Could I have the microphone for one minute to tell the people about my life?" asked the Iraqi grandmother.
I spent part of a recent Saturday with the so-called "antiwar" marchers in London in the company of some Iraqi friends. Our aim had been to persuade the organizers to let at least one Iraqi voice to be heard. Soon, however, it became clear that the organizers were as anxious to stifle the voice of the Iraqis in exile as was Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
The Iraqis had come with placards reading "Freedom for Iraq" and "American rule, a hundred thousand times better than Takriti tyranny!"
But the tough guys who supervised the march would have none of that. Only official placards, manufactured in thousands and distributed among the "spontaneous" marchers, were allowed. These read "Bush and Blair, baby-killers," " Not in my name," "Freedom for Palestine," and "Indict Bush and Sharon."
Not one placard demanded that Saddam should disarm to avoid war.
The goons also confiscated photographs showing the tragedy of Halabja, the Kurdish town where Saddam's forces gassed 5,000 people to death in 1988.
We managed to reach some of the stars of the show, including Reverend Jesse Jackson, the self-styled champion of American civil rights. One of our group, Salima Kazim, an Iraqi grandmother, managed to attract the reverend's attention and told him how Saddam Hussein had murdered her three sons because they had been dissidents in the Baath Party; and how one of her grandsons had died in the war Saddam had launched against Kuwait in 1990.
"Could I have the microphone for one minute to tell the people about my life?" 78-year-old Salima demanded.
The reverend was not pleased.
"Today is not about Saddam Hussein," he snapped. "Today is about Bush and Blair and the massacre they plan in Iraq." Salima had to beat a retreat, with all of us following, as the reverend's gorillas closed in to protect his holiness.
We next spotted former film star Glenda Jackson, apparently manning a stand where "antiwar" characters could sign up to become "human shields" to protect Saddam's military installations against American air attacks.
"These people are mad," said Awad Nasser, one of Iraq's most famous modernist poets. "They are actually signing up to sacrifice their lives to protect a tyrant's death machine."
The former film star, now a Labor party member of parliament, had no time for "side issues" such as the 1.2 million Iraqis, Iranians, and Kuwaitis who have died as a result of Saddam's various wars.
We thought we might have a better chance with Charles Kennedy, a boyish-looking, red-headed Scot who leads the misnamed Liberal Democrat party. But he, too, had no time for "complex issues" that could not be raised at a mass rally.
"The point of what we are doing here is to tell the American and British governments that we are against war," he pontificated. "There will be ample time for other issues."
But was it not amazing that there could be a rally about Iraq without any mention of what Saddam and his regime have done over almost three decades? Just a little hint, perhaps, that Saddam was still murdering people in his Qasr al-Nayhayah (Palace of the End) prison, and that as the Westerners marched, Iraqis continued to die?
Not a chance.
We then ran into Tony Benn, a leftist septuagenarian who has recycled himself as a television reporter to interview Saddam in Baghdad.
But we knew there was no point in talking to him. The previous night he had appeared on TV to tell the Brits that his friend Saddam was standing for "the little people" against "hegemonistic America."
"Are these people ignorant, or are they blinded by hatred of the United States?" Nasser the poet demanded.
The Iraqis would had much to tell the "antiwar" marchers, had they had a chance to speak. Fadel Sultani, president of the National Association of Iraqi authors, would have told the marchers that their action would encourage Saddam to intensify his repression.
"I had a few questions for the marchers," Sultani said. "Did they not realize that oppression, torture and massacre of innocent civilians are also forms of war? Are the antiwar marchers only against a war that would liberate Iraq, or do they also oppose the war Saddam has been waging against our people for a generation?"
Sultani could have told the peaceniks how Saddam's henchmen killed dissident poets and writers by pushing page after page of forbidden books down their throats until they choked.
Hashem al-Iqabi, one of Iraq's leading writers and intellectuals, had hoped the marchers would mention the fact that Saddam had driven almost four million Iraqis out of their homes and razed more than 6,000 villages to the ground.
"The death and destruction caused by Saddam in our land is the worst since Nebuchadnezzar," he said. "These prosperous, peaceful, and fat Europeans are marching in support of evil incarnate." He said that, watching the march, he felt Nazism was "alive and well and flexing its muscles in Hyde Park."
Abdel-Majid Khoi, son of the late Grand Ayatollah Khoi, Iraq's foremost religious leader for almost 40 years, spoke of the "deep moral pain" he feels when hearing the so-called " antiwar" discourse.
"The Iraqi nation is like a man who is kept captive and tortured by a gang of thugs," Khoi said. "The proper moral position is to fly to help that man liberate himself and bring the torturers to book. But what we witness in the West is the opposite: support for the torturers and total contempt for the victim."
Khoi said he would say ahlan wasahlan (welcome) to anyone who would liberate Iraq.
"When you are being tortured to death you are not fussy about who will save you," he said.
Ismail Qaderi, a former Baathist official but now a dissident, wanted to tell the marchers how Saddam systematically destroyed even his own party, starting by murdering all but one of its 16 original leaders.
"Those who see Saddam as a symbol of socialism, progress, and secularism in the Arab world must be mad," he said.
Khalid Kishtaini, Iraq's most famous satirical writer, added his complaint.
"Don't these marchers know that the only march possible in Iraq under Saddam Hussein is from the prison to the firing-squad?" he asked. "The Western marchers behave as if the US wanted to invade Switzerland, not Iraq under Saddam Hussein."
With all doors shutting in our faces we decided to drop out of the show and watch the political zoology of the march from the sidelines.
Who were these people who felt such hatred of their democratic governments and such intense self-loathing?
There were the usual suspects: the remnants of the Left, from Stalinists and Trotskyites to caviar socialists. There were the pro-abortionists, the anti-GM food crowd, the anti-capital-punishment militants, the black-rights gurus, the anti-Semites, the "burn Israel" lobby, the "Bush-didn't-win-Florida" zealots, the unilateral disarmers, the anti-Hollywood "cultural exception" merchants, and the guilt-ridden postmodernist "everything is equal to everything else" philosophers.
But the bulk of the crowd consisted of fellow travelers, those innocent citizens who, prompted by idealism or boredom, are always prepared to play the role of "useful idiots," as Lenin used to call them.
They ignored the fact that the peoples of Iraq are unanimous in their prayers for the war of liberation to come as quickly as possible.
The number of marchers did not impress Salima, the grandmother.
"What is wrong does not become right because many people say it," she asserted, bidding us farewell while the marchers shouted "Not in my name!"
Let us hope that when Iraq is liberated, as it soon will be, the world will remember that it was not done in the name of Rev. Jackson, Charles Kennedy, Glenda Jackson, Tony Benn, and their companions in a march of shame.
— Amir Taheri is author of The Cauldron: The Middle East behind the headlines. Taheri is reachable through www.benadorassociates.com