By Mary Louise Malig*
Resistance is infectious.
When George Bush declared the war on Iraq was over last May, with matching “mission accomplished” banners and jet fighter plane landing, he was asking for trouble. This whole choreography of US military might and supremacy was designed to display the awesome might of the Empire. But few were in awe. What it did do was to further fuel the people’s resistance not only in Iraq, but all over the globe.
FEBRUARY 15 TO MARCH 20, VIA MUMBAI
Resistance against the war on terror since the massive worldwide mobilizations of February 15 has spread like wildfire. But despite the strong opposition, Bush and Blair went on to invade Iraq and this has caused many to say that the anti-war movement failed and had retreated into defeat. This quiet was not the silence of retreating and resigning to defeat; it was the quiet of gathering and strategizing.
In the days after the invasion of Iraq, several national, regional and international anti-war strategy meetings took place in Chiapas, Florence, Cairo, London, Geneva, Genoa, Jakarta and Cancun. These meetings produced numerous ideas and plans on how to confront the warmongers, end the occupations — not only of Iraq and Palestine– and link the struggles against the war with the struggles against corporate globalization. However due to lack of financial resources and other reasons, these meetings were relatively small and thus did not achieve the representivity it aimed for.
This prompted people to organize a General Assembly of the Anti-War Movement at the World Social Forum in Mumbai, India. What better place to hold this Assembly, but at the biggest annual gathering of the world’s movements? It was after all at the last WSF in Porto Alegre, Brasil, where the idea of February 15, from the European movements gathered support from social movements around the world, was launched.
This Assembly was envisioned to be the most representative meeting since the invasion of Iraq and hoped to bring together the numerous anti-war and anti-globalization campaigns. It also aimed to find ways to support one another and coordinate actions, possibly for an international day of action, March 20, the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.
AN ASSEMBLY OF RESISTERS
The Assembly convened for the whole day on January 19 at the WSF grounds starting with around 100 people and peaking to more than 400. The participants represented anti-war coalitions, social movements, trade unions and various campaigns spanning the globe. It opened with a number of speakers analyzing the current political situation with the aim of informing the day’s debates on campaigns and strategies.
Speakers included Walden Bello, a member of the Asian Peace Mission to Iraq, who said that “Iraq is becoming another Vietnam for the US, which is now seeking an honorable exit. The situation is becoming unmanageable and the factor that made the difference? The Iraqi people began the resistance!” Bello added that the resistance in Iraq has inspired many others to resist the US, even in the area of trade. He cited the collapse of the World Trade Organization’s talks in Cancun, Mexico and the stalemate of negotiations on the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas in Miami.
This was affirmed by the next speakers, Oupa Lehulere of the South African Anti-War Coalition and Amir Rekaby of the Iraqi National Democratic Coalition. “Armed with the experience of the last 82 years the Iraqi people have transformed the occupation into an impossible occupation,” Rekaby declared.
And lastly, British MP Jeremy Corbyn added that the movement must map its own way forward, “We must not allow our agenda on war to be decided by CNN, BBC and others. We need to focus on US/British occupation in Iraq but also take up these other ‘forgotten wars’.”
The rest of the day focused on strategies and campaigns. It began with a report back of different anti-war coalitions from Asia, Europe, the United States, Latin America and the Middle East. The strengths and weaknesses of the movements in different countries were recognized and assessed. This was followed by proposals and reports from other international anti-war campaigns such as the World Tribunal on Iraq (WTI), the No US Bases campaign, the Occupation Watch Center, the Caravans to Iraq, the Civil Missions to Palestine, the Disarmament Campaign and the Boycott Bush Campaign.
Ayse Berktay, WTI representative, explained the Tribunal process and how people could help in collecting evidence or finding witnesses, join the different hearings, and support the final Tribunal to be held in Istanbul in March 2005. Lindsey Collen of the No US Bases campaign shared their plans and strategies on closing the bases, which include mapping local campaigns against the bases and sending flotillas to bases like Diego Garcia. Fabio Alberti of the Occupation Watch Center gave an update of their work in Iraq and invited people to come to Iraq and support the work there. Alessandra Mecozzi of the Caravans to Iraq explained that the Caravans’ motto was “A Middle East without war and oppression is possible” and that this was one of the steps in mobilizing against the war and reaffirming that the movement has no borders. Nahla Chahal and Paul Nicholson shared about the Civil Missions to Palestine and invited first time activists to join.
Finally, Pol d’ Huyvetter of the Boycott Bush Campaign came in with a lively march of around a hundred people wearing George Bush masks and carrying cardboard machine guns and “Boycott Bush” placards. They announced that the different campaigns around the boycott had come together at the WSF and formed one international campaign. They plan to produce Boycott Action Kits with lots of information and suggestions on how to get involved.
The multitude of George Bushes removed their masks to cheers from the festive crowd. The atmosphere was electric. After the presentations, everyone fiercely debated, discussed and proposed ideas, and alternatives. All this, and more, despite the heat beating down the open tent and the constant drumming from passing marches and performances, which at times made it nearly impossible to hear one another.
People from all over the world were getting up to the microphone and sharing their stories of resistance, campaigns or simply expressing their solidarity and amazement at the diversity of the participants present at the Assembly. Women from Iraq stood up and stated that they were liberating themselves from the Empire. A Church group representative declared their support for the resistance. Koreans shared their mobilization plans, complete with materials, posters and pins. American activists reassured the Assembly that they were at one with the world in resisting the Empire.
The most unexpected intervention however came from a woman who had been quietly sitting among the participants in the Assembly, listening intently to everyone’s ideas and proposals. Leila Khaled, the legendary Palestinian liberation fighter would not have even spoken had she not been recognized by one of the session’s moderators and introduced to the rest of the Assembly.
Speaking in a quiet yet forceful voice, she said “You are the international law, it is not in New York.” She continued, “You were there in South Africa during the apartheid, you were there in many other sites of oppression, and you won. Action will always speak louder than words and we will do it hand in hand with the Iraqis and the Palestinians.”
The interventions at the Assembly were both invigorating and inspiring. There were fierce debates on issues such as the short and long term objectives of the movement. People argued about the various ways of supporting the resistance. Some raised their concerns on the perils of focusing too much on George Bush and in the process neglecting other equally menacing governments. Victor Nzuzi from the Republic of Congo, shared that there are 3.5 million deaths in his country and yet no one takes notice. “Everyone is pretending that the war is finished.”
The Assembly ended on a determined note, with everyone committing to mobilize in their respective countries for March 20 and to support the various campaigns presented at the Assembly. And as Luciano Muhlbauer of the Italian social movements stated, “The problem is not how to sustain the resistance in Iraq – we should be the resistance against the war.”
WE ARE AT WAR
Becoming the resistance was the sentiment that carried through at the Assembly, resonanting with the same spirit of Arundathi Roy’s call during the opening of the WSF that “we must consider ourselves at war.” Contrary to George Bush’s claims that the war was over, it will now be waged on him and the rest of the coalition governments from all fronts.
As Chris Nineham declared at the closing ceremony of the WSF, on behalf of the Anti-War Assembly, “We wish to send a message to the warmongers that our movement will not rest until we have buried the Project for A New American Century once and for all. We will all demonstrate for peace and justice on March 20.”
The full report of the Anti-War Assembly can be downloaded from www.focusweb.org or you can email [email protected]
* Marylou Malig is a research associate with Focus on the Global South and was a key organiser of the Anti-War Assembly.