Worldwide protests express outrage at U.S. government

By Meraj Abedin

“Hell no, we won’t go!” Millions of protesters from every walk of life took to the streets of cities worldwide marching in a co-ordinated day of demonstrations expressing outrage at the U.S. government and the war in Iraq-a war that hasn’t begun yet.

While George W. Bush has been incapable of uniting nations to march on Baghdad, his administration’s bellicose rhetoric has been enormously successful in uniting millions of common people around the world against any military adventure in the Middle East.

Sat., Feb. 15 demonstrators marched in cities across the globe in what was deemed by many as the largest display of “people power” since the Vietnam War. In over 600 marches from Baghdad to Berlin, an estimated 11 million demonstrated worldwide with over six million in Europe alone. From Cape Town to London, from Barcelona to New York, people took to the streets to dissent against what they view as American aggression against Iraq.

The placards expressed many things, some serious, others comical. “No Blood for Oil” and “Stop mad cowboy disease” were among the favourites and people chanted a variety of slogans, a common one being “drop Bush, not bombs!”

Many opinions on the war were voiced; some said it was about oil, others said it was about empire, while others said it was simply wrong. However diverse the reasons that drove protestors to the streets, all were united in their opposition to war, especially their opposition to their own countries taking part in one.

Most significant was the fact that the largest demonstrations occurred in countries whose governments have publicly supported the Bush Administration’s stance on Iraq. In Sydney, Australia, over 300,000 marched against war, defying Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a steadfast ally of the U.S. and Britain in their push for war. Police said that well over 750,000 people demonstrated in London, while organizers of the protest put the figure at a total of two million. They hurled the accusation at British Prime Minister Tony Blair of being “Bush’s Poodle.” In Spain, where leader Jose MarÃ-a Aznar is a staunch supporter of U.S. policy on Iraq, there were major protests in 57 cities throughout the country. Madrid and Barcelona experienced the largest demonstrations with a total of more than two million people. Italy, another major American ally, also experienced massive demonstrations. Ancient monuments in the capital were draped in antiwar banners as over one million pacifists “invaded” and marched on Rome. Italy, Spain, Britain and Australia all experienced the largest demonstrations in their histories. According to European polls, people in the UK, Spain and Italy are overwhelmingly opposed to any military action without clear UN approval: Britain, 90 per cent; Italy, 73 per cent; Spain, 90 per cent. All this in spite of their governments’ support for the Bush adminisration.

During the weekend of protest, cities in the United States also saw major demonstrations. They were the first major public displays of dissent since September 11. The national day of action focused on New York where over 400,000 protestors jammed the streets of Manhattan, most of whom could not reach the 100,000 strong rally near the United Nations. New York protestors, in defiance of a court order banning them from marching, assembled near the UN to be addressed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu who said those seeking confrontation with Iraq “must know it would be an immoral war.”

Ironically, demonstrations in Arab nations were tiny, if not absent. While 200,000 marched in Damascus, demonstrations in the Arab cities in general were not very impressive especially when compared to the massive protests that swept Europe. In Egypt, the most populous Arab country, an overwhelming force of 3,000 police officers surrounded a crowd of 600 protestors in Cairo. In Tunisia 3,000 antiwar protestors were stormed and beaten by security forces. The government usually controls protests in most Arab nations, and while most Arab rulers are wary of the effect that an Iraq war might have, public displays of anti-American sentiment are firmly repressed in Arab nations with close ties to the United States.

Other cities around the world experienced demonstrations, albeit on a smaller scale, including Jakarta, Tokyo, Karachi, Dhaka, Bombay, Cape Town, Havana, Bangkok and Tel Aviv–yes, Tel Aviv. About 2,000 Jews and Arabs marched together to have their say against war in a country where many welcome toppling the Iraqi regime.

Many commentators and politicians who support an invasion have accused protestors of giving Saddam Hussein a free ride, others accused them of promoting 1930s style appeasement. The U.S. administration shrugged off the international protests saying they would not impede war plans. President Bush said that the demonstrations were “irrelevant,” dismissing the protestors as a “focus group.” Condoleeza Rice, the national security advisor, said this would not alter U.S. plans to “help the Iraqi people.”

Despite the massive turnout seen at these protests, the question of whether the voices for peace will make any difference in the current geo-political storm is still up for debate. However, whether or not a difference can be made is not the central issue. What is important is doing something, anything. Silence and apathy are the best friends of war and tyranny. To say nothing is as good as consent. Trying to justify a war on Iraq, Blair said that, “it is a choice between doing something and not doing anything.”

Damn right, Tony. On Sat., Feb. 15 2003, millions decided to do something, proclaiming a resoundingly clear “no.”

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