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State of the anti-war movement today

Faline Bobier

May 28, 2015

The recent release of Amir Amirani’s documentary We are Many tells the story of the global Stop the War march on Feb 15, 2003, against the possibility of war in Iraq. The Stop the War protest in London, England, with around 2 million participants, was joined by approximately 30 million people in about 800 cities, on every continent, in the largest protest in history.

With hindsight, of course, we know only too well that the war did happen and that the bloody repercussions of Western intervention in the Middle East continue to this day, with the creation of ISIS and the continued Western and Western-backed bombing in countries such as Syria and Yemen. But We are Many is a necessary antidote to movies like Clint Eastwood’s recent despicable American Sniper, which attempts to tell a history of lies about the Iraq war, that dovetail with the lies we were told by world leaders like George W. Bush and Tony Blair when they went into Iraq, destroying that country’s infrastructure and future.

Anti-war movement

If you were involved in any of the marches and rallies leading up to the Iraq war, and particularly the mobilizations on Feb 15 2003, We are Many will remind you of that heady feeling, as the marches grew in number and scope, that we could actually affect the outcome of world history, that our voices mattered.

Amirani’s film exists in that continuum of the failure to stay the hand of Western imperialism. (Here in Canada, thanks largely to the large mobilizations of Feb 15 and thereafter, particularly in Quebec, the peace movement was able to prevent the government of then Prime Minister Jean Chrétien from participating, however much he may have wanted to.) However, Amirani does more than simply freeze a moment in time. He understands the anti-war movement as a phenomenon which did affect the course of history in ways that were unimaginable at the time.

By bringing people power onto the stage in a way that hadn’t been seen for many decades, as New York Times writer Patrick Tyler wrote on Feb 17 2003, “the huge anti-war demonstrations around the world this weekend (remind us) that there may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion.”

As such, the anti-war movement helped pave the way for the Arab spring several years later. There was a real cross-pollination of anti-war movements in the West building solidarity for their sisters and brothers in places like Egypt and Palestine, and of the struggles in those places feeding back into the peace movement globally. For several years, starting in the early 2000s, anti-war activists from around the world converged in Cairo, Egypt for an international peace conference, which also acted as a support for anti-Mubarak protests and strikes within Egypt.

Of course, we have also travelled very far from those first inspiring days in Tahrir Square when ordinary Egyptians—women and men, Muslim, Christian, socialist, democracy activists, students, workers—came together to achieve what would have seemed unthinkable only a few years before: the ousting of western-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak.

There is a tendency now in some sections of the left to claim that these movements never really existed, or if they did, that they were in any case doomed to fail because the forces ranged against us were too powerful. The proof is in the pudding, they will say. Look at the reinstatement of the military dictatorship in Egypt, the failure of the other uprisings in the Arab world to break through, the activists in Egypt who are being sentenced to death, tortured or put in jail again for daring to continue to speak out for democracy and freedom.

Process of resistance

But if we want to be true to those who continue to struggle in extremely difficult circumstances we need to remember what Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky said about the course of revolution and revolutionary change in society:

“The history of a revolution is for us first of all the forcible entrance of the masses into the realm of their own destiny.… The masses go into a revolution not with a prepared plan of social reconstruction, but with a sharp feeling that they cannot endure the old regime. Only the guiding layers of a class have a political program, and even this still requires the test of events, and the approval of the masses. The fundamental political process thus consists in the gradual comprehension by a class of the problems arising from the social crisis—the active orientation of the masses by a method of successive approximations.”

In that sense the anti-war movement documented in Amirani’s film is not the end, but the beginning of a process, in which ordinary people have resisted their respective governments to say no to bloody imperialist wars in which we are all losers. This is most obviously and most dramatically the case for the citizens of the countries that have been pillaged, looted and destroyed in the Middle East. But it is also a dead end for young soldiers, men and women sent to kill and die for a lie, who then return to Canada, the US or Britain and find that their governments have as little regard for them as they have for those they maim and kill abroad.

Here at home Stephen Harper is happy to use Canadian soldiers when he wants to drape himself and his government in patriotic colours, in the hopes he can convince people to vote him back into power. However, as veterans have been learning the hard way, the Tories have no qualms about denying benefits to soldiers and closing Veterans Affairs offices across the country. This is how little the ‘sacrifice’ of young lives the Tories wax on about actually means to them in concrete terms.

But the lies and the liars have been shown up recently by a young man who Harper and his ilk have demonized over the last 13 years, now 28 year old Omar Khadr. Omar was arrested at the age of 15 for committing so-called “war crimes.” The more information that comes out the clearer it becomes that it’s very unclear that Omar committed any sort of crime whatsoever and that his ‘confession’ was only obtained after years of torture and isolation at Guantanamo.

Harper has been desperate to deny Omar’s rights as a Canadian citizen and desperate to keep him locked up and away from the Canadian people, exactly because it became so clear recently, watching Omar speak to reporters for the first time when he was granted bail in Edmonton, that he is an intelligent, gentle, humble young man who is the antithesis of everything that Harper has claimed about him.

Everyone who marched for Omar, the high school students who formed defence committees for him, the peace groups who fundraised to help pay for his legal costs, should all feel proud today. They are the ones who have upheld democratic principles and our governments the ones who have trod on them.

In the same way, we must keep faith with that movement which brought out over 30 million of us on February 15, 2013. When Egyptian democracy activists are arrested and imprisoned we will march with them; when Canadian bombs fall in Syria and Iraq we must organize against this violence perpetrated by our own government; when Muslim Canadians are attacked because of the racism whipped up by cynical politicians we need to build solidarity with them.

Our movement has not achieved what is necessary to make the world a safe and peaceful place but we are on that road and there is no turning back.

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