Weak, Passive, Distracted: What Next for the American Antiwar Movement?

August 15, 2006

By TODD CHRETIEN

On August 12, 2006, some 25,000 people in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and other cities took part in protests against the Israeli/American war in the Middle East. Probably around 50 per cent of the marchers were Arab or Muslim. These protests showed the Arab world, and specifically our brothers and sisters in Lebanon and Gaza that there is opposition to the U.S. government's policies. That's a good start. But you have to ask the question: Why after a month of war did so few people come out to protest? Where were the "anti-war" Democratic leaders? Where were the anti- war groups such as United for Peace and Justice or MoveOn.org?

There is no need to expound on the blame the American corporate media shares in many good people's profoundly bad understanding of what is happening. However, media lies are not sufficient to explain the American anti-war movement's passivity. Deeper political explanations are required. While 60 per cent of the American population opposes the endless occupation of Iraq, the anti-war movement itself still accepts many ideas that weaken it. These ideas will not be overcome quickly, but they must be openly raised and debated.

The Right to Self Determination

The United States dominates the Middle East. It occupies Iraq, funds Arab client states and arms Israel to the teeth. In this situation, the U.S. and Israel government are brutally oppressing the majority via military power and economic robbery. Basic democratic principles require Americans to oppose our government's actions and to stand squarely for the right to self-determination by the Arab people. It is not the American anti-war movement's job to lecture the people of the Middle East on how to conduct their resistance. You do not have to agree with all of Hezbollah's ideas to support their resistance to Israel. Condemning "both sides" in the Middle East is just like condemning "both sides" in the American Civil War. During the Civil War, with all its complications, one side fought for slavery and the other fought for emancipation. Today in the Middle East, one side fights to rob and pillage, the other seeks self-determination and dignity.

Vilification of Islam

Democrats and Republicans alike have vilified Islam. Bush's latest phrase is "Islamic fascists." Too many anti-war activists have bought into the lie that Islam is a danger. The idea that Islam's ideas are more "conservative" than Christianity or Judaism is ridiculous. The media-created myth that Arabs and Muslim's aren't "ready for democracy" or they "just like to kill each other" are racist to the core. Muslims and Arabs in the U.S. bare the brunt of the "war on terror." The anti-war movement needs to shake off its Islamophobia and make sustained efforts to reach out to Arab and Muslim community in the United States to bring them into the heart of the anti-war movement. The past month has seen largest mobilizations of anti-war Arabs and Muslims since the Jenin massacre in Palestine in April of 2002. Building concrete solidarity, in deed not just in words, with these forces must be a priority.

U.S. Aid to Israel

The leader of the South African trade union COSATU recently stated that he thinks that the Palestinians face worse conditions than Blacks faced during South African Apartheid. There will never be peace in the Middle East as long as the Zionist state is given a blank check from the United States to have separate laws for Arabs and Jews and treat the Palestinian people as less than human. Israel is part of the American empire and is key to the U.S. plans for permanent domination of the Middle East. If we ever want to see our troops come home from Iraq, then the anti-war movement must fight to cut off all American aid to Israel. This will mean a fierce debate amongst liberal organizations, unions, etc. But it is necessary and now is the best time to raise it.

Waiting for Hillary

In addition the Democratic Party continues to exercise a profound influence on the anti-war movement. Just as in 2004, when the movement demobilized to get behind John "I'll send more troops to Iraq" Kerry, today, the movement is paralyzed waiting for Hillary Clinton, or some other savior to "end the Bush regime." (This line of reasoning even leads some people to think that Al Gore or John Kerry should give it another go!) Bush is a problem, but he is not the problem. Of course, no serious anti-war person believes the Democrats will bring peace to the world; however, too many anti-war people still believe that the Democrats will bring us closer to peace. This idea has a real impact on political organizing. For instance, rather than throwing its weight behind the August 12 protests, United For Peace and Justice merely asked people to call their Congressional representatives "every day." The Peace Campaign on their website listed events from August 6 to Sept. 21, without listing Aug. 12 mobilizations , thereby failing to identify with the thousands of Arab and Muslims who took to the streets?

What Next?

Israel still may disregard the ceasefire, or simply use it as cover and expand its war. Or they may adopt a longer range plan to regroup and wait for a better moment to attack Hezbollah, perhaps by engaging Syria. They will certainly continue to exact their revenge on Gaza. But Hezbollah has emerged as the hero to millions of Arabs and Muslims. Hezbollah's fight will encourage the resistance in Iraq and it will give a boost to opposition forces in Egypt, Jordan and other American client states. Unfortunately, the United States may become more aggressive in the face of rising opposition. Remember that after the Tet offensive in Vietnam in January 1968, the U.S. went on to invade Cambodia and Laos. A wounded beast can be more dangerous.

Therefore the anti-war movement must prepare for a new round of mobilizations this fall and be prepared to respond to new emergencies. Three-and-a-half years after the invasion of Iraq, the anti-war movement must put itself on a new footing. We must build a movement that stands for self-determination, rejects vilification of Islam and openly embraces Arabs and Muslim forces, fights to cut ties with Israel and severs its allegiance to the Democratic Party. This will not happen overnight, but the people of Lebanon and Gaza have paid too high a price in their own blood for us to not take these lessons to heart here in the belly of the beast.

Todd Chretien is the Green Party candidate for US Senate, running against Sen. Dianne Feinstein in California. He can be reached at: ToddChretien@mac.com

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