Anti-Colonial Ally or New Colonial Missionary?
July 3, 2005
by Marta Rodriguez
Recently the U.S. Labor Against War coalition sponsored a tour of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, which generated some debate within the American antiwar movement. At the heart of the controversy was IFTU’s not-so-veiled cooperation with the occupation. In a climate where Iraqi demonstrations against the American presence in their country are met with bullets and detentions, and where anti-occupation publications like Moqtada Al-Sadr’s journal are immediately shut down, IFTU enjoys official recognition as a labor organization from the American occupiers. Actually, it’s the only recognized labor organization in Iraq so far, and the beneficiary of the frozen assets of the labor unions which operated in the country during President Hussein’s government.
The U.S.’s good will toward the IFTU is no coincidence. Like its parent organization, the Iraqi Communist Party, the IFTU has supported the U.S. position that American troops must remain in Iraq to crush the resistance, whom they’ve denounced as “Saddamist,” “Islamic fascist,” and “terrorist.” IFTU’s president was Allawi’s second in command, and the Iraqi Communist Party served on Paul Bremer’s puppet Interim Governing Council; the very puppet council which rubber-stamped the Bremer laws that privatized Iraq’s services and institutions, and opened up the country to the plunder of foreign companies.
In September of 2004, IFTU representative Abdullah Muhsin helped Blair defeat a Labor Party resolution demanding the immediate withdrawal of British troops from Iraq, telling Labor delegates that immediate withdrawal of occupation troops “would be bad for my country, bad for the emerging progressive forces, a terrible blow for free trade unionism, and would play into the hands of extremists and terrorists.” It is impossible to miss the irony in IFTU’s painting of the United States and Britain as the “guarantors” of Iraq’s “safety” from “terrorism,” when those countries are responsible for the deaths of more than 100,000 people in this invasion alone, to say nothing of the million-plus they murdered as a result of their carpet bombing of the country during the first Gulf war, and the criminal sanctions they imposed after destroying Iraq’s infrastructure.
It was good to see that the IFTU tour was not received with unconditional acceptance. Responses ranged from questions about the wisdom of promoting this tour without acknowledging its links to the occupation regime, to an outright criticism of the moral imperialism in the antiwar movement that allows some to decide that they can vilify and dismiss an anti-colonial resistance if it’s “not communist enough,” “not feminist enough,” or “too violent.”
Unfortunately, the promotion of the IFTU tour is only the latest instance in the U.S. antiwar movement’s efforts to isolate and delegitimize the Iraqi Resistance, whose “crime” was taking up arms against the criminal mass murderers who occupied their country without provocation. It’s not uncommon to find in antiwar demonstrations and publications criticism of the Iraqi Resistance so replete with racist double standards that it would be impossible to separate it from CENTCOM propaganda.
The words “insurgents” and “terrorists” are too often present in our discourse about the Resistance. The terms reinforce the notion that there’ s something “legitimate” about the U.S. presence in Iraq, and “illegitimate” about the Iraqis’ efforts to force them out of their country. For example, antiwar guru Noam Chomsky, in his racist arrogance, described the sham elections set up to legitimize the United States’ violent usurpation of Iraqi sovereignty, as a “triumph,” “not of the bomb throwers, but of nonviolent resistance.”
Some peace activists fault the Iraqi Resistance for “murdering” the working class youth that comprise the U.S. occupation forces. Of course they conveniently ignore that those “innocent” “working class youngsters” wouldn’t be getting shot at if they’d stayed in the United States, instead of deciding that the college education and other material benefits offered by the U.S. military are worth the murder of thousands of Iraqis and the destruction of an entire country. One has to wonder if the promoters of such an absurd accusation view the lives of those working class occupation soldiers as somehow more valuable than the lives of the Iraqis they invade and murder.
We insist on painting the Iraqi Resistance as the source of “Islamic oppression of women,” and ignore the fact that the ones who have been banning women from schools, work centers and the streets are folks like the Badr Brigades, who happen to work for the occupation. Riverbend, an Iraqi blogger, wrote about this in an article titled “What We’ve Lost”, published by The Guardian in November, 2003. It’s ironic that those of us who demonize the resistance on “feminist” grounds expect the Iraqis to settle things amiably with cruel and ruthless occupiers who are responsible for the rise of prostitution in Iraq, who have caused the impoverishment of Iraqi women and their families, who are behind most of the violence these women face on a daily basis, and who have used rape as a weapon to terrorize those who oppose the occupation.
One of the most arrogant propositions that often surfaces in the anti-resistance discourse is that the antiwar movement cannot allow “the Islamic fundamentalists” (read “the resistance”) to take over in Iraq. Apparently the United States government is not the only one in dire need of a Self -Determination-for-Beginners course.
The U.S. liberal-left’s condemnation of the Iraqi Resistance and the attempts of some to promote anything other than that resistance, even if it turns out to work in the service of the occupation, is all the more infuriating and offensive because it comes from the very citizens of the aggressor country that is devastating Iraq. Since when do the citizens of aggressor nations get to dictate how the victims of that aggression defend themselves? If that weren’t enough insult and injury, there’s the fact that none of us are exacting the kind of cost on this government that would compel it to get out of Iraq. Our demonstrations are few and far between. We hold them on days when the government officials that we’re supposed to be demanding accountability from are not even around to see or be inconvenienced by them. We make sure to secure permission from this same government to hold demonstrations, and we hold them away from structures responsible for the smooth sailing of this war, when we could at least effect temporary disruptions of their murderous operations. Demonstrations in the U.S. look more like Easter parades than the determined disruption of this government’ s genocidal business that they should be.
In his book, The Nonviolent Revolution, the late David Dellinger told of a debate that occurred within the movement against the war in Vietnam, where some were demanding that the Vietnamese resisting the occupation of their country put down their arms. He found himself pointing out to the proponents of this absurdity that Americans hadn’t up to that point been able to stop their government from raining its violence on the Vietnamese. He concluded that because of the movement’s failings in that regard, Americans lacked the moral stature to dictate nonviolence to the people of Vietnam.
Those of us who live in the U.S., be we members of this country’s internal colonies, or the willing citizens in whose name the U.S. executes its aggression, need to take that wisdom and apply it to Iraq, and every other country that’s being attacked by this government. We need to stop thinking that we have the right to ignore, condemn, or replace the resistance movements of the countries the U.S. assaults if they are not to our liking, because our responsibility to those movements goes beyond the international solidarity which some of us seem to think we can give and take back as if it were charity. For as taxpayers, as recipients of some of the comforts generated by this government’s theft abroad, as friends, relatives, and compatriots of those who join the American armed forces, we have a relationship to the theft and aggression this government dishes out throughout the world. Our responsibility to undo that aggression takes precedence over our fantasies about what other movements should look like.
The American left’s obsession with what it calls the presence of “Islamic fundamentalism” in the Iraqi and Palestinian resistance would be humorous if the issues that produced those resistance movements weren’t life-and-death issues, and if one weren’t able to notice the Christian/Zionist biases behind that obsession. It wasn’t long ago when much of this same left was extolling the virtues of “liberation theology” in the struggles to free El Salvador, Nicaragua, and the rest of Central America from its neocolonial relationship to the U.S. That theology has its roots in the movements of South America, which in the 1960’ s saw Catholics like Colombian priest Camilo Torres taking up arms and joining the guerrilla movements of the region in an effort to materialize the egalitarian principles and goals of their faith. Those who would say there’s a difference between Christian revolutionaries and Muslim fundamentalists might want to remember that those Christian revolutionaries weren’t necessarily ready to give their lives for reproductive freedom and gay liberation. Yet no one took the position that Latin America should remain enslaved to the United States until the liberation movements worked out every kink in their programs, or learned to pursue said liberation by linking arms and singing “We are a Gentle Angry People” in front of U.S. embassies on summery Saturday afternoons. We didn’t demand feminist credentials from the Berrigan brothers, who did so much to call attention to the crimes of the U.S. in Vietnam but were against the right of abortion. We don’t flinch when Christians and Jews credit their religions as reasons to support certain causes. Yet we expect that Muslims who pursue the liberation of Iraq and Palestine jettison their Korans and if possible, their religion, altogether. How much more western-centric are we going to get?
A January 16 article by Peggy Gish titled “Economic Nonviolence Empowers Iraqi Women”, described a teach-in where Iraqis were being encouraged to “resist the occupation silently,” “without killing,” by engaging in boycotts against American and other foreign products. Since American pacifists in Iraq have made no bones about their being there to “take the initiative from those who would do violence,” including the resistance, it’ s not hard to surmise that this teach-in is a product of their handy work. There’ s nothing wrong with boycotts or other nonviolent forms of struggle, as a resistance against occupation requires a wide variety of tactics, which will allow as many people as possible to undermine the efforts of the occupation and prevent it from taking root. The problem here is the arrogance of American antiwar activists in assuming that they have something better to replace the methods employed by the Iraqis to fight their enemies, though their people have never experienced the kind of aggression and intrusion that Iraqis and other Arabs have faced.
Another problem is the peace activist insistence on the deception that boycotts and nonviolent actions alone will have a negative impact on the occupation, and force the armed-to-the-teeth Americans and British to leave Iraq without the wealth they came for. They seem to forget that the American/British destruction of the Iraqi infrastructure, and their control over who does business in Iraq and who doesn’t, give them the ability to wait out any boycott because, in the end, dispossessed people have to feed their families, so they’ll have to buy what is available or can afford, even if it’s the damnable products of the U.S. Look at the portion of Palestine that’s outside of the “Israeli” green line. Hasn’t anyone noticed the correlation between the destruction of Palestinian crops and industry, and the proliferation of “Israeli” goods in that territory? Furthermore, while opening up Iraq to American trade is a goal of the occupation, the main interest of the U.S. right now is oil and the development of military bases. Without armed resistance, every Iraqi in the country could boycott McDonald’s, Starbucks and Coke, and the Americans would still meet their goals.
We’re seeing the damage of this kind of deception in Palestine. It is discouraging to see antiwar activists steering the Palestinians towards tactics that leave them as sitting ducks to Israel’s violence, and which lead them further from the possibility of recovering all of the land that’s been stolen from them, and the return of their refugees. When we do this to people, we become complicit in the theft and genocide that’s perpetrated against them.
As we read the whining of some U.S. generals about the quagmire they face in Iraq, and the war’s negative impact on this country’s ability to deploy its military elsewhere, we should feel pride for what the resistance has achieved, outgunned as it is, and a deep sense of shame for our failure to help it. When we hail the achievements of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Movement or take joy in the ability of the Bolivians to keep the U.S. from privatizing their oil, we should remember that it’s the Iraqi Resistance that’s keeping the U.S. from landing troops in these countries, and we should thank them profusely.
Civil Rights activist Dick Gregory observed in his book No More Lies that when the Europeans first set foot in Africa, the Christian missionaries had the Bibles and the Africans had the land. Once the colonization of the continent was achieved, the Africans had the Bibles and the European Christians had the land. If we persist in our attempts to isolate and replace the Iraqi Resistance, the time will come when the Americans will have Iraq’s wealth and real estate, and the Iraqis will be left with nothing but peace symbols.
If we truly want to help the Iraqis, we must focus our energies on the U.S. government’s crimes against them, and what we must do to put an end to those crimes. No one has to embrace any tactic of the resistance that’s at odds with her or his sense of ethics, but we should be respectful and humble enough to recognize that Iraqis are the only ones who have the right to make decisions about their self defense, and the kind of society they’re to have after the occupiers are gone. The antiwar movement needs to decide if it wants to be an ally to the Iraqis as they struggle to rid themselves of their occupiers, or the new colonial missionary. I hope we opt for the former.
From Iraq to Falasteen, long live the Mujahideen!
Victory to the Iraqi Resistance!