Anti-war activists seek to save Iraqi cause from oblivion

The road towards recovery will undoubtedly be steep in the face of the steady fragmentation of Iraqi identity.
Sunday 06/05/2018
Participants attend the “Iraq Solidarity Month” in London, on April 26.(Jehan Alfarra)
Saving the cause. Participants attend the “Iraq Solidarity Month” in London, on April 26.(Jehan Alfarra)

LONDON - Iraq is often seen as a failed state or yesterday’s news — stereotypes that a solidarity movement in London is hoping to challenge.

Born under the banner “Iraq Solidarity Month” (ISM), members of London’s Iraqi community, friends and Tadhamun, an Iraqi women’s organisation, inaugurated the effort April 26.

The cross-platform and global movement wants to place the suffering of Iraq’s mosaic communities and rich heritage on the global map through collective action. Global civil society, speakers said, was the strongest dissenting voice in opposing the war on Iraq while many Iraqis feel the world has chosen to look away.

As depicted in Amir Amirani’s documentary film “We Are Many,” solidarity has been a major social and political force that raised the world’s biggest protest movement. Years later, much of what was set in motion has fizzled.

Alongside the pursuit of solidarity there were calls to keep memories — however bitter — alive. The list the speakers communicated was long: lies sold across the globe, cooked intelligence, the systematic dehumanisation of Iraqi society and its demonisation and “a long history of false flags” that former UN Assistant Secretary-General Denis Halliday discussed in depth.

Wen-chin Ouyang, professor of Arabic Literature at SOAS University of London, mourned the erosion of intellectual life and a disturbing educational decline, particularly for Iraqi girls. Assistant Professor in Human Rights at the London School of Economics Ayca Cubukcu asked: “How can we document the crimes that are being committed against the people of Iraq?”

Dirk Adriaensen of the University of Antwerp spoke on the right to resist, a subject Western media outlets have avoided. Tadhamun’s Zainab Khan played an audio collage with slides animating the horrors that befell Falluja — the hotbed of Iraqi resistance — 15 years ago.

Iraqi architect and expert in heritage conservation Ihsan Fethi showcased solidarity from abroad, submitting a letter about reconstruction opportunities and the need to protect Mosul’s unique historical fabric.

ISM co-founder Haifa Zangana spoke of the demographic that many in attendance belong to, the diaspora, underscoring the successes of under-sourced and underfunded groups such as Tadhamun and how the momentum was renewable. Algerian activist Hamza Hamouchene delivered a message full of hope and humour about his first-hand encounters with Iraqi civil society during a trip several years ago. British-Iraqi rapper Lowkey catalogued a trilogy of successes by Iraqi civil society in homeland politics.

What quickly emerged was a timeline of Iraq’s torments, as far back as the first Gulf War and up until the liberation of Mosul and surrounding territories.

From start to finish, Iraqi voices spoke alongside sister organisations that have shown varying degrees of solidarity: World Tribunal on Iraq, BRussells Tribunal, Iraq Occupation Focus, Lindsey German from Stop the War — UK and the Guardian’s former associate foreign editor, Victoria Brittain. The voices were predominately female, a rare spectacle amid a political activist landscape that in London is overwhelmingly male.

Although the tone of the event was generally more sober than celebratory, it generated both tears and laughter. The overriding sentiment, however, was the sense of betrayal that Iraqis still feel. There was the claim that Iraq remains subject to the whims of overseas advice and foreign interference; “not quite the freedom Iraq was promised” an audience member quipped.

ISM is, in many ways, the first of future solidarity acts. The aim is to revive, re-mobilise and re-energise the largest anti-war movement in which millions stood up to contest the war on Iraq, despite having stood down in subsequent years.

“Yesterday’s carnage and massacre,” as Aisha Maniar from London Guantanamo Campaign wrote, “are quickly consigned to oblivion in the waste bin of history as the conveyor belt moves on.” She emphasised the need for rituals of solidarity and the passage of time to heal wounds.

The road towards recovery will undoubtedly be steep in the face of the steady fragmentation of Iraqi identity and a country that, Zangana says, “is almost forgotten.” A turning point is long overdue to resuscitate a collective, anti-war consciousness but concrete ideas, cross-platform collaboration and political consciousness are needed if the movement is to achieve its objectives.

In their absence, solidarity is at risk and difficult to sustain in the face of unending tragedies.

As the world moves on, Iraqis cannot, battling a situation that denies society the chance to recover. Solidarity, ISM organisers said, can change that.