Beirut 2004: A Milestone in the Global Struggle against Injustice and War

Mar 09

We are assembled here in Beirut at a critical
moment. It is a moment marked by crosscurrents: In Iraq, the US gets
deeper and deeper into a Vietnam-style quagmire, with the number of
American soldiers killed since the March 20, 2003 invasion passing the
1,000 mark in the first week of September. Yet in Palestine, the
Zionist Wall continues to be built at the rate of a kilometer a day.
A year ago, on September 14, 2003, some of us in this hall were in
Cancún, Mexico, dancing with joy at the Convention Center as we
celebrated the collapse of the Fifth Ministerial Meeting of the World
Trade Organization. Today, the WTO, the supreme institution of
corporate-driven globalization, is back on its feet with the adoption
last month of the Geneva Framework Document designed to speed up the
economic disarmament of developing countries.

 

In New York a few weeks back, we saw massive
repudiation of George W. Bush and his pro-war policies by over 500,000
people that marched in the streets of New York. Yet, today, polls show
that the same George Bush has a 10 per cent lead over John Kerry in the
lead-up to elections the results of which will have a massive impact on
the fate of the world in the next few years.

The future, comrades, is in the balance, as we meet
in this historic city, with its glorious history of resistance to
Israeli aggression and American intervention. As you know, many more
people wanted to come to Beirut to be with us. The size, breadth, and
diversity of our assembly here today underline the strength, the power
of our movement.

It would be useful to briefly review our history over the last decade to gain an appreciation of where we are today.

March from Marginalization

Less than 10 years ago, our movement was
marginalized. The founding of the WTO in 1995 seemed to signal that
globalization was the wave of the future, and that those who opposed it
were destined to suffer the same fate as the Luddites that fought
against the introduction of machines during the industrial revolution.
Globalization was going to bring prosperity in its wake, and how could
one oppose the promise of the greatest good for the greatest number
that the transnational corporations, guided by the invisible hand of
the market, were going to shower the world?

But the movement stood firm in the face of the scorn
of the establishment during the 1990's, when the boom in the world's
mightiest capitalist engine-the US economy-appeared to be destined to
go on and on. It was steadfast in its prediction that, driven by the
logic of corporate profitability, the liberalization and deregulation
of trade and finance would bring about crises, widen inequalities
within and across countries, and increase global poverty.

The Asian financial crisis in 1997 provided sudden,
savage proof of the destabilizing impact of eliminating controls from
the flow of global capital. Indeed, what could be more savage than the
fact that the crisis would bring 1 million people in Thailand and 22
million people in Indonesia below the poverty line in the space of a
few weeks in the fateful summer of 1997?

The Asian financial crisis was one of those
momentous events that removed the scales from people's eyes and enabled
them see cold, brutal realities. And one of those realities was the
fact that the free market policies that the International Monetary Fund
and the World Bank imposed on some 100 developing and transitional
economies had induced, in all but a handful of them, not a virtuous
circle of growth, prosperity, and equality but a vicious cycle of
economic stagnation, poverty, and inequality. The year 2001 brought us
not only Sept. 11. 2001 was also the year of reckoning for free-market
fundamentalism-the year that the Argentine economy, the poster boy of
neoliberal economics, crashed, while in the United States, the
contradictions of finance-driven, deregulated global capitalism wiped
out $4.6 trillion in investor wealth-half of the US' gross domestic
product-and inaugurated a period of stagnation and rising unemployment
from which the world's central capitalist economy has not recovered
till today.

As global capitalism moved from crisis to crisis,
people organized in the streets, in work places, in the political arena
to counter its destructive logic. In December 1999, massive street
resistance by over 50,000 demonstrators combined with a revolt of the
developing governments inside the Seattle convention center to bring
down the third ministerial of the WTO. Global protests also eroded the
legitimacy of the IMF and the World Bank, the two other pillars of
global economic governance, albeit in less dramatic fashion.
Anti-neoliberal mass movements brought new governments to power in
Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, and Bolivia. The fifth
ministerial meeting in Cancún, an event associated in many people's
minds with the altruistic suicide of the Korean farmer Lee Kyung-Hae at
the barricades, became Seattle II. And, in November last year, in
Miami, the same alliance of civil society and developing country
governments forced Washington to retreat from the neoliberal program of
radical liberalization of trade, finance, and investment that it had
threatened to impose in the western hemisphere via the Free Trade Area
of the Americas (FTAA).

Fighting against Empire

The fight for global justice and equity has been one
thrust of our movement. The other has been the struggle against
militarism and war. For the movement against imperial intervention, the
1980's and 1990's were not good decades. National liberation struggles
retreated, lost momentum, or were compromised in many parts of the
world. Of course, there were exceptions, as in South Africa, where the
ANC came to power; Palestine, where the first Intifadah handed Israel a
political and military defeat; Lebanon, from where the US fled in 1983
after 241 American Marines perished in the bombing of their base
located just a few kilometers away from here, and from where the
Israelis were gradually squeezed out over the next decade; and, not to
forget, Somalia, where the destruction of a US Ranger unit in Mogadishu
forced the Clinton administration to terminate its military
intervention in October 1993.

The ideologues of globalization promoted the
illusion that accelerated globalization would bring about the reign of
"perpetual peace." In contrast, our movement warned that as
globalization proceeded, its economically and socially destabilizing
effects would multiply conflicts and insecurities. Driven by corporate
logic, globalization, we warned, would herald an era of aggressive
imperialism that would seek to batter down opposition, seize control of
natural resources, and secure markets.

We were proved right, but it took us some time to gain our bearings.

We were still too disoriented by the events of
September 11, 2001, and by the internal politics of Afghanistan to
enable us to respond effectively to the US invasion of that country.
But it was soon clear that the so-called War against Terror was simply
an excuse for implementing a quest for Absolute Military Supremacy or,
in Pentagon jargon, "Full Spectrum Dominance."

In late 2002 and early 2003, the movement finally
swung into action, becoming a global force for justice and peace that
mobilized tens of millions of people throughout the world on Feb. 15,
2003, against the planned invasion of Iraq. We did not succeed in
stopping the American and British invasion, but we have surely
contributed to delegitimizing the Occupation and made it increasingly
difficult for invaders that have brazenly violated international law
and many rules of the Geneva Convention to remain in Iraq. The New York
Times, on the occasion of the Feb. 15, 2003, march, said that there are
only two superpowers left in the world today, the United States and
global civil society. Let me add that I have no doubt that the forces
of justice and peace will prevail over the contemporary incarnation of
empire, blood, terror, and greed that is the USA.

Iraq, the Resistance, and the Movement

Our movement is on the ascendant. But our agenda is
massive, our tasks formidable. To name just a few: We have to drive the
US out of Iraq and Afghanistan. We must stop Israel's increasingly
genocidal policies against the Palestinian people. We must impose the
rule of law on outlaw, rogue states like the US, Britain, and Israel.
Moreover, we have some way to go before becoming a critical mass that
will decisively affect the struggle for national liberation in Iraq.

Let me explain. Over the last few months, there have
been two defining events in Iraq. One was the expose of systematic
sexual abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison facility outside Baghdad. The
second was the uprising in Fallujah in April.

The Abu Ghraib scandal, which has angered most of
the world and shamed most Americans, stripped the last shred of
legitimacy from the US presence in Iraq. The uprising in Fallujah,
which saw Iraqi men, women, and children fighters defeat the elite of
Washington's colonial legions, the US Marines, was the turning point of
the Iraqi war of national liberation. Fallujah was followed by
uprisings in other cities like Najaf and Ramadi. It showed that the
Iraqi resistance is not one carried out by remnants of the Saddam
Hussein regime but one that is widespread, popular, and on the
ascendant.

Let me read you a recent account from the New York
Times on the conditions in Ramadi and Falluja, which are pretty much a
microcosm of Iraq at this point. It says that "American efforts to
build a government structure around former Baath party stalwarts…
have collapsed." Instead, both cities and much of Anbar Province, "are
now controlled by… militias, with US troops confined mainly to
heavily protected forts on the desert's edge. What little influence the
Americans have is asserted through wary forays in armored vehicles, and
by laser-guided bombs… [But] even bombing raids appear to strengthen
the [militias], who blame the Americans for scores of civilian deaths."

The question, friends and comrades, is no longer
whether Washington will eventually be defeated by the Iraqi resistance.
It will be defeated. The question is how long it will hang on to an
impossible situation. On the resolution of this issue, our role in the
global peace movement has a very important bearing.

Washington hangs on despite the daily attacks on its
troops by the resistance. The victory of the Iraqi people's resistance
will definitely be hastened by one thing: the emergence of a strong
global anti-war movement such as that which took to the streets daily
and in the thousands before and after the Tet Offensive in 1968. So far
that has not materialized, though opposition to the US presence in Iraq
is the dominant global sentinment and disillusionment with their
government's policies in Iraq has now spread to a majority of the US
public.

Indeed, at the very time that it is most needed by
the people of Iraq, the international peace movement has had trouble
getting into gear. The demonstrations on March 20, 2004, were
significantly smaller than the Feb.15, 2003, when tens of millions
marched throughout the world against the projected invasion of Iraq.
The kind of international mass pressure that makes an impact on
policymakers-the daily staging of demonstration after demonstration in
the hundreds of thousands in city after city-is simply not in evidence,
at least not yet.

Perhaps a major part of the reason is that a
significant part of the international peace movement, particularly in
Europe and the United States, hesitates to legitimize the Iraqi
resistance. Who are they? Can we really support them? These questions
have increasingly been flung at the advocates of an unconditional
military and political withdrawal from Iraq. Let us face it: the use of
suicide as a political weapon continues to bother many US and European
activists who were repelled by statements such as that of the
Palestinian leaders who proudly asserted that suicide bombers were the
oppressed people's equivalent of the F-16. Let us face it: the fact
that a large part of the resistance in both Iraq and Israel is Islamic
rather than secular in inspiration continues to bother many western
peace activists. Yet there has never been any pretty movement for
national liberation or independence. Many Western progressives were
also repelled by some of the methods of the "Mau Mau" movement in
Kenya, the FLN in Algeria, the NLF in Vietnam. What western
progressives forget is that national liberation movements are not
asking them mainly for ideological or political support. What they
really want from the outside, from progressive like us, is
international pressure for the withdrawal of an illegitimate occupying
power so that internal forces can have the space to forge a truly
national government based on their unique processes. Until they give up
their implicit conditioning of their actions on the guarantee that a
national liberation movement tailored to their values and discourse
will be the one to come to power, many US and western peace activists
will continue to be trapped within a paradigm of imposing their terms
on other people.

Let me be clear. We cannot promote conditional
solutions-even one that says US and Coalition troop withdrawal only if
there is a UN security presence that takes the place of the Americans.
The only principled stand is: Unconditional withdrawal of US and
Coalition military and political forces now. Period.

But if the future in Iraq itself continues to hang
in the balance, the Iraqi resistance has already helped to transform
the global equation.

The US is weaker today than it was before May 1,
2003, when Bush declared victory in Iraq. The Atlantic Alliance that
won the Cold War no longer functions, largely because of the division
over Iraq. Spain and the Philippines have been forced to withdraw their
troops from Iraq, and Thailand has now quietly followed suit,
contributing further to US isolation. The situation in Afghanistan is
more unstable now than last year, with the US writ extending only to
the outskirts of Kabul. Militant Islam, which the US now considers its
enemy no. 1, is now more vigorously spreading throughout Southeast
Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East. In Latin America, we now have
massive popular anti-neoliberal and anti-US movements in Brazil,
Argentina, Venezuela, and Bolivia that are either in government or are
making it difficult for governments to maintain their neoliberal, free
market policies. Hugo Chavez has frontally challenged imperialism in
its own backyard, and he remains in power owing to the organized
support of the Venezuelan people. More power to him!

Owing to its hubris, the US is suffering from that
fatal disease of all empires-imperial overstretch. Our role, to echo
that great Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, is to worsen this crisis of
overextension, not only by creating or expanding movements of
international solidarity against the US in Iraq, the US-Israel axis in
Palestine, and the creeping US intervention in Colombia. It is also to
give birth or reinvigorate struggles against the US imperial presence
in our own countries and regions. For instance, the struggle against
the US bases in Northeast Asia and the renewed US military presence via
the so-called War on Terror in Southeast Asia is one that we from
Southeast Asia must rededicate ourselves to.

Towards a New Global Economic Order

Struggle against imperialism and war is one front of
our struggle. The other front is the struggle to change the rules of
the global economy, for it is the logic of global capitalism whose
fountainheads are the US, the European Union, and Japan that is the
source of the disruption of society and of the environment. The
challenge here goes beyond simply disempowering institutions like the
World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade
Organization, though this task must not be underestimated-witness, for
instance, the recent resurrection in Geneva of the WTO, which many of
us thought had suffered a major blow to its foundations in Cancún.

The challenge is that even as we deconstruct the
old, we dare to imagine and win over people to our visions and programs
for the new. Contrary to the claims of the ideologues of the
establishment, the principles that would serve as the pillars of a new
global order are present. The primordial principle is that instead of
the economy, the market, driving society, the market must be-to use the
image of the great Hungarian scholar Karl Polanyi-"reembedded" in
society and governed by the overarching values of community,
solidarity, justice, and equity. At the international level, the global
economy must be deglobalized or rid of the distorting, disfiguring
logic of corporate profitability and truly internationalized, meaning
that participation in the international economy must serve to
strengthen and develop rather than disintegrate and destroy local and
national economies.

The perspective and principles are there; the
challenge is how each society can articulate these principles and
programs in unique ways that respond to their values, their rhythms,
their personality as societies. Call us post-modern, but central to our
movement is the conviction that, in contrast to the belief common to
both neoliberalism and bureaucratic socialism, there is no one shoe
that will fit all. It is no longer a question of an alternative but of
alternatives. And unless there is a new global order built on the
principles of justice, sovereignty, and respect for diversity, there
will be no real peace.

Two Challenges

But let me end by returning to our urgent task,
which is to defeat the US in Iraq and Israel in Palestine. We are all
here not to celebrate our strength but, most important, to address our
weaknesses over the next few days.

Let me just say that one of the challenges that we
will be addressing is how we get beyond spontaneous actions, beyond
coordination that remains at the level of coordinating international
days of protest. The enemy is extremely well coordinated at a global
level and we have no choice but to match that level of coordination and
cooperation. But we must match it in with a professionalism that
respects our democratic practices-indeed, we must confront it in ways
that turns our democratic practice into an advantage. The other
challenge that I would like to highlight is that of closing the
political and cultural gap between the global movements for justice and
peace and their counterparts in the Arab and Islamic worlds. This is a
gap that imperialism has exploited to the hilt, with its effort to
paint most of our Arab and Muslim comrades as terrorists or supporters
of terrorism. We cannot allow this situation to continue, which is the
reason we are holding this meeting in Beirut. Indeed, let me say that
unless the global movements and the Arab movements forge tight, organic
ties of solidarity, we will not win the struggle against
corporate-driven globalization and imperialism.

So, friends, the future of the struggle is in the
balance-a balance that will be affected by what happens here in Beirut
in the next few days. Will we advance, stay in place, or retreat? The
answer is one that depends on each one of the over 300 registered
delegates that have come here from all over the world. I am cautiously
confident. Why? Because I know the goodwill is there, the tolerance for
differences is there, and the political will is there to achieve
unified action to overcome the forces of injustice, oppression, and
death.

I thank you.

Leave a Reply