Monthly Archives: November 2014

‘Nobody listened to me’: Blair’s dismissal of the anti-war movement has fuelled violent extremism

‘Nobody listened to me’: Blair’s dismissal of the anti-war movement has fuelled violent extremism
by Ian Sinclair
Ceasefire Magazine
9 June 2014

We Are Many, the forthcoming documentary on the 15 February 2003 anti-Iraq War march in London, is further proof that the day was one of the most important in recent British history. However, one aspect of the UK anti-Iraq War movement that is rarely discussed is its influence on home-grown Islamist extremism. In an attempt to think through this relationship, I devoted a chapter to the subject in my 2013 book ‘The March That Shook Blair: An Oral History of 15 February 2003’.

Broadly, the huge protests that occurred before and during the Iraq War, of which the 15 February 2003 was the largest, seem to have had two contradictory influences on violent extremism in this country.

First, the good news. With the ‘war on terror’ creating an upsurge in terrorism directed against the West, Milan Rai, co-editor of Peace News, argues “the February 15 demonstration was one of the most effective anti-terrorist actions of the last ten years” as “it convinced a whole bunch of people that Muslim concerns and Muslims as people in the Middle East were of value to large numbers of people in the West.”

Former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Moazzam Begg concurs with Rai’s analysis. Speaking in 2008, he noted “The Stop the War movement is a buffer which helps prevent terrorism in a way that the government would never conceive; when they see people demonstrating against the war it helps to pacify some of the radical elements who would otherwise have said ‘They’re all the same – go and bomb the lot of them.’”

This was the experience of Hadiya Masieh, a former Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) activist, who told me the 15 February 2003 protest “did overthrow some of the arguments of HT – that they [the non-Muslim population] hate Muslims, that they demonise Islam. If so, then why is everyone out there [on the march]?”

However, we cannot escape the fact 7/7 and other atrocities did take place. And although it’s clear the bombers’ anger was primarily about the invasion and occupation of Iraq, there is an important link to the anti-war movement. Germaine Lindsay, one of the 7/7 bombers, met his wife at an anti-war rally. Raffaello Pantucci, author of the forthcoming ‘Love Death As You Love Life: Britain’s Suburban Mujahedeen’, told me three of the 21/7 failed suicide bombers – Muktar Said Ibrahim, Yassin Omar and Hussain Osman – attended anti-war protests. When he was captured in Rome, Osman said “I am against war. I’ve marched in peace rallies and nobody listened to me.”

Speaking to me in 2009, author and activist Mike Marqusee provided a possible explanation for this move from non-violent protest to suicide bombings. “It is definitely true that the more you reject a community’s legal, lawful and non-violent expressions and aspirations the more some of them are going to turn to illegal and violent responses”, he noted. “That was as true in the American Civil Rights movement as it is now.”

Anas Altikriti, spokesperson for the Muslim Association of Britain in 2003, told me that the 15 February 2003 protest showed many British Muslims that “Democracy, politics, engagement – don’t work.” Altikriti explained, “What the Abu Hamzas and the Anjem Choudarys of this world say when they argue with me is: ‘You can shake the hand of the infidels until the cows come home. Nothing will happen. You will be their servant, and you will do as they wish. You will be no one.’ That is what they say. I’m trying to disprove them. Now you tell me, who has won the argument? They have won the argument!” In short, Altikriti believes the perceived failure of the anti-war movement to stop the march to war pushed some elements within the UK Muslim community towards adopting more extremist positions.

When I put these points to Pantucci, he urged caution about making any sweeping claims. “The link between the non-violent protest, subsequent frustration and action is not as linear as you might suggest”, he told me. “I would say that in both the 21/7 and 7/7 lot, there is considerable evidence that they were very radical before the invasion of Iraq. Iraq seems to have acted as an accelerator, but I would say that they were headed down that path long before the 2003 rally.”

Of course, this is not science. The impact of social movements is always difficult to quantify.  The evidence is messy, sometimes contradictory. And I should point out that this is dynamic does not necessarily apply to British Muslims only. Speaking to members of the Black Bloc on the day of the 26 March 2011 anti-cuts march in London, the Guardian noted “All of them said the failure of the peaceful anti-Iraq war march to overturn government policy was formative in their decision to turn to violence.”

What we can say is although it did not stop the war, the continuing influence and impact of the anti-Iraq War movement has been far wider and more far-reaching than many people appreciate. Those that marched against the war were very far from wasting their time. As Abjol Miah, a community activist in Tower Hamlets, told me: “If it wasn’t for the anti-war movement I think the Muslim youth would have been radicalised physically more.”

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‘Turning somersaults when there is no whip’: Challenging James Bloodworth’s Warmongering

‘Turning somersaults when there is no whip’: Challenging James Bloodworth’s Warmongering
by Ian Sinclair
Ceasefire Magazine
18 December 2013

Recently, I found myself engaged in a Twitter argument with James Bloodworth, the Editor of the Left Foot Forward blog, columnist at the Independent and up and coming BBC commentator. On the ‘About’ section of its website Left Foot Forward says it provides “evidence-based analysis on British politics, policy, and current affairs.”

The discussion in question concerned Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who was shot in the head in an assassination attempt by Taliban gunmen because of her public support for girls’ education. What, asked another person involved in the conversation, should we in the West do to support the rights of schoolgirls in Pakistan? “Militarily defeating the people who shoot them, first off”, was Bloodworth’s response.

Twitter is, of course, a highly reductive and simplifying medium but Bloodworth’s position seems clear enough – he proposes military action by the US and UK in Pakistan and Afghanistan in support of female education. While expressed through only a minor Twitter exchange, Bloodworth’s gung-ho approach to the ‘war on terror’ is representative of a vocal, largely media-based, minority. As such, his arguments are worth spending time refuting.

The first problem for Bloodworth is that Yousafzai herself – the person who embodies everything he claims he wants to protect – disagrees with him. Invited to the White House for a PR photo-op, she reportedly told President Obama that US drone strikes in Pakistan were “fueling terrorism.” I emailed this quote to Bloodworth. His reply? “They’ve also been incredibly effective at killing top members of the Taliban.” Sharp-eyed readers will notice this justification mirrors the US Government’s line, with the CIA Director arguing in 2009 that drone strikes had been “very effective” in targeting the Al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan. As George Orwell once said “Circus dogs jump when the trainer cracks the whip, but the really well-trained dog is the one that turns somersaults when there is no whip.”

In contrast, consider the testimony of David Kilcullun, a counter-insurgency specialist and top adviser to General David Petraeus: “The drone strikes are highly unpopular”, he told the US House Armed Services Committee in 2009. “And they’ve given rise to a feeling of anger that coalesces the population around extremists and leads to spikes in extremism”. Robert Grenier, the CIA’s former station chief in Pakistan, agrees, explaining last year that the US “has gone a long way down the road of creating a situation where we are creating more enemies than we are removing from the battlefield.”

Across the border in Afghanistan is former MP Malalai Joya, who has also survived attempts on her life. A vocal supporter of female education, earlier this year she argued that “The US is the main obstacle towards the development of… democratic forces” in Afghanistan. The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan also supports the withdrawal of US and UK troops, telling me in 2009 “Freedom, democracy and justice cannot be enforced at gunpoint by a foreign country; they are the values that can be achieved only by our people and democracy-loving forces through a hard, decisive and long struggle.”

Yousafzai further challenged Bloodworth’s militarism when she appeared on The Daily Show in the US. Asked by host Jon Stewart how she personally dealt with the death threats, she replied “You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others through peace and through dialogue and through education.” I emailed this quote to Bloodworth. His considered response? “I’m not sure Churchill would agree.” The colonial bulldog may not have agreed but the British military leadership seems to be sympathetic. “There is a common perception that the issues in Afghanistan, and indeed elsewhere around the world, can be dealt with by military means”, said Air Chief Marshall Sir Jock Stirrup in 2007. “That’s a false perception.” So, to be clear, Bloodworth, the editor of supposedly the ‘No. 1 left-wing blog’ in the UK, is a far bigger supporter of UK military aggression than the country’s most senior armed forces leader.

Despite the armchair warmongering of commentators like Bloodworth, in recent years peace talks have been going on with the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, continued Western aggression has made a political settlement more, not less, difficult; according to Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, the former UK special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. “I’m sure some of them are more willing to parlay”, he said in 2011. “But equally, for every dead Pashtun warrior, there will be ten pledged to revenge.”

In short, if followed through, Bloodworth’s militaristic posturing in support of more US and UK military action would mean energising and increasing the number of extremists, prolonging the conflict and therefore bringing about more violence and more deaths. Fortunately, the British public is a little smarter; over the past few years a large majority has supported the withdrawal of UK troops from Afghanistan. Unfortunately for us on the Left, however, it is Bloodworth – seemingly impervious to evidence and elementary logic – who is published in the Independent and sought-after by the BBC.

The Guardian vs. The Guardian on Obama and climate change

The Guardian vs. The Guardian on Obama and climate change
By Ian Sinclair
20 November 2014

In its editorial on the recent US-China climate change deal The Guardian, generally considered the most radical, left-wing voice in the UK national press, stated “President Obama’s commitment to fighting climate change has not been in doubt”.

What, then, should we make of Suzanne Goldenberg’s Guardian report three days earlier that noted “the reality is that Obama has spent the last six years expanding coal, oil and gas production under his ‘all of the above’ energy strategy”?

Or, in the same report, Goldenberg quoting Obama from his 2012 re-election campaign: “We quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the earth and then some”?

Or Goldenberg’s November 2012 Guardian report titled ‘The day Obama chose a strategy of silence on climate change’ about a 2009 off-the-record meeting between the White House and the environmental movement when the Obama Administration stated they would not talk about climate change?

Or George Monbiot’s November 2012 Guardian article about the US Presidential race that noted “neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama – with the exception of one throwaway line each – have mentioned climate change in the wake of hurricane Sandy… For the first time since 1984, climate change wasn’t mentioned in any of the presidential debates”?

Or Goldenberg’s 2010 Guardian report titled ‘Barack Obama reverse campaign promise and approves offshore drilling’ that noted Obama had announced the “opening up of over 500,000 miles of US coastal waters to oil and gas exploitation for the first time in over 20 years”?

Or Monbiot’s December 2009 Guardian article that argued “the immediate reason for the failure of the [Copenhagen United Nations climate change] talks can be summarised in two words: Barack Obama”?

Podemos and radical change in the UK

Podemos and radical change in the UK
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
17 November 2014

Though it’s been ignored by the British media, the explosive new poll showing the continuing rise of the new Spanish political party Podemos has huge ramifications for politics in the UK and across the world.

The El Pais survey found that Podemos has become the most popular party in Spain, gaining 27.7% of the potential vote, ahead of the ruling conservative party (20.7%) and the opposition Socialist Party (26.2%). What’s particularly impressive about this result is Podemos was only formed in January 2014, and are unapologetically leftist, or as a Financial Times blog warns, ‘Podemos policies are vague, populist, anti-capitalist and anti-globalisation’.

‘Podemos’ should be the one word response to political apathy and resignation, to anyone who says ‘Nothing ever changes’ or argues that votes can only be won in the neoliberal, soul-destroying space between New Labour and the Tories or the Democrats and Republicans.

However, it’s important to understand this isn’t an isolated event. If you have your political antenna tuned to the right frequency, hopeful moments when politics makes a radical jump beyond previously accepted norms and assumptions, or at least has the potential to do so, pop up all the time.

If I had written an article in 2003 saying a Black man will be the President of the United States in five years I would have been ridiculed. In Greece, the left-wing Syriza party went from receiving 4.6% of the vote in the 2009 general election to achieving 26.6% of the vote in 2012, becoming the main opposition party. In Canada, the New Democratic Party moved from being the progressive party with no chance of getting a whiff of real power, to unexpectedly leap-frogging the Liberal Party in the 2011 general election and becoming the nation’s second party. And let’s not forget UKIP who, by coming first in the 2014 European elections, became the first party in over a century other than Labour or the Conservatives to come first in a nationwide election.

Obvious and trite it may be, but it bears repeating: things do change. Often for the better, sometimes for worse – usually frustratingly slowly. But under the right conditions, change can be rapid and unexpected – even to those involved in pushing for the political change themselves. ‘I was in Leipzig on the afternoon of November 9th 1989 with the leaders of the East German opposition’, former New York Times correspondent Chris Hedges related in 2012. ‘And they said “Well maybe within a year they’ll be free passage back and forth across the Berlin Wall”. Within a matter of hours the Berlin Wall at least as an impediment to traffic no longer existed. That was a huge lesson for me. Even those closely associated with these movements don’t know where they are going and often times don’t know what their potential is.’

The fall of the Soviet Union, the end of Apartheid, the Arab Spring – all blindsided many of the top experts who had spent their entire professional lives studying these countries.

In terms of UK politics, Podemos’s stratospheric rise gives succour to all those hoping to break the power of the ossified three party system. And it also puts a huge dent into the popular argument that all progressives should rally around the Labour Party to keep the Tories out. As the internet-based media watchdog recently tweeted, ‘The UK Podemos could be eight months away from being the most popular party in Britain’.

Furthermore, it gives a huge boost to everyone pushing for radical change – especially in the face of the looming climate crisis. As Naomi Klein explains in This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, because of endless delays in addressing rising emissions, only an immediate, massive transformation will now save us from levels of climate change that will pose an existential threat to humanity. And by ‘massive transformation’, Klein means something on the scale of the Marshall Plan or the national mobilisation during the Second World War.

None of this will happen of its own accord. I’m no Hispanophile but Podemos will have only reached its current level of popularity through the daily toil of thousands of activists and millions of supporters. ‘If you want to make changes in the world, you’re going to have to be there day after day doing the boring, straightforward work of getting a couple of people interested in an issue, building slightly bigger organizations, carrying out the next move, experiencing frustration, and finally getting somewhere’, American dissident Noam Chomsky argues. ‘That’s how you get rid of slavery, that’s how you get women’s rights, that’s how you get the vote’.

Sounds bloody hard work to me. But as freed slave Frederick Douglass famously said, ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will’.

Ian Sinclair is the author of The March That Shook Blair: An Oral History of 15 February 2003, published by Peace News Press. He tweets @IanJSinclair.

An “inclusive and credible” Iraqi government? Obama vs. Reality

An “inclusive and credible” Iraqi government? Obama vs. Reality
By Ian Sinclair
13 November 2014

Announcing an increase in the tempo of the US-led military action against the Islamic State (aka ISIL) on CBS’s Facing The Nation on 9 November 2014, President Obama stated:

“What we knew was that phase one was getting an Iraqi government that was inclusive and credible, and we now have done that. And so now what we’ve done is rather than just try to halt ISIL’s momentum, we’re now in a position to start going on some offense.”

As it is being used to justify an expansion of the US-led military action in Iraq, it is worth examining Obama’s claim that the current Iraqi government is “inclusive and credible”. Here, then, are some quotes from Iraq experts and observers on the nature of the government of Haider al-Abadi, who replaced Nouri al-Maliki as Iraq’s president in September 2014:

Patrick Cockburn, veteran Middle East correspondent and author of ‘The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising’, 25 September 2014: “Mr [David] Cameron blames all this on the mis-government of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose sectarian and kleptocratic rule has just ended. But it is doubtful if much has changed since Mr Maliki was replaced by the more personable Haider al-Abadi, whose government is still dominated by Shia religious parties. Mr Cameron’s stated belief that he is supporting the creation of a government that is inclusive of Sunni, Shia, Kurds and Christians is a pipe dream.”

Borzou Daragahi, Middle East and North Africa correspondent, Financial Times, 26 September 2014: “Despite commitments by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to disband the [Shia] militias, they grow stronger, bolder and more politically influential.”

Erin Evers, Iraqi Researcher, Human Rights Watch, 26 September 2014: “Residents [of the Iraqi town of Latifiyya] told me that Shia militias, still operating under the control of former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki [now a Vice-President of Iraq], are laying siege to the town, especially the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq militia. Sunni residents of other towns to the north accused that group and other militias of carrying out summary executions there after the militias took control in the wake of US air strikes against the Islamic State.”

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, Iraqi journalist, The Guardian, 9 October 2014:The problem in Iraq… is it’s not a problem of a person. It’s not Abadi versus Maliki. The whole institution, the whole system, is so rotten to the core. Every single soldier is appointed after paying a bribe. Every military officer is appointed after paying a bribe. And the bribes are still being paid.”

Sarah Margon, Washington director, Human Rights Watch, 24 October 2014: “[An] imam made clear that the Iraqi air force is still using indiscriminate ‘barrel bombs’ to ‘go after ISIS’ in Fallujah, despite instructions from Baghdad to stop using them. Other governments, including that of the United States, have condemned the use of these horrendously destructive bombs across the border in Syria but have said nothing about them in Iraq.”

Tirana Hassan, Senior Emergencies Researcher, Human Rights Watch, 3 November: “While the Iraqi central government has virtually no formal authority over the militias, who act as a law unto themselves, some key politicians in Baghdad have strong alliances to individual militias. In October, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi appointed Mohammed Salem al-Ghabban – a prominent member of the Badr Organization, a Shiite political group that controls one of the largest and most infamous militias – as interior minister. Despite being almost completely unaccountable to any official ministry, the Shiite militias have been tasked by the government with a key role in the war against the Islamic State.”

Fazel Hawramy and Luke Harding, The Guardian, 13 November 2014: “According to Amnesty International, Shia militias have abducted and killed scores of Sunni civilians in recent months, and enjoy total impunity for what are ‘war crimes’. It says the Iraqi government under prime minister Haider al-Abadi has supported and armed the groups, in effect fuelling a new and dangerous cycle of lawlessness and sectarian mayhem.”

So, to summarise, the new Iraqi government that Obama said is “inclusive and credible” is horribly corrupt, is continuing to conduct air strikes on Sunni-dominated areas in Iraq – sometimes with barrel bombs – and includes key figures connected to the emboldened Shia militias, which have been carrying out ethnic cleansing against the Sunni population with impunity.

The dangers of all this are made clear by Middle East researcher David Wearing: “The West is going ahead with military support for Baghdad as though replacing Maliki with al-Abadi ticks all the required boxes in itself. It doesn’t. Al-Abadi comes from the same party as Maliki – a fact that won’t be lost on many Sunni Arabs – and the danger of supporting him in advance of the required political transformation is that it disincentivises Baghdad from seriously addressing the core political issues.”

And, as Human Rights Watch’s Sarah Margon, argues: “By turning a virtual blind eye to the abuses committed by Iraqi government forces and its proxy militias, key partners [the US, UK etc.] may be helping to push reluctant Sunnis into the Islamic State camp.”

Reconsidering the March that Failed

Reconsidering the March that Failed
by Alex Doherty and Ian Sinclair
New Left Project
15 February 2013

Ten years on from the largest public demonstration in British history NLP’s Alex Doherty spoke to Ian Sinclair, author of the new book The march that shook Blair: An oral history of 15 February 2003.

AD: It is now a commonplace to describe the February 15th march as a total failure since it failed to derail the drive to war. However in your book you document how the anti-war movement came very close to detaching the UK from the invasion force. Could you describe how this occurred and the broader impact of the march?

IS: I think the key period was the month between the march on 15 February 2003 and the invasion itself on the 19 March 2003 – what Gabriel Carlyle from Peace News calls “a special time in British politics: a brief window of opportunity.” A careful reading of news reports and recently published insider accounts shows a prime minister under intense political pressure, a government in continual crisis and, most importantly, a government close to falling.

“TB [Tony Blair] could barely be in a more exposed place now”, was Alastair Campbell’s diary entry on 10 February 2003. “PLP [Parliamentary Labour Party] tricky. Massive march being planned.” By 7 March 2003 Campbell was writing about how the Cabinet Secretary “was quietly looking into how a JP [John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister] caretaker premiership would operate” should Blair be forced to resign.

On 9 March 2003 Development Secretary Clare Short threatened to resign, and there was a real concern within Blair’s inner circle that the Government might not win the parliamentary vote on the war. Receiving worrying reports from their embassy in London, Washington was so concerned about Blair’s position that on 9 March President Bush told his National Security Advisor Condeeleeza Rice “We can’t have the British Government fall because of this decision over war.” Bush then called Blair and suggested the UK could drop out of the initial invasion and find some other way to participate.

Two days later was what has become known as ‘Wobbly Tuesday’ – “the lowest point of the crisis for Mr Blair”, according to the Sunday Telegraph. The same report explained that the Ministry of Defence “was frantically preparing contingency plans to ‘disconnect’ British troops entirely from the military invasion of Iraq, demoting their role to subsequent phases of the campaign and peacekeeping.” The Sunday Mirror reported that Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon had phoned the US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and “stressed the political problems the Government was having with both MPs and the public.” An hour later Rumsfeld held a press conference and explained that Britain might not be involved in the invasion. The Government was thrown into panic. Blair “went bonkers”, according to Alastair Campbell. In his book The End of the Party Andrew Rawnsley notes the Government’s predicament was so serious that “[Chief Foreign Policy Advisor David] Manning, [Aide Sally] Morgan and [Foreign Secretary Jack] Straw made further attempts to persuade Blair to pull back.”

All this remains one of the biggest secrets of the Iraq War – even among activists themselves. But I think if you want to seriously assess the effectiveness of the anti-war movement and, importantly, think about how you might go about stopping the next war then I think it’s important to be aware of just how close the anti-war movement came to derailing British participation in the Iraq invasion.

As everyone knows the anti-war movement didn’t stop the war but it arguably had some important impacts during the invasion and occupation. For example Milan Rai maintains that the increased public scrutiny provided by the UK and global anti-war movements reduced the destruction caused by US and UK forces. He points to the fact that the US-led coalition in the 1991 Gulf War targeted and destroyed Iraq’s life-maintaining infrastructure – its electricity system, the water supply, sewage systems etc. However, in 2003 this didn’t happen. In addition, the relatively early withdrawal of UK forces from southern Iraq in April 2009 was arguably a response to the anti-war mood at home. “Their continued presence in Iraq was politically toxic” in the UK, Greg Muttitt, author of Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Iraq, explained in a public lecture at the London School of Economics last year. “Gordon Brown was keen to get rid of them and say ‘that was a Blair problem.’”

AD: The march is viewed as a complete failure even on the left – for instance at the start of the book you quote Eleanor Mae O’Hagen of UK Uncut describing the march as having achieved “absolutely nothing”. Why do you think this view of the march as an unalloyed defeat become so prevalent even on the far left?

IS: I don’t have any definite answers on this but a few things come to mind. Firstly, I should point out in one sense I think it is perfectly reasonable to describe the march as a failure because the anti-war movement failed to achieve its central aim – to stop the war.

However, as I suggest above there is a lot more to say about the march than this. And, with a few exceptions, I don’t think the anti-war movement has done a great job articulating its own achievements to a wider audience. Milan Rai has been trying to draw attention to ‘Wobbly Tuesday’ since 2003 and the Stop the War Coalition’s official book also had some things to say about the anti-war movement’s legacy, but there seems to be a lot more to say on the subject if you bear in mind that 15 February 2003 was the biggest demonstration in British history. This gap in the debate is one of the reasons I wanted to write the book, which I hope will generate discussion on the subject.

Also, I think the shades of opinion about 15 February 2003 within the left, in so far as one can make generalisations, are interesting. From my research and interviews I found the young people, like Ellie Mae O’Hagan, involved in creative direct action groups like Plane Stupid, Climate Rush, UK Uncut and Occupy had a far more critical view of 15 February 2003 than older activists, such as the leadership of Stop the War Coalition or CND. I wonder if this is indicative of a different ethos when it comes to their respective involvement in activism? For example, I interviewed the radical US activist and organiser Michael Albert a couple of years ago for Peace News and when I asked him what kept him going over his 40 years of activism he replied “I want to win. I’m not in this to be able to look at myself in the mirror. I’m not in this to fight the good fight and lose. I want to win. I don’t see any other reason to do this.” This may have been an obvious statement to many but it really shook me. Up until that point I hadn’t really thought that activists should concern themselves with winning! No doubt many will disagree but I wonder if the older, what might be called ‘career activists’ in the Stop the War Coalition leadership are a little more happy to chug along fighting the good fight, whereas the younger activists now involved in UK Uncut, Occupy etc. are closer to Albert’s position, and therefore a little more impatient for change?

AD: What were the historical roots of the protest? What laid the basis for a march on such an unprecedented scale?

IS: It depends how far you want to go back. For example, many of the people centrally involved in the anti-war movement, such as the leadership of the Stop the War Coalition, took part in many of the major activist campaigns of recent British history – the 1984-5 Miner’s Strike, the 1991 Gulf War, the war on Serbia in1999 etc. Also, in the book Rai argues the activism against the US-UK sanctions on Iraq in the 1990s assisted in the relatively quick growth of the anti-war movement because it had already “built up a considerable amount of knowledge about Iraq and had mobilized a certain amount of people”.

So I think all this activism unknowingly laid the groundwork for the huge anti-war movement that opposed the Iraq War, including the march on 15 February 2003. However, the key event in the birth of the anti-war movement was clearly 9/11. “The terrain evolved” on 9/11, according to Anas Altikriti, who was a spokesperson for the Muslim Association of Britain in 2003. Altikriti was referring to 9/11’s effect on the British Muslim community but I think his analysis can be applied to other parts of British society. Blair’s increasingly unpopular backing of the US on Afghanistan, the wider ‘war on terror’ and then Iraq was clearly the key driver of the growth of the anti-war movement. The Stop the War Coalition, arguably the leading organisation in the anti-Iraq War movement, was formed within weeks of 9/11 and by the end of 2002 had created a formal coalition with the Muslim Association of Britain and CND – the three organisations who organised the march on 15 February 2003.

To what extent can the anti-war movement take credit for the surge in anti-war feeling among the public? One answer in the book comes from Philip Steele, a peace activist from Bangor, Wales: “I would say that it was not down to any of us activists – the public had motivated themselves.”

Alex Doherty is a co-editor of New Left Project and a graduate student in the war studies department of King’s College London.

The joined up policies of the Green Party

The joined up policies of the Green Party
by Ian Sinclair
Open Democracy
1 November 2014

With two recent national polls on voting intentions showing the Green Party ahead of the Liberal Democrats, it can only be a matter of time before the latter disappear into the oblivion of the “Other parties” category.

These results can only strengthen the Greens’s call to be included in the 2015 televised general election debates, which, if successful, will give the Greens the opportunity to reach millions of voters. And presuming party leader Natalie Bennett does her job what viewers should hear about is the party’s holistic policies that have countless positive, and sometimes surprising, knock-on effects on the rest of society.

Take the Green Party’s manifesto commitment of making 35-hours the standard full-time work week in the UK. Most obviously, as the UK has some of the longest full-time working hours in Europe, this would reduce the amount of hours people spend in paid work. Who could possibly object to this? More seriously, there are many more important spin-offs as well. Ill health and stress from overwork would likely reduce. The New Economics Foundation argues moving towards a shorter working week “would help break the habit of living to work, working to earn, and earning to consume.” This, in turn, would give people an opportunity to focus on friends and family, voluntary work, pastimes and other non-paid activities. From a feminist perspective, less hours at work would make it more likely domestic labour and childcare could be more evenly balanced between women and men. A move away from earning to consume would also help to address the climate chaos that is already engulfing the global. “A number of studies have found that shorter work hours are associated with lower greenhouse gas emissions and therefore less global climate change”, noted a 2013 report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research. “The relationship between these two variables is complex and not clearly understood, but it is understandable that lowering levels of consumption, holding everything else constant, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Another key Green Party concern is to reduce private car use and increase funding for public transport. First, this would lead to a reduction in exhaust pollution that contributes to thousands of deaths a year. Fewer cars would also mean less traffic noise, which can have a negative effect on stress and sleep quality. Fewer cars on the road means a safer road environment which would lead to more people cycling and walking. And more people cycling and walking means more people will be getting more exercise. And people who take regular exercise are less likely to be overweight and depressed. And less overweight and depressed people means a reduction in numerous associated health problems, which will mean less stress on the NHS.

And like the 35-hour week, a reduction in private car use helps to address the Green Party’s core concern – climate change. And addressing climate change itself has many welcome spin offs – from consciously weaning the world off fossil fuels before they run out at a time and place not of our choosing to all the positive social impacts I mention above. Taking a global view, Naomi Klein argues in her incendiary new book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate “Many of the changes that need to be made to dramatically cut emissions would also materially benefit the quality of life for the majority of people on the planet.”

In contrast to the Green Party’s joined-up thinking, arguably the headline policy for all the three main parties is austerity (the Greens are in favour of a Green New Deal). And using the same ‘dropping a pebble in a pond’ logic, we know this (highly ideological, counterproductive) belt-tightening has had, and will continue to have, a never-ending stream of negative consequences for wider society. Rather than being ‘all in this together’, austerity politics have led to increased levels of inequality, which Professor Richard Wilkinson and Professor Kate Pickett have shown has a deleterious effect on a whole range of issues from social mobility to mental health, drug use, obesity and trust of other people.

Austerity means more people living in poverty, more people visiting food banks, more depression and more suicides, as Dr David Stuckler explains in his 2013 book The Body Politic. More broadly, the political elite’s austerity obsession pushes society closer towards social breakdown, leading to both organised, overtly political resistance and more spontaneous, often criminal mass actions like 2011’s nationwide riots.

With the possibility of millions of voters being presented with these radically different political visions of the future, is it any wonder that much of the mainstream media and political elite are attempting to exclude the Green Party from the television election debates?