When are we going to wake up? When is the war in Afghanistan going to become a burning issue in this country? When is it going to become a burning issue for the British peace movement?
As we approach the eighth anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan, we see a welcome, if belated and timid, awakening of concern about the war in mainstream circles in both Britain and the US. What about the peace movement? If we are honest with ourselves, neither the traditional peace movement nor the wider anti-war movement have much to be proud of.
In 2001, true, there were sizeable marches against the war in Glasgow and London, an enormous amount of grassroots activism in towns around Scotland, Wales and England – and some civil disobedience. (See PN 2445 for partial coverage.)
Compare what has been done since then, in relation to Afghanistan, with the massive reaction in this country to the invasion of Lebanon in 2006, and again to the Israeli assault on Gaza at the beginning of this year? Those outpourings of protest were justified and right – but they raise the question of how we should be reacting to the crimes the British government itself is committing.
Just over a year ago, PN columnist Maya Evans observed that Afghanistan was “very much on the back burner” for the peace movement. In October last year, she helped to organise the one tiny event held in Britain to mark on the seventh anniversary of the invasion.
Since then, there has been: an act of nonviolent civil disobedience in May, by around 40 people, at a British military base in north London; over 50 “naming the dead” events around the country in August, to mark the death of the 200th British soldier to die in Afghanistan in the current war; and a number of public meetings. It is simply not enough. It is far from enough.
Let us mark this anniversary with a resolution to make an impact on the political parties in the run-up to the general election, to make an impact in our local communities in the year ahead, and to make a lasting impact on those who command this war.
Last issue, we quoted Harry Patch, the anti-war First World War veteran, who said, among other things: “At the end, the peace was settled round a table, so why the hell couldn’t they do that at the start without losing millions of men?” Now, in October 2009, talk grows of negotiating with (some of) the Taliban, the very people we refused to negotiate with in October 2001 – the people we were “forced” to fight.