Three years on... a state of emergency

On February 15, 2003, millions came out in the streets of cities around the world to express their outrage at the war about to be waged on Iraq. Thirty-five days later, as thousands more demonstrated in smaller, more heavily policed numbers, US and British bombs began to rain down on Baghdad--and the devastation has not stopped.

But we—as part of the global anti-war movement—did not stop either. Since then, we have demonstrated, opposed military recruitment, organized against Bush, written articles and plays, signed petitions, passed resolutions, made films and music, held teach-ins and tribunals, been arrested, and more.

Today, as we approach the third anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq, the dead and the dying, according to estimates published in Counterpunch this January, could be as high as half a million. The living meanwhile, have little to look forward to in Liberated Iraq, Inc: ravaged infrastructure, a civil war carefully nurtured by the occupation, the daily prospect of kidnapping, arrest, humiliation, torture, and death, and permanent US presence in the Halliburton-built military bases across the country (replete with ipods, mochas, and enough military might to attack the next "war on terror" target).

While we cry ourselves hoarse calling for US troops to return, we remain stubbornly naive about how this "pragmatic" move alone will end the occupation and bring justice to Iraqis. What does it really mean to end a war? Unless we take seriously the reality of US military bases in over 130 countries around the world and the strategic relevance of these launching pads for war to the long-term project of US Empire, how can we imagine real solidarity beyond national boundaries? Our vision of justice will remain sadly incomplete unless we join Iraqis in calling not only for complete withdrawal of US and Coalition troops from Iraq, but also full reparations for the human, environmental, and economic devastation caused by the coalition of all-too-willing militaries and corporations.

Even as we break our heads over how to best stop the war in Iraq, the US is rather gleefully preparing for attacking or tightening sanctions on Iran--developments on which we seem to have alarmingly little to say. If there's one thing we should have learnt over the past three years, it's how to tear apart the elaborate lies constructed by the administration in order to attack Iraq. Yet, as they blatantly retrace their steps, this time targeting the nuclear "mullahcracy" in Iran, our response has been unforgivably slow.

Meanwhile, as we fight endlessly on the grounds of human rights, international law, and constitutional rights, the US and its allies are systematically redefining the space of legality. Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Guantanamo, torture-happy "secret" prisons in Europe and the Middle East, and Halliburton-built "emergency" detention centers within the US. The spectacular violence in these prisons is neither unknown, nor, apparently, shocking anymore. On the contrary, elected US lawmakers openly defend torture and the right to torture with impunity.

Allegations of living in fascist times are casually tossed around, but if indeed we are, what does that mean for our organizing strategies? One lesson from the recent cartoon controversy is that they mirrored the anti-Semitic European cartoons of the 1930s, which helped set the stage for the Holocaust. In this context, we should take very seriously the notion that the unceasing mobilization of anti-Muslim, anti-Arab, and anti-immigrant imagery in the media is integral to allowing violence to be used against anyone suspected of being a "terrorist." The very fact that torture continues to happen with decreasing levels of outrage--despite widespread knowledge about its occurrence--indicates the terrifying consensus that suspected "terrorist enemies" are no longer considered fully human and can be denied the most basic rights.

What can we do? Three years on, our old anti-war strategies and their underlying assumptions need to be significantly reworked and become far more pre-emptive, comprehensive, and creative. As Walter Benjamin noted 66 years ago, discussing the struggle against Fascism; only when we see that the "state of emergency in which we live is not the exception but the rule," will we "clearly realize that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency."


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