None of us who marched on February 15 2003 will ever forget the feelings of hope, excitement, and human solidarity we experienced as part of the 15 million people who came out on this day all over the world, united in opposition to the then looming war in Iraq in an international day of protest that was and will likely remain unparalleled in history.
No doubt many of us still consider the weeks leading up to February 15 – weeks which comprised packed organizing meetings, the tireless leafleting of shopping malls, workplaces, and communities, street stalls and speeches, the making of placards, writing and sending out press releases, and various other activities associated with building the demonstration – as among the most important, meaningful, and vital we have ever had.
The thing that struck many of us most at the time, and likely still does ten years on, is how this once in a generation global antiwar movement rubbished completely the lie that humanity is divided along national, ethnic, religious, gender, or any other line. Indeed perhaps the most important achievement of this historic day was the affirmation that humanity knows no borders, nation, ethnicity, race, or religion, and that what unites us is far more powerful than anything that could possibly divide us.
Looking back now February 15 still represents a beacon of hope for what we can become. Yes, the war was unleashed regardless, and no one who was involved in the antiwar movement takes comfort from being able to say in hindsight that, in the inimitable words of George Galloway, everything we said was right and everything they said was wrong. We knew the war would be a disaster, certainly for the Iraqi people, but also for us living in the West. The polarization that occurred in our own societies – the rise and spread of Islamophobia and its inevitable response in the shape of the radicalisation of many young Muslims – was mirrored in the attacks on civil liberties and the deepening of social and economic injustice.
Imperialist wars abroad are waged from a foundation of social and economic injustice at home, and any Iraqi would have been justified in concluding that that the financial and economic crisis that engulfed the West a few years later was poetic justice for the monumental crime against humanity that ‘we’ unleashed on them back in 2003, a people whose only crime, despite the monument to lies which our leaders erected to justify the war, was that their country sits on a sea of oil in a region of the world whose importance to the outrageous greed and level of consumption in the West has long been self evident.
The injustice of a war unleashed on a tissue of lies has been compounded for many by the fact that its key architects, George Bush and Tony Blair, rather than being held accountable, have prospered in the years since. Bush now lives a life of comfort as an ex-President on his Crawford, Texas ranch, while Blair has enriched himself with a second career as an international speaker, adviser to various multinational corporations, and various other enterprises around the world.
Faith in conventional politics, manifesting in lower and lower voter turnouts, was shattered for many who marched on that historic day in 2003. In its place came cynicism – a cynicism that has never ceased. This particular casualty of the war is made more profound by the fact that leading up to the demonstration, and on the day itself, idealism and optimism succeeded in raising our expectations to new heights of possibility. Many of us believed it marked the beginning of something when in fact it marked the end of something. You might say we were naive, blinded by an irrational belief in the willingness of our leaders to respond to the collective moral suasion of millions of people around the world.
But then again, were we? Were we naive? Perhaps it is more the case that many of us were unable to comprehend that the determination of those in power to wage war had rendered them impervious to reason, their humanity blinded by the lust for conquest, which in the tradition of Orwellian language long mastered by imperialists and colonialists they claimed was liberation.
And what a liberation it proved. Up to a million dead, millions more maimed, traumatised and made refugees in both the war and ensuing occupation, one that unleashed a level of sectarian violence that will likely take generations to overcome – if ever at all. A country that once boasted the most advanced infrastructure in the Arab world was reduced to chaos and carnage. Ten years on it is still broken.
This was and is their notion of liberation.
Every one of the millions who took to the streets on February 15 2003 can take pride in the fact that they stood for a vision of peace and humanity over one of war and conquest.
The antiwar movement told the truth on that historic day. It is a truth that continues to resonate and will never die. The crimes of those who unleashed this war will follow them to the grave. However, before that day comes, they should also follow them into the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
It was Malcolm X who said that if you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything. On February 15 2003 15 million people stood for something that can never be denied, no matter how long it takes to achieve. That something is justice.