Febuary 15 was the first day in ages that not only I am happy to be British, I’m even prouder to be part of the human race. On that historic day one million-and-a-half protesters surged into Central London from all over the country to form the largest anti-war demonstration that Britain has ever witnessed.
This was a manifestation of the will of the British people. This was a message to Tony Blair, the British Prime Minster, which read: Not in our Name. No war with Iraq.
Dr Aziz Tammimi of the British Moslems Association admitted that while the protestors may not be able to make a difference, it was their duty to try.
And try they did. These were not what are often referred to as ‘the usual suspects’, members of the Communist Party, Green Peace, and CND. These were grannies and grandpas, lawyers and doctors, secretaries and nurses. They were all creeds, colours and age groups. These were people who had never marched before in their lives.
As they surged up the mall, squeezed through Piccadilly and wended their way to Hyde Park from the Embankment, high profile speakers had already began their passionate speeches to the hundreds of thousands brandishing anti-war placards and even Iraqi flags. Their messages came in different forms, and they spoke with differing accents and even in multiple languages but they all said essentially the same thing: No war in Iraq.
The Rev Jesse Jackson said: “Don’t kill them to save them”. He appealed to the world to ‘choose life over death and not to choose sides but to choose peace’. He asked France, Germany, Russia and Belgium to keep hope alive.
The activist Bianca Jagger maintained that any state, which goes against the will of the people would create anarchy instead of the rule of law.
The playwright and activist Tariq Ali urged the crowd to “punish the warmongers at the next election. In times of crises it is right to bring down a Prime Minster. Bring Tony Blair down.”
Labour Member of Parliament Jeremy Corbyn told his government: Stop now or pay a political price. Corbyn complained: “The image of this country around the world because whenever Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney speak, all our Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary can say is ‘me too’.
He said: “The message today in London and Glasgow is this. Why are we spending three-and-a-half billion pounds on a war that nobody wants when there is an HIV Aids pandemic sweeping Africa and one quarter of the world’s children are dying of starvation. For those who say this is a necessary and just conflict because it will bring about peace and security. September 11 was a terrible event but 8,000 deaths in Afghanistan did not bring back those who died in the Trade Centre. Thousands more deaths in Iraq will not do that either.”
Mayor of London Ken Livingstone said that three-quarters of London opposes an attack on Iraq. He said the war is not about human rights or weapons of mass destruction but about who will control the second largest reserves of oil on the planet.
He said: “Can we be proud to be dragged along by George W Bush? He got his daddy to get him out of national service. Where I come from we call that cowardice… Are we supposed to send our young men and woman to die for this creature? I don’t think so.”
Veteran politician Tony Benn, who recently interviewed Saddam Hussein, said that if there are to be inspectors in Iraq, there should be inspectors in Israel, inspectors in Britain and inspectors in America.
“I want to see sanctions on arms manufacturers all over the world,” he said. “I want to see the money spent on weapons of mass destruction instead spent on hospital and schools all over the world.”
The leader of the Liberal Democrat Party Charles Kennedy was on the podium too. “Given the evidence offered by Dr. Blix yesterday, there can be no just or moral case for war with Iraq. Without a second United Nations resolution based on authoritative fact from the weapons inspectors, I can assure you there is no way in all conscience that the Liberal Democrats would or could support a war with Iraq and we will not.”
Labour Member of Parliament George Galloway accused the Prime Minister of being the governor of the 51st state of the United States. He said: “We don’t want Bush’s wars and we don’t want Star Wars and we don’t want to be in an alliance of an axis of evil with General Ariel Sharon either. I say to Mr. Blair that if he, despite this great demonstration today, despite the overwhelming feelings around the world against the war, if he takes Great Britain over this cliff with G.W. Bush, then he will break the Labour Party he is supposed to lead.”
Blair may be displaying bravado when he said today before his party in Scotland: “I do not seek unpopularity as a badge of honour but sometimes it is a consequence of leadership.”
Harold Pinter, the distinguished playwright called the United States “a monster out of control”. He said: “It is a country run by a bunch of criminal lunatics…” He called the planned attack on Iraq “premeditated mass murder”. He ended by saying to Tony Blair: “Resign, resign, resign”.
Lindsey German of Stop the War Coalition was one of the most militant speakers. She told Blair: “We will bring you down. You will not survive as Prime Minister of this country and you do not deserve to survive as Prime Minister of this country.”
German went on to say: “On the day that war breaks out we are asking people to strike to stop this war. We want you to stop your labour, to occupy your colleges and to walk out of your schools. We want you to go to your two centers and city centers. We’ll be doing that in London. They won’t get their cars through White Hall and Westminster.”
She complained that the government had tried to stop the marchers gathering in Hyde Park for health and safety reasons when they cared little about health and safety when they planned to bomb the Iraqi people
George Bush says his patience is running out, but the message from the British people was that their patience is running out with him and with their own leader Tony Blair.
The London demonstration and its one-and-a-half-million protestors were just a drop in the ocean of the numbers out in the street worldwide on February 15, a historical day. Over ten million people were doing likewise in more than 65 cities worldwide. Rome saw two million on its streets telling their Bush supporter billionare leader that humanity is more important than oil, weapons and domination. Not in our name.
The people have spoken loud and clear and this columnist is delighted to say that she’s one of them. Wake up and smell the democracy, Mr. Blair. Not in my name.
Linda Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org