People’s protest—What will our story be?

Featured image: Protesters marched in London on 15 February, 2003 as part of a global rally against the US-led war on Iraq. The UK Government was Washington’s staunchest ally. Pix by Peter Macdiarmid.

On February 15, 2003, the world witnessed what peace activist Phyllis Bennis described as “the single largest mobilisation of people in the history of humanity, bar none.” Millions of people took to the streets in at least 600 cites and 60 countries across the globe.

The Guinness Book of World Records listed the event as the largest anti-war rally in history where protestors around the world shared a single common concern: The imminent pre-emptive invasion of Iraq by the U.S. and its allies.

Protests were reported in 150 cities in the U.S. alone as President George W. Bush intensified his case for the war both at home and at the United Nations. On that historic day London, Rome, Barcelona and Sydney saw the largest people’s protest in their respective histories.

International coordination for the event was unprecedented and academics have described it as a “globalisation of conscience”. And unlike the global protest against the Vietnam War, this was bigger and held even before war was declared.

Speaking in New York on February 15, Hollywood actress Susan Sarandon accused the Bush administration of hijacking national fears by anchoring the reasons for war in the tragedy of September 11.

The U.S. government’s case against Iraq was obscured by claims against Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction. But citizens across the globe and many in the U.S. were convinced that it was simply a battle to conquer Iraq’s oil.

“Not in our name!” was a slogan that resonated among U.S. citizens who marched on that day. And fearing serious casualties among troops and Iraqi civilians, they chanted, “No blood for oil!”.

Unlike the government’s convoluted reasoning for war, the message of the anti-war movement was focused. They did not call for the downfall of the President’s Republican party or raise any other issue apart from holding the office of the President and Commander-in-Chief accountable to national and international laws vis-à-vis declaring war on another sovereign state.

About a month after that “single largest mobilisation of people in the history of humanity” the U.S. rained the city of Baghdad with satellite-guided Massive Ordinance Air Blast Bombs (MOABs)—weighing 9,500kg each and nicknamed Mother of All Bombs.

The historic February 15 people’s protest and world public opinion did not stop the war.

By April Baghdad had fallen to foreign troops. By December that year Saddam Hussein was captured and executed for crimes against humanity. Iraq continued to be occupied for nine years.

Like the Vietnam War, what changed for the U.S. was the return of fallen troops. As more and more young Americans came home in body bags the political landscape began to change, paving the path for a “peace” President.

In 2008, Barack Obama was elected the first African-American U.S. President. Based on promise alone he was conferred a Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, two years before he declared the war on Iraq over.

Despite the Nobel Prize this President however continues to maintain U.S. military interests across the globe from Bulgaria to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to Singapore. And while he stressed in 2010 that an independent Palestine was necessary, the U.S. was among the two strongest opponents to Palestine’s bid for statehood at the United Nations in 2011. The other opponent was Israel.

He recently launched his re-election campaign video where among his list of achievements include “Libya liberated” and “Osama bin Laden dead”. The U.S. war in Afghanistan however, is still in effect.

This is the story of the U.S. government since the historic people’s protest on February 15, 2003.

What will our story be?

Published in Malay Mail

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