People to People
by Hilary Wainwright
The inexcusable outrage of 11 September was indeed an attack on democracy, but not the hollow democracy which George Bush has come to symbolise. Rather, the reactionary tactic of terror has, predictably, provoked a clamp down on the open debate by which genuine democracy lives.
Witness BBC Director General apologising -- repeat in disbelief: apologising -- for a Question Time that reflected the concerns and disagreements about how to react to these world-shattering events. From the US, we hear reports of NBC cutting off critical voices on phone-in shows. On an international scale the rights of people of Islamic origin are seriously under threat. Witness official US and UK spokesmen talking openly about "the civilised versus the uncivilised world". "If you're not with us you're against us" is the blackmail which is coming from governments on both sides of the Atlantic at a time when open public argument is essential if the madness of freelance terror is not to be followed by the systematic lunacy of state militarism.
To build a non-violent opposition to war we must have at the forefront of our minds an obvious but suddenly forgotten distinction between the American people and the US state. Already there is a feeling that campaigners should hold back on criticisms of US government policy: OXFAM for instance has cancelled a petition challenging US policy on pharmaceutical corporations, on the grounds that "that it is inappropriate to pursue criticisms of the US".
But criticising the policy of the American government in no way implies that we do not feel solidarity and shared grief with the American people. We express with all our hearts, sympathy and empathy for the friends and relatives of the dead, remembering too -- but not counter-posing -- the thousands of people killed by American bombers in Iraq, and dying across the South as a result of US economic policies. This is not in conflict with opposition to, for example, US funding and arming of SharonŐs Israel as it terrorises the population of Palestine, the dangerous nuclear escalation threatened by the National Missile Defence programme and the impoverishment caused a deregulated global economic system of which the US is the lynchpin.
There are signs that in the midst of their grief the American people are thinking and holding on to their autonomy from the state. On vigils in New York while some are calling for revenge others are singing "give peace a chance."
These protesters-in-mourning are questioning a rigid world view that can only re-enact the past with ever more elaborate military technology. The US Administration's response to an extreme injustice is a dogmatic self-righteousness and a resort to the scenarios of past victories -- most notably the Gulf War. Its trauma is producing a reinforcement of the old reactions. The Americans begging for peace and justice are wanting the trauma to produce new directions, to end the US role of policeman of the world, to get their governments to join with others for instance to build the United Nation and to sign up for the International Court of Human Justice. The global superpower that cannot rethink and that sees itself above international law, is a threat to every one of us, Christian, Muslim or secular. People across the world are raising fundamental questions about the present world order, or disorder. At times the enormity, the very globality, of what has happened makes our own efforts seem puny. But every attempt to plant the seeds of a just and democratic society now has a new importance.
Everyone trying in their own circumstances to create such an alternative has a newly urgent duty to connect with colleagues internationally, especially in the US and the Middle East, nurses with nurses, community organisers with their equivalents, artists with artists. In effect we need to create what the direct action movement calls "affinity groups" -- friendly bases, in our locality, with fellow trade unionists, amongst kindred spirits, from which we can feel confident to open new means of people-to-people contact across national and ethnic borders. One modest example is Women in Black (WIB) which has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. It is an international network of women who since the founding group in Israel in 1986 have been in the eye of every storm, from Bosnia to Palestine. There they have stood silently, or taken non-violent action, in protest as women from both sides of each ethnic divide, against war and militarism. They set us an example.
Hilary Wainwright is editor in chief of Red Pepper