Monday, May 21, 2007

Ghassan Could've Stopped this War

Ghassan would always come around in the afternoon when my eyes were closing at the computer. He would open the fridge and take out olives, cheese, ham, and celery. He would smear hummus on a plate, pour olive oil over it, and scoop it up with pieces of bread. He would offer me tea, or nectarines, or bread. I would be sitting there, staring eyes glazed over at an Arabic title on a book, stuck on a mystery vowel.

Sometimes he would put on his coat and pour loose tobacco onto a rolling paper. Once he rolled it and was talking to me, the unlit cigarette hanging from his lips, when Frank came in. His face got red, and he glared at Ghassan, a big smile on his face. Ghassan liked trouble, and Frank’s peevishness was nothing to the Israeli police. A mischievous look played on his lips. His impish thick figure rose and put a comforting hand on Frank’s shoulder.

“Don’t worry, my Lord!” he said, “This is not a cigarette. It is just marijuana!” The room was filled with his laughter, open mouth, red-faced, and Frank’s voice bellowing “Out! Out! Out!”

Ghassan said he had no patience with the anti-war opposition. “The movement was not creative enough,” he said to me while munching bread and olive oil.

“The problem, the left was open to charges of being “pro-Saddam,’” I said. “All we could do was say, ‘No we aren’t,’ or ‘Who was pro-Saddam in the ‘80’s?”

“No,” he said definitively. “There was not enough creativity. The left should have been able to confront Bush and Saddam at the same time.” I asked him what he meant and he painted me a picture of people marching from cities and towns across Europe and Asia. The people converged and flowed, river-like, picking up more on the way. All along the way, they demand an end to the US buildup. At the Iraqi border posts they are welcomed as good propaganda. But once inside Iraq new banners go up: Saddam step down. Bush’s warplanes unleash nothing from the skies above. The processions create a pressure neither Bush nor Saddam can turn to advantage. The anti-war movement is immunized from charges of pandering and “appeasement.” The imaginations of people around the world are fired at the utopian images: masses of people, walking, surging across borders, erasing them with their feet, denationalized crowds.

As far as I was concerned last year, principle was everything. If the motives for war, were all various disguises for hunger for power, then the war in itself was wrong. To look at the other side and to demonize it was a childish sandbox tactic of distracting attention from one’s own wrongs in order to justify violence. Yet, thinking of Ghassan’s plan, I saw how beautiful could be the marriage of principle, creativity, and realism. Realistically, opposition to the war was going to be met by the charge that one was “objectively pro-Saddam.” I myself had that leveled against me, by my cousin, at a Korean cafeteria on 32nd street. The usefulness of this charge was in pigeonholing one’s opposition to their policies as helping Saddam. Neocons rule through stoking paranoid fears.

The overwhelming principle of the paranoid is the existence of only 2 categories: me and them. If fears can be stoked high enough by a gullible American media – as they were, so obediently – such a worldview can be created. It was within this outrageous, hallucinatory worldview that we held our marches on principle. Ghassan’s plan could have forced open a third way between Bush and Saddam by refusing them both any sort of moral or strategic high ground. His plan could have thrown a wrench into the machinery of paranoid conservative thinking. Ghassan’s plan, aimed squarely at world media, would have reminded people that in the end Bush and Saddam were two extremists belonging to one category – that the third way was the way of everyone else, the way of the world. As it was, Ghassan was an obscure leftist living in Chelsea. As it was, war shut us all out, and Iraq’s fate was left to Apache helicopter pilots and corporate mercenaries.

Ghassan’s plan would have awakened US media to the fact that war by rich countries against poor is a world event. His plan would have provided stark visual evidence for the truth that the war was global – and this has been borne out. Though the US flaunted macho pronouncements about “going it alone” beforehand, the reality shows a US government desperate to unload a blunder on others, talking grandly about the whole world’s “responsibility” toward Iraq. But such a situation returns us to the old adage of “no taxation without representation,” once an anti-British revolutionary slogan but now one to describe the new King George. Burdens of anti-insurgent “peacekeeping” operations inevitably fall on the world’s lap when the US cannot handle it – despite the fact that nothing other countries said could have stopped the US from launching its attack. It is a de facto taxation on the world – through political turmoil, through aid contributions, through deaths – without any kind of representation in the US government.

And yet the fiction that this American war enjoyed broad support is only maintained by keeping a tight focus on the independent-media challenged USA, and on the anti-democratic governments going against the wishes of their own majorities and fawning on Washington for favors. By cropping off the edges of such a picture, one forgets that the US is (was) the only country in the world to have largely bought Bush’s paranoid story.

Ghassan’s march on Baghdad would have reminded Americans that a global event like a war between nations involves the world, in one way or another. His march, with its TV news scenes of serpents of people crawling over the landscape – over the Balkans, over Inner-Asian plains, over Iran’s plateau, over the Maghribi sahel - his march of people singing – would have reminded Americans that they alone had swallowed Bush’s lines. And it would have reminded the people of their own forgotten power.

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