Category Archives: antiwar

Slogan slogan slogan, shout shout shout

Workers at a protest, from The Battle of Chile, Dir Paricio Guzman, Venezuela /France/Cuba 1973-1979.

Workers at a protest, from The Battle of Chile, Dir Paricio Guzman, Venezuela /France/Cuba 1973-1979.

It’s all about shouting at the ICA today. Leandro Cardoso and Ana Laura Lopez de la Torre (who explains that “Uruguay is the only country in the world where god is spelled with a lower-case g”) present a workshop on Latin American political chants. After listening to unidentified recordings of protests and manifestations, we’re asked as a ‘listening exercise’ to think about what these sounds of demonstrations, speeches and streets clashes might be. The particpants (mostly students) reckons that some are ‘melodious’, others sound ‘tribal’, and one ventures to speculate on the number of amplification and recording devices that the voices have been filtered through to reach us. It turns out that all the recordings are from Chile in the three years running up to the CIA-back coup and murder of Allende (which Leandro pronounces almost as ‘Agenda’), some of them stripped and looped from the soundtrack to Patrico Guzman‘s Battle of Chile.

Our education over, we turn to practical exercises. We chant the word ‘freedom’ until it becomes meaningless to us (pretty quick, that) and then one participant is given Leandro’s mic and told to address and exhort us: we are told in turn to shout him down. Thirty people with their bare voices shouting down one man with an amplified voice is quite exhilarating, though I quickly feel the legacy of too many cigarettes: a street-corner orator I’ll never be.

We go on to follow the recordings and join in the chants: a la Plaza and trabajadores al poder! There’s something sublime about chanting together, even in the hallowed halls of art and isolated from politics. Leandro laughs at the students chanting about the workers and opines that though some talk about ‘re-enacting’ political events, we are not Chileans, and we are not in Chile thirty-five years ago, as if our worlds are incommensurable.

Meanwhile, outside Parliament, as MPs angrily debate their grocery receipts, Tamils protesting against the government genocide in Sri Lanka have broken the bounds of permitted protest. An email from an entity called CommunitySafe comes round to our desks:

A large number of Tamil protestors have spilled onto the road area surrounding Parliament Square, They have also advanced onto Westminster Bridge, this has brought traffic into the area to a total standstill. Please do not make any attempt to travel towards or through this area on either foot or by vehicle. Roads are likely to remain closed for some considerable time. Please refer to media outlets for updates.

Avoid Tamil protestors today. Maybe in thirty-five years time, we will be shouting Tamil slogans in the ICA galleries.

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Brass Al Qaeda

Another interesting talk at the ICA: Faisal Devji on the Ethic of Al Qaeda, and in conversation with Spiked’s Brendan O’Neill. Devji argues, quite coherently, that rather than being a traditional terrorist movement with a political logic, Al Qaeda has more in common with global movements like environmentalism in its global vision, open endedness and the ethical imperative of martyrdom. It’s a useful knife with which to separate the ‘morally equivalent’ terrorism of Hamas and Hizbullah with clearly defined objectives, from the mystical and sufi-ish jihad of Bin Laden.

Though he points out the absence of any experience of oppression from most of AQ’s martyrs, he doesn’t say anything about the psychological transformation turns kids from Yorkshire into bombers any more than to compare them to similarly remote anti-war protestors. When I ask him whether there’s an equivalent ethical imperative in the ‘morality’ of the ‘War on Terror’, he replies that the acts most like those of matrtyrs, both ‘ethical’ and narcissistic, were the acts of Charles Graner and colleagues at Abu Ghraib.

About quarter of an hour late, into the room walks Chris Morris, all bushy hair and carrying his cycling gear. Perhaps he’s planning a suicide bomber sitcom? It couldn’t be less funny than Nathan Barley.

Green and yellow flags

United by Moses, big noses and felafelOn Saturday, I go on a demonstration against Israel’s war in Lebanon. It leaves from the Embankment and snakes through the backstreets of St James and Piccadilly to Park Lane and Hyde Park Corner. There are somewhere between ten and thirty thousand people on it, but I don’t bump into anyone at all that I know, a very unusual occurrence. The demonstration has been organised by the usual antiwar coalition partners, with the late addition of the British Muslim Initiative.

The vast majority of placards on the demo feature Lebanese flags, red white and green, the cedar sometimes reduced to as little as a geometric christmas tree. About half the people on the demo are middle-Eastern-looking, in any case a much higher proportion than on the anti-war demos of 2002-4. There are several bunches of stereotypically Lebanese-looking young blokes: pumped torsos covered by tight t-shirts, gold chains and sunglasses pushed up over slick black hair. I see two proper frummers with fur hats and payess at the rally.

There are a scattering of home made placards: I spot one that includes swastikas referring to Israel, one that says ‘Hands off Lebanon, free the soldiers’, and one that simply says ‘Stop killing people’. My favourite placard says simply: ‘United by Moses, big noses and felafel’.  

Quite a few placards, prominently bearing the URLs of Innovative Minds and the Islamic Human Rights Commission carry a picture of children injured after being refused sanctuary by the UN and the slogan ‘We are all Hizbullah’ (which has its own echoes.) I ask a Lebanese woman carrying one of these placards what it means and whether she supports Hizbullah. She says yes, they are the defenders of Lebanon. I ask whether the fact that they are anti-semitic and kill civilians makes any difference. She says that she is from the region, that I don’t know most of what is going on there, that this is a war, and that Hizbullah are the defenders of Lebanese civilians. She says that we have different points of view, and I thank her for explaining hers to me.

There are quite a few distinctive green and yellow Hizbullah flags on the demonstration too, though people shouting pro-Hizbullah slogans are in a minority. I try to keep a distance from the main Hizbullah phalanx, but as I’m rounding the corner onto Park Lane, a policeman approaches a man close to me who’s been carrying a Hizbullah flag on a tall pole and suggests to him that it’s ‘inappropriate’ to be carrying a Hizbullah flag at that height. He and his friends argue back (though they don’t raise the flag again) and soon they’re surrounded by a group of Met spotters pointing cameras and other devices at them. I don’t hear anyone on the demo shouting any slogans about the Metropolitan Police murdering Jean Charles de Menezes.

For some reason we’re not allowed into Hyde Park itself, so the rally and the speakers are wedged into an awkward angular space just outside the gates. One speaker asks the crowd if they support democracy, if they support the democratic government of Palestine, if they support Hamas (all of which receive enthusiastic affirmative cheers) and then tells us that we’re all potentially terrorists under UK law. George Galloway follows this up with a short and pointed speech in which he tells us that despite this being potentially criminal, he is here to glorify Hizbullah, and Nasrullah in particular, as the legitimate defenders of the people of Lebanon against Israeli attack.

He’s followed shortly afterwards by David Rosenberg of European Jews for a Just Peace and the Jewish Socialists Group (their leaflet for the demo) who makes a longer and much more eloquent speech in which he points out that opposing Israel’s actions does not make one an anti-semite or ‘self-hater’, that Jews in both Israel (he mentions a demo in Tel Aviv) and across the diaspora  are opposed to the war, and that to oppose Israel’s actions does not automatically mean giving support to Hizbullah or Hamas. He gets applause every bit as loud and enthusiastic as Galloway.