Getting it Right This Time: The Curious Ambivalence of the Latest Anti-War Campaign

January 18, 2008 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

We all recall the strange osmosis by which the idea of the Iraq war was injected with legitimacy over a period of debate and hype during which the prospect was transformed, in the powerful media discourse known inexplicably as “public opinion”, from being an unpalatable and ludicrous proposition, to being considered within the realm of legitimate action, albeit at the “controversial” end of the spectrum. The whole process took barely a matter of months.

The relatively swift mobilisation of the broadly-constituted Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI) campaign in the UK appears to be a direct response to several months of certain very familiar-sounding noises from Washington and London, echoed in the national media of the US and the UK. This bubbling hype, characterised by threatening language, misrepresentation, half-truths and schoolboy chauvinism, recalls in uncanny detail the fanfare which preceded our entry into the greatest international outrage of the 21st Century so far, namely the escalation of the US/British war against Iraq in 2003.

Government planners, with their expensively-assembled teams of Public Relations advisors, will be sure to manage events skilfully to make sure that the desired action against Iran is undertaken at a point at which the prospect can safely by said to be “normalised” in the discourse of public opinion.

Perhaps, therefore, it is worth considering whether it is sensible to initiate such a concerted mobilisation as would seem to connote a level of urgency somewhat more advanced than that of the diplomatic impasse itself. In so doing, there is at least a risk of contributing to the general sense of hype which is aimed at softening up the public, as the idea of a war on Iran gains legitimacy through a period of earnest democratic debate, and the electorate is quite deliberately driven to distraction through the endless repetition of a debate which is deliberately skewed by the mainstream media’s acceptance of a set up assumptions designed to mislead, and deliberately designed to favour one outcome.

It is, however, in recognition of the power of this process that HOPI seeks to mobilise support at an early stage, and there is much to be said for favouring an assertive approach that provides a strong base of resistance which is prepared for the worst eventuality, and while this campaign might well add to the hype, the alternative – to say and do nothing – is surely unpalatable. However, while circumstances have made it necessary to accept that there is a debate to be had, it is important that the opposition to US and British militarism does not unwittingly accept certain assumptions that have formed a significant part of the militarist discourse over the past few yeas. With this in mind, the name of the campaign group is worthy of some consideration.

Why “Hands Off The People of Iran” rather than “Hands off Iran”? The emphasis on concern for the people, presumably as distinct from the state, may simply be symptomatic of an excessive self-consciousness that is not untypical among diaspora and exile communities. Many Iranians living in the UK and the USA are understandably keen to distance themselves from the oppressive and authoritarian Islamic regime and its venal ultra-conservative front man Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Their sentiments are no doubt shared by many left wing activists who are involved in the anti-war movement. To indulge this sensibility, at this juncture, would however be a mistake, because we are living in a time when pro-war news management has entailed, among other things, a concerted effort to establish a delineation between a regime and its people, in order that the perception and understanding of the true horror of war by obfuscated or at least obscured, so that wars can be perceived and felt as a series of abstract tactical and strategic moves in which certain key state actors are “ousted” or “changed” or “removed” at will, while “the people” are quite distinct and, by implication, less harmed. This sanitisation of war in the public mind is essential to the workings of imperialism, and has a history which pre-dates the Bush administration by some considerable time.

To implicitly accept this delineation as a valid one is to pave the way for the eventuality that is perhaps most likely at any rate – the carrying out of so-called “surgical strikes” by the US (and possibly Britain), against key targets. The official line will inform us that this is not war – it is an “operation” or a “series of strikes”, aimed no doubt at key military or alleged nuclear installations. They would, in all likelihood, be sold to the public on the basis that only the infrastructure of the Iranian “state” would be affected, and not its people. Such strikes would of course amount to war by any proper understanding of the word, save in the lexicon of the US State Department and, on current indications, of HOPI, by whose reckoning the “People of Iran” would be largely unaffected. This pernicious distinction between a regime and its people is a marketing gimmick of imperialism, and it is essential that it is recognised as such. At the time of writing, it would seem that the situation appears to have abated albeit, in all probability, only temporarily. However uncomfortable it may feel, resistance in the face of any future crisis must be expressed in terms of unqualified support for the Iranian state.


Categorised in:

This post was written by Nathaniel Mehr

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *