feel grateful to former Prime Minster Jean Chretien for sparing us all the pain of seeing our own citizens getting killed daily on the evening news -” our Canadian evening news that is.