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Program Information
Talk hosted by Peace and Neutrality Alliance
Tariq Ali
 Anonymous  Contact Contributor
Approximately 150 people attended a talk by writer Tariq Ali in the ATGWU Hall on Middle Abbey Street earlier this evening. Des Bonass introduced the discussion.
Tariq Ali began by talking about the "F15" demonstrations 3 years ago, which were unprecendented. It was important to note that huge protests took place in the US too. New York City, the target of a terrorist attack, saw 1 million people marching in the streets with similar numbers in Los Angeles and San Francisco. What happened to that movement? It didnt carry on from that day. The overwhelming majority on those marches were not "activists" or people with a strong left-wing political tradition, they were ordinary citizens who thought that by coming out on to the streets they would stop war. When it didnt happen, people became disillusioned with protesting, and when the war began, people sat at home. A much smaller group continued antiwar actions and demos. The pinnacle of F15 was never reached again, but this didn't mean that the "activists" should stay silent and give up.

Slowly, military families have become a centre of antiwar resistance. Cindy Sheehan took a stance on her own in the US outside George Bush's ranch, and became a symbol of resistance - the "ordinary person" making a difference. Reg Keys who lost his son, addressed Tony Blair directly in the last election and shook him up a bit. The actions of these "ordinary" citizens was leading to growth again in antiwar activities.

Ali believes that this is a critical time in the Middle East. Having failed in Iraq, the US is keen to do lightning military strikes on neighbouring countries to fashion a victory. The only way a colonising power can hold on to a colony is to heighten sectarian and ethnic divisions. The British Empire did it in Cyprus, Ireland, Africa, and India. The US Empire is operating the same way in Iraq. Country is de facto divided into 3 ethnic chunks - Shia in the south, Sunni in the middle, and Kurds to the north. The only reason the occupation has lasted so long, is because the insurgency has become so large. If the insurgency just was a small Al-Qaeda linked group, it would have been destroyed long ago. The main bulk of insurgents are ex-Baathists from the Iraqi army who dissolved after the fall of Baghdad, and melted back into local areas. Even the so-called Green Zone is not safe.

Ali said that US reserves of soldiers are drying up. Not enough new troops are joining so the US Military have been running recruitment campaigns in central american states, promising them US citizenship after a tour of duty. The US doesnt have enough people on the ground to control Iraq. And if they cant do it in Iraq, they cant do it in Iran or Syria. It's very easy to do air strikes, but you cannot occupy without troops. Other counties in 'coalition of willing' are under pressure to withdraw. Its a very bleak situation for the US.

Ali then moved on to the question of Palestine, and new problems arising from the recent election. Why did Hamas win? They campaigned saying, "we are the only group in Palestine opposed to further collaboration with US, Israel, Oslo etc. The PLO have done nothing during their years of collaborating, corruption is rife". When Hamas won the election, US/EU/Egypt said Hamas must immediately change their manifesto and recognise Israel, or they would lose all payments. Hamas said they never got any money anyway, the PLO fatcats kept it all for themselves & families.

It seems that democracy is only possible these days if it takes place within certain limits. When democracy becomes a challenge, it is to be frowned upon. The US barred any parties standing in the Iraq election who made US withdrawal part of their election demands. This level of double standard drives people in the Arab world crazy. as long as there are occupations of Palestine and Iraq, there will always be young people joining militant Islamic groups. The same thing happened in the north, after Bloody Sunday. The IRA got loads of new recruits after the military shot people dead because people saw no other legitimate way to resist. Palestine also has young people dreaming of growing up to be suicide bombers, this reflects an enormous level of despair. The western media neglects the condition/background of WHY the bombers are there. There is very little comment on the phenomenon, apart from "these people are mad - they must be locked up or killed".

Ali then moved on to where the US is also feeling anger and resentment in another continent - South America. This was a laboratory for the grand neoliberal experiment. Massive social movements developed against US policy. Water privatisation in Bolivia 4 years ago provoked a mass uprising; the corporation given the water resources also decreed that Bolivians were not even allowed to collect rainwater in jars and buckets on the roofs of their houses. In Peru where electricity resources were being privatised, peasants also rose up. For them, these neoliberal plans always meant an increase in prices, and profits for companies - meaning poor people could not afford basic services. A centre-left Venezuela government pushed through a US neoliberal agenda in 1999, which provoked a massive uprising again. The army killed demonstrators in the streets. This was the birth of the Chavez movements; as a General he said that the army was not there to kill people, it was supposed to be protecting them, and was subsequently jailed for this. With the growth of the Bolivarian movement, Chavez won the general election. US made attempts to remove Chavez, by coup, install corrupt businessmen. People marched on parliament, army soldiers rebelled against officers. Following this there was a middle class strike against Chavez, backed by the US again - despite the fact that Chavez had been democratically elected by the people.

Ali believes that most media in the Western world support this neoliberal western agenda. It is rare that you are able to read stuff about Haiti, Iraq, Palestine, etc. Al-Jazeera has 20 TV crews covering Iraq and what is happening these, whereas most western media is "embedded" with the US Military. The Arab world gets a very different view of the war. The west is worried about the war - of images. Hence the reason why Al-Jazeera was bombed repeatedly. The media is controlled more and more - networks like Indymedia are important.

He concluded by saying that democracy becomes less of a reality with increased political apathy and if people become disillusioned. It is important for people to keep up activist struggle to make sure that democracy is maintained, and how we should look to Latin America as a shining example of progress in the world at the moment.

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