A day after Hans Blix, the chief UN weapons-inspector, delivered a stinging rebuke to US secretary of state Colin Powell, and rejected Powell’s claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass-destruction, people from around the world voted with their feet against the planned attack on Iraq. Starting on the morning of February 15 in Auckland, New Zealand, millions of people came out in more than 600 cities in 60 countries to say "No" to this war. By far the largest gathering was in London, some two million strong, according to march organizers, quoted by the BBC World Service. In Barcelona (Spain) 1.3 million gathered; the Italians claim that three million marched in Rome.
All together, well over 10 million people took part in the largest show of opposition in history to a US-led war. In North America (New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton etc.) tens of thousands braved bitter cold to make their opinion of the western governments’ conduct known. In Toronto there were at least 80,000 people; Montreal exceeded its previous record with 150,000 marchers, while New York sprang a surprise with 500,000; the organizers had expected 100,000 people. They were prevented by a court order from marching to the UN plaza, but the police were forced to let them move to adjoining streets because the numbers swelled so quickly that several blocks of the city were completely taken over by a sea of people: all this despite the fact that since September 2001 political dissent has been severely curtailed in the US.
Who are these people who feel so passionately about a cause that they are prepared to come out, most of them for the first time in their lives, to join rallies that have traditionally been the hallmark of peace activists and other rabble-rousers? As well as students, labour-movement activists, politicians and academics, housewives, senior citizens, schoolchildren and even former soldiers, who know well the horrors of war, came out because they see the proposed war as totally unjust. They believe that it will inflict even more suffering on the Iraqi people, already ravaged by twelve years of sanctions; that the US, led by a gang of megalomaniacs, is on an imperial rampage because of lust for oil in other people’s lands, and that US president George Bush, not the "tyrant of Baghdad", is the real threat to world peace.
These people, white, black and brown, Muslim and non-Muslim, have stopped believing the lies and half-truths of the press and media, which mostly act as cheerleaders for government propaganda. They are unimpressed by claims that an attack on Iraq would be "surgical", that civilian casualties would be "minimal" or that it would be "over before people realize it". Nobody, not even the Americans, buys this line anymore; the Pentagon is no longer able to get away with such buzzwords as "collateral damage". People simply do not believe that it can achieve anything worth even one additional civilian casualty; that is why there are now even growing demands that the UN sanctions against Iraq be lifted immediately.
In a sign of growing maturity, the majority of speakers at these rallies have been at pains to state quite bluntly that these rallies are not in support of Saddam or his regime, because Saddam has the blood of innocent people on his hands. The rulers of Iraq have tried to claim that these rallies are in their support; Iraqi deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz claimed, on a visit to see the Pope in the Vatican on February 15, that millions of people around the world "supported" the regime of Saddam Husain by marching against the war. This is also the argument used by Bush and co. Both claims are completely false: the rallies are only against the war and in support of the Iraqi people, not in favour of the government in Baghdad.
Similarly, the anti-war movement has refused to buy the argument that the war is necessary to remove Saddam from power for the benefit of the Iraqi people. While the people of Iraq would welcome the removal of Saddam from power, they do not wish to replace one tyrant with another, or with an American occupation. It is none of America’s business to decide who should rule Iraq or any other country.
America’s itch for war, backed only by the governments of Britain and Israel (led by Tony Blair and Ariel Sharon respectively), is motivated not by the ideal of freedom for Iraq’s people, but by their desire to advance the Anglo-American-zionist agenda. Despite claiming otherwise, the Americans are on a "nation-building" crusade. But those "nations" must be built in the image of the US, and serve American and Israeli interests before any others.
Afghanistan is a good example; far from bringing peace and stability to the country, American intervention has been disastrous. It is true that the Taliban have been driven from power, but the people of Afghanistan have had no respite from fighting and lawlessness. US forces frequently attacks Afghan villages and kill civilians; the government in Kabul is totally at the mercy of the Americans and Northern Alliance warlords; there is no peace or security for anyone. Even worse, crime, especially the rape of women, has escalated alarmingly. Warlords are on the rampage everywhere. The Americans are still chasing the shadows of the Taliban and al-Qa’ida, and are getting hit in the process. Afghanistan is taking on the look of Vietnam.
Although the Americans used to cite Afghanistan as a possible model for post-Saddam Iraq, they have stopped doing so because of their recent experiences there. The motley collection of Iraqi opposition-groups operating under the umbrella of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) are not a cohesive group: they simply do not get on; even at this stage the only thing they have in common is their opposition to Saddam. So what are they going to do after Saddam is removed from power? Perhaps the Americans do not want a cohesive opposition; it would make their control of Iraq even more difficult to justify. The Americans have already floated the idea of a military administrator for Iraq, who would rule the country for several years until there is "stability." But when the entire war scenario is designed to bring instability, why should the US want stability in Iraq once it is under Washington’s control? Baghdad, as has been hinted without much subtlety, is the first stop; after that Washington’s eyes are set on Damascus, Riyadh, Tehran and Islamabad.
The global rallies have posed a difficult challenge for Bush and Blair. Both are being forced to take stock, although not even the huge turn-outs are unlikely to force them to abandon their crusade. What the rallies indicate is that people all over the world are realizing who the real criminals are. It is supremely ironic that in less than 18 months Bush has squandered the enormous goodwill and sympathy generated by the events of September 2001; he is now seen as an international bully and thug, with little understanding of the great damage he is likely to cause if he goes to war against Iraq. Probably never before in history has the government of a country as powerful as the US been so isolated as Bush and his coterie are, at least on this one issue.
Paradoxically, however, as anti-war passions increase, so will Bush’s urge to launch his crusade. This is especially true in America, where support for the war has slumped precipitously. Bush and his advisors hope that by launching a war and winning it quickly and decisively, they will be able to override the storm of protest. Polls in Europe and the US on the eve of the rallies showed that opposition to the war was mounting, and is likely to continue to do so even if Washington managed to get a second resolution in the Security Council. Spanish and Dutch polls showed that more than 70 percent oppose even UN-mandated action.
The idea of an international day of action against the war was first suggested in London after the peace marches in October last year. It was discussed by peace and anti-globalization groups from 11 countries at the European social forum in Florence in November, but only became truly international after meetings in Cairo (Egypt) and Porto Alegre (Brazil) last January. Since then the idea of coordinating international peace protests has spread rapidly across the world. This month (March) activists from all continents will meet in London to propose further global action.
One proposal that is already agreed upon is that of mass direct action designed to bring the countries supporting the war to a standstill on the day Iraq is attacked. Britain’s Stop the War Coalition plans to hold demonstrations in the centre of London and other large towns and cities, wildcat strikes by anti-war supporters, and mass sit-ins at schools, colleges and universities across the country. Similar action is planned in other countries: the US, Spain, Italy and Australia, for instance.
For Muslims worldwide, the rallies against the war are also a reminder that, although they have joined them in respectable numbers, their presence is still not commensurate with their true strength. Similarly, each year Muslims hold the largest gathering anywhere in the world, namely the Hajj, yet the Saudi rulers forbid any demonstrations against injustice. This year, on the eve of Hajj, Saudi interior minister Nayef bin Abdul Aziz once again threatened to crush any attempt by the hujjaj to hold such demonstrations. Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah, head of Hizbullah, expressed dismay at the lack of Muslim participation in demonstrations while millions of non-Muslims in Europe and the US were holding rallies against the war. He said that Hajj is the natural occasion for holding such rallies; it is commanded by Allah and is also an imperative of the time.
As long as the Saudi occupiers of the Haramain prevent Muslims from fulfilling their obligations, the Muslims will continue to be deprived of Allah’s promised Mercy and Help. We Muslims have a simple choice: either rise up against such corruption of our deen, or continue to suffer humiliation, especially when even non-Muslims are now rising in large numbers against injustice and tyranny worldwide.