Johann Hari And The Aftermath Of Invasion

An Important Caveat

In a debate with Robert Fisk recently, the Independent’s Johann Hari said of his support for the invasion of Iraq:

“So what was I supposed to do, as a progressive person who believes the job of the left is to side with oppressed people? How could I march with people like George Galloway and say, ‘Give peace a chance’, when I knew most Iraqis preferred this war to the alternative, never-ending war waged on them by Saddam? Wouldn’t that have been a lie? Wouldn’t that have been a betrayal of an oppressed people?”

Hari went on to say:


At the heart of Hari’s argument is the assertion that he is above all concerned for the welfare and wishes of the Iraqi people – he wants to relieve their oppression and suffering, and so supported an invasion to topple Saddam’s murderous tyranny.

Notice that Hari’s concern is fundamentally moral – his problem was not with Saddam Hussein as such; it was with Saddam Hussein as a cause of suffering to the Iraqi people. And as Hari himself suggests, “If you go into a war saying you want to side with the Iraqi people, then you damn well have to carry on” working to relieve their suffering afterwards.

It makes no difference, from Hari’s moral point of view, if the oppressor is Saddam Hussein, Paul Bremer or Ayad Allawi. His support is about relief of suffering, pure and simple – he feels morally obliged to urge action (even violent action) to relieve this suffering, no matter who or what the cause. That much is clear.

The situation “afterwards”, of course, is even more morally pressing for Hari because he personally supported the invasion that gave rise to these subsequent conditions. If he was concerned about the fate of Iraqis prior to invasion, then how much more this must be the case in the aftermath of a war which he helped make possible.

So what evidence is there to suggest that Hari has followed through on his commitment to “carry on supporting the Iraqi people afterwards”?

The Missing Mentions

As we reported recently, infant mortality has actually increased since the invasion, while child malnutrition has almost doubled. A report by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, published yesterday by the medical journal, The Lancet, found that deaths of Iraqis have soared to 100,000 above normal since the war mainly due to violence – many of the victims have been women and children. Eighty-four percent of the deaths were reported to be caused by the actions of “Coalition” forces and 95 percent of those deaths were due to air strikes and artillery. (http://www.jhsph.edu/Press_Room/Press_Releases/PR_2004/Burnham_Iraq.html)

There is also an epidemic of cancers in Iraq and a shortage of vital medicines. The education system is in ruins. Endless suffering has been caused by lack of electricity, access to clean water… The list is almost endless.

On October 28, we wrote to Hari mentioning the points above, adding:

“We conducted a Lexis-Nexis search of all the articles you have written this year mentioning the words ‘Iraq’ or ‘Iraqi’. This was by no means a scientific study, but it surely did provide strong clues to the focus and tone of your reporting. We found the following numbers of mentions for these words in your commentary on Iraq:

Cancer – 0 mentions
Child/infant mortality – 0
Civilian/s – 1 (sanctions effect in ‘weakening’, 25.8)
Depleted Uranium – 0
Disease – 0
Education – 0
Electricity – 0
Hospitals – 0
Iraqi civilian/s – 1 (killed by insurgents, 21.1)
Landmines – 0
Malnutrition – 0
Poverty – 0
Schools – 0
Unexploded bombs/ordnance – 0
Unicef – 0
Water – 0

It seems you have made no attempt to draw attention to the appalling and growing crises that surround these issues in Iraq in your Independent articles. How does this tally with your claim that you supported the war out of compassion for Iraqi suffering, and that you are determined to ‘carry on supporting the Iraqi people’ after the invasion?

Best wishes

David Edwards and David Cromwell”

Remarkably, despite having essentially ignored the humanitarian crises in Iraq this year, we found that Hari has focused with considerable passion on several of these issues with regard to another Third World country. On April 23, Hari wrote of Sudan:

“The Janjaweed are committing pogroms on a massive scale. They are burning entire villages and systematically trashing the civilian infrastructure of schools, hospitals and irrigation systems. The UN report leaked yesterday confirms reports of mass rape, and warned that so many crops and animals are being destroyed that ‘a man-made famine’ is now probable.

“Mercedes Tatay, a Darfur-based physician with the aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres, gives a glimpse into the state of a country where journalists are being denied access. ‘You can drive for 100 miles and see nobody, no civilians,’ she says. ‘You pass through large villages, completely burned or still burning, and you see nobody.'” (Hari, ‘Sudan is another Rwanda in the making’, The Independent, April 23, 2004)

Hari’s proposed response to this suffering, even as he blanks much of the misery of the country whose invasion he so recently promoted? Another Western invasion!:

“Will a Coalition of the Willing send troops to join the Rwandans in Darfur when the UN deadline expires at the end of this week?

“If not you can toss your tear-stained copies of Schindler’s List on to a bonfire along with the people of western Sudan. All those times we muttered ‘never again’ will be exposed yet again as a lie.” (Hari, ‘If the victims of this mass murder were white, would we have acted long ago?’, August 25, 2004)

We will publish Hari’s reply and our response in Part 2 shortly…


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

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Email: [email protected]

Email: [email protected]