In the four months since U.S. President George W. Bush triumphantly declared the end of “major hostilities” in Iraq, the occupation has become ever more untenable and no less illegal by the day. Where are the members of the global antiwar movement?
They have been just about everywhere: in Geneva, by the tens and thousands, calling for an end to the occupation during the meeting of the Group of Eight (G8); in Tokyo, protesting the deployment of so-called “self-defense” soldiers in Iraq; in London, holding “Ain’t nothing but a Hoon-dog, lying all the time” placards to denounce U.K. Defense Minister Geoff Hoon and the other proven liars during the Hutton Inquiry into British weapons expert David Kelly’s suicide; in Baghdad, thumping their chests and calling for true liberation–and getting shot in the process.
From London to Cancun via Baghdad
But mostly they have been in the background–getting together in smaller local, national, and international meetings; taking stock of what happened, assessing past strategies, and planning for the future; exposing the lies and repeating what they have been saying all along; taking on other war-mongers in less evident forms, such as the negotiators for the World Trade Organization and the Free Trade Area of the Americas; quietly but patiently laying the groundwork for future action.
Since May, representatives of the global antiwar movement–many from national coalitions that emerged in the run-up to war–have met in London, Jakarta, Tokyo, Geneva, Genoa, and–during the WTO mobilizations this September–in Cancun, Mexico. Feb. 15, which witnessed the biggest global mobilization in history, was said to have seen the birth of a new world peace and justice movement. On the heels of this incredible mobilization, the question on everyone’s mind was: What now?
Perhaps the answer will be seen come Sept. 13, a day that many activists around the world–especially those who have drawn the clear connection between what Washington wants to get through the WTO and what Washington wants to achieve through bombs–have declared as the International Day of Action against War and Globalization. In addition, to celebrate the anniversary of the intifada, or the Palestinian uprising, various antiwar coalitions will be calling for an end to the occupation in both Palestine and Iraq on Sept. 27, with mobilizations scheduled in over 15 countries, mostly in Europe. (See www.stopthewar.org.) In the United States, two of the biggest antiwar coalitions have decided to set aside differences and join hands for a big march in Washington, DC, on Oct. 25. (See www.internationalanswer.org.)
Jakarta Peace Consensus
As Feb. 15 showed, massive, internationally coordinated–and not just coincidental–demonstrations served to highlight the unpopularity and the illegitimacy of the occupation. The September mobilizations might not be as big, but they show that the resistance continues. Complementing these mass actions are other concrete initiatives and campaigns that require more than marching.
In Jakarta last May, over 60 antiwar activists from 26 countries gathered in an open international meeting to quickly make sure that the movement would not lose its bearings. The participants represented the United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), the U.K. Stop the War Coalition, the Asian Peace Alliance, the Italian Social Forum movements, the Istanbul No-to-War Coordination, and many other major national and regional antiwar coalitions, as well as Jubilee South, ATTAC, Greenpeace, Institute for Policy Studies, Transnational Institute, Focus on the Global South, the World March of Women, the World Social Forum (WSF) organizing committee, and more.
Also represented were Iraqi democracy activists, such as one leading and respected Iraqi progressive, Amir al-Arekaby, as well as East Timorese and Afghani delegates. Among the delegates were some of the movement’s key thinkers and strategists, such as Christophe Aguiton, Walden Bello, Medea Benjamin, Phyllis Bennis, Rafaella Bolini, Chandra Muzzafar, and Sungur Savran, among others.
At that time, antiwar groups around the world were calling for many various but common positions and proposals for the movement to take up. Seeing the potential of Feb. 15 and acknowledging that the movement had entered a new phase, the organizers felt that it would be necessary to propose a set of bases of unity and a course of action to the global peace and justice movement.
After three days of intense and spirited debates on what to do next, the participants hammered together the “Jakarta Peace Consensus,” a document that includes a core set of positions on Iraq, as well as a list of concrete antiwar initiatives. (Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish versions of the “Jakarta Peace Consensus” can be downloaded from www.focusweb.org.)
Among the positions are: that the occupation is illegitimate; that Iraqis have sovereignty over all their resources and that Iraq’s oil must not be used to pay for the reconstruction; that the UN must not serve to legitimize the occupation; and that humanitarian assistance is the occupiers’ obligation, not a form of aid.
The “Jakarta Peace Consensus” calls for the convening of a national congress, a constituent assembly, or any kind of democratic self-organization that is completely independent from the occupying forces. It demands that the UN and other international organizations uphold international law by calling for an immediate end to the occupation. It calls on the international community to repudiate all forms of authority installed by the occupiers. It also rejects the creation of the planned Free Trade Area of the Middle East.
In terms of actual projects and campaigns, the JPC recommends the following:
- the establishment of an Occupation Watch Center in Iraq;
- an International People’s War Crimes Tribunal on Iraq;
- an international campaign against U.S. military bases;
- an international campaign against corporate looters and war profiteers;
- an international conference in Baghdad;
- a general antiwar assembly during the World Social Forum in Mumbai in January 2004; and
- a “World Says No to Bush” campaign to prevent a second Bush term in office as unelected emperor of the world.
The JPC has been discussed during various antiwar gatherings around the world through the months. Many of its positions and projects have gained widespread support within the movement. The projects are being driven forward not by a formal and structured international organization that claims to speak for the entire movement but by a loose, open, and informal network of antiwar groups around the world. The organizing usually happens in an open listserv for coordinating various plans, updating and sharing information, as well as discussing and debating the merits of new proposals. This listserv has since become a flourishing virtual and continuing conference of activists who are not only committed to opposing war but also to linking up with others in that struggle.
Anyone interested in working on any specific campaign listed above is free to join a smaller working group campaign. During the past few months–over countless email messages, several conference calls, and a few meetings–many of the campaigns are moving forward, proving in a sense that while the antiwar movement has been quiet, it is certainly not dead. Below are detailed updates on how these campaigns are moving.
Occupation Watch Center
As recent developments show, what the United States will do in Iraq during the occupation will be very predictable: It will exploit Iraq’s oil resources, take over its state-owned corporations and utilities, install a compliant government and quash opposition, establish military bases, and basically confirm what the antiwar movement said about its true motives. Given that mainstream media have been largely unreliable and that independent sources of information have tended to be shot by U.S. soldiers, there’s a need to watch over and report on what the occupying forces are doing.
It is with these goals that the International Occupation Watch Center in Iraq was established: to monitor the actions of the U.S. and British military and corporations; provide information to the international community; suggest international campaigns to redress grievances; and host international delegations coming to Iraq. (For more information, see www.occupationwatch.org.)
Organizations that compose the working group for this project include the U.S. groups UFPJ, Global Exchange, and Code Pink; the Bangkok-based Focus on the Global South; the Paris-based International Civil Campaign for the Protection of Palestinians; the Italian group Bridges to Baghdad; and the Canadian organization Alternatives. They have also gathered a large board of advisers, which includes the international farmers’ group Via Campesina President Rafael Alegria, the Middle East Research and Information Project’s Joel Beinin, the author Tariq Ali, Le Monde Diplomatique’s Bernard Cassen, and the University of California’s Mark Levine, among others.
Some members of the working group have made several trips to Baghdad to set up the center’s office. (See http://www.alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=16373.) There are now two Iraqi codirectors who regularly report on recent developments. To make certain crucial decisions on the centers’ objectives and operations, members of the working group will be having a planning retreat in Rome during the first week of October. So far, the group has raised half of its funding requirements. Offers to help raise funds will be critical contributions if the center is to do what it seeks out to do.
In July, Jodie Evans of Code Pink, joined the group that went to Baghdad to establish the center. Somehow she managed to find her way into U.S. Pro-Consul Paul Bremer’s office. While there, the intelligence officer told her, “We’re going to take a page from [President] Saddam [Hussein]’s book. If you make a dog hungry he’ll follow you anywhere.” The Occupation Watch Center is established to find out whether the destitution and insecurity in Iraq are deliberate strategies for turning Iraqis into hungry, compliant dogs.
International War Crimes Tribunal
One of the most important projects exciting antiwar activists around the world is the convening of an International People’s Tribunal on Iraq–to make sure that those who treat people worse than dogs don’t go unpunished.
The idea was already germinating among many organizations around the world even during the war, including the group Action to Indict Bush-Blair in Japan and the International Tribunal Initiative from Turkey. In Jakarta, holding a war crimes tribunal was endorsed as among the must-do tasks of the movement. The proposal was further consolidated when advocates who had similar ideas formed an initiator committee during the European and Cordoba Networks for Peace and Human Rights in Brussels last June. Since then, the Turkish groups have been working as acting secretariat and coordinators of the project.
So far, the working group has managed to bring on board several organizations which have distinguished themselves for creating credible and meaningful tribunals, such the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, which became famous in the 1970s and 1980s for organizing war crimes hearings on Vietnam and Latin America; the Lelio Basso International Foundation for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples, which has convened people’s tribunals on the World Bank and the IMF; and the Violence Against Women and War Network (VAWW-Net), the Japanese organization that put together a people’s tribunal to prosecute World War II crimes against women.
The working group includes a cross-section of lawyers who are experts in international law, antiwar activists in Iraq during the war, a few representatives from social movements, depleted-uranium experts, and other antiwar campaigners. The group is also trying to link up with other initiatives to prosecute the war-mongers, including those who use other channels such as the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice, or the courts in Belgium.
Interested organizations and individuals can help by doing any of the following: adding their names to the list of those endorsing the project, actively participating in the working group or suggesting the names of people who and organizations that should be part of it, and helping raise funds.
So far, after a few informal meetings, the secretariat has compiled some of the key ideas and proposals for organizing the tribunal.
Although there are no final decisions yet, so far the following seem to be some emerging points of consensus.
- The tribunal will strive to be as credible as possible so that the accused will not be able to easily dismiss its judgment. Says working group member and internationally respected international law expert Richard Falk: “I think this venture could have a great impact. It is important to be sensitive to efforts to discredit the venture as an unconstituted kangaroo court.”
- It will not just be a mock trial but an attempt to push the frontiers of international law to promote justice; concepts and principles of international law will be used but they may also be refined and redefined. The goal is to mobilize the best crop of internationally recognized jurists and prosecutors and to painstakingly assemble the most solid and most fool-proof pieces of evidence and testimonies.
- While the tribunal will be enriched by the expertise of lawyers and experts, it will not be an experts’ trial. The challenge is to meaningfully involve the social movements that comprise the mass of the global peace and justice movement and to make this campaign relevant to their struggles.
Operationally, some of the suggestions so far include:
- continuing and intensifying the process of consultations, public meetings, and information dissemination seminars around the world, especially during the regional social forums and the World Social Forum in Mumbai in January 2004;
- having a big public launch of the initiative during the coming WSF;
- holding the first preliminary hearing in New York on March 20, 2004, the first anniversary of the invasion;
- conducting other public hearings in Brussels and Hiroshima, two places where specific groups have already committed to holding them; and
- holding the final hearing in Istanbul in May 2004.
Given the diversity of the backgrounds and perspectives of the people involved, it is only understandable that a number of disagreements have emerged on some aspects of the nature and the operation of the project. Despite these, however, there’s a strong commitment to have only one, rather than many separate, people’s tribunals all going after the same target.
Members of the working group are scheduled to have their first–and a very important–coordination meeting in Istanbul in late October.
International Campaign against U.S. Military Bases
The United States maintains military bases and other forms of military presence in over 100 countries. In order to prevent Washington from waging its illegitimate wars, therefore, delegates to Jakarta were convinced that the global peace and justice movement must now campaign for shutting down these bases or ending other forms of military presence in each of the countries hosting them.
With this in mind, various parallel proposals have been raised for launching an international campaign against U.S. bases. A global network composed of communities affected by, as well as organizations working on, these bases could be a powerful platform for pushing this campaign. The challenge now is for otherwise isolated initiatives on these bases to come together so that a common global campaign plan could be discussed and planned.
The first step is to bring together people in an email network or listserv that will facilitate communication between and coordination among its members. The network is open to everyone who feels that they or their group have something to contribute to the campaign. (Those who wish to be part of this mailing list must send an email to [email protected] with a short background of their community or organization and of their work.)
Preparations for this campaign are still at a nascent stage. But based on the swiftness with which people responded to calls for forming an international network on this campaign, the potential is very promising. The Asian Peace Alliance, a broad coalition of over 50 organizations across Asia, for example, will be deciding during its coming steering committee meeting in Bangkok, whether to adopt this as their priority campaign for the coming year. The Greek Social Forum has called for holding a Europe-wide anti-U.S. bases meeting during the European Social Forum in Paris this coming November. There are also various efforts within countries to form national coalitions of base-affected communities.
Well-known author and antiwar activist Tariq Ali of the U.K. Stop the War Coalition has called on the World Social Forum to take this on as one of its major focuses. “The World Social Forum has, till now, concentrated on the power of multinational corporations and neoliberal institutions. But these have always rested on foundations of imperial force,” points out Ali. “Why should [the WSF] not campaign for the shutting down of all American bases and facilities abroad? What possible justification does this vast octopoid expanse have, other than the exercise of military power? The economic concerns of the forum are in no contradiction with such an extension of its agenda.”
Even before Ali could publish his thoughts, however, an international meeting of all U.S. base-affected communities and organizations was already in the works for the WSF in Mumbai.
World Social Forum Globalization and War Assembly
This anti-U.S. bases meeting will be just one of a number of activities that will be part of the WSF general antiwar assembly–envisioned to be the biggest and most representative international meeting against war to date. (For more on the WSF, visit www.forumsocialmundial.org and www.wsfindia.org.)
The WSF expects to draw around 100,000 delegates from India and up to 10,000 delegates from around the world–most of them deeply committed and actively involved in both the antiwar and anti-neoliberal globalization struggle. Hence, the WSF offers the most practical possibility for advocates to gather in one space, imagine themselves as part of something bigger, and think together and debate on the movement’s next steps.
As standing suggestions go, the assembly will be an open meeting against war–not a meeting of the antiwar movement. This means that it will not just be attended by members of antiwar organizations or coalitions–although they will of course be there and will play a prominent part–but also by social movements and other groups who may not be card-carrying members of formal antiwar groupings. This is not only to avoid artificially separating the antiwar movement from the larger movement. This is also to strengthen the links between the peace movement and the global justice movement–which in some cases may be one and the same but may be separate in others.
The WSF Antiwar General Assembly will be an occasion for analyzing the current global conjuncture as it relates to militarization and globalization, as well as for assessing the nature and experience of the antiwar movement. More importantly, the assembly will be a venue for discussing the movements’ priorities and strategies. The goal is to come out with a detailed and concrete plan of action for its campaigns and projects for the coming year.
Holding the event in the WSF is also intended to further underscore the fusion between the so-called traditional peace movement and the anti-neoliberal movements that have made up the mass of the antiwar movement in many countries. By ensuring that previously traditional peace movement members are invited and welcomed to the event, the assembly could also serve to broaden and strengthen the anti-neoliberal movement further. By articulating the links between militarization and corporate-led globalization, the assembly could also serve to sharpen the movement’s focus and analyses.
Alive and Kicking
Because the Iraq war went on despite major protest, many people have written off the massive antiwar movement as an equally massive failure. They, of course, did not consider what it’s up against: The antiwar’s financial resources–all those spent printing the pamphlets and renting the buses–is a very, very miniscule amount compared to Washington’s $400 billion annual defense spending spree, not to mention the billions more at stake for the war profiteers. While the United States and its allies had the world’s mainstream media in its service, the movement for the most part only had its own small publications and the Internet. While the warmongers had over 10 years to plan and campaign for their war, the antiwar movement grew overnight.
Skeptics underplayed what, despite these limitations, the antiwar movement has achieved: It has laid the groundwork for an international network of antiwar activists. It has brought together Muslims and Christians–and even agnostics–to bury what is termed the “clash of civilizations hypothesis.” It has politicized a new generation of young people who will not be so easily swayed by war propaganda. It has eroded U.S. government legitimacy as a so-called “soft power” and shamed its pretence of being a “benign” superpower.
As Arundhati Roy put it, “We may not have stopped it in its tracks yet, but we have stripped it down. We have made it drop its mask. We have forced it into the open. It now stands before us on the world’s stage in all it’s brutish, iniquitous nakedness.”
Indeed, the movement has not stopped the U.S. war machine in its tracks–yet. That doesn’t mean it never will.
 Tariq Ali, “Re-colonizing Iraq,” New Left Review, May-June 2003, http://www.newleftreview.net/NLR25501.shtml.
 Arundhati Roy, “Confronting Empire,” speech during the closing of the World Social Forum 2003, Porto Alegre, Brazil
For more reading on strategic debates within the peace movement see:
Terminating the Bush Juggernaut, By Jeremy Brecher
Going Global: Building A Movement Against Empire, By Phyllis Bennis