London: Saturday 28th September. It was a beautiful clear blue sky. No mists but a great deal of mellow fruitfulness. The Stop the War Coalition— a united front that includes socialists of most stripes, liberals and radicals, pacifists and the moderate Muslim groups—-had expected 200,000 people, but the mood in Britain was uneasy and large numbers of people, many of them conservative or even apolitical, had decided to swell the march.
The week before the march, New Labour issued the so-called Blair dossier, a farrago of half-truths and stale facts was a very crude attempt at war propaganda. It backfired miserably. Blair was at his worst. The grinning disk-jockey in clerical mode. Everything reduced to a pseudo-morality tale.
War-talk and piety is such an ugly combination. It may have convinced his ghastly cabinet, a bunch of mediocrities, most of whom would find it difficult to gain employment elsewhere.
Blair prefers it like this: in the land of the blind, the one-eyed beggar is king.
The DAILY MIRROR, a leading London tabloid devoted 8 pages to denouncing the dossier and Blair. This newspaper has turned decisively after 9/11, in sharp contrast to its rivals and ‘betters’.
The only pro-war piece in the paper, hallucinatory on every level and published to give the White House a voice, appeared under the byline of the former NATION columnist, Christopher Hitchens. The man with the Orwell-complex has fallen really low. He will fall further.
No war in Iraq; Justice for Palestine were the themes that united everyone present on Saturday 28th September. .Murdoch’s Sky TV reported 400,000 . Irish radio insisted there were half-a-million. Channel Five News said ‘over a quarter of a million’. Only BBC TV reported the ‘police figure’ of 150,000.
Let’s be modest. Let’s accept that there were over 350,000 people who came from all parts of the country to show their contempt for Tony Blair and his backing for Bush’s planned war against Iraq.
I met people, old and young, who had never been on a demonstration before. Rites of passage. And the mood was one of defiance and anger.
The new wave of trade-union leaders who have been elected to defy the New Labour Thatcherites were solidly against the war. Bob Crow, the 40–something leader of the railway workers denounced Blair in vitriolic language. So did Mark Serotka from the Civil Servants Union and others.
Then there was Tony Benn and George Galloway and Jeremy Corbyn (the last two still Members of Parliament) spoke for the Labour Party members opposed to Blair.
It was the Jewish sabbath. So the contingent of Hassidic Jews could not speak, but their moving plea for Palestinian rights was read by a young Muslim from Leicester.
The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, was also there strongly denouncing the Prime Minister. Many Londoners heaved a sigh of relief when Blair refused to let Livingstone back in the Labour Party. No longer needing to suck up to the New Labour leadership, Livingstone shifted his position once again. Sometimes opportunism can lead in the left direction.
Nobody on the demonstration was taken in by the talk of a UN-led war being somehow more acceptable than a Bush-Blair attack. The British peace movement, for one, will not be taken in if the permanent members of the UNSC allow their arms to be twisted and their purses filled by the Bushmen.
Here the movement will continue. And when the bombs begin to drop there will be acts of non-violent civil disobedience all over the country.
We need the same in the United States.
TARIQ ALI is an editor of New Left Review and a frequent contributor to CounterPunch. This article is extracted from his new book The Clash Of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads And Modernity, published by Verso.