29 May 2004

Yet more carnage

By Rupert Read

"This must never, ever be allowed to happen again." (Newspaper editorial, 100 years ago, commenting on the first ever car accident fatality)

Yet the very day after my first 'One World' column ("Why we must stop this carnage", May 15), the headline on p4 of the EDP was "Six killed in road accident 'carnage'". There have also been a lot of deaths in Iraq, and in Israel and Palestine, recently, too. Photos of the dead and the grieving from there, too, have been all over the press.

Lots of deaths on British roads; lots of deaths in the Middle East. Coincidence? Not entirely; the two tragedies are closely connected. Every time you fill up with petrol, you are touching the tragedy of the Middle East. For the Western economy has a kind of terrible drug-habit. Every time you or I fill our cars with petrol, we are part of the West's habit. We are dependent on cheap oil, which makes the wheels of our economy, literally, run smoothly.

Virtually no-one now believes the lies of our spin-saturated 'New Labour' government: the biggest lie of all is that the war on Iraq had nothing to do with oil. The truth is that, worried about the stability of the Saudi regime and worried about the independence of the Islamist Iranian government, Bush-Blair wanted to get their dirty, and now bloody, hands on the vast oil reserves of Iraq, which were of course in the grip of the bloody, and, far more importantly from Washington's point of view, worryingly independent Saddam regime.

The Iraqi oil fields have now been 'secured', and are being sold off to huge (mostly American) oil companies. The forced privatisation of Iraq's greatest national asset is the underhand way in which the 'coalition' is seeking to ensure that it never loses access to Iraq's oil again.

The fire that Bush and Blair have ignited in the Middle East - especially in Falluja and Najaf and all over Iraq -- has however got out of control. The anger of the Iraqi people against their occupiers has in fact destabilised the country very badly. The ironic result is that oil prices are shooting up. The nightmare scenario now looming for Bush-Blair is this: their attempt to secure Iraq's oil fields for the West will lead to an economic downturn, as a result of rocketing oil prices!

The West invaded Iraq so that Western businesses might control the oil fields there. The West props up Israel so that it has a reliable strong-man in the MidEast. Every time an Israeli military assassin or a suicide-bomber strikes, the British and American governments bear a responsibility for it.

Every time there is carnage on the streets of Iraq, you and I bear a little responsibility for it. Every time we fill up with petrol, and choose to risk car-nage on the roads of Britain, we also choose to fuel longer-term carnage on the streets of Gaza and Baghdad and Jerusalem.

Only by ending our love-affair with the car, and looking for ways of weaning ourselves off the drug of oil, do we have a hope of putting an end to the terrible scenes that occur on our roads every day. The kind of scenes (dead and dismembered bodies, screaming relatives) that shock us, when we hear of an atrocity in the Middle East - yet which fail to shock us, when they happen right on our doorstep. Horribly, we have learnt to accept car-nage.

Until we start to break our oil-petrol-drug-habit, each and every one of us is playing a part in the tragedy of the Middle East, as well as in the growing death toll on Britain's roads.

What can be done? The first thing is always to drive within the speed limit. If you just do that, you cut massively the chance that you will turn your own car into a bomb. The second thing is wherever possible to car-share, to use other means of transport - summer is a great time to get on yer bike, for example! - or even to ask yourself, in the old war-time spirit, "Is my journey really necessary?" The third thing is to campaign and vote for politicians who are serious about changing our economy and our transport system so that we are no longer addicted to the car. Cars are wonderful things, but, like antibiotics, they are being dangerously over-used…

Cars are killers. There will be war in the Middle East as long as there are casualties on our roads. And so, truly: Norwich is Gaza is London is Jerusalem is Washington is Baghdad is Norwich.