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Against which war? And which movement?

On the "Stop the war" demonstration on 28 September

The last Saturday in September saw the biggest peace demonstration in Britain for 20 years, no matter if 150,000 (according to the police) or 400,000 (according to the Stop the War Coalition) people marched through London. So far, so good, but I have to admit that I felt some out of place at this demonstration, and I only want to raise two question here, which need to be addressed by the British peace movement (whoever that is), and the British" left" in general.

Against which war?

The demonstration had two main slogans: Stop the war on Iraq, and Freedom for Palestine. I'm not sure it was very wise to mix these two issues, although certainly there are some links. However, at the demonstration it often felt like a demonstration against the war on Iraq, and in favour of the Palestinian war for independence. There was no principled anti-war position (bad enough), and even worse were some of the banners and speeches, which in their essence questioned the right of Israel to exist - to put it mildly.
Before I went to the demonstration, I had a look at the website of the Muslim Federation of Britain - co-organiser of the demonstration. What I discovered there was that Israel was always written in quotation marks - "Israel" - a method used by German conservative papers before 1989 to show that the "GDR" - the so-called socialist eastern Germany - didn't have a right to exist.
At the demonstration there were banners calling for solidarity with the Intifadah, and pictures of victims of Israeli military action were displayed - but I couldn't see a single picture of an Israeli victim of a suicide bombing. It is one thing to support people struggle against oppression - and there is no doubt that the Israeli occupation is a form of oppression - but it is quite another thing to support murder - even if the oppressed murder their "oppressors" - only that the victims of suicide bombings rarely are directly involved in the oppression, or might even have been involved in opposing it within Israel.
Completely out of place were the many comparisons of Sharon and the occupation with Hitler and the Nazi regime. If the Nazi regime would have acted similar to Israel, then there wouldn't have been a holocaust, which left 6 million Jews dead - a coordinated extermination of a people, using industrial means. What Israel does in the Occupied Territories is a brutal occupation regime - but far away from genocide or ethnic cleansing. This doesn't make it any better, but we should be more careful with historical comparisons, and we should be more careful who and what we support.
From my point of view there is a complete lack of a discussion on anti-Semitism in this country (a brief look on indymedia could easily prove this point) - and there is an urgent need to start this discussion.

Which movement?

This leads to the second question I want to raise: which movement was on the streets on 28 September? It certainly wasn't the peace movement, in spite of all anti-war rhetoric at the demonstration. It was a very strange mixture of a wide range of various leftist groups and sects, and Muslim organisations. The peace movement made no major appearance, and I'm indeed quite tempted to rename it into the club of pacifist believers.
The British peace "movement" seems to lack any understanding of - or any desire to get involved in - social change. It appears to be a group of several pacifist "clubs", with in-house magazines and nice meetings dedicated to the struggles of the past (as the annual 15th May event at the memorial stone for conscientious objectors on Tavistock Square), but completely unable or unwilling to get involved in social movements to change society, or to stop the war on Iraq. It leaves the public domain to the likes of SWP and to warmongers in the government. The fact that this countries' peace movement is co-ordinated by one person working one day a week is just a symbol of any lack of political relevance… - it seems to be more important to prove to each other that we hold the correct beliefs, than to be out there and get involved in social change.

I have to admit that I'm angry with the peace movement in this country, at latest since 11 September 2001. It seems to be stuck in organisational egoism and mainly lives in the past - somewhere between the 60s and 80s. There are exceptions - CAAT certainly is one of them - but they merely confirm the rule. What is urgently needed is a crises meeting of the peace movement, aimed at discussing strategies how the peace movement can gain political and social relevance - how it can become a major actor among the social movements in this country. The peace movement has a huge heritage when it comes to nonviolent actions, on which it can build.
What I would like to see is a huge peace demonstration - maybe in September 2004 - with some 200,000 people attending, and a clear anti-war message. I'm sure it can be achieved - but it means to get involved in the dirty business of coalition building, and overcoming organisational egoisms and sectarianism.

Andreas Speck



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Article | by Dr. Radut