The Nation elicited comment on reaction to the war against Iraq from all corners of the globe. What follows are capsule reports from countries both directly and indirectly involved in the conflict: Vietnam (this page), Russia, the Philippines , Jordan , Israel , China , Nigeria , Great Britain, Egypt, India, the United States, France, Spain, Cuba and Germany.
In this country, where a US military attack echoes more loudly perhaps than anywhere else in the world, protesters against the war are expressing themselves from Hanoi in the north to central Vietnam to Ho Chi Minh City to the Mekong Delta. At Nha Trang, a resonant place name in our old war, 7,000 people demonstrated yesterday against our new one. The chief sentiment is not support for Saddam Hussein but, in light of the Vietnamese experience with the American military, sympathy for the Iraqi people.
In Hanoi the government condemned the war as “a gross violation of the fundamental principles of international law, including the United Nations charter.” Such language is unexceptional in prosperous countries that look at the United States on an almost equal footing economically. In Vietnam, which desperately needs American trade and is urgently trying to attract US investment, the condemnation is an act of courage. Since the normalization of diplomatic relations less than ten years ago, the Vietnamese have worked hard to be friendly to an often indifferent America, and any criticism of the United States is generally muted. The war against Iraq threatens to unravel the meticulously rebuilt relationship.
I was at a meeting with Vietnamese officials of an NGO when the first American bombs were hitting Baghdad. It was a dark moment. The NGO administrators, all of whom are friendly with Americans in a variety of fields, shook their heads. “I can’t believe the American people are going along with this war,” one said, still generously wanting to absolve us of responsibility for our leaders. Another official, just old enough to remember the last part of the American war here, said simply and eloquently, “It makes me very sad to see the United States allowing itself to behave in the way of tyranny. It is never right to close off the possibilities of peaceful resolution when you yourself have not been threatened by the people you have chosen to attack. The danger, of course, is not only for Iraqis but for the world in the future, because when Bush ignores the UN and all the protests against his policy, he utilizes his authority to turn back the clock to the law of the jungle.”
If there is an American expat in Hanoi–outside the diplomatic community itself–who actually agrees with the new American war, I have not found this person in meetings and occasions that have brought me into close contact with dozens of US citizens. Lady Borton, an author and well known international affairs representative for the American Friends Service Committee, has lived here since the late 1960s and speaks fluent Vietnamese. She opposes the war herself, as she opposed the Vietnam War. “One consistent strain runs through the words of all the Vietnamese I see,” she told me. “It is pain and horror for the people of Iraq. The middle-aged and elders know. They’ve been there themselves. The young just say they can’t believe we’d do what we’re doing. A report today says we’re starting to plant mines in Iraq. Every week Vietnamese children are still being maimed by landmines buried thirty years ago. It never ends when you go down this path.”
Gerald Herman, an American businessman and entrepreneur who has lived in Vietnam for ten years, says that what is especially poignant about the Vietnamese is not their reaction to the war in Iraq but their sympathy for Americans after 9/11. “Every single Vietnamese I know, including two young men I had to fire from my company, got in touch then to offer condolences,” Herman said. “I expected at least one person to tell me, ‘Now you know what it feels like,’ but no one did. Knowing I was from New York, people were asking me if I had friends or relatives in the twin towers. It was remarkable, profound compassion. Now we’ve totally squandered that.”
Meanwhile, the US Embassy has sent out an advisory warning us all to “avoid crowds and demonstrations, keep a low profile”–which at least partly means don’t let your voice be heard if you happen to think this war is wrong. One feels safer here, less a target for a citizen of Vietnam, not to mention a terrorist, than in most cities in America. For the first time in my life I’m sorry to be on my way home.
At the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, where a small selection of brutalities from the Vietnam War are displayed, a Nebraskan wrote in the visitor’s book, “Please do not confuse the Bush Administration with the American people.” I wish I agreed. I’m not sure we should be let off that hook so easily, either by the overwhelmingly friendly Vietnamese people I have met here in the last three weeks or by ourselves, as each one of us considers our participatory role in what is happening while we revolve, in the fashion of ancient Rome, from a republic to an empire.
Peter Davis is an author and filmmaker who received an Academy Award for his Vietnam War documentary Hearts and Minds.
Katrina vanden Heuvel
A few hours after the United States launched its first missiles against Baghdad, I spoke to 400 students and faculty at Moscow’s largest university of commerce and economics. The mood in the packed hall was tense. My theme: the loyal opposition to war in America. The sharp questions came in rapid-fire sequence: Will this war destroy the United Nations? How can a democratically elected President wage an illegitimate war? Is America really a democracy? Why does the Bush Administration treat us like a province of the New American Empire?
These students are Russia’s westernized elite–the country’s future leaders of commerce and business. Yet their anger at America was palpable, and expressed most vividly in the antiwar resolution they had drafted and unanimously adopted earlier that morning.
“We demand an end to the war…. we demand the resignation of the Bush Administration, and the exile of George Bush and his family from the United States.” It continued, “George Bush and his team of aggressors should be brought before an international tribunal and charged with crimes against humanity.” The resolution was delivered by hand to Vladimir Putin that afternoon.
While Russians overwhelmingly oppose the war–a poll taken yesterday shows that 71 percent view the US’s actions as the greatest threat to world peace, 93 percent opposed the bombing of Iraq and positive opinion of the United States has fallen dramatically, from 68 percent to 28 percent in the last month–few Russians have taken to the streets to protest. On my way to the university, I saw what seemed to be the only demonstration in Moscow. Braving subzero temperatures, wind and snow, a small band of 500 people gathered across from the US Embassy waving banners and placards with slogans like–“Veto to War” and “USA–International Terrorist No. 1.” A small group of schoolchildren later joined the demonstrators and sang a song written for the occasion: America parasha, pobeda budet nasiia, or “America is trash, victory will be ours.”
Russia’s small public protests, compared with those in other world capitals, are a sign of people’s apathy and alienation. “In the past several years,” one of the organizers told me, “many have come to believe that street demonstrations are useless. They have done nothing to improve their lives, and most people believe the Kremlin doesn’t care about public opinion. It’s what we call ‘managed democracy.'” “After all,” he continued, “if people don’t go out to protest against Russia’s war in Chechnya, the cancer on our country’s soul, why should they protest against America’s war in Iraq?”
Another Consequence of Bush’s War
Angered by war, the Russian Parliament put off voting on the US-Russian Arms Control Treaty, which the US Senate ratified earlier this month. Several deputies told me that the treaty’s fate hinged on unfolding events in Iraq.
Bush’s Brezhnev Doctrine
There are various opinions in Russia’s media and among its political elite about the factors behind America’s “imperial” war against Iraq. But one of the most startling for an American draws a sharp parallel with the former Soviet Union’s behavior abroad. The Brezhnev Doctrine, as it was called from the Soviet invasion of Prague in 1968 until the rise of Gorbachev in 1985, asserted that countries in the Soviet orbit–primarily in Eastern Europe–had only “limited sovereignty,” and therefore that Moscow alone had the right to decide the nature of those countries’ political regimes. This was, it is pointed out here, an early version of Washington’s current doctrine of pre-emptive war and regime change, and thus the talk in Moscow about “Bush’s Brezhnev Doctrine.”
Katrina vanden Heuvel is editor of The Nation.
From the Philippines
When US and British forces crossed into Iraq at dawn on March 20, I was in transit from Damascus to the Philippines. At the Persian Gulf city of Dubai, the great hub of Middle Eastern air travel, I bid goodbye to Maha, a refugee from Iraq. She was on the same flight from Damascus, having fled Baghdad a month earlier, along with three other Iraqi families. She says she is lucky she has a husband, a trader, waiting for her in Dubai. They were convinced as early as January that Bush was determined to wage war on Iraq and she was scared. “I feel ashamed leaving,” she confesses. “But there’s no way we can resist. Our people have no arms. But my brother and sister, they’re staying, and they and their children will fight.”
Also at Dubai, while waiting for my connecting flight to the Philippines, I meet Maricon Vazquez, the chief nurse of one of the biggest hospitals in Kuwait, who is also heading for Manila. She considers herself lucky to be taking the first day of a three-week vacation at the very start of the war, since Kuwait is in the zone of conflict. One of the estimated 60,000 Filipino workers in Kuwait, she is worried about her colleagues at the hospital, one of those designated to receive wounded soldiers and civilians, since they have no protection against possible contamination by the victims of bacteriological warfare. She is hopeful that it will be a short war but worried that it will be a long one that could dislocate her and the millions of foreign workers who serve as the pillar of the petroleum-based regional economy.
At one of the airport lounges I meet Garzon, a Syrian businessman. His great fear is that Syria, a frontline Arab state against Israel whose ruling party shares the same Baath Arab socialist ideology as Iraq, is the next candidate for regime change. “They can always resort to the charge that we sponsor terrorist groups against Israel,” he tells me. “We don’t like Saddam,” he continues, “but we have good relations with Iraq. If they set up a new government in Iraq, then we’d be surrounded by Israel and pro-US regimes.”
I arrive in Manila late on D-Day to find the country divided between a furious antiwar movement and a government that is one of the United States’ staunchest allies. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo wastes no time declaring her support for the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq to “bring freedom to the Iraqi people.” Yet the government’s posture is not totally scripted by Washington. Government spokespersons fan out to tell the people that one of the main reasons the Philippines sides with the United States is that its construction firms and its workers will have a share in the “rebuilding” of Iraq. The antiwar forces, which stage daily protests at the US Embassy, cry shame, shame–people are dying in Iraq from the most blatant act of aggression in years, and you’re already talking about sharing in the booty!
Having been part of an “Asian Peace Mission” that went to Baghdad in an eleventh-hour effort to contribute to the creation of a critical mass that would avert the destruction of a nation and the United Nations, I participate in marathon television talk shows and marches. But seeing the blitz over Baghdad night after night on television, my thoughts keep returning to our encounter with the students of Baghdad University over a week ago.
It is cool and sunny when we set out for the campus on the morning of March 16. As it has been on previous days, the city appears to be going about its business in the usual fashion. Some sandbags have been placed on some streetcorners and in front of some government buildings, but this city is not on a war footing, at least not on the surface.
At the College of English it is most definitely springtime. Coeds are chattering cheerily and they smile as we pass. “We are intent on finishing the syllabus, war or no war,” says Professor Abdul Zaater Jawad. He tells us that during the Gulf War of 1991, he was discussing a doctoral dissertation with a student while American and British warplanes were bombing Baghdad. Students at a class on Shakespeare are discussing Romeo and Juliet when we interrupt them. No, they say, they don’t mind answering some questions from the Asian Peace Mission. One senses that alongside the pleasure of discovering the Bard is the same determination to carry on with life as usual. Yet the conversation immediately reveals that they know what lies ahead and have come to terms with it.
What do they think of George Bush? “He is like Tybalt, clumsy and ill-intentioned,” says a young woman in near perfect English, alluding to Romeo’s tormentor.
What do they think about Bush’s promise to liberate them? Another coed answers, “We’ve been invaded by many armies for thousands of years, and those who wanted to conquer us always said they wanted to liberate us.” What if war comes–how would they feel? Another says, “We may not be physically strong, but we have faith, and that is what will beat the Americans.” Several repeat this idea of faith in God overcoming the odds. As we leave, a young professor tells me, “I love teaching, but I will fight if the Americans come.”
These are not a programmed people. Saddam Hussein’s portrait may be everywhere, but these are not politically correct answers designed for the ears of regime officials. In fact, we have hardly encountered any programmed responses from anybody here in the last few days.
Youth and spring are a heady brew on this campus, and it is sadness that we all feel as we speed away. As one passes over one of the bridges spanning the Tigris River, one remembers the question posed by Dr. Jawad: “Why would today’s most powerful industrial country wish to destroy a land that gave birth to the world’s most ancient civilization?” It is a question that no one in our delegation can really answer. Control of the world’s second-biggest oil reserves is a convenient answer, but it is incomplete. Strategic reasons are important but it does not exhaust the reasons for war. A fundamentalism that grips the Bush clique is operative, too, but there is something more, and that is power that is in love with itself and seeking to express that deadly self-love.
An American journalist I meet at the press center says the people are carrying on as usual because they are in deep denial of the power that will soon be inflicted on them. I wish he had been with us when we visited the campus earlier in the day, to see the toughness beneath the surface of those young men and women of Baghdad University. Like most of the Iraqis we have met over the past few days, they are prepared for the worst, but they are determined not to make the prospect of the worst ruin their daily lives.
That brief interaction with young spirits now seems light-years away. Now the worst has come. Some of those eager new fans of Shakespeare will not see another spring. All will go through the hell of bombing and street-to-street fighting, disease and starvation. And for no other reason than the empire’s need to engage in a stupendous demonstration of its might.
Walden Bello is a professor of sociology and public administration at the University of the Philippines. He was in Baghdad March 14-17 as a member of the Asian Peace Mission, a delegation of parliamentarians and members of civil society from different countries of Asia.
The awful Anglo-American invasion of Iraq means that Jordan is now literally situated between two wars: To the west, the increasingly bloody Israeli-Palestinian confrontation is now well into its third year. To the east, indications are that it will be at least as long before peace and stability take hold in Iraq.
This war could not have come at a worse time for Jordan. Public opinion, much of which is of Palestinian origin and is constantly bombarded with images of Israel’s bloody counterinsurgency in the occupied territories, reached the boiling point well before Bush discovered Iraq. The Jordanian economy, suffering from the combined effects of UN sanctions on Iraq, the Palestinian intifada, 9/11 and the global recession, is in the doldrums. And late last year in the southern Jordanian city of Ma’an, armed confrontations between residents and security forces claimed a number of lives.
The dilemma for Jordan’s young king, Abdullah II, is acute. Whereas his late father, King Hussein, refused to join the coalition that confronted Iraq in 1991, the current monarch has concluded that in the post-9/11 world one does not risk incurring Washington’s wrath. But because he rules over a population that has come to detest the United States even more than Israel, cooperation has to be kept firmly out of the limelight. The result is that the extent of Jordan’s involvement is the subject of few facts, many rumors and an equal number of official denials. Earlier this week, for example, Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher went out of his way to strenuously deny reports that Israeli special forces were operating from Jordanian soil: “It has not happened, and could never happen.”
As the Jordanian government braces for popular demonstrations against the war, the security forces have taken control of the city’s streets. Demonstrations have effectively been banned; several university students who refused to heed the call were beaten to a pulp. Nevertheless, Jordanians now have an added reason to voice their anger: while the missile attack on Baghdad that inaugurated the war failed to decapitate the Iraqi leadership, it did dismember a Jordanian taxi driver who happened to be in the area.
The residual support for Saddam Hussein among some Jordanians does not begin to explain the intensity of feeling against Washington and its war. As one enraged Jordanian said, “This is not a war against Iraq, but against the entire Arab world to destroy it, control its oil, and make the West Bank safe for Ariel Sharon’s settlements.”
Others prefer to see this as “a war by the Christian fundamentalists in America and the Jewish fundamentalists in Tel Aviv against Islam.” “A few more days of shock and awe,” noted an observer, “and Osama bin Laden can uncork the proverbial champagne.” “The main problem Al Qaeda is going to face after this war,” predicted another, “is the competition.”
With a colonial legacy that has yet to be fully resolved, the occupation of Iraq strikes a particularly sensitive chord in the Arab world. So too do Washington’s ever more brazen double standards; as Baghdad was being saturated with high explosives, the Bush Administration allocated $9 billion in loan guarantees to Israel–which had requested only $8 billion.
Little wonder that noon prayers on Friday, March 21, were followed by unrest not only in Amman and its Palestinian refugee camps, but also once again in Ma’an. Little wonder that King Abdullah II has described this war as a “potential Armageddon.”
Mouin Rabbani is a Middle East analyst residing in Amman.
As I was driving home from work late Wednesday night, it became clear that the assault would begin within hours. On two radio stations the Home Front Command instructed the public to open their protective kits, offering tips on how to operate the gas masks and advising everyone to carry the masks at all times. Another station, which usually airs Hebrew pop music, broadcast the same instructions in Russian, English, French and Arabic, while people were requested to tune into a fourth station before going to sleep and to keep it on all night. This is the “silent station,” which broadcasts instructions only in times of emergency.
The following morning the Tel Aviv municipal airport was packed with families fleeing for Eilat. A friend called to report that only 35 percent of the pupils attended her son’s school in Ramat Gan, the city in which the Scud missiles fell in 1991. Yet she, like most of my acquaintances, did not prepare a sealed room, suggesting that alongside the general panic, people do not actually believe that Iraq will attack Israel.
Meanwhile, a group of fifty Ta’ayush activists–Arab-Jewish Partnership–gathered in front of the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, which was scheduled to discuss the expulsion of Palestinian cave dwellers from the South Hebron hills. Wearing their gas masks, the protesters declared that the real existential threats to Israel are the poisonous gases of racism and apartheid being employed by the government and settlers, not Saddam Hussein.
Indeed, the preparation for war has managed to eclipse the two major issues confronting Israel: the ongoing occupation and subjugation of the Palestinians and the internal economic crisis. Accordingly, the Israeli media hardly mentioned the death of American peace activist Rachel Corrie, who was run over four days ago by a military bulldozer while trying to prevent the destruction of a Palestinian home. The fact that per capita food consumption has declined by 30 percent in the Gaza Strip and that the population is experiencing severe malnutrition equivalent to levels found in poorer sub-Saharan countries (as recently reported in a Johns Hopkins University study) does not warrant even a short commentary by the warmongering media.
Neve Gordon teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University and can be reached at [email protected].
The pedicab driver stretched out in the passenger seat, his legs thrown over the bicycle seat, half-dozing and half-listening to the latest news updates in the hours after America began its missile strikes against Iraq. This image stuck in my mind while I walked through Beijing’s streets, because it seemed to illustrate China’s passive yet paradoxically vigilant attitude towards the unfolding war.
The words “Iraq” and “America” have been passing through their lips in recent weeks, but many Chinese don’t seem to have a specific opinion on the matter–until you listen closely to what they’re saying. “We don’t care about so many things. After living through the Cultural Revolution, we’ve learned not to interfere,” one middle-aged tea vendor said. Then he continued: “We’re not going to interfere in the matter, just as America shouldn’t be interfering in other countries’ business.” Indeed, he has made his point, albeit in the least confrontational way possible. Others were more blunt. “America is too hegemonic,” one cab driver said. “They’re trying to be the world’s policeman. I think a country should take care of their own affairs before managing others.”
Of course, one reason the Chinese haven’t been more vociferous is because of the country’s ban against protests–the government has had to balance its disapproval of the US-led war with attempts to cultivate its growing economic ties with America. Beijing students who requested permission to stage an antiwar rally were reportedly turned down. A group of academics staged a small antiwar effort when they presented a letter to the US Embassy in Beijing that stated, “The Bush Administration has failed to offer a clear casus belli, while offering on different occasions varying reasons for going to war, none of which stand up to close examination.” The ever-capitalist Shanghai protested in true consumer style: A couple hundred residents, a combination of foreigners and locals, showed up at the city’s busiest market wearing red one Sunday in late February to protest the war effort. “Because of the moral vacuum that exists in China, we tried to make things as nonconfrontational as possible,” says one organizer of the offbeat demonstration. “It was a very empowering experience.”
Jen Lin-Liu is an American journalist based in China who writes for The Chronicle of Higher Education and Newsweek International.
The gym is the last place to look for an impassioned discussion on global politics in Nigeria, a country that is presently preoccupied with gasoline scarcity, rising political and ethnic violence, and anxiety over the April general elections. But early this morning a fitness center in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, was transformed into a major venue for strongly expressed views.
The lone television set in the cramped gym was tuned to Sky News, a British cable news network, beaming footage of the bombardment that confirmed that the US-led war against Iraq had finally started. Dripping with sweat, this group of mostly middle-class fitness buffs gravitated toward the TV, working up the heat in the room. Except for a lone voice that was soon crowded out, the consensus was that there was no justification for this war.
“I don’t understand this war. This is American terrorism,” one of them said.
The war started at 3:30 AM Nigerian time. Caller after caller on the early morning call-in radio programs railed against America’s disdain for the rest of the world, her arrogance and her desperation for oil. From homes to buses to offices, the war upstaged Nigeria’s myriad problems as the topic of discussion. Most Nigerians are angry at the United States, even when they unabashedly covet the American way of life. Some are so angry they don’t want any news on the war. A leading politician asked that all the TV sets in his house be turned off.
But the Nigerian media continue to buzz with the story of the moment. Television stations flash updates. Radio disc jockeys rail against the war. While some newspapers hedged about the imminence of war, four national dailies delayed their presses by at least four hours to reflect the story this morning. Punch, This Day, the Guardian and Daily led with stories and pictures of the bombardment of Iraq. Comet, the only paper that carried an editorial on the war, only raises questions about Nigeria’s preparations for the possible effects of the war.
Though President Olusegun Obasanjo teamed up with President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal to write letters to President George W. Bush, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on the need to avert war, there has been no official response since the war began. Beyond the general feeling of anger and helplessness, there have been no street protests or rallies either.
However, that might not be for long. A text message being forwarded to Muslims through their mobile phones reads: “Tonight we all pray for our brothers and sisters in Iraq. May Allah help them in this war against America and Israel. Please forward to all Muslims.” In Nigeria, where religious feelings run deep, that might mean the beginning of another round of trouble.
Waziri Adio is a member of the editorial board of This Day, a Nigeria daily newspaper.
From Great Britain
Outside the House of Commons on Thursday evening a middle-aged woman held up a photograph of an Iraqi soldier reduced to a smudge of carbon but for his head and feet–an image from the last Gulf War. “He’s the same age as my son,” she said, almost in tears. “I put a lot into bringing up my son.” She’d come from Redbridge, a London suburb not known for its radicalism. “We’re not political animals,” the man with her confirmed. “But this comes from the heart. We’re being patronized by Tony Blair–how can we follow George Bush? I just feel utterly disgusted.”
Many of us expected the protests in Britain to die down once war had started and the media switched into we’re-backing-our-boys mode. Not a bit of it. Spontaneous demonstrations broke out across the country in response to the Stop the War Coalition’s call for a 12 o’clock walkout from work, school or college on the first day of the invasion.
In Leeds, protesters closed the main motorway; in Manchester several thousand young people blocked the city center. Medical staff left hospitals; town councillors and civil servants marched out of government offices, including the deputy prime minister’s. Many hundreds of kids converged on Westminster from London colleges and high schools, showing that the young are back in politics with a vengeance, high on that heady mix of joy at their own rebellion and horror at the war.
The huge demonstration in London on February 15 had a hopeful, generous, almost festive feeling. Now that Blair has gone to war against the will of half his party and most of the population, the mood has darkened and turned angrier. By Thursday evening scores of policemen stood shoulder to shoulder in Parliament Square to protect the people’s representatives from their constituents’ rage. Signs appealing to “Mr. Blair” had given way to chants of “Blair Out.” Insistent drumbeats built up tension; a man set fire to a black pirate flag with Bush’s face for a death’s head. Even if the war is over fast with minimal casualties, even if the Iraqi people hail the Americans and British as liberators and lead them to vast chemical arsenals, the feeling of betrayal will not easily dissipate.
When Blair appeared on television to announce the war’s beginning he looked haggard, almost desperate–a striking contrast to Bush’s smug belligerence, which BBC reporters noted with barely concealed contempt. Blair knew he was speaking to a deeply skeptical and wounded nation, asking us to trust him on a matter of the greatest possible import, which is in fact no longer in his hands. The so-called surgical strikes that began the attack on Iraq put yet another dent in the carefully cultivated illusion that Britain has some say in America’s enterprise. Questioned in the Commons, the Defense Secretary assured MPs that he had been in on the preparations; few were inclined to believe him, even when the BBC reported that the missiles had been launched from British submarines. (The BBC has also claimed repeatedly that Iraq has fired forbidden Scuds into Kuwait, though no one knows for sure yet what the missiles were.)
For all the familiar electronic wizardry wheeled out on TV to make death seem exciting, the invasion of Iraq feels very different from the last Gulf War, from Kosovo, or even Afghanistan. It’s not just the shimmer of tension created by vague threats of terrorist attack, or even the fact that Britain is acting against the will of Europe and the United Nations–in the words of one Scottish minister, that we are the invaders. It’s the knowledge that we’re all now on a ghost train driven by George Bush, and Blair has given up our right to pull the emergency cord.
Maria Margaronis is The Nation‘s London correspondent.
My neighbor, who like many Egyptians prefers not to see his name in print, asked me this morning about my nationality. “French?” he said hopefully. I told him American. He made a playful grimace. The US-led invasion of Iraq, he argued, could only be an attempt to take Arab oil-he couldn’t believe the problem was really Iraq’s weapons, because every day on television he saw progress in the inspections. He’s upset that his government is not doing anything to stop the war, but doesn’t know how to make his voice heard. “The people of Egypt are like this,” he said, choking his throat with his hand.
Few Egyptians have anything good to say about Saddam Hussein. President Hosni Mubarak, though nominally opposing regime change by force, has tried to deflect popular anger onto the Iraqi leader, declaring on television that Saddam must take full responsibility for the crisis. Nonetheless, the day the campaign against Iraq began several thousand protesters took over Tahrir Square in the center of the city to demonstrate against both the US war and their own government’s inaction. The rally might not have been much by global standards. In Egypt, however, martial law has been in force continuously for more than twenty years, and the usual street protest sees a few hundred activists literally surrounded by a phalanx of riot police so that they do not mix with the public.
Some of the more radical demonstrators, chanting “Burn down the embassy and throw out the ambassador,” tried to break through to the mammoth US diplomatic compound a few blocks away. They got to within a block of the building before being stopped by water cannon. For the most part, however, the protests were free of violence-organizers shouting “Peacefully! Peacefully!” blocked one flurry of stone-throwing by dashing in front of the riot police. Elsewhere, Islamists, Nasserite nationalists, leftists, Egyptian and expatriate students from the nearby American University in Cairo, government employees, street children and others marched and mingled. Development worker Adam Awny remembers nothing like it in Egypt. “It was fantastic, a tremendous spirit of people power, of taking control.”
Egypt’s protest movements have a way of flaring and dying. The opposition, while it can occasionally play upon discontent with the regime’s strategic alliance with the United States, has yet to find a way of exerting pressure to expand domestic freedoms. Nonetheless, the few Cairenes lucky enough to have been near Tahrir Square on the afternoon of March 20 got a sense of what an Egypt free of martial law could be like.
Steve Negus, who has worked as a journalist in Egypt since 1993, is the former editor of the Cairo Times.
When war erupted, millions of Indians switched channels from the Cricket World Cup, although their team was then winning the spectacular once-in-four-years event. This was eloquent testimony to Iraq’s importance for them. The war horrifies and revolts ordinary Indians: Iraqis are Third World people much like themselves, with similar tastes in music and food, who share a history of fighting colonialism, and who suffered sanctions after the 1991 war which Indians opposed.
There is a growing rift between the Indian government’s official policy and popular sentiment. For a month, the rightwing Hindu government has ducked parlimentary debate on Iraq–a fierce opposition demand. It has wriggled between saying no war without Security Council authorization, and (timidly) opposing “regime change” through external force. Occasionally, Prime Minister Vajpayee piously says there should be no war anywhere.
What shocks and angers Indians is their governemnt’s statements which place blame for war not the US, but on the Security Council, for not “harmonizing” its positions on Iraq. Once a major part of the Non-Aligned Movement, India has travelled a long distance at the governmental level. The public hasn’t. It instinctively abhors hints of empire and double standards on weapons of mass destruction.
Over 85 percent of Indians polled oppose a UN-unauthorized war on Iraq. On February 15, March 15 and March 20, there were spirited (and underreported) protests in over Indian 100 cities, and a very impressive all-women demonstration. And antiwar campaigns are growing.
The war’s backlash will be strong in India’s neighborhood–especially Pakistan and Afghanistan, where fundamentalists will try to harness anti-US sentiments. Unless secular antiwar opposition grows, fundamentalists could hijack the issue. That will mean more trouble in this strife-torn, and now nuclear, region.
Praful Bidwai is a New Delhi-based political analyst, a columnist with twenty-five Indian newspapers and a peace activist.
From the United States
New York City
“If you won’t stop traffic, you won’t stop the war,” shouted a man in Times Square, urging protesters to defy the many stone-faced cops who were herding them onto the sidewalk. Despite a cold, bone-drenching rain, and a maze of police barricades some 5,000 gathered in New York City to protest the war on Iraq on its first official day. Twenty-one were arrested.
Similar protests took place all over the United States. (Students at more than 150 high schools, colleges and universities are walked out of classes to join protests Thursday and Friday.) Like the demonstration in Times Square, many reflected the conviction of activists that the reality of war called for more confrontational tactics, especially nonviolent civil disobedience. Peace activists in Washington, DC, and San Francisco blocked bridges and traffic; protesters paralyzed San Francisco’s downtown as police arrested more than 1,000 demonstrators. Over the next few days, activists in more than thirty cities will be breaking the law in peaceful protest, staging actions at the offices of US senators, federal buildings, military recruiting centers and even army bases. “People have used their words,” says Gordon Clark of Iraq Pledge of Resistance. “Now they’re putting their bodies on the line.”
But traditional peace movement tactics remain widespead, too. Hundreds of rallies and candlelight vigils were held Thursday in Los Angeles and the Twin Cities, as well as small towns and cities in Utah, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Hawaii, Nebraska, Georgia, New Hampshire and elsewhere. “The beginning of the war increases the urgency of our work,” says Bill Fletcher, co-chair of United for Peace and Justice, which issued a call for emergency protests as soon as the US invasion began. “People are dying now.”
While editorial pages abandoned misgivings about the war to focus concern, in the words of the New York Times, on “the welfare of those…who will be flinging themselves into the Iraqi desert,” many Americans appeared to be as determined as ever to stop the Bush Administration. An Internet petition circulated by MoveOn.org received 300,000 signatures in a single day, a sign that antiwar sentiment remains firm. That shows the “maturity” of the movement, MoveOn.org organizer Eli Pariser says. “People understand that you don’t win right away.”
Liza Featherstone is a journalist based in New York City.
Following the first attack at 3 AM French time, the morning papers were ready with generic “War Is Here” headlines, accompanied by full-page images of dark skies. During the day, France was reminded in the media by President Chirac that peaceful disarmament could have been accomplished, and that, “whatever the duration of the war, the long-term consequences would be heavy,” while Minister of Foreign Affairs Dominique de Villepin insisted that the situation in Israel and Palestine represented a greater threat to Middle East peace than Iraq, one that needed to be resolved with assured security for Israel and justice for the Palestinians.
Students at my son’s lycée went through with their planned walkouts, joining with students from across Paris in spontaneous demonstrations. At a company where I tutor a sales executive in English, it was clear when I arrived that the receptionist had been crying. “I know what it’s like to be bombed,” she said, referring to her experience in Belgrade. “I can’t believe they continue this insanity.” My student said she was unable to concentrate on selling handbags. “I don’t know a single person who believes in this war,” she said.
Outside, heavy police guards were protecting the US Embassy and barricaded consulate, normally heavy traffic was halted within a 500-meter radius and an eerie silence hung over normally congested streets. Traditionally off-limits to demonstrations because of its proximity to the US Embassy, the immense Place de la Concorde began filling up with 100,000 protesters by 6:30 PM. Students arrived with a loudspeaker playing “Imagine” and “Stop the War.” Members of “Americans in France Against the War on Iraq” attached posters to their bodies on which were printed a drawing of George W. Bush and the words “Wanted: War Criminal.”
Many non-affiliated newcomers were among those at the demonstration. “I heard it announced on Europe 1 Radio,” one Frenchman said. “I don’t believe the argument about weapons of mass destruction,” said another. “Everyone knows they want to control the oil.” “We really thought Chirac would eventually follow Bush to war,” said an experienced activist. “We never liked the man but now he deserves credit.”
Mark Cramer is the author of FunkyTowns USA and Culture Shock! Bolivia. He lives in France.
Hundreds of thousands of people rallied in Spain’s capital on March 20 to protest the American-led war in Iraq and their country’s role in it. The protesters were a cross-section of the city’s population: college students, retirees and middle-aged couples with children, all chanting “No a la Guerra!”
“We think our president has sold out the country to the Americans,” said Susanna Polo, a 30-year-old economist.
President José María Aznar’s address to the nation on the first day of the war echoed the same themes as President George W. Bush, including the “liberation of the Iraqi people” from the regime of Saddam Hussein. But polls over the past few weeks show 80 percent of Spaniards opposed to the war.
For some Spaniards at the rally at the Puerta del Sol who had lived under the Franco dictatorship for nearly forty years, Aznar’s rhetoric of liberation rang hollow. “I think if we had been bombed under Franco, we would be against the bombs,” said Carlos Martin, a 67-year-old translator of Italian literature. “I can’t imagine how the Iraqi people are feeling now. They were bombed in 1991, years ago, then they had twelve years of horrible sanctions, and now they are being bombed again. I can’t imagine they will look at the Americans as liberators.”
Pilar Jimenez, a 45-year-old civil servant, wondered why there was not more resistance to the war in the United States. “I don’t understand how the American people are not against this war.”
“I feel very ashamed of my government because I thought this was possible from the American government but not from the British and Spanish ones,” said Sylvia Garcia, a 24-year-old journalism student at Complutense University. She said the students hoped to shut down the university until the war ended.
Whether Aznar’s participation in the war will affect his ruling Popular Party in the elections is unclear, said Mariano Aguirre, director of the Peace Research Center, a liberal Madrid think tank. “This is not an anti-American country, but in the last two years many people reject the Bush government policy and regret that Aznar is so uncritical of the Bush government,” said Aguirre.
Sam Loewenberg is a writer based in Madrid.
Daniel Swift and Turi Munthe
Cuba does two things: anti-imperialism and cigars. Saddam had his revolution in 1979, twenty years after Cuba’s, and since then he’s been kept in presidential cigars by the man everyone here simply calls “Fidel.” In Granma, the state paper, named after the boat Fidel used to return to Cuba from exile, the war on Iraq is “La Agresion Yanki Contra Iraq.” This morning’s Juventud Rebelde leads “Bush comenzo la masacre.” If the enemy of my enemy is my friend, Cuba and Iraq are natural allies.
In theory, but not in the streets. In La Bodeguita del Medio, home of Hemingway’s Mojitos, the old men are still singing the old songs about old Havana. We asked the hookers, the cigar sellers, the waiters in white linen, and the policemen in their felt caps what they thought about the war. In most cases they asked us back: “What war?”
Havana is an island, and if they’re talking about a war, they’re still talking about La Revolucíon. In El Patio, the bar opposite the Catedral San Cristobal, there’s a man who pops his eyeball out for tourists. We asked him what he thought of the war. He said, “Malo, muy malo.” Why? The Americans want to own it all.” All of what? “Cuba.” There are Americans too, and they’re not here to make a stand. Wit from LA came “to experience not to judge.” He’s chasing Che, and a Norwegian girl he met in his hotel pool last night.
Fifteen thousand antiwar protesters are expected at the US embassy tomorrow morning at eight. We asked Maria, a journalist at Granma, why and what they’re protesting. She couldn’t tell us; “The walls have ears,” she said. We were sitting in an open square, a hundred yards from any wall.
Daniel Swift is working on a PhD at Columbia University and writes regularly for the Times Literary Supplement in London and al-Ahram Weekly in Cairo. Turi Munthe is a freelance writer whose work appears in Al-Ahram, The Economist, The Spectator and elsewhere.
I came across a sign the other day, inelegantly scrawled on cardboard and stuck to a telephone pole. It read: “Fuck Bush.” This was the day the United States announced there would be no second UN Security Council resolution. The curt message expressed more than Germany’s overwhelming rejection of the American President’s bullying of his allies and Washington’s rationale for war with Iraq. It conveyed Germany’s painful frustration at being completely powerless to dissuade its transatlantic ally or, more modestly, even its new Central European neighbors from choosing the path of war.
In Spain and Great Britain hundreds of thousands, even millions take to the streets protesting their leaderships’ prowar stances. In contrast, the newly reawakened German peace movement seems sunk in resignation, an unispired shadow of the protests that gripped West Germany in the early 1980s. One glaring problem, not faced by British and Spanish activists, is that the peace lobby here has nobody concrete to protest against, except the disembodied figure of George W., who they know isn’t listening.
In Germany, not a single politician from one of the five major parties, a major intellectual, entertainment figure or sports star openly backed military action against Iraq without a UN resolution. (The opposition Christian Democrats blame the left-center leadership for blocking a US-led resolution and groused afterwards that Germany’s rightful place is on the side of the war-makers, not on the sidelines.) the city of Berlin even turned a blind eye as Greenpeace activists scaled the Brandenburg Gate and hung a banner from its hallowed columns.
Early last summer, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder ruled out German participation in an Iraq war with or without a UN resolution, and, in a rare display of tenacity on a matter of principle, has refused since to back down. The insignificance of Germany’s “Nein!” was rubbed in its face when the US repeatedly criticized Paris, as if Berlin didn’t exist. Germans would have relished nothing more than being branded “Sauerkraut-eating surrender monkeys.”
One vibrant exception in the German peace movement is “Amis Against the War,” a group of American dissenters living in Berlin, who staged a forty-eight hour day-and-night “Filibuster for Peace” at the Brandenburg Gate. Braving raw cold nights, they managed to get quite a bit of German press–and a fair share of smirks too. The unilateralist, war-mongering USA of the Bushes and the Reagans is one many Germans gladly latch on to when thinking about Americans. A bumbling, stumbling George Bush fits the sterotype so much better than did Clinton. The fact that the US has a left at all is either unknown to Germans or is either unknown to Germans or benignly dismissed.
Another unexpected bright spot is the country’s young generation, which for the first time in decades is displaying an interest in the political world. The day bombs began to fall on Iraq–a school day, God forbid– 50,000 high school pupils showed up on Berlin’s Alexanderplatz in full demo-regalia to reinforce the 20,000 adult protesters already there. One sign read: “We aren’t allowed to compare Bush to Hitler. Too bad!” The leftist daily Die Tageszeitung wrote: “Are these the same kids that sociologists routinely lambast as MTV-damaged illiterates?” Presumably the troupes of 12- and 13-year-old girls with “Make Love, Not War” painted on their faces had parental permission. The school authorities however minced no words that truancy was punishable and next time they weren’t turning the other cheek. But at least the kids are polite. One young man carried a sign reading: “Buck Fush.”
Paul Hockenos, a journalist in Berlin, is the author of Free to Hate: The Rise of the Right in Post-Communist Eastern Europe (Routledge).