I stopped off in Trafalgar Square today, notebook in hand with the brief of filing an impromptu on-the-spot report on the anti-war demonstration for Harry’s Place. Unfortunately having had much better things to do with my weekend I only caught the last two speakers who were being beamed on to a big screen in the middle of the Square by the time I arrived; the penultimate one appeared to be called something like Kemal and was an Iraqi, I think. The final speaker was Dr Siddiqi of the Muslim Parliament of Britain.
Kemal or whatever he was called was not a natural public speaker, he didn’t appear to be a natural thinker either so difficult was it to follow the line of his argument. According to him the Americans were in Iraq to “destroy civil society”. That’ll presumably be the civil society that Saddam Hussein lovingly nurtured during his beneficient years in power I thought to myself. He went on to explain that the destruction of Iraq was part of a long-standing American plan to “privatise the oil” in the interests of American companies etc etc. You can imagine the rest I’m sure. I fell asleep.
When I woke up later I looked around me to see how his speech was being received. People applauded him but it was pretty desultory. Maybe they were tired from the march or maybe they found his talk of the destruction of civil society difficult to square with the flowering of free speech in Iraq and the huge proliferation of political expression since the fall of the Baath regime. Their faces weren’t revealing much.
Dr Siddiqi was next. He repeated, in a slightly better speaking style, some of the guff Kemal had come out with and added that America would find it’s grave in Iraq ending his speech with the call for “Victory to the resistance” repeated three times. I wondered how the crowd would react to his evident enthusiasm for the remnants of Sadam’s regime allied with various itinerant Islamist terrorists who had come to Iraq as Jihadis. Strangely the crowd gave this the same polite applause as they had to the other points he had made. Very strange. I won’t even presume to guess what was going through their minds.
The speeches I heard contained no hard facts at all just a lot of rhetoric delivered without very much enthusiasm. If I’d been someone who needed to be convinced of the anti-war case I’d have felt pretty cheated. Perhaps the poor quality of the speakers the anti-war people can attract was part of the reason the turnout on this march was so much lower than the February demonstration. I heard some of the February speakers (Pinter, Bianca Jagger) and remember being astounded by their strange mix of naivite and aggression.
The crowd appeared to me to be a mix of middle-aged Trotskyists (wearing badges), school-aged children (wearing face-paint), politically-active British Muslims (wearing black) and the usual concerned social worker/CND types who have been the backbone of marches in this country for decades (wearing hand made jumpers). I can’t say how many people attended. The BBC news has just been on and it didn’t even mention the march so it was probably quite small.
My feeling is that the slogan “End the Occupation” wasn’t enough to attract as many people as “Stop the War” for the obvious reason that ending the occupation now would lead to much more bloodshed and anarchy than the speakers were complaining about. I think even the marchers must have realised the truth of that aswell.
It also crossed my mind that it must be quite difficult for most of the people who attended the anti-war meetings and marched in February and today to raise much enthusiasm for building a solidarity movement in support of a “resistance” which consists of people who on the one hand have a record of gassing ethnic minorities, and the other want us to embrace theocratic rule at the point of a gun.