Was marching on 15 February 2003 a waste of time?

Was marching on 15 February 2003 a waste of time?
by Ian Sinclair
20 December 2014

Was it a waste of time marching on 15 February 2003? Did the march have no effect on British politics? Many people believe so. This account from Maajid Nawaz of speaking to a bomb-maker in an Egyptian prison suggests the march had one very important, far-reaching influence:

‘So when I was in prison in Egypt as a political prisoner there… one of the things I did was have a conversation with a convicted, professional bomb-maker… He was from Dagestan. He came to Egypt to train Egyptians to cross the border into the Gaza Strip to train Palestinians to kill Israelis. He was caught, thankfully, and he was put in prison. The conversation I had with him was after the mass protest movement in Britain against the [2003] Iraq War. I said to him the following, I said “Look, the majority of these people protesting – first of all the largest protest against the Iraq War wasn’t in Pakistan, it wasn’t in Saudi Arabia, it wasn’t in Turkey, it was in Britain, this country you want to blow up. Second fact, most of the protesters were non-Muslims. So what does that tell you about the people you define as your enemy? In fact, Turkey is a member of NATO that is part of this alliance, so surely you should be trying to blow-up Turkish Muslims instead of the Brits who are opposed to the Iraq War.” First of all I got a look from him that kind of told me he wanted to kill me. That conversation lasted over a couple of weeks and one day I was in my cell and he came knocking on the door and he said “Maajid you know I’ve been thinking”. This is a guy who knows how to make bombs and kill people. He says “You know I’ve been thinking” because we had a lengthy conversation about it. He said “You are right”. After seeing the photographs I showed him from the newspapers of the mass protests against the Iraq War, he said “You are right, these people aren’t my enemy”. He was still a terrorist, he was still an Islamist, he was still an extremist, but he no longer believed in targeting Britain.’ – Maajid Nawaz, former member of Hizb ut-Tahrir and co-founder and Executive Director of Quilliam, Overtime with Bill Maher, October 25, 2013

This account concurs with an interview Moazzam Begg gave in 2008 about being a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay:

‘The Stop the War movement has become a buffer between people who may want to carry out acts of violence on innocent Westerners, and the government itself that does carry out acts of violence against people in the Middle East. I had a conversation with the only self-described member of Al Qaida I’ve met, in Guantanamo. He said that people in the West are not innocent because they vote in their leaders and therefore must share part of the blame. I explained that most people vote on domestic issues like the health service and roads. I said that you’ll probably find a great number of them don’t support the war, but when you strike you don’t discriminate. Then he started thinking about it a little bit. 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 whole lot of them.”’

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8 thoughts on “Was marching on 15 February 2003 a waste of time?

  1. mickstep

    Support “Stop the War” they might be an ineffectual limited hangout, but on the plus side they might be able to convince a few terrorists to target turks instead of Brits….. inspiring.

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  2. ianjs2014 Post author

    Hi Mickstep

    Thanks for your comment.

    I think you are being a little unfair. I’m not sure what you mean when you refer to a “limited hang out”. But I think it’s important to remember that Stop the War organised the biggest demonstration in British history – an impressive feat in itself, and something that, I would argue, has had a number of important effects on British history since.

    Also, you seem to have misread the quotes. Both suggest the anti-war protests, which Stop the War Coalition played a leading role in organising, may well have reduced the terror threat to the UK. Surely this is an important, positive influence, no?

    Thanks

    Ian

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    1. mickstep

      When I call Stop the War a limited hang out I mean, they shut people up if they go too far and start talking about the motives behind imperialism rather than treat out wars as an accident or mistake. They respond to imperialist demands to deny someone a platform like Mother Agnes was by complying. The march did not accomplish anything, they do not challenge the state in any way in that sense they are a limited hang out, intended to placate people happy in their struggle against empire, but with zero chance of stopping any war.

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      1. ianjs2014 Post author

        Hi Mickstep

        Thanks for elaborating on what you meant.

        You should be aware I am not an uncritical supporter of Stop the War Coalition. See, for example, this article I wrote (http://www.newleftproject.org/index.php/site/article_comments/the_stop_the_war_coalition_the_socialist_workers_party_and_iraq) and my book on the march.

        That said, I don’t think you are accurately representing their position on the Iraq War, or wars in general. I’ve seen no evidence to suggest they see them as accidents or mistakes.

        I strongly disagree with your argument with the march not accomplishing anything. If you are interested in seeing what the march did achieve/change then I would recommend my book on the topic. If you don’t want to read this have a look at these articles I’ve written http://www.newleftproject.org/index.php/site/article_comments/reconsidering_the_march_that_failed and http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/ian-sinclair/iraq-war-syria_b_4787561.html. The latter, I think, makes a strong case for the Iraq anti-war movement having a decisive influence on the parliamentary vote that stopped the US-UK attack on Syria in August 2013.

        Thanks for your comments.

        Ian

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  3. mickstep

    And now we are in Syria bombing people, with the inevitable conclusion that Assad will become in thrall to western dictate or be overthrown. (I suppose alternatively Russia might manage to prop him up against the west’s will) The reality is the only way to make our imperial masters bow to the will of the people is to be willing to bring our own economy to its knees for a given cause. Self congratulating about a massive march’s negligible effects, at the expense of what was done in spite of the march doesn’t seem productive to me.

    What could actually stop a war next time around? I can only suggest general strike, blocking the ports, blocking motorways, take a cue from the French, maybe stop short of kidnapping bosses but I wouldn’t knock anyone if they did it.

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  4. mickstep

    Just a correction I know that we Brits are not actually bombing in Syria yet, but our involvement is basically mere moral support for the US imperial campaign which is.

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  5. ianjs2014 Post author

    Hi Mickstep

    Thanks for your further comments.

    I agree it’s worth exploring what could have actually stopped the UK participation in the 2003 Iraq War. A number of interviewees in my book do this in the book’s final section. For example, imagine if an Occupy camp had been started. Perhaps this would have tipped the protest into stopping the war. Saying this, I think it’s also important to think about what the anti-war movement did achieve – and there were many, I would argue.

    Kind regards

    Ian

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