Dear Spectator Readers,
As you decide whether or not to participate in the anti-war strike on Thursday, the Columbia Coalition Against the War would like to address any lingering concerns you may have:
1. I don’t understand why this is called a “strike.”
A strike is a concerted abstention from a particular economic, physical, or social activity on the part of persons who are attempting to obtain a concession from an authority or to register a protest. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “to strike” also means “to proceed in a new direction.” We, the coalition, have called for a strike in solidarity with campuses across the nation in order to show the Bush administration and Congress that we are determined to end the war in Iraq now and to take our world in a new direction-a direction away from senseless aggression.
2. Won’t bringing the troops home now increase the violence in Iraq?
Actually, every major poll shows that both Americans and Iraqis want troops out now. An overwhelming majority believes that the U.S. military presence in Iraq is provoking more conflict than it is preventing, according to a September 2006 poll by the Program on International Policy Attitudes. Moreover, seven in 10 Iraqis want U.S.-led forces to commit to withdraw.
My friend and colleague, 27-year-old Ayub Nuri, is a Kurd from Iraq who initially supported the invasion, but he is deeply against its continuation. Nuri spent three years reporting on the cataclysmic American involvement in his country before attending Columbia’s School of Journalism. As Nuri said, “This is the worst my country has ever been in its entire history, far worse than under Saddam Hussein. The Americans do not care about us but only themselves. Even if you sent three billion soldiers to Iraq, it would not solve the problem. Soldiers do not solve the problems. Violence brings more violence. Believe me, there is no life in Iraq. There is no way for me to describe what is going on in Iraq.” We have destroyed Nuri’s home and should at least have the decency to give his people the right to determine their own future. Moreover, a January 2007 Gallup poll found that most Americans support the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
There are people genuinely concerned with the fate of the Iraqi people who argue that ending the war now-the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq-might only make matters worse. We strongly disagree with this sentiment. The U.S. military occupation has not only created a horrific catastrophe for the Iraqi people but also remains the major destabilizing force in the country. Over 655,000 Iraqis are dead as a result of this war, according to the British medical journal The Lancet. The tone of the American occupation of Iraq was set by Paul Bremer’s first major act on the job: “he fired 500,000 state workers, most of them soldiers, but also doctors, nurses, teachers, publishers, and printers,” as reported in Harper’s Magazine. According to Refugees International, Iraq now has the worst refugee crisis in the entire world. The U.S. military has committed war crimes, from the torture at Abu Ghraib to the massacres in the Iraqi cities Fallujah and Haditha. The idea that the main party responsible for the disaster in Iraq should now be empowered to “fix” it is simply a recipe for greater U.S. aggression and bloodshed.
The U.S. occupation, in its desperate mission to prop up a regime friendly to so-called “American security interests,” fuels rather than alleviates the sectarian violence now raging in Iraq. As the honest and un-embedded journalism of Patrick Cockburn, Dahr Jamail, Nir Rosen, and others has shown, the U.S. has consciously manipulated the religious loyalties of Iraqis to control the country and head off a nationalist resistance. Any outside assistance given to Iraq after the U.S. leaves-and the demand for genuine reparations from the West is a very just one-must be under full Iraqi, not American, control. The anti-war movement’s demand to bring the troops home now is the precondition for the Iraqi people being able to determine their own future.
3. I don’t want my professors to judge me by my political views.
An overwhelming number of professors have contacted us to offer their support and encouragement. These professors are not on the margins, but they are representative of a large number of academics who oppose the war for reasons based on critical thinking and diverse scholarship. More importantly, Columbia students must have courage in their convictions by turning their rhetoric into action regardless of how they’re perceived by those in favor of escalating the war in Iraq. Having spent the last two weeks e-mailing every single professor at the University, the coalition is happy to report that we received only two negative responses. In other words, the vast majority of Columbia professors we have heard from are sympathetic toward the student strike.
4. I support the strike, but I’m against divestment.
We strongly encourage you to participate in the strike regardless of your view on divestment since the strike is first and foremost about ending the war. We also hope the teach-in will create a space conducive to discussing different points of view on topics including divestment. The coalition believes Columbia should divest from war-profiteering corporations for the duration of the war as a material act of opposition to the war’s continuation. As of June 30, 2006, Columbia had a total of over $4 million invested in three military contractors-$1,446,666 in General Dynamics, $1,571,106 in Lockheed Martin, and $1,154,363 in Raytheon. These companies are complicit in the war in more ways than one. Lockheed Martin’s former vice president chaired the pro-war Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. Bush’s secretary of the navy, a man with no previous military experience, is a former General Dynamics executive. Raytheon has two directors who are members of the Council on Foreign Relations. The company paid $11 million in fines for bribery and price inflation during the ’90s, but nevertheless, after spending $961,252 on the 2004 election cycle, it obtained $9.1 billion in military contracts in 2005. The comparable contracts for General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin are $1,437,602 and $10.6 billion, and $2,212,836 and $19.4 billion, respectively. Not only do these companies produce the weapons-from Abrams tanks to F-16s to Tomahawk cruise missiles-used in the Iraq war, but they also corrupt the U.S. government in order to get the contracts to do so. Columbia should not have a financial stake in their success.
5. What difference can one day of protest make?
One day of protest alone will not stop the war, but our action will help forge a larger, more united student anti-war movement that can contribute to stopping the senseless bloodshed in Iraq. Every serious historian of the Vietnam War acknowledges the critical role that the anti-war movement-including the mass protest and civil disobedience of students-had in ending that horrible war. As Noam Chomsky said in his lecture earlier this month, student protests were critical in challenging the American campaign in Cambodia during the 1970s. Also, let us not forget that Columbia was responsible for significantly bolstering the anti-apartheid South Africa divestment campaign in 1985 when hundreds of students took over Hamilton Hall until the administration addressed their concerns. “The work of those students had a real impact on ending apartheid,” said professor Dennis Dalton. “The Columbia administration claimed divestment would make matters worse and even went so far as saying it would be rejected by Desmond Tutu, but then we got an actual letter from Tutu supporting the peace activists!” Large, informed, and united protests full of passion and conviction have historically inspired dormant activists to join social movements and directly engage in critical forms of resistance.
Disruption impedes momentum. If we take a clear stance against the Iraq war today, we’ll prevent new wars tomorrow. As students, we must create a strong and vibrant anti-war movement that extends beyond this strike. We are at a moment in history that requires collective action. The coalition sees the strike as the launching point for building a sustained grassroots mobilization against the war on campus and beyond. On Jan. 14, while discussing the recent “Troop Surge” in Iraq on 60 Minutes, Bush declared with an arrogance fit for a classical dictator, “Yeah, ..[Congress] could try to stop me, but I’ve made my decision and we’re going forward.” This student strike is coming at a time when our voices will resonate and help set trends in academia and society. At this historic juncture, we’re being given an opportunity to show that we, the people, are the true “deciders.” What will you decide to do today?