From Protest to Resistance

War Resistance after 11 September 2001

Andreas Speck, Angela McCann, Roberta Bacic

While we are writing this, Britain - where we, WRI workers, are living - and the US are dropping bombs on Afghanistan - ?the first weeks of the "war on terrorism". At the same time on Oxford Street - a couple of kilometres from the WRI office - mainstream Britain goes shopping; life goes on as normal as possible, although protective clothing and gas masks are sold out, in fear of anthrax attacks. Who cares about the bombs dropped thousands of kilometres away, in order to save Western civilisation from terrorism?

Did anything change?

It is said that 11 September - ?the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, which left more than 5,000 people dead -?changed the world. Even this statement is the perspective of the wealthy Western enclave in global poverty and destruction, a view out of "Fortress Europe" or "USA" (or Australia, which closed its gates to a couple of hundred refugees from Afghanistan in August - already forgotten?) into a world of exploitation and war, fostered by Western weaponry and increased poverty as a result of economic globalisation, in short: structural and cultural violence. Did the world really change for the people in Congo, Angola, or Colombia, where civilians are trapped between different warring parties in "civil" wars? Did the world really change for the millions of refugees vegetating in refugee camps all over the world, or desperately trying to reach the island of wealth called Europe or US? Has there been any improvement in social justice? We are certain that it is more likely that this "change" basically means more of the bloody same - more injustice, more US domination, more state-sponsored (and "grassroots") terrorism.

During the four weeks between "post-11-9" and "pre-war" the WRI office received thousands of emails from all over the world. What became clear from these emails and also from many discussions we had, is the isolation of mainstream Western thinking from the rest of the world - from the huge majority of the world's population. While here, in the "West", the pure mentioning of US-sponsored terrorism in the South - from Chile, Vietnam, Libya to Iraq and the Taleban - is almost seen as treason, or at least as a justification of the terrorist attacks of 11 September, for the majority of the world these questions are more than obvious, and merely rhetoric. The symbols of 11 September were well chosen; symbols of global capitalism and US military dominance. On 11 September 1973, the Chilean Government Palace (symbol of democracy and self determination) was bombed by the Junta, which overtook a sovereign Government in a bloody attack and imposed 17 years of implacable dictatorship orchestrated by the USA. Although probably the majority all over the world condemns the attacks of 11 September (at least we hope so), the message is understood, and meets with widespread agreement: the victims of globalisation and Western (cultural, political, military and economic) dominance are striking back. The violence, which was nourished by the West, somehow returns to its source.

Why is it that almost nobody in the West deals with these questions? Why is it that we as pacifists seem to be almost more isolated than ever, with more than three quarters of the West's population supporting a military response to "terrorism", if we can believe opinion polls? Why is it that a majority happily agrees to serious new limitations on civil liberties, and even tighter immigration controls for Fortress Europe or the United States? Are they becoming aware that the "Western way of life" cannot be sustained without exploitation of the south, are they becoming aware that even the Western lower classes are quite "upper class" in a global sense, and that indeed they have something to loose, if they don't want to challenge capitalism? Or is this just the ignorance of consumerism and keep going in the competition for wealth and power

Peace Movement Response

After 11 September, it didn't take long for the "peace movement" (whatever that is) to pull itself together, and to organise an impressive number of vigils, rallies, demonstrations, petitions, and statements. New and broad coalitions were formed, and probably more than 1 million protested on 13 October worldwide, and demanded an end to the bombing of Afghanistan. This is a reason for a very subtle and weak hope.

And we have strong concerns. While it is easy to sum up all the demonstrations against the war from all over the world (and the numbers we get over the internet are impressive), a more careful view is needed. Who is protesting against what? What are their means? What are the aims? Aren't they just looking for a space where to express their anger and unhappiness? What after a slight chance of stopping the actual war? At London's demonstration it became quite clear that this was not just a demonstration for peace, but much more a strange mixture of demonstrations for (or more against) all kinds of things, agreeing only on opposition to the bombing of Afghanistan (although some participants probably would have been happy about many other targets, if only the perpetrator wouldn't have been the US or NATO). When we look at this globally, we need to be even more careful, as not every "anti"-war demonstration is really against war.

As war resisters, we need to emphasize and highlight the basic principles of opposing war: that our opposition cannot be relative or one-sided, and that we need to oppose all wars, and maintain the struggle for the removal of all causes of war. For this, we can use the rich experience of over 80 years of War Resisters' International, while at the same time acknowledging that we probably have more questions than answers.

We need to take ourselves serious when we state that "confronted by President George W. Bush with the choice: 'If you are not with us, you are with the terrorists', we choose a third option: nonviolence." This includes dealing with our anger, and not turning it into hate against the US (and to burn the US flag), or whoever, but to find a more creative response. We do not only have to oppose it, we should be able to resist it.


From Protest to Resistance

Protest is not enough -?on two levels. On the one hand we need to ask ourselves about the relevance of protest as an only means - of nice demonstrations through our cities and petitions to the powerholders ?- when at the same time the military machine works smoothly, and undisturbed. Times of war should be times of resistance for those opposing war, and not just of protest - nonviolent direct action against the military machine, calls for conscientious objection and desertion, and direct support to deserters and draft evaders, times of tax resistance and non-cooperation with a basically militarist administration. One of the most basic thoughts of nonviolence is that those in power depend on our consent, in order to be able to rule. When, if not now, is the time to make it very clear that this consent doesn't exist? And how, if not through nonviolent direct action, can we do this?

On the other hand we need to ask ourselves one very important question: what comes after the protest (and after resistance)? When this war will be over - either because of our resistance, or because the warmongers achieved their aims - what will have changed? Who do we approach and work with to move on? There are many who would agree that we live in a world without social justice, but the causes of that are under dispute and even what we understand by SOCIAL JUSTICE. And many are not aware that it means different things for different people and cultures. We can be sure that there will be no social justice then.

What we need to think of now is long-term strategies for social justice on a global scale - and long-term strategies to deal with a past of injustice - not just of 11 September and the present "war on terrorism", but with the injustice of global capitalism. Dealing with these injustices needs to include not just talking about the truth - a variety of truth commissions North-South might be one idea to do this -but first and for all means to stop these injustices from being continued, it means a radical change. Otherwise the end of the war on terrorism - whenever it will be - will just be the beginning of a new "pre-war" period.