Racism, violence and war – deeply embedded in U.S. society – are thrust this month into the national spotlight once again.
And they are not going unchallenged. Powerful calls were heard across the country and the globe to end the pattern of racist dehumanization once and for all. From the Miami Heat’s solidarity with Trayvon, to the spike in public opposition to the war in Afghanistan, injustice and killing is facing new opposition. The arguments of the war-makers, scapegoaters and fear-mongerers are losing some of their grip. Spring is opening with new bursts of bottom-up energy, as the 99% mobilize to turn the tide and open new possibilities for a different way of living.
This month saw one of that war’s most blatant incidents of brutality yet – a shooting rampage killing 16 civilians (more than half of them children) by Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, a multiply-deployed soldier suffering from PTSD. While Western media responded with copious investigations into Bales’ life – his mental health status, childhood, wife, etc. – the stories and even the names of the Afghan victims were barely mentioned.
The sheer nakedness of Bales’ rampage made it front-page news, but this 11-year occupation has seen been laced with murder of Afghan civilians from its earliest days. Massacres such as this are simply the inevitable result of foreign occupation in which all Afghans are potential “enemies” and the tools of battle are night raids, shooting people at checkpoints, drone attacks, and prisons that routinely use torture methods. The mentality of racist dehumanization that is fostered to justify this kind of war makes it inevitable that some soldiers will engage in horrific and naked killing. It is Afghans who pay the heaviest price, but the incident also confirms that the re-deployment of traumatized troops is dangerous for everyone, and ought to spur greater support for Iraq Veterans Against the War and its Operation Recoverycampaign in particular. IVAW has also issued a call to March with Veterans for Justice and Reconciliation, planning to “converge in Chicago on May 20 to march to the NATO summit and ceremoniously return our medals to NATO generals.”
While U.S. officials made public apologies, and eventually offered compensation to the victims’ families, the military investigation and prosecution has been horrendously slow. This has led Afghan President Hamid Karzai to sharply criticize the U.S. and exclaim that he is “at the end of the rope” over what he termed America’s lack of cooperation in investigating the rampage. Adding to an already increasingly significant rift between the US/NATO and Karzai, the massacre and the response has been another blow to the U.S.’s failing war, just a month after Afghan outrage over U.S. soldiers’ burning of the Koran. Karzai went further to demand that the U.S. confine troops to major bases by next year, while the Taliban announced they were suspending peace talks.
Next door in Pakistan, the U.S. suffered yet another setback in its regional influence, as Pakistani parliament called for an end to drone strikes, and for an unconditional apology for the U.S. attack that killed Pakistani soldierslast November. The legislators demanded that the U.S. “review its footprints in Pakistan,” and declared that “No overt or covert operations inside Pakistan shall be tolerated.”
As the U.S. faces a dismal climate in the region, with Iran having more influence than its own forces, public opinion at home is shifting substantially. In a recent poll, 69% of Americans thought that the U.S. should not be at war in Afghanistan, up from 53% just four months ago. Add this to the lack of trust between Washington and its own Afghan client, a weary and overstretched military force, and overwhelming opposition to foreign occupation by the Afghan people themselves, and the handwriting is on the wall: This is a lost cause for the U.S.
President Obama proclaimed a Day of Honor on March 19, the 9th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. But the day’s events in Iraq reflected the human and political disaster that Washington’s invasion and occupation of Iraq produced: sectarian violence left at least 45 people dead and 216 wounded; terrible shortages of electricity and water leading to large-scale protests in Basra led by Shiite clerical leader Muqtada al-Sadr.
Now that there is no longer a concern over U.S. casualties, the suffering of Iraqis caused by the U.S. war is off the radar screen of officials in Washington and much of the public. To the extent that it is acknowledged, it is described as “their fault” and “their problem.” Not a single mainstream media outlet or public figure drew any kind of connection between the hate crime murder of Shaima Al Awadi in El Cajon and the U.S. attitude toward Iraqis – or Arabs and Muslims in general – that permeated the entire Iraq war. A noble exception to this kind of amnesiac dehumanization was Iraq Veterans Against the War, who marked the “Day of Honor” by taking to the streets to honor ALL the lives lost in this war.
In Syria, both the humanitarian and political crises continue to get worse. The Assad government is continuing military operations against Homs and in other parts of the country; anti-regime forces have responded with arms in many cases and the U.N. reports the death toll may be as many as 8,000, with hundreds of thousands more people displaced. As the violence continues, U.N. Envoy Kofi Annan worked to secure Russian and eventually Chinese support for his diplomatic efforts to bring about a ceasefire. While Western and many Arab states are calling for President Bashar al-Assad to stand down first, Russia has put the onus on the armed rebels, saying its long-term ally Syria was ready for talks. No cease-fire or serious negotiations seem on the immediate horizon however.
The demand for democratization in Syria – as in other countries where Arab Spring movements have challenged authoritarian regimes – cannot be disappeared via repression and force. At the same time, outside intervention would only make things worse, not just in Syria but in the entire region. As in the KONY video about Uganda, the argument for military intervention in Syria relies on the notion that the U.S. and the West are potential saviors – an ideological relic from “white man’s burden” days re-labeled as humanitarian intervention.
Brutal dictatorships in Syria or elsewhere will only be replaced by better regimes if they are overthrown through the independent movements of their own peoples. Such popular movements inspire and deserve solidarity from people of conscience throughout the world. But those who command the armies of U.S.NATO intervention are as hostile to those kinds of movements as they are to the dictators that are currently out of favor in Washington and Brussels.
The threat of an imminent U.S. or Israeli air strike on Iran appears to be receding for now. Important elements of the U.S. military brass have warned against it, and Obama has worked to prove his allegiance to Israel through sanctions rather than military action. Earlier this month, retired generals came out with an ad calling on the administration to refrain from attacks on Iran. Additionally, a classified war simulation assessed repercussions of an Israeli attack onIranand determined that a strike would lead to wider regional war, and could draw in the U.S. and leave hundreds of Americans dead. The injustice as well as the stupidity of an attack on Iran are no-brainers for those of us in the peace movement, but it registers more forcefully in today’s U.S. politics when major sections of the military establishment come to at least the “stupid” component of this assessment and go public with their viewpoint.
U.S. popular opinion too, is significantly opposed to military intervention. According to Juan Cole’s analysis, “the US public, showing a broad consensus across parties, wants the Iran nuclear enrichment issue dealt with through negotiations. They even want to entrust the issue to the UN Security council. They think that the U.S. should discourage Israel from attacking Iran. They are convinced that an attack would be a disaster and lead to a long-term conflict. And they hold that if Israel goes it alone and does strike Iran, the U.S. should remain neutral.”
|Image courtesy of Stand With Us/Israel|
Many in the Israeli military establishment and general public also oppose an attack. But Netanyahu and the Israeli right wing keep up their drumbeat for war, not least to distract attention from the continued settlement building which is losing Israel support even in sectors that are ideologically “pro-Israel.” In the U.S. liberal Zionist Peter Beinart’s call for a boycott of the settlements under “Zionist BDS” has led to a vicious smear campaign against him from the Zionist right, even though Beinart’s professed goal is to save Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state.” His Zionist BDS pushes the sidelines the demands and movement of the people most afflicted by the settlements – the Palestinian people. But intentions aside, his identification of settlements as the main obstacle to peace is a huge threat to the pro-Israel narrative about this conflict and could potentially create new political space for Palestine solidarity efforts. It is more possible than before not only to prevent a potentially catastrophic attack on Iran, but to expose the ways the “We-Must-Support-Israel” chorus stereotypes and dehumanizes Palestinians and Iranians, and to win larger sections of the U.S. people to support equal rights and dignity for all peoples in the Middle East.
Obama said, “If I had a son he would look like Trayvon Martin”’ (and then got attacked for it by Gingrich, Santorum and Romney for injecting race into the “controversy!!). But what might it take for him and other political leaders to extend that connection and accountability to all children killed by racism and war? More people in the U.S. today think endless war is a dangerous and unproductive policy than at any time since 9/11. Yet while the Pentagon has suffered modest reductions from the current deficit package, the reality is that the military budgets has maintained its highest levels since World War II and enjoyed 13 years of steady growth.
With public support for war dropping, and racism and militarism thrust into the center of public discourse, it is a moment ripe with opportunity. It is a moment to engage masses of people in connecting daily struggles under austerity budgets with demands to shift away from a war economy and reject the racism and dehumanization that constantly generates enemies and leads to violence destructive to all. As the 99% Spring launches, (a bold effort to train 100,000 people for grassroots direct action), as the call for Justice for Trayvon Martin gains ever-larger support, as fights against right-wing racism and attacks on women intensify, the peace movement has new openings before us. There is a larger audience we can reach with the question: what could be possible in a society that divested from militarism, one that was grounded in a vision and commitment to social welfare, healthy people, and a nurtured planet? Can we envision a world where people wearing hoodies or hijabs walk free and humanization is the enduring value that binds us?