Not In Our Name

by Angana Chatterji

Dissident Voice

October 12, 2002

Not in our name. The cry reverberates across the United States, as thousands demonstrate their dissent against a US war with Iraq.


Republicans, Democrats, Greens, trade unionists, left, right, centre, students, Muslims, Native Americans, Latino Americans, Asian Americans, Jews, African Americans, Buddhists, Jains, European Americans, gay, lesbian, transgender people, Christians, refugees, artists, white and blue collar workers, the homeless and the working poor, atheists, Hindus, Sikhs, Bahais, government workers, small business owners, musicians, writers, goddess worshippers, dock workers, teachers, reporters say "not in our name."


Is the US government’s impending war with Iraq connected to weapons inspections? Not long ago, this war was marketed as a response to Iraq’s assistance to Al Qaeda. The impulse for war shifted as the US government insisted that Iraq be attacked for amassing weapons of mass destruction while refusing to allow weapons inspection.


Following Iraq’s agreement to unconditional inspection, the latest reason for war is simply Saddam Hussein. The decision to attack Iraq remains steadfast, the justification is refabricated. While critical issues of oil supply from an increasingly distressed Saudi Arabia and deflated Iraq remain, perhaps more important domestic reasons power the US government’s decision for this war.


The nation’s gigantic military industrial complex requires continual conflict to legitimate its immense costs and flex its power. It corrupts decency, condones the death of innocent children, women and men. US sanctions have already killed close to 500,000 children in Iraq, a reasonable price to pay for protecting the free world, we are told. Inhumanity must not become a nation’s legacy.


Americans, the people of the US, are being asked to name their enemies, but not what prompts such hostility. The people of the US are being asked to overlook the legacies of colonisation, irresponsible globalisation and militarisation that have brutalised people the world over. They are asked to support the sanctity of oil in determining policies connected to West Asia, but not question why relations with Saudi Arabia remain "normal" while the US prepares to attack Iraq again.


Americans are told that to oppose the Israeli government’s oppression of Palestinian peoples is anti-Semitic. They are asked to not make distinctions between the Jewish people and the Israeli state, just as they are asked to not make distinctions between the US government and its people. Since when have "the people" become their state?


The corporate media and an arrogant government ask Americans to overlook the history of US support of dictatorships that have fomented violent regimes in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Disturbingly too, the war against terrorism is increasingly confused with a prevailing worldwide contempt for Islam, enabling the bigoted misinterpretation of Muslims as monolithic and violent across differences of nation, class, politics, gender, race and culture.


Afghanistan, post-Taliban, is in ruins as the US and the international community fail to provide adequate security and resources for her reconstruction, strengthening regional warlords and disabling Afghanistan’s new government. The failure of human rights, the violation of women, the disenfranchisement of returning refugees continue. Such practice dishonours the commitment to fight terrorism. Peace remains elusive because of a paucity of commitment to justice.


Within the framework of the campaign against terrorism, the executive arm of the US has increased its powers of surveillance and interrogation, and expanded provisions of detention. This erodes the scope of public scrutiny and the process of law, while narrowing civil liberties. Extending similar jurisdiction to allied states, the US and the European Union have remained silent on Russian mistreatment in Chechnya.


Egypt, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, Malaysia have systematically stilled their commitments to democracy and secularism. China has attempted to use the campaign against terror to justify its repression of ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang, including Muslim minorities and peace advocates. The Government of India introduced the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance, a modified security law that empowers the government to torture and detain minority groups and political opponents alleged to engage in terrorism.


Governments worldwide, post-9/11, have utilised law and order to subjugate opposition in the guise of fighting terrorism. The question what produces and defines terror is not asked, it is consecrated to the custody of the state. It is of grave concern that democratic dissent and free speech are increasingly languaged as anti-national where "traitors" must be disciplined.


The US citizenry is asked for an abiding loyalty to a government that has shown no accountability. The attempt is to infantalise Americans into silence. They are either for the ruler or against him. Democratic processes are dispensed with while asserting a unilateral right to invade other nations, to make regime changes, to violate international law. Such hubris, as history reveals, accompanies imperial power.


Meanwhile, the other war of impoverishment and disenfranchisement continues in the US. The shrinking wages of the American working class, the increasing disrepair of rural life, escalating costs of living in urban areas, single mothers without jobs that pay, children without health care, schools without textbooks, women and men that cannot afford a college education.


Young African American men fill the prisons — casualties of institutionalised racism. Countless Vietnam veterans, hated by the right for losing and the left for fighting, are homeless. Native Americans, on whose genocide this nation was built, are forced into brutal dispossession as the state systematically dishonours treaties made with native nations. In a country of 288 million people, 35.6 million people live below the poverty level. Environmental pollution, endangered wildlife, nuclear tests, sweatshops, toxic spills, gang wars, hunger, rising diseases.


Well kept secrets? The national economy is failing, foreign debt is about $2.5 trillion, workers are being indiscriminately discharged under circumstances that underscore corporate irresponsibility. This too is life at the centre of the empire. There are no plans for atonement. Ever vigorous trade and war with an expanding number of peoples and countries will not resolve internal crises. It is a tired strategy that only compounds the disarray.


The horrors of September 11 have jolted the national fabric. Hopefully, its legacy is the awakening of new forms of American citizenship — pro-active, pro-conscience, and affirmative of a global commitment to human rights predicated on social justice. In the centre of the empire named the United States of America, the people are taking it to the streets.


Angana Chatterji is a professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco.