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August 30, 2004

What Should the Protesters Be Saying?

In the first day of protests at the Republican National Convention, Sunday's UFPJ-led march can be deemed a success in terms of its numbers. And there was little video of violence to give the Bush spin machine ammunition. About the only serious incidence of violence came in an act of juvenalia worthy of a high school football dispute, when the Black Mask group thought it clever to dissumulate smoke bombs in their cardboard picket handles and set fire to a paper-mache dragon with one of them. As police were arresting the smoke-bomber, the rowdier types began throwing police barriers at the cops. The result of all this is that, allegedly because a cop was injured, nine of the protestors find themselves chared with felony assault, a rather heavy charge in such a matter. Serious prison terms may be in their futures. Thus, the smoke bombs wound up burning those who ignited them, and time and energy and money that should go into organizing work will now be diverted to a legal defense of the incautious pranksters--more proof of the kind of counterproductive results when straying from the path of rigorous nonviolence. 'Twas ever thus...
But in terms of message, the protest was too scattershot to be effective. Very little except sentiments antipathetic to the president of a very general nature came through on the tube. The anti-war movement needs to do some serious thinking about what its message should be--a message that must be predicated on analysis grounded in reality--and how that message should be conveyed.
One bit of misguidance for the antiwar movement has come from a surprising source. Naomi Klein, whom I've always taken for a smart cookie, offered up the idiotic slogan "Bring Najaf to New York," in a terribly misguided column in The Nation that read like a defense, or at least a justification, of Muqtada al-Sadr. My friend and colleague Marc Cooper dissected Naomi's column on his blog. While I may not agree with every single bit of Marc's language and formulations, he is certainly on the right track (check out the must-read documents from the Iraqi left on Muqtada al -Sadr which Marc quotes extensively).
It is useful to remember that the deeply flawed logic of "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" motored US policy in the Cold War, driving it to embrace all manner of repressive regimes and dictators from Franco to Pinochet to Suharto. That's why it's sad to see Klein engage in the same sort of thinking in her column justifying the depradations of the so-called "Mahdi Army" as somehow expressing the desire of genuine Iraqi democrats. Muqtada al-Sadr is a sanguineous religious fanatic, whose thuggish followers engage in the slaughter of the innocents. They have killed more Iraqi civilians in their guerilla campaign against American occupation than they have occupiers.
Back in November 2002, many months before the invasion of Iraq, the Campaign for Peace and Democracy (an organization I have long supported) launched an appeal--which I and many other antiwar intellectuals, artists, and agitators signed--entitled, "We Oppose Both Saddam Hussein and the U.S. War on Iraq: A call for a new, democratic U.S. foreign policy." The appeal concluded by saying: "Ordinary Iraqis, and people everywhere, need to know that there is another America, made up of those who both recognize the urgent need for democratic change in the Middle East and reject our government's militaristic and imperial foreign policy. By signing this statement we declare our intention to work for a new democratic U.S. foreign policy. That means helping to rein in the war-makers and building the most powerful antiwar movement possible, and at the same time forging links of solidarity and concrete support for democratic forces in Iraq and throughout the Middle East."
That is a principle which is more than ever relevant today, at a time when the genuinely democratic forces in Iraq are caught in pincer between the U.S. puppet government under the thug Alawi--which has been cavalier in suspending fundamental liberties and imposing censorship at gunpoint--and sectarian warlords like the odious religious primitive Muqtada al-Sadr. As a gay man, I am particularly aware of the fate that would await people like me under al-Sadr's interpretation of the sharia if he ever came to power. The heroic blogger Salaam Pax, a gay Iraqi whose dispatches up to, during, and since the war helped the world feel and understand what was happening in Iraq, finds al-Sadr rather bloodthirsty (so do most of the other bloggers he lists on his blogroll). So, too, do the activists of the fledgling independent Iraqi labor movement, the Iraqi Federation of Workers' Trade Unions (IFTU), whose website recounts the efforts of the government to undermine and stifle it on the one hand, and the threat to it and other truly democratic forces by al-Sadr and others. Says the IFTU: "Fascist type forces and certain islamist fundamentalist are continuing their criminal acts and their violence against ordinary Iraqi civilians, workers and the unemployed. The aim of these anti-democratic forces is to stop the democratic process-taking place now in Iraq."
Creating a broadbased oppositionist American politics requires speaking in an American idiom, not in thoughtlessly knee-jerk tier-mondiste slogans. Instead of inciting the anti-war movement to "Bring Najaf to New York"--which many Americans in the heartland who are uneasy about the occupation of Iraq would interpret as bringing sectarian religious violence to New York--anti-war intellectuals like Naomi ought to join in insisting the movement embrace and support the democratic victims of both al-Sadr and the Alawi government, like the IFTU. We should be encouraging the strengthening of Iraq's fragile civil and secular society and its fledgling institutions, which the al-Sadrs and the other sanguineous fakirs of this benighted country would strangle in their cradle. Just because al-Sadr opposes the U.S. occupation, as we do, is no reason to embrace him indiscriminately, for any enemy of democracy in Iraq, whether a Republican president or an ayatollah, should be our enemy too.

Posted by Direland at 12:32 PM | Permalink


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Posted by: online medicines | Jul 28, 2008 8:09:18 AM

Good article. The left has to take a stand against idiocy like this if it ever hopes to have anything approaching relevancy in the America between California and New York.

Posted by: Sean | Sep 9, 2004 9:47:22 PM

I recall that Naomi Klein has actually spent some time in Iraq lately and may, as a consequence, be slightly better informed about the situation there than Cooper, Hitchens et al who are more than ready to attack her piece in the Nation. I think the title is unfortunate but the sentiment, that Iraq and what's actually going on there today is clearly off the national radar (both in the country and at the RNC ), is hard to disagree with. One might not accept her suggestion that Al Sadr is merely reacting in order to defend Najaf's holy sites - but to suggest that she's just an apologist for fundamentalist terror is to misread her words, in my opinion.

Posted by: garthwest | Sep 9, 2004 1:47:51 PM

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