17 October, 2003


SUSHMA JOSHI, The Kathmandu Post, October 17, 2003

A strong and vocal opposition to the war against Iraq is growing the United States. As President George Bush requests another 87 billion to continue the occupation, thousands of people, fed up with the stagnant economy, the fiscal deficit as well as recent stories about US soldier suicides in Iraq, are mobilizing to bring the war to an end. On Tuesday October 14th, St. John's Cathedral on the Upper West Side of New York was packed as a sizable crowd came to listen to Amy Goodman, a journalist and activist of Democracy Now!, and Tariq Ali, a well-known activist and broadcaster.

"Lies take lives. We understand that clearly by looking at Iraq," said Amy Goodman. She talked about Joseph Wilson, former US Ambassador to Gabon who had made a trip to Niger to investigate if Iraq had covertly purchased uranium from that government. His report, which concluded this was not possible, was ignored and suppressed. A few months later, President Bush said in his State of the Union address that there was evidence Iraq had bought uranium from Africa. Wilson then wrote an article in the New York Times questioning why his report had been ignored. Shortly afterwards, his wife was "outed" as a CIA operative by key people in the Bush administration. This act, thought to be done in retaliation, prompted a flurry of inquiries - to "out" a CIA operative is almost an act of treason, since it jeopardizes the security of the entire nation. It carries a fine and a maximum punishment of 10 years. No individual within the Bush administration has been pinpointed as the one leaking the information.

“There is growing grassroots opposition to the Patriot Act,” Goodman said. The Act, passed hastily after the fear and panic of 9/11 WTC bombings, gives the state sweeping powers of surveillance, and powers of arbitrary and secret detentions. This Act, passed into law by the Bush Administration, has been challenged by local administrations. A county in Tucson recently passed an "Anti-Patriot Act". 150 other local American counties have done the same.

Tariq Ali, well known for his anti-war leadership during the Vietnam War, got a rousing ovation from the New Yorkers as he got on stage. "People in the US and UK seem to have a hard
time understanding why the Iraqis don't want them there. I have to tell them that like most people, Iraqis don't like to occupied," he said in his characteristically ironic tone, provoking appreciative laughter. "Iraqis," he said, "Are people with a historical memory, and a history of resistance. They don't like being occupied by foreign powers." The Iraqis are resisting with low intensity guerilla warfare, a strategy that has made the country ungovernable.

"Noone in Iraq wants this war," he pointed out. "They know the American army is made up of the poorest of the poor, the people who joined up hoping to get an education. They had no idea they would be sent to occupy a sovereign country." “If this is truly a democratic country,” he challenged, lets institute a draft. If you believe that this is truly about safeguarding democracy, then lets send everyone over. But this would be very unpopular. This is a specific kind of democracy, a democracy that only protects capital.”

"When people ask me: how can we remove unpopular regimes, I answer: it is not up to us to do it. It has to come from the people," said Ali. "Change has to be organic. Imperial interventions never work." Quoting Mahmoud Mamdani, a well-known scholar at Columbia University (incidentally, also the husband of filmmaker Mira Nair), Ali pointed out that American intervention in the Middle East and Africa had toppled many secular, nationalist regimes. Starting with the Shah in Iran in 1953, other regimes had also been "changed", leaving people with clerical, repressive, hard-line regimes who control the oil that America desperately needs to run its oil-addicted culture.

With characteristic humor, Ali recounted the story of the failed coup of Venezuela, the world's fourth largest oil exporter. America was known to be a key supporter of the coup that tried to oust elected president Hugo Chavez, who won a landslide victory that involved no hanging chads: 56% of the people voted for him. Millions of people turned out to protest, leading to global embarrassment for America and a re-instatement of the popular leader. A 17 year old bugler outside the Mira Flores Presidential palace was asked to blow the bugle for the fake president. He protested and said he already had a democratically elected president. When the General threatened him, he thrust the bugle at the General, saying: "If you're so enthusiastic about it, you play it."

"We have to build for the future," Ali ended. "If you've recently joined the movement, don't be disheartened. We have weathered many wars."