Western demos make big impact in Islamic world

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The enormous antiwar demonstration in London in November and others like it are an inspiration for progressive people in Islamic countries and a great help in their resistance to fundamentalism’s appeal. The existence of anti-war demos in the west and their support by non-Muslim people is undermining the propaganda of the Muslim fundamentalists, writes Hari al-Khazzaf.

The anti-war movement in Europe has already made a mark in the Middle East, where the US is struggling to hold together its alliance against Afghanistan. Television footage of the demonstration in London has been widely shown across the Arab world where, say anti-war activists, it has made an enormous impression.

Hilmi is a member of the anti-war campaign in Cairo. He says: "The demonstration in London was shown on Al Jazeera [TV], and it made a big impact. People were amazed. A common question was, "Who are all these people? Are they all Muslims?"

'This is of great importance to socialists in countries like Egypt. Demonstrations against US and British aggression which take place in London or New York show that the war is not about Christians versus Muslims. It shows that millions in the west disagree with the war--that it's not a new Crusade, as the Islamists say.

'We argue that this is an imperialist war, that the US is using the events of 11 September to reimpose its control in central Asia and the Middle East. Both the anti-capitalist movement and the intifada in Palestine have made things difficult for the US. The war on Afghanistan is an effort to shore up their power once more.'

Amr is a student on a large campus. He says, 'In countries like Egypt it's the Islamists who influence the opinions of most ordinary people. All people in the west are presented as hostile to us, as part of new attacks in which the Christian world makes war on Muslims, just like the Crusades of 1,000 years ago.

'The bigger the anti-war movement in the west the easier it is for us to show that this is not true, helping us to build an anti-war movement that is also an anti-imperialist movement.'

There have been demonstrations in most Egyptian cities. The regime has threatened unprecedented reprisals against protesters - all university campuses have been ringed with riot police and in some cases by armoured cars. Students identified as activists have been prevented from entering. Despite this, demonstrations have taken place even in smaller cities such as Mansoura and Zagazig.

At the end of September a rally in Cairo which had earlier been planned in solidarity with the intifada turned into a demonstration against imperialism, an illustration of the close link between the war and the problem of Palestine.

Ingi is a socialist and an anti-war campaigner. She says, 'Bin Laden has become a people's hero - he is seen as the Che Guevara of our times. People cheered on 11 September - not because they like to see civilians killed, but because they saw an attack on symbols of imperialism (like the Pentagon) that have been dominant in this region for so long.

'We focus on the threat to the people of Afghanistan, but we never surrender our criticisms of the Taliban. This is important because they are being presented as heroes. The fact that they are victims of the US and Britain does not mean that they show a way for people of Islamic countries to win their liberation.

'Our job is to argue that imperialism is the enemy. This is where the anti-war movements in Europe and the US are so important. The London demonstration amazed people and undercut many of the Islamists' arguments. We hope to see even bigger demonstrations in the west in the weeks to come.'

Hari al-Khazzaf is an Egyptian socialist. This article first appeared in the newsletter of INK, a British collective of independent print magazines.