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Outside the office in Old Town.
On Tuesday I worked at Project Homeless Connect, sort of a bi-annual fair, where homeless people can connect and familiarize themselves with the various services on offer to them in Portland. I spent the day representing the program I work for but was fortunate to run into an old friend who I haven't spoken to in what must be years... Israel Bayer is the Director of Streetroots, Portland's newspaper for low-income and homeless people. Well, its more than that, but check it out for yourself.
As a middle class white male who has never experienced homelessness I still owe Streetroots a lot. They gave me the opportunity to work as a volunteer reporter and later as a columnist, both of which opened doors to me for employment in social services and experience in journalism. My Column was called 'Coming To America,' after my zine at the time. Here are a couple of columns I wrote shortly after the US invasion of Iraq. It is a bit strange to read them now after the State of The Union address last night and the continual horrors that go on day after day in Iraq, almost four years later.
My brief talk with Israel took me back to a more politically active time. I'm glad he is still fighting the good fight as I wallow in political apathy.
It has been over three weeks since the ‘coalition forces’ commenced their bombing campaign on Iraq. In three weeks the U.S. led allies have marched along the paths cleared for them by massive aerial bombing and into, what was once the cradle of civilization, Baghdad. It is almost unfathomable, how a country can be invaded and occupied in such a short period of time. This is a true testimony to the military might of the United States. It is also very telling of the military capabilities of Iraq. Just how much of a threat, were they anyway?
Remember when this war was about ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction and chemical weapons? Have the coalition forces actually found much evidence of said weapons, they were so convinced they would find only a month ago?
Remember when this war stemmed from the ‘War On Terrorism’? The last I heard, thousands of young Arab men were volunteering to go to Iraq to become potential suicide bombers. These are young men who have become radicalized by the pictures they have seen on the news of children with disembodied feet and people with skulls that have been blown apart. Has it ever been any clearer how U.S. foreign policy plants the seed of fundamentalism and terrorism?
Remember when this war was meant to stabilize the region? With stray bombs flying into Iran and threatening postures being made against Syria, stability seems to be slipping further beyond the horizon. Furthermore, while the world’s attention is focused on Iraq, Israel has seized the opportunity to force further illegal settlements in Palestinian Jerusalem. Not to mention the growing anti-American sentiment throughout the Middle East. American products and fast food chains are being boycotted, American and British embassies have been shut down and white westerners have been stoned and targeted in various Arab nations. This is not stability.
Now, they insist, that this war has always been about liberating the people of Iraq. Whether the Iraqis like it or not and despite the fact that hospitals are now overflowing with victims of U.S. bombs. Iraq, will no doubt, soon be liberated from the totalitarian grip of Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party but to what? To military rule under the British and American armed forces, until the U.S. can secure power for Ahmed Chalabi, who they have hand-picked to rule Iraq. This is a man whose reputation for embezzlement and fraud precedes him and who no doubt, cannot wait to hand over Iraq's oil to the multinationals.
It boggles the mind as to how much the world has changed in these last three weeks. This country’s role on international stage has been rearranged almost as quickly as its reasons for forging this war in the first place. U.S. allies in the Middle East are openly expressing their opposition to the conduct of this war instead of blindly obeying orders. Europe has become a deeply divided continent as a direct result of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s alliance with Bush. Even on the home front, the atmosphere is turbulent, to say the least.
This country has not seen this level of protest in a long time nor has it seen such a militant police response to protest in a good while. I read today that the police used rubber and wooden bullets against peaceful, non obstructive protesters who were picketing a shipping company in Oakland that ships munitions and arms supplies. In response to criticism, a spokesperson for the Oakland police said, “We gave our dispersal order. We gave them ample time to disperse. When we give our dispersal order, that's pretty much it.” This does not really answer the people with baseball size welts on their heads who did not hear the warning and it does not answer why ‘less than lethal’ ammunition should be used on a picket line to begin with.
Here in Portland, huge efforts have been made to curb free speech and assembly. After, the Burnside Bridge was shut down during the day of the bombing protest, the police have made vast efforts to ensure it will not happen again. So vast, that any peaceful assembly of more than a handful of citizens will be accompanied by dozens of riot police. So vast that stepping into the road during a protest has become an offence worthy of a face-full of pepper spray or a weekend in jail.
Three weeks have drastically altered what it means to live in America, from those outside looking in with a disapproving glare and for those of us who live here and watch our civil liberties crumble by the day. May Day is just around the corner and will hopefully be a day when people can re-group and try to re-strategize in response to this Brave New World that awaits us.
I remember back before the American led pre-emptive attack on Iraq, reading and listening to arguments in favor of the war and thinking to myself, I must remember these arguments so I can remind the pro-war purveyors, in the coming weeks or months, how horrendously wrong they are going to be. It never made any sense to me how this war would make the world safer for Americans or rid the world of terrorism and as predicted, it has not. Leading up to the war George W. Bush said, “The United States and other nations did nothing to deserve or invite this threat, but we will do everything to defeat it.” Well, if people failed to make the connection between the World Trade Center attacks and U.S foreign policy, it should be blindingly obvious by now that an increase in rampant U.S. imperialism is proportionate to a rise in militant opposition and inevitably, terrorist activity. To put it plain and simple, the pro-war proponents’ argument that the invasion of Iraq would make the world a safer place was flat-out wrong. The country is yet again on heightened alert and it is becoming increasingly dangerous to be an American in the Middle East, as we have seen with the loss of American and European lives in Saudi Arabia and Morocco recently. Apparently, last Wednesday, a tape was broadcast on an Arabic television channel, with a message from a high up al-Qaida leader calling for another 9-11. The vicious cycle is in full spin.
You might also remember Bush, while trying to gather support for his War on Terrorism, saying, “This nation and our friends are all that stands between a world at peace and a world of chaos.” I wonder what the residents of Baghdad have to say about that at this present moment in time, as current estimations of the civilian death toll look like they could be around 10,000, while gun battles rage throughout the streets at night and while people are still without running water and electricity. The mainstream media is quick to point out how Iraqi artists are now free to paint what they want and drama groups can put on political plays without fear of being shut down and rounded up by the Baath party. Meanwhile, hospitals are still terribly under equipped because the decade old international sanctions have still not been lifted. Yes, everyone is glad to be rid of Saddam Hussein but Iraq is beginning to look scarily like occupied Palestine and much of the world now sees the U.S. as the one standing between a world of chaos and a world of peace. Not to mention the continued lack of evidence connecting Iraq to al-Qaida terrorists and its possession of weapons as mass destruction.
So while, those of us who wrote to our congress people, those of us who wrote letters to the editor, those of us who blocked traffic, those of us who battled the police and those of us who were willing to become human shields, could smugly sit back and say, “we told you so”, we have to understand, that the likes of Bush have a strikingly different sense of logic. Here is another Pre- Iraq invasion Bush quote, “There’s still an enemy lurking around which hates America. And they hate us for what we love. We love freedom, and we’re not changing... And so long as we hold freedom dear, there’s an enemy lurking around out there which will try to cause further harm on the American people- that’s just the way it is. That’s the clear reality we face.” This quote is worryingly reminiscent of the words of Joseph Goebels at the on set of the Second World War. It is a line of thinking that posits that there is a fundamental clash of civilizations that cannot be redeemed, until “we” can make “them” see our way of thinking, our idea of freedom and that we should prepare for permanent war until that point. What it fails to consider, is that the very reason the United States is so vehemently distrusted, in the first place, is a direct result of the way it has tried to perpetuate this illusion of “freedom” across the rest of the world. Militant young people on the streets Beirut, stone throwers in Baghdad and suicide bombers in Riyadh do not hate “freedom”. They hate double standards inherent in American foreign policy. How is a young woman in Kuwait supposed to believe the U.S.’s motives for liberating Baghdad, when they support a brutal totalitarian regime in her own country? A U.S supported regime that denies her the vote and locks up and tortures her brother for spray painting political graffiti.
It seems to me there is little purpose in pointing out all the, now blazingly obvious, flaws in the pro-war argument. It does not serve their agenda, whether it is to satisfy the arms industry, the oil corporations or to win Bush a second term by “uniting” the country against the “lurking enemy”, to acknowledge the logic of the foreign policy-anti-U.S. terrorism cycle. It is increasingly obvious that all the instability in the world serves those that run this country just fine. As we sit back watch history repeat itself over and over, we can only wonder how intentional the whole thing is.
Recommended listening: God Bless Our Dead Marines by A Silver Mt Zion