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How do we build a movement against war on Iran?

Paul Stevenson

April 5, 2012

As the prospect of a war with Iran increases, it is important to remember the lessons from the Iraq anti-war movement and to build the broadest possible opposition in Canada. Stephen Harper has clearly shown his intention to support the war and we in Canada have an important role to play to stop the Conservatives from joining a “coalition of the willing” that may lead an attack.

In Canada, the anti-war movement stopped the majority government of Liberal Jean Chretién from officially supporting the Iraq War by creating a huge groundswell of opposition. On February 15 2003 a half a million people demonstrated in more than 85 cities and towns throughout Canada. The massive march of 250,000 people in Montreal on March 15 2003 sealed the deal and stopped Canada from participating.

To achieve those huge numbers, there was a clear strategic orientation to build the broadest movement possible. The slogan “No war on Iraq” became the central demand of the movement and allowed for masses of people to be involved. A simple basis of unity meant that people with widely divergent opinions on many issues could march under one banner.

Debates in the movement

As was the case with Iraq, there are many debates about the central demand of the anti-war in Iran movement.

The main fault-line concerns the relationship between the anti-war movement and the Iranian state. Many on the Iranian left have called for opposition to the government of Iran to be a central demand of the movement. There are others who believe that we must stand in solidarity with the state against imperial aggression.

The reality is that accepting either of these positions will seriously weaken the movement. Any perceived support for the Iranian state will destroy the credibility of the movement in Canada. Calls to denounce the Iranian government will confuse the issue and help the Conservatives make their case for war.

The central question here is the role of imperialism: our central task is to stop imperial intervention in Iran. One of the key arguments that our government cynically uses to justify the war is the brutal nature of the Iranian state. They do so to appeal to the humanity of Canadians who rightly oppose oppressive governments.

But Harper, Obama and the rest have no intention of supporting a real democracy in Iran. We need only look at the recent history of imperial intervention in the region to find proof that the West is no friend of democracy.

In Afghanistan the NATO-supported government of drug warlords has an atrocious human rights record. In Iraq, the government of Nouri Al-Maliki operates death squads that disappear political opponents on a regular basis. In Libya, western support was given to the Transitional National Council made up of former Qaddafi loyalists. And the ongoing suffering of the Palestinian people is brushed aside by the Canadian government intent on supporting Israeli war crimes.

The reason why Harper wants to demonize the Iranian state is to try to revive the idea of “responsibility to protect” to justify an attack. It is not the job of the anti-war movement to help him make that argument but rather to point out the atrocious record of western interventions and to stand against attempts to use the struggle of the Iranian people to sugar-coat an imperial intervention.

NATO interventions since the end of the Cold War have had one interest in mind and that is to secure resources and control for the benefit of the West. An attack on Iran would be no different.

Support the Iranian struggle by stopping sanctions and war

Ultimately, the anti-war movement must stand for the self-determination of the Iranian people. We must stand in solidarity with the people fighting to create a democratic Iran, and we know that this will never be achieved while NATO bombs are falling on the country.

To quote Afghan MP Malalai Joya, who knows a thing or two about what it is like to try to liberate a people while under the thumb of foreign armies, “No nation can donate liberation to another nation. These values must be fought for and won by the people themselves. They can only grow and flourish when they are planted by the people in their own soil and watered by their own blood and tears.”

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