Thursday, November 02, 2006

Politics of fear and control

Conference War & Peace: all talk…?

Text and photos by Sharida Mohamedjoesoef for the Amsterdam Weekly

You are either with us or against us’. In these unequivocal terms US president George W. Bush made it quite clear in September 2001 that he expected full support for his so-called War on Terror. Five years on: fierce fighting in Afghanistan, a full-out (civil) war in Iraq, an upsurge of violence in Israel and the Occupied Territories, not to mention the piles of smoking rubble in Lebanon after the drums of war between Israel and Hezbollah.

Only three weeks ago General Richard Dannett of the British forces sparked a row, saying that UK troops were making matters worse in Iraq and should withdraw soon. Would the same be valid for Dutch troops in Afghanistan fighting off the Taliban instead of rebuilding the country? The question is reason enough for organisations like Stop the War Coalition and political party GroenLinks to initiate the national conference War & Peace that was held at Felix Meritis last Sunday.

The circular neo-classical hall was packed with some 150 people who had come to listen to a great number of speeches of, for instance, Hajo Meijer, Auschwitz survivor and secretary to A Different Jewish Voice, and Tariq Shadid, Dutch-Palestinian representative of the Palestinian Community Netherlands.

First-rate crowd-puller, however, was Dyab Abou Jahjah, the charismatic, articulate Lebanese-born president of the Arab European League (AEL). Jahjah is known for his fierce defence of Muslim migrant interests in both Belgium and the Netherlands.

This time he decided to take his captive audience for a stroll through history, illustrating recurrent patterns when it comes to the erosion of civil liberties in favour of the so-called the greater good. Jahjah intones: ‘During the Red Scare communists and sympathisers were victimised in a way that is comparable to the criminalisation of Muslims now. And let’s not forget about one of Europe’s most notorious terror groups: the German Baader Meinhof Gruppe. The German government felt compelled to adopt a series of anti-terror laws that seemed to clash with the democratic principles of post-war Germany in the same way as the anti-war measures are imposed now. The Red Scare has swapped places with the Muslim Threat.’

‘Quite right,’ says Ben Hayes of Statewatch, a British organisation that has been documenting UK laws on policing since 1991. According to Hayes, the British government is taking all kinds of measures under the pretext of security, varying from phone taps to fingerprinting pupils at some 5,000 schools throughout the country: ‘politics of fear and politics of control, two sides of the same coin, and now a complete generation is growing up with the notion that all this surveillance is totally normal.’ Both Hayes and Jahjah feel that Muslim – Arab migrants in particular are bearing the brunt of anti-terror measures after 9/11. The end is nowhere near in sight, Hayes points out, as ‘the UK police model is gradually being rolled out in the rest of Europe.’

‘Don’t expect the Dutch government to turn the tide,’ says senator Anja Meulenbelt with disappointment. She is one of the few politicians present and is not afraid of apportioning blame to all left-wing political parties, including her own Socialist Party. ‘We have failed to stand up against the victimisation of fellow Muslim citizens.’

‘What on earth can we do to bring about change?’, was a frequently heard question in the audience. Surprisingly enough, few, if any, clear-cut answers were given. Jahjah firmly stuck to his guns saying that grassroots activism should do the trick, while Hajo Meijer stressed the importance of exercising maximum pressure on ‘our American puppet government’.

Although their statements were sounding off to an overall sympathetic audience, some dissonant cords were heard: ‘all talk, no action’ and ‘no opposing views from the right-wing camp’. Whether this was due to an unwillingness on the part of the organisers to invite them or ‘typical ostrich behaviour on the Right,’ as some claimed, remained unclear.

Yet, while some speakers did not seem to mind the absence of the Right, others like Tariq Shadid did, Shadid even quoted legendary US president Roosevelt:

‘We have to face the fact that all of use are going to die together,

or we are going to live together.

And if we are going to live together, we have to talk.’