February 14, 2003

Stand up to the warmongers this weekend!

The Washington Times headline said it all: "Hysteria runs riot; networks fuel the fear." London’s Heathrow airport is surrounded by what one UK newspaper called a ring of steel, and anti-aircraft missiles are in position around Washington to defend against a terrorist attack CIA director George Tenet avers could come this week. And the Department of Homeland Defense is doing its part to jack up the panic level by telling Americans to stock up on duct tape and plastic sheeting: the idea is to seal up your house or apartment so that biological agents can’t get through.

Too bad we can’t find a substance impervious to war propaganda. That duct tape, in any case, is put to better use plugging up the speaking orifices of our public officials.

It is pure coincidence, of course, that all this hysteria is being generated by the same governments that are ratcheting up the war rhetoric. At the very moment Colin Powell assures us that Al Qaeda and Iraq are one and the same, and the ghostly voice of Bin Laden rises out of the ether, we go to "code orange." Stampeded into war, we’re too scared out of our wits to utter a bleat of protest. Or so they hope.

But Americans are not easily intimidated. Resentment against this administration’s rush to war has been building in the country for months, and this weekend’s antiwar protest – Saturday in New York, Sunday in San Francisco – promises to be the largest and the loudest yet. In the Big Rotten Apple, where Mayor Benito Bloomberg has just declared victory in his jihad against smokers, antiwar protesters are next on the list: Saturday’s march has been banned. As if to symbolize the image of a citizenry frozen in fear, the protest organizers have been told they must hold a completely stationary protest.

By confining the demonstration to a relatively small area, Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, Bloomberg and his friends over at the New York Sun are hoping to keep the numbers down. As the Sun editorialized:

"Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Kelly are doing the people of New York and the people of Iraq a great service by delaying and obstructing the anti-war protest planned for February 15. The longer they delay in granting the protesters a permit, the less time the organizers have to get their turnout organized, and the smaller the crowd is likely to be."

Although it is unlikely that the Mayor and his cops will take up the Sun’s suggestion to

"Allow the protest and send two witnesses along for each participant, with an eye toward preserving at least the possibility of an eventual treason prosecution. Thus fully respecting not just some, but all of the constitutional principles at stake."

This plan, while ingenious – in the sense of "evil genius"—is just not practical. Since well over 100,000 are expected to jam the plaza and spill out into adjoining streets, this Saturday, the cops would need twice that number to take names and social security numbers. Would they take advantage of the "Patriot" Act’s gutting of the Posse Comitatus law and call up the Army, or hope to make do with the National Guard?

But there was no need to call in the feds, since they showed up at the permit hearing on their own initiative. As Jimmy Breslin reports:

"During a break, I went up to one severely dressed young man and he identified himself as Andrew O’Toole of the United States Attorney’s office. He was there to make a statement or file something to remind the court that the UN was the responsibility of the city. He was pleasant. The people who sent him over did not tell him to say ‘Ashcroft.’ He didn’t have to. He was at the city’s table and a United States Marshal who had arrived with him and was holding a hand radio stood at the door."

Police chief Rocco Esposito, in explaining why it was impossible to hold a march in Manhattan, said several times:

"We don’t know who is coming here for the march. We don’t know who they are."

To which march organizer Leslie Cagan replied:

"Since when in free speech do you have to say who’s coming to an event? Do you have to give the names?"

Sure you do. Just ask the editors of the New York Sun.

In spite of the claim that all political protests have been banned in Manhattan since 9/11/01, two very political demonstrations were allowed to proceed in 2002 without so much as a peep from Bloomberg: the Gay Freedom Day Parade and the Israel Day march. Can anyone picture a more likely target for a terrorist attack than the latter? But just try to imagine the uproar if City Hall had tried to ban it!

The atmosphere of intimidation in which this weekend’s protests are taking place is not just limited to obstructionist legal tactics by the authorities and calls for censorship in wartime: we are also witnessing a sustained assault on the politics of the march by ostensibly "antiwar" figures. Rabbi Michael Lerner, Hillary Clinton’s touchy-feely guru of "the politics of meaning" fame, is accusing the march organizers of anti-Semitism because, he claims, he has been "banned" from speaking. This is a canard that the War Party has frantically peddled to anyone who will listen.

Lerner was only one of 300-plus speakers considered. Many other Jewish speakers are scheduled. His group, Tikkun, has no more than a few dozen supporters here in the Bay Area (judging from the minuscule size of their contingent at the January 18 mobilization). But never mind all that: we are supposed to believe that Lerner is not being given a full fifteen minutes in which to bloviate due to the organizers’ bigotry.

Oddly, Lerner was offered three minutes to speak on January 18, but refused: "You can’ t say much in three minutes," he complained. Yes, it’s true, it would be hard for him to explain – in three hours, let alone three minutes—why he believes Israel ought to be admitted to NATO (to take the place of France, perhaps?).

David Corn, a columnist for The Nation, has taken up Lerner’s crusade to smear the antiwar movement with the tar-brush of anti-Semitism, with the same alacrity with which he red-baited them. From his perch at what used to be the country’s premier magazine of left-liberal opinion, Corn cites Lerner’s January 18 lament:

"’In my view, the organizers of this demonstration have allowed far too many speakers who believe that this war is being done because Israel wants the war, far too few who share my view that this war is not in the best interests of either Israel or of the United States.’ Yet Lerner didn’t let his differences with ANSWER trump his opposition to the war; he encouraged people to attend the rally. After that protest, he told The New York Times, ‘There are good reasons to oppose the war and Saddam. Still, it feels that we are being manipulated when subjected to mindless speeches and slogans whose knee-jerk anti-imperialism rarely articulates the deep reasons we should oppose corporate globalization.’"

Clearly, the ditzy Lerner is in denial. The present Israeli government is pining for this war. Major political and military figures openly declare that the end of the war will bring "a bright morning" for Israel, notably Israeli chief of staff Lieutenant-General Moshe Yaalon, and Ephraim Halevy, formerly in charge of the Mossad spy agency, and now Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s top national security advisor. Says Yaalon:

"After [the war], I believe there will be a new balance in the region, a new structure. A successful American offensive will...strengthen all of the pragmatic parties in the region."

The elected rulers of Israel want this war for ideological reasons. It will give these radical Likudniks the opportunity to "transfer" (i.e. ethnically cleanse) the Palestinian population of the occupied territories and realize their party’s longstanding dream of a "Greater Israel" – which would be an accomplished fact before the dust clears. Contra Lerner, it is possible to agree with this analysis and also believe that such a course is not in Israel’s best interests – no more than empire-building is a good idea for the Americans.

Lerner is a bloated windbag, whose ego is far larger than any following he might have, and one wonders why we are supposed to humor him. Why must we cave in to the demands of political correctness and prove that we aren’t "anti-Semites" by kowtowing to the Rabbi’s pretensions?

I say nyet! Corn cites Lerner’s victimological whining, as if we are supposed to cringe and capitulate as the Rabbi hauls out every official victim group and complains of unequal treatment:

"We do not believe that had ANSWER been criticized by a major feminist or gay leader and then vetoed that leader to speak at a demonstration that the other coalition partners would go along with that. So why should criticism of anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing be treated differently?....So why should our voice of critique of ANSWER’s anti-Israel policy serve as justification for excluding our rabbi from speaking?"

Gee, I’m a member of an ideological minority within the peace movement – Reactionaries Against the War (RAW!) How come I don’t get to whine because the organizers of the SF rally somehow neglected to give me fifteen minutes in which to pour out my black reactionary heart to the crowd? And, hey, I’m also gay, although "gay leader" – whatever that may mean – is pushing it.

Corn claims a point of unity among the four groups that cooperated to put on this weekend’s events is that any one of them can exercise veto power over a rally speaker who has criticized any of the coalition’s components. By that standard, I, too, would be disqualified, having been a vocal critic of the Workers World Party-controlled front groups since the onset of the Kosovo war.

Not that I, or anyone to the right of Jesse Jackson, was even considered as a speaker. In spite of the growing antiwar contingent among conservatives and libertarians, the reality that this is too much of an emergency to allow the Left its traditional monopoly has yet to sink in. Perhaps it will take the onset of hostilities to get us that far.

In the meantime, I’m not complaining about my absence from the speakers platform – hey, it’s their loss! – and I’m sure not circulating petitions chastising the organizers for refusing to recognize my star quality (those bastards!) . I’m just going to bring my umbrella (hey, it’s pouring here!) and some Chinese take-out, and get my butt down to Market Street by the Embarcadero this Sunday. Because it’s going to be another San Francisco Moment, just like the last one.

What’s this world coming to when the antiwar movement has to capitulate to whiners, and fakes, who want the peace movement to supply them with a platform from which to smear the sponsors (and, by implication, everyone in the crowd) as neo-Nazis? Even good old Alex Cockburn has gone soft on the question of how to deal with this horsefly. He writes:

"My initial reaction was to say to Jeffrey St Clair that any move to keep Lerner from pouring out his usual freshets of idiocy is sound by definition [Editor: Hear! Hear!], but on mature consideration I counsel the organizers of the San Francisco rally to slot Lerner in at some point in the proceedings. I’m quite prepared to believe that Lerner, a relentless self-promoter, has managed to piss off everybody with egocentric posturing and unity-wrecking maneuvers, and maybe his plan from the start has been to engineer a situation in which he can howl that Jew-haters have laid him low. But let the guy speak anyway. Mostly people don’t listen to speeches, and if you suddenly hear Lerner’s voice disturbing the harmony of the great convergence, move into a drumming circle and blot the guy out."

But giving in to Lerner’s blackmail would be – dare I say it? – nothing less than a shameful act of appeasement, and one, furthermore, that will not shut down the War Party’s smear campaign but only feed into it.

Scare-mongering, smear-mongering, and warmongering all go hand-in-hand. The War Party is using every weapon in its arsenal, not just on the Iraqis but on us. The barrage of propaganda that we are being subjected to is the storm before the calm – the calm of the grave, that is, for untold thousands of Iraqis and god knows how many Americans. In the name of a national "emergency," a cabal of neoconservatives has just about seized control of the government and is now preparing the "legal" rationale for a police state. The peace movement is faced with the prospect of a wartime dictatorship.

If we don’t stand up to it, we are doomed. It’s as simple as that.

The attempt to limit the size and visibility of the New York City rally is a deliberate provocation, and one that is bound to end in violence and arrests. I predict trouble on the East Coast. As the Village Voice reports:

"Many of these groups are planning to hold ‘feeder marches’ to the main rally site on First Avenue. How that will play out with the NYPD’s new dictum banning protest marches from the streets remains unclear. ‘We’re trying to negotiate a permit, but if not we’ll stick to the sidewalks,’ says Michael Letwin of New York City Labor Against War, which is organizing a march of more than 5000 union members from Columbus Circle. ‘For many of us, it’s unimaginable that the city would deny our right to march. We have to march.’"

Anyone who believes the NYPD’s reaction to open defiance of the city’s ban on marches is going to be "unclear" is seriously deluded. Bloomberg's City Hall gang and his Republican cohorts in Washington have done everything possible to derail the event from the very beginning: if it ends in violence, surely the editors of the New York Sun won’t be alone in saying I-told-you-so – and taking full advantage of the opportunity to link the antiwar movement to "terrorism."

Not that this possibility ought to deter anyone from attending. As Ayn Rand once put it: "I’m not brave enough to be a coward – I see the consequences too clearly." Now is the time to stand up and say "No!" to the fear-mongers. Use that duct tape to make placards, this weekend, instead of cowering in terror in your plastic-covered abode. All out this weekend!

– Justin Raimondo

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against U.S. Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.

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