Cici Washburn reports from Saturday's rally commemorating 20 years of the Stop the War Coalition
“We were right”. As a founding member, Andrew Murray opened the moving commemorative event in central London marking 20 years since the Stop the War Coalition was founded. With the defeat of US imperialism in Afghanistan and the catastrophic US/UK-led “war on terror” in tatters Murray continued: “Right about the fact that occupying Afghanistan would be the bloodiest and most destructive way to get from point A to Point A”.
As hundreds gathered in person while thousands more watched live online, we knew that the recent formation of the Aukus nuclear alliance; mounting tensions with Iran, Russia and China; continued drone attacks in the Middle East and the vast sums spent on arms meant this was no ordinary commemorative event: it was also signal to the future of the anti-war movements and our struggles to come.
Lindsey German spoke about how one of the greatest achievements of Stop the War is that the Muslim community was at the centre of it “We bought together the left, the trade union movement, the peace movement, the Muslim community, and I think people still don’t understand how important that was for the Muslim community and for those of us who aren’t Muslims to come together and say we can unite against this war, we do want to involve everybody in this question”.
Kate Connelly, one of the organisers of ‘school students against the war’ reminded the audience that her generation had been written-off as apathetic. The Stop the War Coalition exploded that myth as thousands joined the movement and organised school strikes and protests demanding a different kind of politics based on internationalism and solidarity. The lasting impact can still be felt today on the Palestine protests, the climate strikes, the BLM movement as well as the protests against tuition fees.
The audience received Peter Brierley who helped found ‘Military Families Against the War’ with warmth expressed in a long applause before he had even uttered a word. Peter’s son Shaun was killed in Iraq in 2003. Peter recounted how he refused to shake Tony Blair’s hand, becoming active in STW and organising to take Tony Blair to court. Many in the audience spoke about how moving the event was and related to many of the speakers talking about how the last 20 years changed everything from the huge increase in Islamophobia to mobilising a generation into activism.
John Rees stressed the importance of the campaign to free Julian Assange:
“I think that in this movement we have to learn something from the American marines, and from the army rangers of the united states, because they have a slogan which is; ‘We never leave a fallen comrade on the battlefield’ well we are not going to leave Julian Assange in prison, in Belmarsh.
“It will be two years next week that Julian Assange will have spent in Belmarsh prison on remand. I’ll tell you what on remand means, it means innocent, it means not charged and not convicted of any crime.
“I say now to Priti Patel and the rest of them: let this man go, what you are doing is illegal, what you’re doing is immoral, what you’re doing in inhuman, and he must be set free.”
Many joined Rees in the call to join the March for Assange on 23 October from the BBC to the High Court on Strand.
Lowkey, Weyman Bennett and Shabbir Lakha spoke on racism, Islamophobia and the abhorrent Prevent scheme of this government while Patron of Stop the War Salma Yaqoob spoke about how her sons will never know the world before the war on terror, never know a time when Muslims weren’t faced with daily Islamophobia and suspected of being terrorists. When talking about the hypocrisy of governments claiming the War on Terror was to liberate women Salma Yaqoob said, ‘a shroud is no better than a forced burka’.
NUS president Larissa Kennedy informed the event that 26% of universities receive funding from arms companies and how 43% of Muslim students don’t feel they can speak out freely. On decolonising higher education Kennedy said: “the way that it’s framed by the right wing media is that we’re trying to take away history; that were trying to re-write history. We’re trying to re-write the future.”
Zarah Sultana and Jeremy Corbyn were the final two speakers. Sultana addressed the impact of Islamophobia at home and abroad, the increase of security cameras and Prevent demonising and silencing Muslims. On Aukus she emphasised the urgent tasks we face in the Stop the War Movement:
“Setting up a new dangerous cold war, this sabre rattling won’t bring any peace as much as they tell us or keep telling us, wont secure justice or human rights and just as it did before a new cold war risks hot wars across the world, most likely in the global south and the danger of nuclear Armageddon engulfing us all.”
Jeremy Cobyn recalled the early days of stop the war; the mass media supporting wars and not supporting Julian Assange; the historic 15 February 2003 global mobilisations. He closed the rally saying about the new cold war against China,
“We’re into some crazy world where were increasing armaments at a time when we should be getting over Covid, protecting the environment, getting over global inequality, providing water, sanitation and healthcare for all. And so our answer to this is: learn the lessons, the hard lessons of not always being able to stop all the conflicts we try to stop, but learn the lessons that we can stop the next one, and mobilise people like never before against this new cold war, against this re-armament, against injustice and inequality but above all on a global sense, an anti-racist sense, and an anti-imperialist sense.”
20 years on from the War on Terror, the event was a powerful reminder about how right the anti-war movement has been, the impact it has had in society, and how necessary it is that we continue to build it against the ongoing threat of war.
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