Monday, March 17, 2008


Trafalgar Square was beginning to fill up by midday on Saturday, but one could have been mistaken for predicting a mediocre sort of day. People were thinly spread throughout the square, perhaps put off by the biting cold and the grey skies.

There has been little in the mainstream media to mark the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq; they report little on the prospect of a war against Iran; the only reports I have seen about the Israeli siege of Gaza have been sickeningly ambivalent. Perhaps, we wondered, the crowds had decided to stay at home.

There were speeches in the square before we marched. The speeches lasted almost two hours, which may have been a bit much, but it reminds you how implicated we all are in the wars of the Middle East: how much they affect us and how much we affect them. The speeches were jumbled, angry, defiant, eloquent, maddened, stubborn – they were a mess, but how could they be otherwise? The women speakers, I noticed, were the pick of the bunch: Caroline Lucas, the Green MEP, and Lindsey German, the secretary of the Stop the War Coalition, and an excellent mayoral candidate for the city.



By 2.00pm, the square had filled, and we were off - down Whitehall, over Westminster Bridge, back over the river and down Millbank to Parliament Square. The Stop the War Coalition estimated that 40,000 people joined the march. Make of that what you will - all I can say is that Parliament Square was truly packed by 4.00pm.

We passed a band passed playing reggaefied campfire songs ; a demented hippie pushed a wheelchair down Whitehall, or perhaps he was dragged by two blood-spattered mannequins ; we discussed the speeches, and whether or not the Garden Museum in Lambeth opened at weekends.

Conversation ebbed and flowed, from Iraq to other things and back. Five years on from the enormous march of 2003, the mood is very different - sad and angry, but ever more certain that the ideals with which we march are correct. The fact that everything the anti-war movement predicted would happen if the West invaded Iraq has indeed come to pass feels like a hollow moral victory. Nevertheless, this was a great march.

Demonstrations are often portrayed as being like politicised summer camps where lots of people get together and fight for a unified cause. But a march about globalised warfare must surely be a tense affair, and while marchers united to oppose the principles of the American and Israeli occupations of the Middle East, there was discomfort about some of the messages. A portion of the crowd itched when Galloway called for a less peaceful, less lawful opposition movement (a strategically misguided call, but hardly morally objectionable), and the calls for a victory to the intifada rubbed some up the wrong way.


I believe that you cannot oppose the occupation of Palestine and Iraq, logically or morally, without wishing victory to the intifada and the Iraqi resistance. The alternative assumes that the occupations will be halted by diplomatic means – ceasefires, peace processes and the like. But when the occupiers are the diplomats, this assumption is hopeless.

There is a guerrilla war being fought in Iraq at the moment which the US can never win, but in which they can cause infinite chaos, destruction and death. The lack (or surfeit) of motive for the invasion of Iraq means that literally any Arab is a potential combatant. In the heat of the moment, any Arab is a legitimate target. This has been so in the Occupied Territories for decades.

Very poor children learn to beg, lie and steal from their parents. Prosperous parents tell their children that nobody should lie, steal or kill, and that idleness and gambling and vices. They then send them to schools where they suffer if they do not disguise their thoughts and ... this prepares them for life in a land where rich people use acts of parliament to deprive the poor of homes and livelihoods, where unearned incomes are increased by stock-exchange gambling, where those who own most property work least and amuse themselves by hunting, horse-racing and leading their country into battle,

wrote Alasdair Gray in his novel Poor Things. Or, put more simply, morality in a comfortable, peaceful London lifestyle is a very different thing to morality at gun-point in Haditha or Fallujah or Gaza City.


Blogger Blogging for the hell of it said...

Great pictures, thanks! Wish I could have been there.

12:57 AM  
Blogger Snowball said...

The Suffolk Peace and Bury St Edmunds Against War banners look great...

12:51 PM  

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