A New Year, A Historic Moment: What We Do Matters

Revolutionary Worker #1181, December 29, 2002, posted at http://rwor.org

"We're stepping up everything, including military preparations."

Anonymous administration official, New York Times , December 19

"By asserting that Iraq is in `material breach' of United Nations Security Council resolution 1441, the United States is positioning itself to go to war."

BBC, December 19

"When you're in this room and everybody around you is a Middle Eastern man, it really sinks in. It looks like people are being rounded up, and it's very, very disturbing."

Jacqueline Baronian, New York immigration lawyer,
on the federal registration of Arab and Muslim immigrants

"We believe that people of conscience must take responsibility for what their own governments do--we must first of all oppose the injustice that is done in our own name."

From the Not in Our Name Statement of Conscience

This new year finds us all, and the whole world, deep into the rapids of fast-moving events.

The U.S. war machine has announced that 50,000 more troops are being readied for shipment to the Persian Gulf--possibly over the first weeks of January. Soon it will have enough forces to start an invasion.

The Abraham Lincoln and the Constellation aircraft carrier battle groups are now within striking distance of Iraq. German, French, British, Japanese and Spanish warships prowl surrounding seas under de facto U.S. command. The U.S. invasion force in the Persian Gulf is currently testing its high-tech command structure and the readiness of its troops.

In an ominous mid-December statement, the White House rolled out a new war doctrine which asserted the U.S. would consider launching a first-strike nuclear attack if it (or its allies) suffers serious setbacks in battle. This was a nuclear threat aimed at Iraq, its military and its people. This first-strike threat takes its place with other new doctrines: approving preemptive war, new "rapid deployment" forces, and the permission for American agents to carry out assassination throughout the world.

Then U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell accused Iraq of a new "material breach" of UN resolutions. The U.S. claims Iraq is lying in its December 6 report on its weapons research. With that charge, the U.S. officials were insisting (again) that they have a right to attack Iraq, and they called on the UN to approve their coming war.

In many ways, seen and unseen, preparations for an unjust conquest are picking up.

Homeland as War-front

Meanwhile, the war preparations came home to the U.S. itself--in new and shocking ways.

A month ago, in an almost unpublicized move, Attorney General John Ashcroft ordered virtually all Arab and Muslim males over 16 who are not U.S. citizens to present themselves to the federal authorities. This is phase two of government targetting of Arab and Muslim immigrants. Shortly after September 11, government agents rounded up thousands of Arab and Muslim men and held them in secret detentions.

Now, overnight tens of thousands of people, many of whom have lived here for years-- working, going to school, raising their families--are being treated as potential enemies, simply because of their country of origin. Twenty Arab and Muslim countries have been named.

December 17 was the deadline for registration by men and boys from the first group of countries: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Sudan.

When the deadline approached, on December 16, lines formed up in front of government offices in Los Angeles and other cities. These targeted men and boys came, voluntarily, to comply with Ashcroft's order. And with many of them came their lawyers and their nervous families, all hoping that it would all work out for the best.

It didn't.

The procedures were harsh and insulting. The men were interrogated, photographed and digitally fingerprinted--treated like criminals and suspected terrorists. They were asked to describe their political involvements and told to hand over the names of their American "contacts."

And then, as their horrified relatives waited outside, hundreds of them were seized in Los Angeles-- arrested and transferred in handcuffs to distant "detention centers."

Suddenly thousands of people are living a nightmarish scene from a story by Kafka: Government delay and hostility has put many immigrants in a legal limbo--then the government turns around and starts arresting its victims for minor "visa irregularities." Immigrants who apply for residency and green cards enter a bureaucratic maze for years. And the delays have only worsened after 9/11, when immigration authorities put the brakes on processing many nationalities.

In a special act of cruelty, the government refused to inform the relatives, lawyers or the media what was happening--there was no official comment for several days. The officials would not even say how many were taken.

All the families saw was that their men went in and did not come out. As a few of the detainees eventually came out on bond, over the following days, word quickly spread about the harsh punishment conditions that were being imposed inside. Detainees were forced to submit to humiliating body searches. Their clothes were taken, and they were held in cold conditions, dressed only in coveralls--often without blankets, or underwear or even shoes. Some of those released reported that guards had drenched detainees in cold water as punishment. And worse: people did not know what they were facing. They were treated as if they had no rights--as if they were dangerous "aliens" and lawbreakers.

As we go to press, it is still not clear exactly how many have been detained across the country. It is not known exactly how many have been released on bond and how many are still being held. And it is being reported that many of those arrested--who overwhelmingly have jobs, families and lives here in the U.S.--now face deportation hearings.

Let us speak plainly: This is what it looks like when people are targeted for their nationality and religion. This is what it looks like when basic civil rights are torn up. This situation cries out for resistance.

It brings to mind how Japanese Americans were rounded up and put into concentration camps 60 years ago. It makes you think of days when Jewish people were told to register and put on Yellow Stars.

Ashcroft's next deadlines are rapidly approaching. By January 10, immigrant men from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen have been ordered to register. By February 21, immigrant men from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are required to register.

An intense cold chill is passing through immigrant communities and the lives of millions of people.

On Wednesday, December 18, over 3,000 protested in Los Angeles, many reportedly from the large local Iranian community. Their banners carried the obvious question: "What's next? Concen- tration camps?"

Each person of conscience needs to ask : Where will I now stand? What will I now do?


The air is thick with a profound sense of injustice and a sense that awful things are being planned and unleashed.

"Let's Roll!" they say in Washington.

The plans of the U.S. government are like some huge juggernaut that has picked up speed over the last year--rolling hard and reckless, demanding that everyone climb on board or get flattened.

Old rules, laws, alliances are being torn up. None of them seem extreme enough for the gang in power. They are drunk with impatience. Massive movements of weaponry back up constant threats. New footholds are springing up for the American war machine--infiltrating Central Asia, taking over Djibouti, remaking Qatar, returning to the Philippines...on and on.

Iraq and its people are in the cross hairs--and there is every reason to believe the imperialists intend to pound that country into submission.

The U.S. government (like allied governments in Europe and the Middle East) refuses to listen to the people. All their media, their politicians, both their political parties are engaged in circling the wagons of war--rallying around their president and these global adventures.

But no oppressor is unbeatable. The bones of a hundred empires lay buried under dust. Rome ruled and now is gone. Even today, as the great war machine coils to strike Iraq, there are many, diverse and growing forces determined to stop them--and throw down against their plans.

Whether the U.S. conquers or fails, what it is doing to Iraq, and the attacks it is preparing to unleash are wrong. This aggression is against the interests of the people. It is against the interests of the people of Iraq--who will never see supposed "liberation" from the guns of this conqueror. It is against the interests of the people of the world whose lives, more and more, include the beating of U.S. boots and the arrogant dictates of U.S. envoys.

And this threatened war is against the will of people here in the U.S. This war is prepared and waged in their name but against their interests. The attack on Iraq will not produce safety and security for the U.S. It will be, exactly as Vice President Cheney has promised, the next phase of a war-without- end.

This last year has seen the birth of a movement of resistance in the U.S. Suddenly, hundreds of thousands (even millions) of people don't feel alone with their disquiet and outlaw thoughts. Suddenly very different forces are learning to talk and walk together.

All this is new and fragile. It will be tested very soon--and then tested again. The warmakers will try to divide and isolate and punish. But today, in our era, more than ever before , there is the potential for great alliances and consciousness. We are not each facing evil alone in Tolkien's smoking Mordor. There are billions of brothers and sisters spread across this beautiful planet.

Oppressors seeking to dominate the world inevitably fear the people of that world. A corporate future of SUVs and child labor is being propped up by smart bombs and command satellites. And the vast majority of humanity doesn't want it.

It is especially important now that when the people of the world watch events, they see that here, in the U.S. itself, there are those who resist and hate this juggernaut, those who stand with them in the struggle to stop it--those who call out the injustices perpetrated by their own government and say "not in our name."

The world will be recast in great conflict. And it is still unwritten who will ultimately triumph from this moment and whose vision will ultimately rule.

This is the world we live in, as the new year opens. We did not choose it. But we can--each of us and all of us--choose what we do, who we stand with, and which future we fight to create.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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