Scribblers against the Gulf War: Media workers unite, you have nothing to lose but your anthrax

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It is regrettable that this newspaper, unlike the Daily Telegraph and the New Statesman, failed to publish the recent stirring letter protesting against the forthcoming war against Iraq, and written by a collective called Media Workers Against The War. The signatories included two comedians, a novelist, two Guardian columnists, the editor of the Modern Review and Paul Foot. As an old left-winger myself I wish that they had asked me to sign it too. The name is a good one; anything with the word "Worker" in it still makes me feel agreeably militant. And "Comedians And Columnists Against The War" doesn't have quite the same associative force.

Pointing out that the last Gulf war "was not a war at all, but a slaughter", the Media Workers make an impassioned plea that we should not lend credence to "a ruthless second adventure that will solve nothing in the Gulf and end in another bloodbath".

This must be right. A proper war entails thousands of deaths on both sides. As a model one could take the Iran-Iraq conflict, in which the invasion of Iran led to a 10-year struggle in which millions were killed or wounded. Dreadful though it was, it was nonetheless a true meeting of equals, not the appalling lopsided duck-shoot that the Gulf war became.

And what did the latter achieve? Apart from the liberation of Kuwait (a mixed blessing if ever there was one, especially for the Filipino worker- slaves of the Kuwaiti oligarchy), absolutely nothing.

Which brings us to the present. Having supplied Saddam with many of the agents necessary for the manufacture of horrific weapons of mass destruction, we in the West now seem almost pedantically determined to prevent him from keeping them. While the Media Workers and I support adherence to the United Nations Resolution number whatever-it-was, any sensible person cannot help but feel that such a necessarily intrusive process will be bound to provoke resistance from the Iraqi authorities. These problems should be handled politely, not with the language of threat and war. Anyway, he didn't actually use all that nerve gas during the Gulf war, did he?

And yet, here we are, preparing to send the bombers over to kill the terrified women and children (and men) of Iraq, simply so that we can get our hands on a vial or two of anthrax which Saddam may very well never even use. And all this without the support of any of the governments in the region. Friends, how insane can we get?

Insaner, I'm afraid. For, actually, things are even worse than the Media Workers have realised. Just this week, in Las Vegas, two US citizens, Larry Wayne Harris and William Leavitt, were surrounded in their Mercedes by armed representatives of the discredited federal government, forced out of the vehicle and imprisoned without trial.

Why? Because it was thought that they might be in possession of anthrax, botulinas toxin and ricin - some of the most deadly substances known to man. The US Army's Biohazard team moved in and took away 10 bags marked "biological", which is now being tested at an Air Force base in Nevada.

There are some very interesting parallels here between this case and that of Iraq; parallels that tell us much about how we are governed. In the first place, it is not actually illegal for US citizens to possess (for their own purposes) such toxins. Why then arrest these men? Second, it is certain that the anthrax and botulinas toxin were purchased in the US itself, so how about that for hypocrisy?

Now, it is true that one of the Las Vegas Two, Mr Harris, had a previous conviction for fraudulently obtaining bubonic plague culture. But this fact merely serves to emphasise that he hadn't actually used either the bubonic plague or the anthrax. Mr Harris may not be great guy, but that doesn't mean that you've got to jump him.

Next, in another echo of the propaganda onslaught against Iraq, it was suggested that Mr Harris and Mr Leavitt were planning an anthrax strike against the New York subway. This accusation has now been firmly denied by the mayor of New York. So can one escape the suspicion that this arrest coincides too neatly with the latest stage of the Lewinsky investigation?

Of course it is true that Mr Harris is a well-known neo-Nazi, a member of the Christian Identity Church, for which Jews are "Satan's children", blacks are "mud people" and which supports toppling the democratically elected American government by force. And it is also true that his associates are rich, well-armed and bonkers. Though it must be said at once that Mr Harris is, if anything, slightly less anti-Semitic than the Iraqi regime (with whom he has, in the past, had contact).

But there is no evidence that dealing with such people by force does any good. It is always the innocent who suffer, whether in Baghdad or Waco. So to that end I call upon my comrades in Media Workers Against The War to join my campaign, just as I endorse theirs. My slogan? Give the Nazis Back Their Anthrax.