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'We are many': war, anger and optimism

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'We are many': war, anger and optimism

Post by Jill Segger on Wed Jul 08, 2015 8:37 pm

Yesterday, I wept in a cinema – something I had not done since, at the age of 10, I was utterly undone by the death of Bambi's mother. The cause of tears on this occasion was a scene from Amir Amirani's film 'We are Many', a documentary about the global protest against the Iraq War.

The scene concerned came at the film's emotional pivot point – the immense sense of hope generated by the astounding world-wide resistance to the 2003 invasion of Iraq giving way to the terrible images of high explosive ordinance tearing Baghdad apart. This was followed by all but unbearable footage of George Bush giving a post-conflict after dinner speech. The President of the United States offered his audience “a slide show” in which people were shown peering under desks and riffling through drawers in the Oval Office, with inane commentary from the Commander in Chief of the 'victorious' forces about not being able to find any weapons of mass destruction. This was inter-cut with images of the war's aftermath: of shattered bodies lying in bombed streets, of traumatised, mute children and of aged faces, blank and distant with despair. It drove the vast, cynical and ruinous deceit of Bush and his eager sidekick Tony Blair into the heart with greater power than any number of words could hope to achieve.

But a pivot point only exists where there is momentum. The narrative went on to remind us that the protest of 15 February 2003 was not a dead end. Something had been sown in our collective awareness which was to bear fruit ten years later.

On 29 August 2013, David Cameron failed to win a Commons vote for British military action in Syria. The debate had acknowledged the power of public anti-war feeling which was the heritage of the Iraq disaster. Philip Hammond, the then Defence Secretary, saw this through a different glass, claiming that the Iraq war had “poisoned the well” of public opinion, and would “place some strain” on US-UK relationships. Democracy can be uncomfortable that way.

President Obama – perhaps more of a democrat than Hammond – realised that the climate of public opinion meant that the issue of military action had to be taken to Congress. And there, it was defeated.

Despite the windy rhetoric of Bush “ this [9/11] isn't an act of terrorism: it's an act of war" and Blair “ we take your struggle as our struggle...let us reorder the world around us”; despite the apparent boast of Colin Powell's Chief of Staff, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson that “we got people believing that Saddam Hussein was connected with 9/11” and despite the blatant misrepresentations made about Saddam's 'weapons of mass destruction', the lies did not take root in the minds of millions around the world. In 790 cities across 72 countries; in every continent – including Antarctica where staff at the US McMurdo research station were later fired for their participation – millions of people marched and demonstrated.

Power was shaken into a degree of self-examination and some of the shaking came from unexpected sources . “It shut you up”, observed Lord Falconer, one of Tony Blair's closest allies in 2003, who now believes that the Iraq war was “a mistake”. Lawrence Wilkerson, now regretting his role, says the US government “perpetuated a hoax.” Hans Blix, the UN weapons inspector said in the aftermath of Blair's 2002 Commons statement on Saddam's 'weapons of mass destruction': “Tony Blair lost his credibility in those 45 minutes”.

The biggest day of international protest the world has ever seen did not succeed in holding back politicians bent on war. Questions were raised about the relationship between government and democracy which have not been answered and which will remain. But the enormity of what was done and the scale of the international response of “ not in my name” have left a deep imprint on the consciousness of both governors and governed. Tony Benn, speaking at a rally in the days leading up to war, urged: “Anger at injustice, optimism for a better world.” The anti-war movement has given the 'many' a focus for that anger and optimism. It has set a marker which will not be erased.

Shelley's Mask of Anarchy, written as a statement of non-violent resistance in the aftermath of the Peterloo Massacre, and from which the film takes its title, confirms both that power of the human spirit and our call to believe in and nourish it:

Rise, like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number!
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you:
Ye are many – they are few!


This blog first appeared on Ekklesia and is reproduced with acknowledgement. www.ekklesia.co.uk


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© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpen
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