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The coming war…

(an e-mail letter from Don Gurewitz to an anti-war activist)

Hi Judy,

Since you and I have been exchanging Iraq war info for so long, I want to take a minute to respond to your last email with the material from the AFSC.

I couldn’t agree more that [Michael] Capuano’s position is scandalous. But I find something even worse in the memo from Mat Connolly (I’m afraid I don’t know him, but I assume he is a staff member of AFSC or somehow a key activist in the AFSC-led peace movement.)

First, Capuano: his position is certainly shockingly cynical and a damning indictment of himself and the entire “Democratic progressive caucus” about whom he says “The progressives in Congress may lay low and not criticize the war once it starts, but begin to criticize the Administration once the shooting stops and the Iraqi regime has collapsed.” It exposes in the most blatant way possible what many of us already know: these “progressives” are not opponents of the war but merely, at best, critics of the way that Bush proposes to fight the war. When push comes to shove, they know in advance that they will “Support Our Troops”, which means, in the context, nothing more than supporting the overthrow of the sovereign government of Iraq and imposing on the Iraqi people and nation a pliant, US client regime. His explanation that the progressives, after supporting the war, will “demand” that the “US must… get its military out of Iraq and begin to rebuild the country”, is nothing more than the expression of the hope that the military action will be successful and brief, not risking further complications by being able to withdraw US troops and leave the job of running the country in the interests of the US in the hands of some “native” puppet regime. This is hardly an antiwar stand. It is a pro-war stand that makes clear that the Congressional Democratic (and Republican) “peace” advocates are only really interested in debating the method of the war, not the issue of the war itself. Connolly says Capuano and his co-thinkers “supported the peace movement in Congress by voting against the resolution allowing the Administration the ability to wage war on Iraq without consulting Congress (my emphasis). Notice they didn’t vote against war on Iraq, just in favor of trying to retain their prerogative to declare war. No one doubts, or ever doubted, that the Congress—both parties—will rally behind Bush and declare war if the Administration demands it. It has never been otherwise.

In my opinion, these Congressional “doves” are far and away the biggest threat to any emerging antiwar movement. To the extent that they have any influence, or that they have a following among those genuinely opposed to the war, it is exactly to that extent that the “antiwar movement” will find itself misled, disoriented, and, in the end, at best, completely ineffective in voicing its opposition, and, at worst, lining up behind the war under the guise of supporting the U.N., opposing Iraq’s spread of nuclear technology, opposing Hussein’s abuse of his own people, etc.

The only possible basis of a genuine movement against the impending war is unconditional defense of Iraq’s sovereignty against the imperial designs of the US to tighten its control of Middle East oil by establishing a client regime in Iraq. That means rallying under the banner “Hands Off Iraq”. To rally under the banners proposed by the “doves”—such as “Let Congress vote”, “Let the inspections work”, “No war without U.N. approval”—is simply to accept the US government’s underlying assumptions, and thus contribute to the war effort, not oppose it. It is the US government, and the capitalist interests they represent—that is the developer, purveyor, stockpiler, and user of virtually every weapon of mass destruction. It is they who pose the gravest threat to the human race (abroad and at home) in their relentless drive to dominate the world’s resources, labor and markets. It is they, not Saddam Hussein, who arrogantly assert the right to use any weapons—including nuclear ones—in preemptive wars against nations they deem to threaten their interests. Why does the US have the right to these weapons and not every other sovereign nation? It is the height of imperial arrogance when the Republicans and Democrats (“doves” included) assert their right to deny weapons to other nations and to overthrow their governments.

Naturally, all the “democratic” rhetoric is simply a smoke screen. Look no further than Matt Connolly’s final comments: “We must decide how much credence to put in Capuano’s suggestions and analysis. Unlike the democrats, we may (my emphasis) not wish to lay low once the shooting starts. In contrast to them, we may wish (my emphasis) to be as vocal as possible once the war starts [in declaring] that the war is wrong and must stop…” “We may” want to oppose the war? What kind of cynicism is this? What the hell would the antiwar movement be if it didn’t oppose the war? This is much more shocking than Capuano’s position, which, after all, is to be expected. Connolly is supposedly (or so it seems from the AFSC’s material) an antiwar activist and leader. What this shows so clearly is that those who look to the “doves” in Congress, usually the Democrats, inevitably learn to function with the same “real politik” cynicism that turns principle into tactic and leads inevitably to the abandonment of any principled struggle for justice. Worse, it usually leads to betrayal of that struggle, and often outright opposition to any principled and meaningful antiwar struggle.

On William Pfaff’s article on Islam and the West

I think the article reveals Pfaff to be the journalistic equivalent of Capuano. While there are certainly some worthwhile points in his piece, I think its essence is reactionary and racist, and, in the end, a complete cover-up for US imperialism. He says, “The essential cause for conflict… is… the incompatibility of values between Islamic society and the modern West… that demands that Muslims give up their moral identity…” through “constant Western pressure on Islamic governments to conform to Western conceptions of human rights and promote free and critical religious and political thought. In short, they are to become us.” He observes, “For people in other societies, Westernization frequently means destruction, social and moral crisis, with individuals cast adrift in a destructured and literally demoralized world.” Of course, it is true that there is a relentless pressure on the Islamic people of the world—and all others—to submit to “the US model”. They are forced into a “destructured and literally demoralized world”. But it is a lie that this happens to force them “to conform to Western conceptions of human rights and promote free and critical religious and political thought”. Just the opposite. Their world is “destructured and literally demoralized”, not simply because their religious values are denigrated, but, fundamentally, because they are forced off their meager farms and forced to go to work in oil fields and factories for the benefit of Western capitalism—and to do it at starvation wages with no rights whatsoever. The idea that the problem is that “we are trying to make them free democracies like us” is a monstrous lie. The Islamic people of the world—and all the other poor workers and farmers of the semi-colonial world—are not simply facing a “social and moral crisis” because of attacks on their religion—whatever religion they may or may not have. They are fundamentally suffering from oppression brought by the march of the “free market” into every sphere of human life around the globe. It is the misery, poverty, repression, indignity, etc. brought by the “globalization” of the world capitalist market that is the cause of their discontent. Ask the Argentines, who are hardly Muslims, but just as angry, having seen what was once the highest standard of living in Latin America reduced to starvation and abject misery in a few years, precisely as a result of “their” government’s enthusiastic embrace of every dictate of US “globalization”. Religious persecution is only a part of the larger process. To say otherwise, as Pfaff does, is to cover-up, and thereby excuse, the real crime, the subjugation of the working millions of the world to the dictates of US—and European and Japanese—capital: the banks, agribusiness, and industrial conglomerates. (This is not to mention the lie that US and the other major capitalist powers are really “free” or “democratic”.)

I venture to guess that many adherents of “militant Islam” were not even practicing Muslims too long ago—perhaps even some of the 9/11 hijackers. Many western-educated people from Muslim countries have embraced “militant Islam” because they see it as the only “serious” opposition to the encroachments of the US empire. For them, it was opposition to the subjugation and exploitation of their people by Western imperialism that came first. “Militant Islam” was embraced as a means. Their starting point, and I dare say the starting point of most Muslim workers and peasants (and most Catholic, and animist, and Hindu, etc, workers and peasants) is rebellion against the destruction of their traditional subsistence farms, their violent and forced entry into the sweatshop factories and mines, their brutal subjugation to the world market at starvation wages with no rights to defend themselves, and the overall humiliation of their people, not some desperate clinging to the most backward of the medieval concepts of their religions (which, I might point out, are not unique to Islam).

In arguing his supposedly sophisticated “cultural” explanation, Pfaff exhibits not a little condescending racism: the Muslims don’t want freedom, don’t want democracy, don’t want equality like we do. Tell that to the women pressing for greater equality in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and every other country in the Islamic world (most often in opposition to regimes imposed by the US and/or kept in power by the US)—just like their sisters in the West. Tell it to the millions of workers and farmers fighting for survival, desperately trying to organize to defend themselves.

Only one thing to add. I find it very revealing and disturbing that “antiwar” groups circulate such material as good coin. What does it say about the movement they are attempting to build and lead?

I hope I haven’t worn-out you or your computer.

—Don Gurewitz Cambridge, January 2003

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