Resistance swells to stop the war at home & abroad

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Hibo Osman Issee, an Ethiopian immigrant and U.S. citizen protesting a customs raid on a Seattle mini-mart in 2001. Photo by Harley Soltes/Seattle Times.

It didn’t take long for George W. Bush to show just who he had in mind when he declared his war on terrorism. The horrifying September 11 carnage provided U.S. authorities with an excuse not only for the murderous bombing of Afghanistan and a bully campaign against that whole region of the world, but also for a crackdown at home on immigrants, dissidents, or anyone else who doesn’t look or act “American” enough for the new generation of McCarthyites in power.

Seattle raid unites immigrants, radicals, and anti-WTO protesters. Early on November 7 in Seattle, the U.S. Treasury Department, assorted other federal entities, and local police began raiding a Somali wire transfer service and three other small businesses owned by immigrants in the same building. Yellow police tape warned off the neighbors, who watched agents carry out the merchandise and furniture from the meat market and grocery store and gift shop — along with the assets of the wire transfer service.

The raid occurred near New Freeway Hall, the home of Seattle Radical Women (RW) and the Freedom Socialist Party; staffers there immediately hit the site with protest signs. Somalis on the scene quickly joined the picket line, as did other immigrants who saw it covered on TV and local activists called by the party and RW.

Interviewed by the press, Seattle RW Organizer Anne Slater had this to say: “Every move that the government makes against immigrants is being done with no proof and no accountability. The aim of this disgusting witchhunt is not to stop terrorism but to create an ‘enemy’ at home to justify weakening civil liberties for everyone, and to intimidate critics of the U.S. slaughter in Afghanistan. We don’t intend to buy into the scapegoating, and we won’t be scared off.”

The wire agency in southeast Seattle is part of a network of these businesses that allow Somali immigrants, often needy themselves, to send money to relatives in Somali refugee camps who would otherwise face starvation. U.S. officials raided several transfer services in different cities simultaneously, claiming that they channel money to the forces of Osama bin Laden. And, even though the other Seattle storefronts raided were not connected to the wire transfer service except by proximity, the government rendered them guilty of terrorism by association. All their goods were carted off, the perishable food driven directly to the dump.

But the opposition to these actions did not stop with the two days of the raid. A few days later, Somalis organized a march to the Seattle headquarters of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). They were met there by students from Seattle Central Community College, who diverted the course of an already planned march against the WTO in order to demonstrate their solidarity with the immigrants under fire.

The protests and the publicity they generated made an impact. In a partial but important victory, the three businesses adjoining the wire transfer service were allowed to reclaim those of their assets that hadn’t been destroyed. Organizing for full restitution continues.

“Anti-terrorism”: a rallying cry for racism and repression. This incident is just one of the home-front effects of what Bush’s clique has labeled “Operation Enduring Freedom” — a breathtaking display of Orwellian doublespeak.

The aftermath of September 11, in fact, provides a primer course in how individual acts of terror cause the greatest injury not to the ruling classes but to working and oppressed people. The harm comes not only in the immediate deaths and casualties, but in the pretext the violence provides for endless “retaliation” and sweeping repression.

Starting immediately after September 11, the government began rounding up and detaining Arab and Muslim immigrants: more than 1,200 people as of this writing. Many of them are still being held without being charged with any crime and without access to attorneys, friends, or family members.

And the anti-immigrant hysteria accompanying the clampdown affects all people of color. In the days after the September attacks, INS harassment and violent crimes of bigotry rose sharply against not only newcomers to the U.S. from the Middle East and South and Central Asia, but also all kinds of darker-skinned people — immigrant and native-born alike.

Those whom the Bush regime comes after can forget about looking to the so-called opposition party to protect them. Democrats have offered virtually unqualified support for the drastic series of steps the administration has taken to circumvent the Bill of Rights and deny civil liberties to dissenters and potential dissenters.

The bipartisan USA PATRIOT Act, for one, creates a new crime of “domestic terrorism”: aiding or abetting anyone on a list of 74 organizations, mostly Middle Eastern, now deemed terrorist. The Justice Department can expand the blacklist without proof or procedural safeguards; additions could include political, nonprofit, environmental, legal aid, and church groups in the U.S.

The Act also allows grants officials broad power to levy penalties for civil disobedience and legalizes wiretapping and other intrusions on privacy without warrants.

George W. Bush — who became president only thanks to a 5-4 decree of the Supreme Court — also has used his ill-gotten position to issue a number of anti-democratic executive orders. One of them allows the U.S. to try non-citizens accused of terrorism before military tribunals, which restrict defendants’ rights as severely as did medieval courts.

Activists who know history read the detentions of immigrants, the Patriot Act, and the rest, as merely the first horrible blows — a prelude to wider government action against leftists, unionists, and demonstrators against corporate globalization.

War always provides a short-term economic boost by using up the excess products of the “defense” industry and manufacturing a demand for steady, escalated military spending. As the current recession grows, causing labor unrest to increase, more and more poor and working class people will become targets of the government crackdown.

Ravaging an Afghanistan already in agony. The war on Afghanistan is no more about ending Taliban tyranny and promoting women’s rights than it is about keeping the population of the U.S. safe from terrorism.

By recruiting, training, and arming rightwing mujahedin from all over to fight a Soviet-backed Afghan government in the 1980s, Washington itself created the seeds of the Taliban. And now it supports the equally brutal and misogynist Northern Alliance. Upon taking control of the country in 1992, the Northern Alliance stripped women of the most fundamental rights, stoned “adulteresses,” raped widely, burned books, and murdered dissidents and ethnic and political rivals.

The U.S. is bringing more death and destruction to a country already laid low by years of civil war and the despotism of first the Northern Alliance and then the Taliban. Although one would never know it by following the big-business U.S. media, at least 3,767 Afghan civilians had been killed in the war by early December. This is a conservative figure reached by a professor at the University of New Hampshire, Marc Herold, in a meticulously researched and widely cited investigation.

On top of the human casualties, homes and crucial infrastructure — roads, radio stations, at least one hospital — have been wiped out. Bombs and land mines have stymied the delivery of humanitarian aid, which has fallen to less than half of what it had been.

And when the onslaught against Afghanistan is over, the U.S. claims license to continue its military campaign against other countries that it alleges to be sponsors of terror.

Anti-capitalist resistance: the only solution. The people of Afghanistan are not, by themselves, strong enough to fend off Uncle Sam. They are poor and displaced from their homes, and a working class is practically nonexistent. But, in another secret closely guarded by the U.S. media, opposition to the war and to U.S. policies in the Middle East is occurring all around the world.

Hundreds of thousands have marched and demonstrated against the war in the Middle East and Europe; in Leiden, the Netherlands, the antiwar committee has developed an emergency plan for responding to broadened U.S. attacks in a country such as Iraq or Somalia.

In Pakistan, militant labor activists brave government repression to continuously educate and organize against Bush’s devastating crusade. In Japan, dockworkers at Sasebo Port refuse to load armaments to be used against Afghanistan and stage a daily, one-hour shutdown of the port, demanding an end to Japanese involvement in the war and protesting the enactment of new “anti-terror” laws in Japan that curtail democratic freedoms.

Of all the assistance needed by the people of the Middle East and South and Central Asia as they confront U.S. terrorism, however, what will count the most is the support of the workers and young people of the U.S. And in the U.S. — from the very first moment that Bush trumpeted his war against terrorism — there have been people offering vocal and determined opposition to both his domestic and international assaults.

Many liberals and leftists alike have taken a stand not only against the war but against racism and the dumping of civil liberties at home — instead of cloaking themselves in the flag and letting the witchhunts proceed, as far too many people who knew better did during the McCarthy era. They are stirring up floods of letters to the editor and to officials, holding forums, vigils, teach-ins, and press conferences, and organizing demonstrators to hit the streets. Groups who have mobilized include everyone, from local labor councils to a network formed to combat violence against sexual minorities.

Students and teachers are playing a major role. When the rightwing American Council of Trustees and Alumni, founded by the vice president’s wife, Lynne Cheney, recently condemned college professors for criticizing the USA and the war, the protests that rose from campuses all over the nation forced the organization to withdraw a list of “offending” professors.

The protests have not stopped the bombing, but they have made their mark. By the end of November, when the U.S. government asked for the assistance of local police departments in questioning an additional 5,000 Middle Easterners, some area police chiefs refused to help, telling the Federal government to do its own dirty work.

Hopefully, the resistance that has taken place so far will grow into a massive movement — one radical, democratic, determined, and internationalist enough to force an end to Bush’s war on suffering people at home and abroad. There is only one vision truly capable of producing and sustaining such a movement: one that includes the understanding that the only way to stop individual political terrorism is to eliminate its primary cause: deadly U.S. foreign policy — and the only way to do that is to change the capitalist system which that policy serves.

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