All posts by Bill Weinberg

Building bridges – Japanese peace movement builds solidarity with Iraqi secular civil resistance

Japan is one of the minor members of Bush’s “coalition of the willing” in terms of troop commitment, but the Asian superpower’s anti-war movement has made more progress than any other in the world in establishing direct links of human solidarity with the civil resistance in Iraq–groups of the embattled secular left which oppose the US-led occupation and the Islamist insurgents alike.

Over the weekend of January 28-9, Japan’s Movement for Democratic Socialism hosted a meeting dubbed, with greater comprehension than concision, “The International Conference Aiming at the Complete Withdrawal of All the Occupation Forces and Reconstruction of Democratic Iraq in Solidarity with the Iraqi Freedom Congress.” The event brought together some 500–mostly Japanese, but also including small delegations from the United States, France, the Philippines, Indonesia and South Korea. Front and center was a delegation of five–including a girl of nine named Sanaria–from Iraq, representing a political alliance that stands for inter-ethnic solidarity against the occupation, and resisting the trajectory towards civil war.

Report from the Autonomous Zones

The Iraqi Freedom Congress (IFC) is a new coalition, founded just a year ago, bringing together labor unions, student groups, women’s rights organizations and neighborhood assemblies to defend civil society against the occupation troops and profusion of armed factions in Iraq.

The IFC is working to establish a parallel structure to that of the US-backed regime and armed militias linked to ethnic and religious groups. Its working model for this program is a neighborhood in Kirkuk, which the IFC has established as an autonomous zone, dubbed Al-Tzaman (Solidarity).

“Anybody can live in this area,” IFC president Samir Adil said of Al-Tzaman, speaking to a group of international activists at the Tokyo conference hall. “This is a humanity area–nobody has the right to ask you your religion or ethnic identity.”

The neighborhood of some 5,000 has a mixed population of Sunni Arabs, Christians, Turcomans, and Kurds, and has been an IFC autonomous zone for a year. In a city starkly divided by vying ethnic factions, it has become a haven for peaceful co-existence. The IFC re-named the neighborhood “Solidarity” from its Saddam-era militarist appellation of Asraiwal Mafkodein–”Prisoners of War and Missing,” a tribute to conscripts lost in the war with Iran.

“There is no government in Iraq–the government is only within the Green Zone,” Adil says, explaining the proliferation of ethnic and religious militias. “If you give security they support you.” Adil admits the IFC has established armed checkpoints in Al-Tzaman to prevent infiltration by militia and insurgent groups at night. He claims a local presence by the al-Zarqawi network has been cleared out by the IFC’s efforts. Adil says the IFC is now seeking to establish a second autonomous zone in the Baghdad neighborhood of Husseinia–and is in a contest with the Shiite Badr militia, which has a presence there.

“Every household in Iraq is armed now,” Adil says. “Iraqi society is a jungle society–you have to have a gun to defend your family.” Despite this reality, he emphasizes that the IFC is seeking to build a civil resistance to the occupation–not an armed insurgency. “Civilian people are paying the price for the armed resistance, so we believe it is a bad tactic,” he says. “But we are mobilizing the people to protect themselves.”

In addition to Kirkuk and Baghdad, Adil says the IFC has a significant presence in Basra in the south and in the northern Kurdish-controlled zone.

“Iraq has become an international battleground,” Adil says. “Every terrorist group and every terrorist state wants to exploit the situation in Iraq–Iran, Sunni political Islam backed by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the US. And every faction has its own media. The pro-American and Islamist groups all have their own satellite TV stations.”

This brings Adil to the IFC’s special agenda for the Tokyo conference–to raise international funds for the IFC’s own satellite station. Adil says the US-backed politician Iyad Allawi controls two satellite stations (including the US-funded Iraqi network), while Shiite factions have three (including the Iranian state network), and four more are voices for Sunni “political Islam.” Adil includes Qatar’s Al-Jazeera among these last four.

“If we get sat TV we can bring many hundreds of thousands into our movement and bring about a big change in the next six months,” Adil says. He also believes this project could change the general climate of the Middle East, where Adil says secular left perspectives have no media voice.

Adil, like many of the IFC leaders, is a veteran of political struggle against the Saddam Hussein dictatorship and a follower of the Worker-Communist Party of Iraq, founded after Operation Desert Storm to oppose both the regime and US imperialist designs on the Persian Gulf region. Having fled Saddam’s Iraq after being imprisoned and tortured, he returned in December 2002 to help revive an independent political opposition.

If post-Saddam Iraq affords the possibility of building a new political movement, the new ethnic and religious polarization makes that movement more essential than ever, Adil says. To illustrate how the atmosphere has changed, Adil, who was born into a Shiite family, says he only became aware that his wife was born into a Sunni one when they discussed returning to Iraq together and realized their “mixed” marriage could become an issue. His wife chose to remain in Canada.

Also attending the Tokyo conference was Nada Muaid, vice president of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), who described the group’s work–including volunteer medical teams, computer classes for women, and shelters in Baghdad and Kirkuk for women fleeing domestic violence or “honor killings.” Such cases of women being murdered by their own families for real or perceived “violations of honor” including adultery or even rape have exploded since the US invasion, Muaid says. “Political Islam has pushed women back under this occupation.” And now basic services are in rapid decline because of the heightening insecurity. “NGOs are pulling out due to kidnappings just as needs are growing–water is poor quality and unreliable, blackouts are frequent.”

So OWFI is organizing self-help projects for women; and the group is now seeking to expand its medical teams into full health clinics.

It is similarly picking up the slack in documenting systematic violence against women as foreign human rights organizations are reducing their presence on the ground in Iraq–again, just as the need is growing. “Abuse and rape are routine in the Interior Ministry’s political prisons,” Muaid says. “We are monitoring the human rights situation, sending reports of abuses to Amnesty International. But it is too dangerous to bring foreign rights workers to the country. And the existing human rights groups in Iraq are politicized–either they are pro-US and only report abuses by insurgents, or pro-Islamist and only report abuses by the US.”

Azad Ahmed Abdullah of the Children’s Protection Center told a similar story. The group was founded in 1999 in the Kurdish zone, and spread after fall of Saddam, to help children wounded or left homeless in the war, or addicted to drugs. It runs shelters in Baghdad and Kirkuk, and is establishing programs in Basra and Sulaymaniyah.

Abdullah sees the collapse of the economy and public services as fueling the growth of political Islam. “The public schools now demand payment that many families cannot afford,” he says, “Religious schools are filling the void. And political Islamic groups exploit children for suicide bombings.”

Sanaria, the young girl from Kirkuk who was part of the IFC delegation, recounted how friendships are torn apart in her school by the ethnic tensions, how she was ostracized by Turcoman and Arab classmates for speaking Kurdish.

The fifth member of the Iraqi delegation was Ali Abbas Khafeef, who is Basra leader of both the Freedom Congress and the Federation of Worker Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI). Like Samir Adil, he is a veteran of the Baathist prisons–only, after seven years in Iraqi prisons for labor activities, he was drafted and spent another 13 years in Iran as a prisoner of war.

Khafeef says the FWCUI is growing in Basra despite death threats and harassment against its leaders. It has organized strikes in the local transport and petrochemical sectors, and publishes the weekly newspaper Workers Council. Among its affiliates is the new Homeless Association, with 15,000 members in Basra. In defiance of threats, the FWCUI held a thousands-strong Mayday march through downtown Basra last year. Like OWFI’s Baghdad rally for International Women’s Day, this was a more powerful statement than many such marches around the world given the atmosphere of terror in Iraq.

Iraq Adventure Threatens Japanese Anti-Militarism

The Movement for Democratic Socialism (MDS) is one of several groups in Japan opposing their country’s involvement in Iraq, where Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has dispatched some 530 troops. These forces are ostensibly involved in reconstruction and other “noncombatant” activities, but there is growing talk on the Japanese right of a greater military role–and even abandoning Article 9 of the post-war constitution, in which Japan officially “forever renounce[s] war as a sovereign right of the nation.” Already, Japan has the world’s fourth highest military budget, after the US, Russia and China–despite Article 9′s stipulation that “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.”

With the start of the Iraq adventure, MDS helped organize a series of Tokyo public hearings for the International Criminal Tribunal on Iraq, and loaned support for Occupation Watch, a Baghdad-based group of international volunteers who monitor US military abuses. It was through this work that MDS became aware of the groups which now make up the IFC. Over the past two years, the MDS brought members of these groups to Japan to testify at the Tribunal and to participate in the annual Zenko conference (an acronym for “national assembly,” .Japan’s oldest anti-war organizations.) MDS also sent two delegations of Japanese activists to Iraq, where they were hosted by the civil resistance groups.

Says Mori Fumihiro, an MDS leader and co-chair of the Japanese Committee for Solidarity with Iraqi Civil Resistance: “We were impressed with their struggle as a humanitarian movement. They are involved in unarmed struggle against the occupation. They demand a secular and non-religious government as well as full equality between women and men. They call for the global anti-war movement to make solidarity with them… I believe that they are part of a global anti-war movement and anti-global capitalism struggle and that international solidarity with them will strengthen our struggle.”

The MDS and Zenko conferences have helped build support for the Iraqi civil resistance groups internationally. The group Solidarité Irak is now working to support the IFC in France, and its representative Nicolas Dessaux attended the January conference in Tokyo. Members of the US group United for Peace & Justice have also attended, and in a step towards international coordination between the US anti-war movement and Iraqi civil resistance, the IFC held marches coinciding with last year’s Sept. 24 mobilization against the war in Washington DC. The IFC marches against the occupation that day brought out 600 in Baghdad and 3,000 in Basra–again, numbers rendered more significant by the fact that street mobilizations in Iraq are now routinely attacked by either occupation troops, security forces or armed factions.

At the July 2004 34th Zenko conference, the most intransigent voices opposed to adopting solidarity with the Iraqi civil opposition in the meeting’s final resolution came from American and British delegations. MDS president Sato Kazuyoshi wrote up an evaluation of the debate after the conference–and explained why MDS finally rejected the criticisms:

“The most disputed point in the conference was about the slogan of solidarity with Iraqi Civil Resistance. Representatives of the ANSWER (“Act Now to Stop War & End Racism”) Coalition in the U.S. and of the Stop the War Coalition in the U.K. expressed their view that ‘we can’t say from outside Iraq which of the anti-occupational resistance forces are right,’ and that ‘it is a matter to be left to the self-determination of the Iraqis, and the world anti-war movements have only to focus on bringing troops home.” In response to this argument, representatives of the UUI (Union of the Unemployed in Iraq) and OWFI (Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq) emphatically protested and asked what is wrong with building solidarity with movements that are demanding the withdrawal of occupation forces, and aspiring to a free, egalitarian and secular Iraq…

“Presently, the Movement for Democratic Socialism (MDS) is right in the middle of the struggles against the war on Iraq, hoisting aloft the flag of solidarity with the Iraqi Civil Resistance… The tactics adopted by the Islamic armed forces, i.e. kidnapping, confinement, abduction, beheading, assassination, cannot be justified…for the sake of opposing U.S. imperialism. They are trying to materialize an Islamic dictatorship in Iraq, not a democracy. Iraqi people do not want the U.S. occupation forces to be replaced by a dictator…

“In the case of the Vietnam War, victory was achieved through combining armed struggle and global anti-war movements. However, the National Liberation Front and the army of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam did not direct their guns toward the civilian population. Nor did they commit suicide bombings… In the Vietnam War, the victory was achieved because they succeeded in mobilizing all anti-U.S. imperialist forces, regardless of religions and ethnicities…

“It should be a natural right for the OWFI to protest against Islamist groups that intimidate women who don’t wear a hijab (head scarf). It should also be a natural right for them to criticize the kidnapping of women in the name of resistance. How do these events relate to the interests of the U.S. imperialist occupation? What is wrong with women struggling for their own safety?”

The statement concludes: “We have to strengthen the Iraqi Civil Resistance, which is struggling to drive out the occupiers and to realize secularism and democracy in Iraq.”

Towards a Free, Secular Iraq

Even a month before the horrific bombing of the Golden Mosque at Samarra, Samir Adil warned that Iraq was sliding towards collapse of the government, and civil war. “More than a month after the elections, pro-occupation terrorist groups are still forming a government in secret deliberations,” he said. “This is not democracy, this is a sham. Social services, security–the elections didn’t solve anything, they just gave legitimacy to the same scenario. Ethnic and nationalist conflict is deepening day by day. The militias carry out disappearances, throw bodies in the desert every night.”

The room for civil political activities closes day by day. On Jan. 1, US forces opened fire on a demonstration against high oil prices in Kirkuk, killing four. Days later, two were killed in Nasiriyah when Iraqi security forces opened fire on a march against unemployment.

Adil says the IFC advocates complete non-collaboration with the Iraqi government as long as the country is occupied by foreign troops and as long as the new state is predicated on “dividing power and oil proceeds between the ethnic factions.” Instead he calls for “public accountability and visibility on administration of resource money for the benefit of the Iraqi people as a whole.”

While Arab nationalists call for officially defining Iraq as “part of Arab homeland” and Kurdish nationalist parties ultimately seek secession, Adil says the IFC sees Iraq as first and foremost “part of the world.” He says the IFC opposes federalism as a recipe for civil war and the permanent fracturing of the Iraqi state. He calls for an Iraqi state in which the citizen is not a member of an ethnic or religious group but “human first, human last and human always.”

Adil sees the Western press as complicit in Iraq’s slide towards civil war by failing to note the existence of the secular opposition, or even to recall Iraq’s tradition of secularism as an independent nation. “They define our society as reactionary, religious. Nobody is talking about our secular society.

Asked for a final message for readers in the Unites States, Adil says: “The US lost in Vietnam not because the US lost soldiers in Vietnam, but because they lost the support of the American people. But we don’t want the American people to just protest to bring the troops home, but to support the secular progressive forces in Iraq, to think about the Iraqi people. We do not want another Taliban regime or Islamic Republic in Iraq.”

For more info check out Iraqi Freedom Congress at www.ifcongress.com, the Movement for Democratic Socialism at http://www.mdsweb.jp, and Zenko at http://www.zenko-peace.com.

In Giuliani’s NYC “Quality of Life” = Police State

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s “quality of life” campaign means a police state for ordinary New Yorkers outside the new yuppie class. More and more constituencies in Gotham City are standing up and fighting back.

Giuliani, barred from seeking a third term by term limits, is using New York City as a showcase for his national ambitions. He is no longer playing to his own constituents, but to the white racist subruban voters across the country who he hopes will sweep him to national office on his record of getting a dangerous city full of whining minorities under control. He’s trying to make New York like the rest of America–suburbanified, sterile and orderly. As Times Sqaure and other tracts of primo real estate are sold off to Disney, Giuliani, who grew up in suburban Long Island, is squeezing out everything that makes New York unique. He is the suburbs’ revenge on the urban center.

Giuliani ran on a symbolic platform of cracking down on the “squeegee men”–a policy which took a horrible turn this summer as a squeegee man was shot by an off-duty cop whose windshield he tried to clean, ending up critically injured.

Since being elected to a second term, he has selected targets a little higher up the social ladder, persecuting the city’s mostly-immigrant working-class sectors–bicycle messengers, umbrella hawkers (mostly Senegalese), street peddlers and cabbies.

The taxi drivers were the first to fight back. After Giuliani pushed restrictive new regulations through the Taxi & Limosine Commission, making operating a cab prohibitively expensive, they organized a series of protests. The biggest, planned for May 21, planned to block traffic in Manhattan. But Giuliani placed police checkpoints on all the bridges to the island, turning back all cabs with no fare.

Rudy Giuliani boasted in the next day’s papers: “They know that we broke their strike–destroyed it, really. Nobody showed up today. And that didn’t happen just because we allowed business to go on as usual. That happened because we had a plan to stop them from doing it.”

He then went on to quote from flyers calling for bringing Manhattan traffic to a standstill and says that if such a document had been found in the hands of a “terrorist” group, “then everybody would understand that you cannot allow that to happen.” This was a typical Giuliani racist allusion, a veiled reference to the fact that many cabbies are immigrants from the Middle East.

Bicyclists have also been the target of a new police crackdown, especially messengers and delivery workers, who are often recent immigrants, speak little English and function in a semi-legal “gray economy.” In addittion to supporting new legislation which would allow police to confiscate bicycles being rode on the sidewalk, Giuliani has unleashed the police in a harrassment campaign. A study in the New York Times noted that in the 19th precinct over a three week period, 1,168 summonses were issued to bicyclists but only 50 to motorists.

Pedestrians haven’t been spared the assault. Shortly after his re-election last year, Giuliani erected pedestrian barricades at every intersection along 49th and 50th Streets between Fifth and Lexington Avenues, making peds walk out of their way to free the avenues for vehicle traffic. These were protested in December by Transportation Alternatives activists, who dressed up as cows to drive home the point that pedestrians were being treated like cattle.

The city’s street food vendors also came under onerous regulations and are restricted from certain areas of the city, and held a half-day strike in protest in May. Curbside book and merchandise vendors are also being relegated to out-of-the-way blocks, forcing many out of business–despite the fact that courts have ruled that book vednors are protected by the First Amendment.

Street artists have also protested that they are being arrested under the new regulations. On May 27, they protested in front of Cooper Union, where the Mayor was giving a speech about his support of the arts. In Giuliani’s usual pre-emptive tactic against street protests, police had the place totally sealed off–the closest the protestors could get was the Cube, a small traffic island across a wide intersection from Cooper Union.

Street and subway musicians are suffering under the same wave of harrassment. Subway musicians have even been harrassed for playing in spots where they are legally allowed to with the Music Under New York (MUNY) program.

Curbside newsstand operators have protested Giuliani’s plans to have all the old stands replaced with new mass-produced ones, to be covered with big-bucks adverstising that the operators are responsible for any vandalism against but wouldn’t get a cut of.

Community gardeners on the Lower East Side saw two gardens–one named for the Brazilian rainforest crusader Chico Mendez–bulldozed to make way for a yuppie condo development last Fall. Four more neighborhood gardens, mostly built and maintained by Puerto Rican and Dominican residents who reclaimed vacant and rubble-strewn lots, were sold of to developers in July. Also included in the auction was the Puerto Rican community center Charas, which reclaimed an abandoned schoolbuilding 20 years ago, and was given a lease by the city. Charas is challenging the sale in court, on the grounds that the City illegally refused to consider the group’s own bid for the property. The City, meanwhile, refuses to even say who the new owner is. Charas leader Armando Perez vows to resist eviction to the end.

While harrassment of the homeless has of course escalated, low-income tenants are also meeting with totalitarian tactics. In January, a tenement on the Lower East Side’s Stanton Street was demolished by the city after the summary eviction of the immigrant tenants. They were not even allowed back in to rescue pets or collect personal belongings before a City-contracted wrecking crane destroyed their home before their unbelieving eyes. The tenants deny City claims that their building was in danger of imminent collapse. The previous February, a squatter building on East Third Street was similarly destoryed with no notice to the evicted inhabitants.

Police brutality survivors, and their next-of-kin, charge Giuliani with running a city where cops can maim and kill with impunity. Abner Louima, the Haitian immigrant who was tortured and ritually sodomized while in police custody last summer, is only the most prominent of a series of vicious police attacks on blacks across the city. The Louima case is being treated as outrageous only because of the twisted psycho-sexual angle. If the cops had merely beat Abner to death, or gunned him down when they first apprehended him, he wouldn’t be a household name in New York–he would have been a brief blurb on the news, if that. Norman Siegel of the New York Civil Liberties Union has stepped down from the special commission Giuliani was forced to form following the Louima incident, charging it with being a toothless propaganda charade.

Giuliani, meanwhile, dismisses as empty propaganda the recent reports by both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch charging the NYPD with systematic human rights abuses. The paramilitary NYPD “anti-drug” operations terrorize whole communities, especially in Brooklyn’s African American neighborhoods of Bedford-Stuyvesant and East New York.

The last year has seen a wave of no-knock wrong-address raids on black and Latino homes across the city, in which the apartments of unoffending citizens have been ransacked and children menaced at gunpoint. The mayor has refused to apologize for these violations. Giuliani defended the NYPDÕs record of 10 bogus busts out of 45,000 drug warrants last year. “I think 10 out of 45,000 is a very understandable percentage,” he told the press in early March. But records were not kept for warrantless raids–such as that which occurred just two weeks later at another Bronx apartment. Police battered down a door and charged in with guns drawn–to confront a grandmother, her daughter and six-year-old grandson watching TV. “I was scared they were going to shoot us,” said the youngster, Jaquan Fulton. Police said they misunderstood an informant’s directions to the apartment.

Police video cameras have been installed in Washington Squaure Park for anti-drug surveillance. Smoking a joint outdoors has become nearly impossible in Giuliani’s New York. Those busted for toking on the street are no longer given desk-appearance tickets, but are put “through the system,” waiting up to 72 hours in “The Tombs” of 100 Center Street to see a judge. The legal limit that arrestees can be held in The Tombs was recently expanded from 48 hours due to the system being overloaded with petty Òquality-of-lifeÓ arrests.

Cultural space in Giuliani’s New York is shrinking like a sphincter. Sex retailers and performers are protesting Giuliani’s restrictive zoning regulations, which purges them from most of the city. In addittion to holding public protests, sex workers and business owners are challenging the regulations before the US Supreme Court on First Amendment grounds.

Salsa musicians on Amsterdam Avenue are up in arms over Giuliani’s enforcement of the outdated “cabaret laws,” which ban bands with horn sections from business with no “cabaret license.”

The East Village rock’n'roll clubs CBGBs, Continental Divide and Coney Island High were recently the target of NYPD raids. The raids were officially to crack down on drug use by patrons, but CBGBs, the historic birthplace of punk rock and an establshed neighborhood institution, was actually closed by police in the raid when management couldnÕt find a copy of their liquor license.

The Chinatown community was angered in January over Giuliani’s refusal to accomodate in any form the traditional Chinese New Year celebration on the grounds that fireworks disturb the peace. Community leaders offered to keep the firecrackers confined to certain blocks, but Giuliani wouldn’t give an inch. For the first time in Chinatown’s history, the traditional celebration was not held.

City employees are facing lay-offs as no-wage “workfare” workers are brought in for many jobs. Hospital workers have repeatedly held protests in Harlem over plans to privatize or close the only hospital in a community where the life expectancy is lower than that of Bangladesh. Giuliani wants to spend $600 million to move Yankee Stadium from The Bronx to Upper Manhattan (a move protested by Bronx leaders as racist) at the same time that he threatens to shut down Harlem Hospital in the name of austerity!. Workfare workers, in turn, protest that the city has refused to recognize their union, on the grounds that they are not really workers.

On June 30, thousands of construction workers, angered over the Metropolitan Transportation AuthorityÕs awarding a construction contract to a non-union company, held a militant march in Midtown, battling the police who tried to restrain them from taking the streets.

In April 1995, thousands of students from the City University of New York (CUNY) protested at City Hall against budget cuts. They were joined by many kids from the city’s public high schools, which are overcrowded and in disrepair, with classes even being held in bathrooms. Giuliani, as he slashed the education budget, complained that some of the protestorÕs signs misspelled his name.

The student struggle continues. This June, after surveillance cameras were discovered hidden in smoke detectors in student meeting rooms at City College of New York (CCNY, a part of the CUNY system), officials said they had been installed to combat burglary. But an affidavit by the college security director in a suit filed by students admitted that they were actually aimed at gathering intelligence on planned student protests against budget cuts.

Anger against Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is fast growing in New York City. Whether the various constituencies he is making life hell for will be able to unite in an effective multi-issue coalition remains to be seen.