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Commentary ::
Is the Anti War Movement pro Resistance?
13 Feb 2004
Modified: 05:09:35 PM
This article was written by Palestinian activist Amer Jubran, co-founder of the New England Committee to Defend Palestine, and recent target of Homeland Security for his work in defense of his people's rights. Mr. Jubran is currently in Jordan, as a result of Homeland Security's attacks on his political work. His article examines the impact of the U.S. anti war movement's tactics on its ability to prevent the U.S. government from implementing its war agenda.
February 4, 2004

At this point, it is a waste of time to discuss the perfidy of the US
government. It is established beyond doubt that Bush, like presidents before
him,
represents the interests of a prosperous war industry. What is worth
researching, though, is the methods by which the US managed to achieve its
vast criminal
empire. Such research needs not focus on the well-known economic and
military machinery and its political consequences, but rather on the
unconventional
and secret strategies employed by the US to encircle and strangle its
prospective targets. These strategies include client regimes, large-scale
media propaganda,
and co-opting opponents of the system. One such opponent is the United
States "antiwar movement."

As one administration after another wages war with impunity, culminating
with Bush ignoring 10 million antiwar protesters on February 15, 2003, any
hope
one might have that this movement could bring change has become wishful
thinking. In order to bring the US war machine to a halt, insights are
needed into
why the antiwar movement has not been effective. This must include an
examination of the leadership, culture, theoretical and practical goals,
mission,
and strategies of the movement as it stands today.

During the Vietnam era, the US government spent a great deal of resources on
researching the movement and its impact. It responded to the movement with
imprisonment, harassment, and assassination of leaders. An entire system of
social rewards was developed to buy people off. The government's most
effective
strategy, however, was its choosing to contain the opposition rather than
attempt to eradicate it. It was by this means that a "loyal opposition" was
created
- an opposition which the government could manipulate and control, allowing
it enough power to reach a large segment the population, and to disseminate
a message of change, but withholding the power necessary for such change to
be in any way implemented.

In the Vietnam era many realized the government could not be trusted. The
pretense of a democracy in which two parties struggled against each other to
keep
the USA honest would no longer work. Elite planners understood that
non-governmental organizations could do what the Democrats had formerly
done. That
is, they could push for reform of policies set by Republicans, and their
free expression of political frustration could be promoted and used as a
sign
of a healthy, confident democracy. Such organizations could thus continue
work vital to the government's longevity, absorbing the opposition in the
name
of reform, and the Democrats and Republicans could more openly merge forces.

After thirty years under this system the movement has established its right
to freedom of expression, and not much else. The focus has changed from
demands
for changes in government policy to just having the right to express those
demands.

Unlike the 60's, when antiwar protesters were attacked by dogs, sticks, and
water hoses, protesters today are accompanied by police motorcades. The
government
issues rally permits, marching permits, sound permits, and vending permits.
Some consider it a victory just to obtain a permit to protest. This reflects
how demoralized the antiwar movement has become. Of course, once a protest
is permitted, it will then be subjected to massive police supervision, as we
have all seen.

For some whites and excluded minorities such as Natives, Blacks, Arabs,
Latinos, and others whose political tone was too radical, the US developed
more
serious measures. The strategy was to hit these groups hard, away from
public view. A large number of those who could leave choose to do so, and
work within
the system. Some whites saw the double standard and this made them sensitive
about their privilege but paralyzed in their ability to take initiatives.
Naturally, the minorities reacted with contempt toward whites. Part of the
antiwar movement was thus divided, and thus conquered

"Give Peace A Chance"

Today in the US, there are many groupings in the movement. The biggest two
differ in their political positions and tone, but are comparable in their
behavior.
One takes the position of reforming the system by appealing to the
president, government, Congress, and voters. During the Gulf War of 1991,
this group
demanded the US "let the sanctions work." Similarly, leading up to the
occupation of Iraq in 2003, it said, "let the inspections work." No matter
what
the outrage, this bloc's song is "Give peace a chance."

The moral base for this bloc is "peace" - an abstract goal that no one
disagrees with but which lacks critical definition. It does not seek to
address
root causes - the fundamental need for justice as a requisite for peace,
and the immediate necessity of stopping the US war machine in order to
obtain
that justice. Instead, it claims to be objective, to see the light at the
end of the tunnel, and blames bad leaders on both sides - a US president
and
a third world tyrant, Bush and Saddam, Sharon and Arafat - as if both sides
were equal.

The dominant philosophy in this bloc is pacifism - at any cost. Not only
does this ensure zero risk to themselves in confrontations with the
authorities,
it leads them to condemn the resistance even of those being oppressed. Only
if the victims of the US are purely oppressed and do not fight back does
this
bloc advocate for them. It joins with the US government in labeling
resistance movements as "terrorist."

The most troubling area in this bloc's politics is its position on
Palestine -- its complete failure to understand the long history of racism,
killing,
displacement, and torture used against Palestinians, and to understand the
Palestinians' commonality with other people around the world who have been
invaded
and dispossessed. Its position on Palestine is not very far from the
official public position of the United States, Israel, and the Arab client
regimes.
The leadership of this bloc accepts only "good Palestinians" as activists in
their movement. A good Palestinian is one who accepts their vision of peace
between what it contends are two populations -- Israelis and Palestinians --
competing for equal rights. History is thus erased. The oppressor is put
on an equal footing with the oppressed. Worse, the Israeli aggressor is
treated as the victim.

This bloc's leadership is composed mainly of white liberals, and is heavily
infiltrated by Zionists. It draws its constituencies from left democrats,
churches,
academics, and some students. Normally, the constituencies are loyal.
Members are steady in their numbers and contributions.

"Bring the Troops Home Now"

Criticism of the second bloc is more important than of the first. The first
practically announces itself as a loyal opposition. The second does not --
its
opposition is more formidable.

The second bloc takes a strong stand against US imperialism but does so on
the basis of the material self-interest of another abstraction-the working
class.
With this group, the needs of working people at home take priority over
support for resistance in countries under US attack. Instead of spending
money
on war, this group says, money should be spent on providing jobs, education,
and health care. Their priority demand, "Bring the troops home now," comes
close to the mainstream's "Support the troops," and is a betrayal of those
people in other nations whom "the troops" are busy shooting at, bombing, and
colonizing.

This group rightly points out the existence of an "economic draft" but does
not grapple with the fact that poor and minority people who have been taken
in by the economic draft are capable of moral choice, did not have to join,
and are just as guilty of the crimes of imperialism as George Bush if they
pull the trigger. Also not recognized is that many of the "troops" bring
with them the prevalent US diseases of ignorance and racism, and fight
because
they believe in what they are doing. A significant number are not
minorities. Some come from military families. The best reason for wanting
these particular
soldiers to come "home" is to stop them from killing people. To appeal for
their return on the basis of an injustice done to them twists both logic and
morality. Yet more ink will be spent on one GI resister in this bloc's
newspapers and leaflets than on a thousand Iraqi resisters who gave their
lives
confronting Uncle Sam. Indeed, more ink will be spent on the need for
domestic health care and education and decent jobs in the relatively wealthy
US than
on the right of Iraqis or Palestinians just to live.

It is important for any movement's leadership to take a position on issues.
Constituencies need clear analysis in order to understand world events and
mobilize
in response to them. However, clear, strong positions are of no use if an
organization's main goal is to build numbers. Building numbers means slogans
with broad appeal and minimum controversy which generate the largest
possible protests. The goal becomes flexing political muscle and self-
promotion which,
in turn, establish the power of an organization, and give it credibility in
negotiations. The negotiations are carried out on two tracks.

o The first track is with the US government

When concerns about permits, collecting funds, and event promotion become
more important than changing a brutal system, the movement is in trouble.
After
the dramatic protests of Seattle and Quebec City, the government became more
serious about granting permits to protest. It asserted its right to control
when, how, and where protesting could take place. Lengthy negotiations with
protest organizers became necessary. Concessions were required. The result
was a long stream of non-violent, peaceful, and inconsequential protests in
several years of some of the most blatant military and economic violence the
world has ever seen.

The protest against the World Economic Forum in New York City in the winter
of 2002 provides an example. The authorities cleared all protests from
twenty
city blocks around where the forum was taking place, except for the area of
the official protest. Protesters who wanted to get to the designated area
were
allowed to do so only through numerous and arbitrary police barricades. They
were then corralled into narrow pens along the street, block after block,
standing for hours in miserable, cold weather. The only action was speeches
and chanting. If anyone wished to break away and march to the Waldorf
Astoria,
where the forum was being held, they had to go through the security marshals
of the protest organizers before getting to the police lines. At the end of
the day, the statement came from the stage: "Go home in small groups; we
have won today by showing the ruling class that the movement is strong and
present."
In fact, the ruling class only learned that the movement is willing to sit
in pens and police itself all day long, and mount no challenge whatsoever to
the fat capitalists assembled in the forum.

o The second track of negotiations is with the liberal "peace" bloc of the
antiwar movement.

Using slogans to recruit and build numbers is an act of sectarianism.
Sectarian attitudes focus on recognition. Milder politics lead to greater
numbers
and resources. The second bloc wants to tap into these resources, but also
wants to be recognized as dominant in the movement. An ideal strategy is
building
a principled position and allowing people time to discover its consistency
and clarity. But overcoming differences in political opinions with the other
bloc requires a compromise. At this point, language is made to serve both
sides of an issue. For example, demands like "Free Palestine . . .Victory to
Palestine . . . Long live the Intifada" and "Stop US Imperialism" become
"End the Occupation" and "Support the troops--bring them home."

With time, the importance of such issues as Palestinian and Iraqi resistance
could be brought to the weaker bloc, but such effort would meet with
decisive
opposition from Zionists both within and outside the movement who are in a
position to dictate the political agenda. To maintain numbers, popularity,
power,
and financial backing, the anti-imperialist bloc is forced to sacrifice
principles and make deals. Sometimes, these deals require dropping an issue
or,
worse, presenting it diluted. The blood and suffering of victims of US
imperialism are thus used to serve the purposes of power politics.

Another critical problem is this bloc's readiness to adjust its agenda to
its sources of funding, making such decisions without the knowledge of its
wider
constituency. For example, funding from the Muslim clergy shifted the focus
of the April 2002 demonstration to Palestine, a focus which was certainly
correct,
but which should not have depended on money. On October 25, 2003, funding
from the liberal donors of the Vanguard organization resulted in Palestine
being
dropped from a large west coast antiwar protest. Because of funds pouring in
from Vanguard, key organizers who had once been in support of Palestine
attempted
to veto a speaker for the Palestinian resistance from addressing the San
Francisco audience. However, they did allow the Democrats to speak on the
stage
that day.

Although this bloc is a coalition, decisions on strategy and events are made
by only a few individuals. A central committee selects people it deems
appropriate
to represent various causes. These people are often limited to describing
first hand how the US government made their lives miserable, leaving
political
analysis to the central leadership. Furthermore, if the representative
criticizes a stand, or how an event is handled, regardless if it was right
or wrong,
this individual will be iced. Instead of healthy debate, critics are
condemned.

The second bloc has difficulty maintaining loyal members and allies. That is
why it doesn't grow. Unlike the pacifists and reformists of the first bloc,
the constituency of the second bloc is made up of radicals angry at
injustice. These people possess the best qualities of revolutionaries --
bravery, political
sophistication, and a willingness to sacrifice. Sadly, they find themselves
sucked in by something that talks revolution, but doesn't deliver. As a
result,
radicals either lose interest or disperse into smaller groups with smaller
resources and try to avoid sectarian conflict with the larger bloc. They are
miles ahead of the first bloc in seeking to resist, but they are halted and
slowed down.

Both blocs differ in their politics, but have like strategies. During a
crisis, they both call for a stand and make plans for a massive protest.
Inevitably,
that protest falls on a Saturday. A protest in a public park on a Saturday
in Washington, D.C. might maximize the numbers of those who attend, but it
does
nothing to interfere with business as usual. The government is away for the
weekend. Why can't a day be chosen when someone is there to listen, or when
the White House or Congress is about to decide on a matter important to the
movement? When Turkey's Parliament was deciding if it should join the US in
invading Iraq, hundreds of thousands opposing the war surrounded the
building and threatened violence if the resolution passed. The result was
defeat of
the resolution and Turkey staying out of the war.

Both blocs of the antiwar movement take protest only so far as political
rallies with a stage and speakers, followed by a permitted "march." Would
the coalition
proceed if a permit were rejected? Anarchists' who protest without permits
and who do interrupt business as usual, are denounced by some in the antiwar
movement. Instead of being viewed as a wing in the movement that counters
the inertia of the pacifists, they are left to deal with police brutality
alone.
This makes them distrust the rest of the antiwar movement. Is there anyone
in the US antiwar movement who resists the US government as fighters in
Vietnam,
Columbia, Iraq, and Palestine have done? Is there an underground that has
recognized the futility of peaceful protest and mobilized to directly stop
US
war and aggression? In the current movement, anarchists have gone further
along these lines than anyone else, but no one has gone far.

Both blocs are reactive to whatever the US government does. They wait for
Washington to make the decisions. A clear strategy of taking initiatives and
putting
the government on the defensive is absent.

Every movement likes to brag about its victories and achievements. Here is a
short list of what the US has done since Vietnam:

--attacked and started the war in Afghanistan 1980
--attacked Iran 1980
--pushed Iraq to attack Iran 1980
--attacked Central America 1980's
--attacked Lebanon 1983
--invaded Grenada 1983
--attacked Libya 1986
--attacked Iran 1986
--invaded Panama 1989
--attacked Iraq 1991
--invaded Somalia 1993
--attacked Yugoslavia 1999
--attacked Afghanistan 2001
--attacked Iraq again 2003

As well, the US continues to maintain Israeli oppression of Palestine, it
continues to wage war against Colombia using a phony war on drugs as a
pretext,
it continues to defy international treaties regarding war crimes, it
continues to refuse to submit to an international court of law, it continues
to steal
oil from the Arab world, and it continues to support the dictatorships of
its many client regimes. At home it has created the police- state Department
of Homeland Security, the Patriot Act, the Border Security Act, and the
world's largest prison population.

Where is the list of achievements and victories of the antiwar movement?

This work is in the public domain