The Iraq war has become a disaster that we have chosen to forget
With the media subdued, governments have not been held to account for the biggest political calamity of our time
By Madeleine Bunting"The Guardian"
'You think you are innocent, but you're not," said the British Muslim suicide bomber in the Channel 4 television drama Britz last week. As the compelling actor Manjinder Virk recited her suicide statement to camera, she went on: thousands of women and children are dying every day in Iraq and Afghanistan, and yet the governments responsible have been returned to power.Her assertion sticks in the mind because it goes straight to the heart of how we choose to forget, choose not to understand; and how from such choices it becomes possible to imagine our innocence.That's not to say that her own moral choices were defensible - she blew up herself, her beloved brother, fellow Muslims and plenty of women in the crowd - but the challenge even from such a morally flawed character persists. Can we claim innocence of the chaotic violence of Iraq now normalised into the background of our lives? Suicide bombs have long since become routine radio noise. We're numbed to the atrocities; except for some stalwarts, the initial anti-war activism has been crowded out by other responsibilities. Life goes on, even if in Baghdad it frequently doesn't.And to accompany the indifference is the creeping denial of responsibility. Government ministers now talk of Iraq as a tragedy, as if it was a natural disaster and they had no hand in its making. There's a public revulsion at the violent sectarian struggles best summed up as "a plague on all their houses", as even the horror gives way to exhaustion.The irony is that in this great age of communications and saturation media, this is perhaps the most important war to become nigh on impossible to report. Unless the reporter is embedded with the occupation forces, it takes either terrifying courage or extraordinary ingenuity to bring images to our screens of those caught up in the awful maelstrom of this imploded country. Without the human stories that bring people and their suffering so vividly to life, there is little chance of public opinion re-engaging with the biggest political calamity of our time.The Iraq war represents the end of the media as a major actor in war. In Bosnia journalists stirred western Europe's conscience with their vivid accounts; these were people we came to understand, recognise and empathise with, and public opinion forced recalcitrant governments to take note and act. It was a lesson not lost on the Kosovans: they ensured the media saw every atrocity, and the coverage was used to secure a comparable outcome to Bosnia - western governments were forced to act. But in Iraq the number of journalists killed (now at least 138) means that this war is near private - the images and people who might make the horror of this war real don't reach our screens. It's no longer a war that is accessible to public scrutiny or to democratic engagement.'
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