Blogs > HNN > Iraq, Palestine and lack of a Movement Towards Peace

Jan 20, 2005 2:00 pm

Iraq, Palestine and lack of a Movement Towards Peace

In a fascinating, but as usual, little reported development in the war on terror, the "Islamic Jihad Army" released an English language video titled "A Message from the 'Iraq Resistance" on December 10. Available along with a transcript at, the video is an extremely interesting exercise in war-time political propaganda, the post-modern equivalent to Tokyo Rose or Hanoi Hannah of the Vietnam war. To begin with, the video, narrated in British-accented English, explains that the resistance fighters are not terrorists, but are rather "simple people who chose principles over fear." Moreover, they explain that "After the crimes of the administrations of the U.S and Britain in Iraq , we have chosen our future. The future of every resistance struggle ever in the history of man. It is our duty, as well as our right, to fight back the occupying forces, which their nations will be held morally and economically responsible; for what their elected governments have destroyed and stolen from our land. We have not crossed the oceans and seas to occupy Britain or the U.S. nor are we responsible for 9/11."

In other words, don't blame us for 9/11—that's true, of course, and a direct retort to the arguments of the Bush administration. Yet at the same time the growing—post-invasion it needs to be remembered—ties between the resistance and international jihadi groups like al-Qa'eda, belie this statement.

What's most interesting to me is what comes next: a salute to the anti-war movement: "We thank all those, including those of Britain and the U.S. , who took to the streets in protest against this war and against Globalism. We also thank France, Germany and other states for their position, which least to say are considered wise and balanced, till now. Today, we call on you again. We do not require arms or fighters, for we have plenty. We ask you to form a world wide front against war and sanctions. A front that is governed by the wise and knowing. A front that will bring reform and order. New institutions that would replace the now corrupt. Stop using the U.S. dollar, use the Euro or a basket of currencies. Reduce or halt your consumption of British and U.S. products. Put an end to Zionism before it ends the world. Educate those in doubt of the true nature of this conflict and do not believe their media for their casualties are far higher than they admit."

This is a fascinating passage for several reasons. First, because they actually think that the anti-war movement is their ally in a larger struggle against globalization, to which they specifically link the resistance in Iraq. Perhaps they've been reading to many transcripts of US officials commenting on the anti-war movement. Or perhaps they know something we don't know. I ask this because while it is absolutely clear that the vast majority of the partisans of the anti-war and anti-globalization movement are utterly opposed to the violence of the resistance, there is a perceptible tendency in the international leadership to justify if not embrace the "resistance" uncritically and, in my view, immorally. As I have discussed in various articles -- -- and in detail in my new book, in meetings in Cairo and Beirut and in statements, various leaders of the movement have demonstrated a willingness to support not just violent resistance to the occupation in general, but the specific terroristic forms of resistance to the occupation in Iraq and Palestine. That is, support is expressed for a "unified global resistance," while Lebanon's Hizbollah is described as a model for the movement to resist the joint power of imperialism and globalization in Iraq.

As one leader explains "Perhaps a major part of the reason is that a significant part of the international peace movement hesitates to legitimize the Iraqi resistance. Who are they? Can we really support them? These questions have increasingly been flung at the advocates of an unconditional military and political withdrawal from Iraq. Let us face it: the use of suicide as a political weapon continues to bother many activists who were repelled by statements such as that of the Palestinian leaders who proudly asserted that suicide bombers were the oppressed people’s equivalent of the F-16. Let us face it: the fact that a large part of the resistance in both Iraq and Palestine is Islamic rather than secular in inspiration continues to bother many western peace activists.

"Yet there has never been any pretty movement for national liberation or independence. Many progressives were also repelled by some of the methods of the “Mau Mau” movement in Kenya, the FLN in Algeria, the NLF in Vietnam. What progressives forget is that national liberation movements are not asking them mainly for ideological or political support. What they really want from the outside, from progressive like us, is international pressure for the withdrawal of an illegitimate occupying power so that internal forces can have the space to forge a truly national government based on their unique processes. Until they give up their implicit conditioning of their actions on the guarantee that a national liberation movement tailored to their values and discourse will be the one to come to power, many peace activists will continue to be trapped within a paradigm of imposing their terms on other people."

This is as interesting an analysis as it is absurd and immoral. First of all, it appears that the Iraqi resistance is not just asking for "international pressure" but a reform of the international system along the lines advocated by the anti-globalization movement. Perhaps the anti-war movement isn't giving the rebels enough credit for ideological sophistication. But much more important, people who refuse to criticize violence have no idea of what's happening on the ground in Iraq; what it means to have your hotel windows blown out by a suicide bomber (as happened to me when I was there); to have friends and family routinely massacred, as so many of my Iraqi friends have experienced. Supporting the violent resistance there means supporting the mass killing of Iraqi civilians by terrorists, and by the US military in its response to the insurgency. To say that it's not up to us to condemn indiscriminate violence by the insurgents or to ask Iraqis to choose a better way to resist occupation is to relinquish all moral authority and stoop to the level of the Bush Administration and other governments, which continually support—or at least refuse to condemn—violence by their clients across the globe.

Does the fact that resistance movements have used violence in the past mean it was either a good idea then or a good one today? Perhaps the fact that the post-independence regimes in countries like Kenya, Algeria and Vietnam turned out to be extremely autocratic and violent should alert us to the fact that, as opposed to India for example, using mass violence to win independence is likely to produce a pathological and violent culture that is incapable of healing the wounds of either colonialism or the war of liberation? Do the majority of activists from what I term the global peace and justice movement really support terroristic resistance in Iraq? Of course not. But if some of their most important leaders can't bring themselves to condemn it, then it's time for new leaders, no?

Moving west about 500 miles or so, writing in the Israeli daily Ha'aretz on January 20 , Hussein Agha and Robert Malley have interestingly labeled newly elected Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas as the "last Palestinian." Or perhaps it was Yasser Arafat they were referring to (or more likely, whom the Ha'aretz editors were referring to when they came up with the title and never bothered to show it to the authors, as is often the case). But assuming it fairly accurately reflects their position, I'm not sure what it means for either Arafat or Abbas to be the last Palestinian. What about all the other Palestinians? Do they mean that Arafat was the last true Palestinian nationalist who was unequivocal in striving for their full national rights? If so, that's hardly true. Do they mean that if Abu Mazen (as Abbas is known to Palestinians) fails, Palestine is history, such a view plays right into the hands of the Israeli right, which is hoping for just such an outcome.

In reality, neither the late nor present President of the PA is the last Palestinian--just as Sharon, despite the optimistic assessments of many liberal Israeli friends regarding his "change of heart" and "desire to make a place for himself in history," is by no means the last Zionist (which if I read the article correctly is the better equivalent to "Palestinian" than "Israeli"). The sad reality is that this conflict is no where near close to being settled, peacefully or violently, which is why most Palestinians and Israelis I know who are working in the trenches for a truly just and peaceful resolution are thinking very long-term and not hoping for any major breakthroughs in the next few years. For progressives on both sides, the kind of evolution of social consciousness that made possible the civil rights revolution in the US is increasingly seen as the prerequisite for a truly democratic resolution to the conflict that protects the national, religious, cultural and economic rights of both peoples.

In this sense, perhaps we're still waiting for the first true Palestinian and Zionist-Israeli leader to emerge. Certainly the rapid demise of the so-called window of opportunity for peace negotiations and resumption of violence on both sides suggest that neither leadership is capable of leading their peoples to the political promised land. And with the US incapable of playing a positive role, the EU unwilling to assert itself, Arab states utterly uninterested in doing so for innumerable reasons (chief among them being that their legitimacy is still tied to the continuation of a manageable but perpetual conflict, while even the far-reaching Saudi initiative—especially coming from an absolute autocratic monarchy—was shot dead on arrival), the best that Israeli and Palestinian peace activists can do is dig in and lay the groundwork for a change of consciousness on the grass roots level in both societies.

I was going to write about "24" but I'll leave that till next time to see how the plot develops in the next episode. Suffice it to say, having a mother force her son to kill his girlfriend and then say menacingly to him how "disappointed" she was that wouldn't go through with it is perhaps a new low in history of the portrayal of Muslims on American TV.

Finally, to the commenter on my last posting who suggested that bringing Thomas Frank to UCI is the equivalent of bringing John Yoo, I would ask how formulating policy that involves sanctioning state-sponsored torture is comparable to writing a book that is panned by the NY Times Book Review (but celebrated by its OpEd page, as he neglected to mention).

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More Comments:

Sandor A. Lopescu - 4/16/2005

How did the lecture go Mark? You gonna leave us hanging?

P. E. Bird - 1/24/2005

Is his not a voice worthy of a hearing?

Take it from me, the University Club is not a forum for debate or tough questions - it is a membership club that has a university association.

While it is open to the public for lunch, it is unclear whether Dr. Yoo's lecture will be open to the public.

most likely in front of an audience hostile to the speaker

If it's at lunch, maybe they can hurl some bread rolls at him.

Don Willis - 1/21/2005

Now here is a post I found interesting, and perhaps not coincidentally it is closer to Prof. Levine's area of academic expertise and I gather recent first hand experience.

As for Prof. Yoo, my point was that anyone could find any reason to object to honoring someone as a "distinguished" fellow. Are there not profound legal and moral questions related to interrogation, torture, POWs, and battlefield conduct? Do these questions arise in a different context than that informing the Geneva convention, for example? (as an aside, the most recent edition of City Journal has a feature by Heather MacDonald on some of these issues from the more practical standpoint of the interrogators) Prof. Yoo has no doubt considered many of these questions, and did so from a position of responsibility for real policy formulation, unlike the Greek Chorus that will greet him.

Is his not a voice worthy of a hearing? In an article in the weekly student newspaper ( on Viet Dinh's appearance at UC Irvine, the reporter stated that Prof. Dinh roughly equally divided his time between his own remarks and Q&A. Yet Prof. Levine was quoted in this article suggesting that if John Yoo did not decline the fellowship and opt instead for a debate it would indicate a lack of "guts". It seems there will be ample opportunity to challenge him, most likely in front of an audience hostile to the speaker.