We must step up our efforts to stop the war

April 2, 2003

The anti-war movement in Australia — which is one of the aggressor countries in the US-led invasion of Iraq — has a moral duty to escalate its campaign now, before more innocent Iraqi lives are sacrificed in this war. That needs no argument. Seeing the death and suffering being inflicted on the Iraqi people on our television screens, our conscience should tell us what we must do. In the words of respected journalist Robert Fisk, who is in Baghdad, an obscenity against humanity is being enacted. We must act now.

We can still help stop the war now — if we escalate our protests in the streets. The US-British-Australian invaders are meeting stiffer resistance than they expected, at the same time as their military tactics are being constrained by the massive anti-war sentiment within their own countries and across the globe. To quickly conquer Iraq's cities, the invaders would have to risk massive casualties — civilian and military — but they know this would will spark even more massive anti-war protests and bring those still uncertain about the war into the anti-war camp. Yet, if they drag out the siege, millions of innocent people will starve.

The latest polls claim that just over 50% of Australians support this criminal war. By now, this slim majority is probably evaporating as the mounting human cost of the invasion becomes apparent. If the anti-war movement goes on the offensive now, support for the war will be decisively reduced.

The need for the anti-war movement to go on the offensive is all the more urgent following the shameful retreat by the leadership of the federal Labor "opposition". As soon as the war began, Labor leader Simon Crean dropped the call for Australian troops to be brought home immediately and said he supported a quick victory by Australian, US and British troops. He called on the Australians troops to "finish their task". Labor foreign affairs spokesperson Kevin Rudd repeated this pro-war line to the press.

The "task" of the Australian troops is to commit a crime against humanity and international law on behalf of the Coalition government and its US and British allies. Sadly, after brief public opposition to Crean's backflip, anti-war MPs Harry Quick and Carmen Lawrence have either gone quiet or claim that Crean's position has been misinterpreted.

Misinterpreted? Everybody who heard what Crean and Rudd said knows they were clear about supporting a victory for the invasion forces. If Labor wants to clear up the "confusion" then its leaders must simply and clearly repudiate those statements and call for all Australian troops to be brought home immediately.

There is no point fudging this question by passing motions about bring the troops home "safely". The troops can be brought home safely before the war is over because defence minister Robert Hill says that the government will be rotating the troops anyway.

The anti-war movement faces a grave test of its political independence with the retreat of the Labor opposition. The NSW Labor Council, controlled by the right-wing Labor Party machine, condemned the organisers of the March 26 Books Not Bombs student protest in Sydney.

The overwhelmingly peaceful 10,000-strong protest, largely attended by high school students, found itself the target of a massive, provocative and politically motivated police presence. The Labor state government's police caused unnecessary confrontations around the edges of the rally and there were several arrests.

Predictably, the pro-war media — led by the Murdoch-owned newspapers and sensation-seeking radio "shock jocks" — have launched a hysterical and racist campaign against the young protesters. They are singling out males "of Middle Eastern appearance" for blame, earning the condemnation of NSW anti-discrimination commissioner Chris Puplick.

It is utterly outrageous that NSW's peak union body has joined Premier Bob Carr's Labor government and the Murdoch media in condemning the student anti-war protesters.

The NSW Labor Council is trying to isolate the students and block any more protests between now and the Palm Sunday march on April 13. It is chiming in with the anti-democratic threats by the NSW police to ban another student anti-war protest planned for April 2. If these moves are successful, they will divide and set back the movement. This must be resisted by all serious anti-war activists.

Green Left Weekly urges all readers to show their support for the students' — and the anti-war movement's — right to protest by attending the April 2 rally in Sydney Town Hall or by sending a message of solidarity to <http://www.booksnotbombs.org.au>.

Student anti-war protesters are also facing challenges to their right to protest in Perth. On March 26, students were subject to violent attacks by the WA Labor government's police force. Students in WA will protest outside Parliament House on April 4. They too need our support.

From Green Left Weekly, April 2, 2003.
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