A film about the 2003 anti-war protest propagates inaccuracies
We Are Many is a new anti-war documentary based on the conceit that if lots of people don’t like something then that thing must invariably be bad. This is especially true of Western military intervention, which, according to the film, should never happen if there is a sizeable street mobilisation against it — in this case, a million people marching through London.
The film is about Saturday, February 15, 2003, which saw the largest anti-war protest in British history in opposition to the war on Iraq. “Not in My Name” was the popular anti-war slogan of the day and, with a few exceptions, everyone in the film wants you to know that George Bush and Tony Blair’s toppling of Saddam Hussein didn’t happen on their behalf.
The film propagates a number of myths about the Iraq war and opposition to it. For one thing, the war was never as unpopular as the film makes out. In Britain at least a slim majority were initially in favour of it. I remember this well because I was as scathing as the protesters about Tony Blair’s apparent hoodwinking of the British people with talk of weapons of mass destruction reaching the UK within 45 minutes. (I still am, if it matters.)
Also disingenuous is the film’s portrayal of the Stop the War Coalition, whose spokespeople appear regularly in the film, as a genuine anti-war outfit — when its demagogic leaders have consistently acted as apologists for some of the most reactionary forces in the world. Once the Iraq war started, the Stoppers pledged their support “by any means necessary” to the jihadist “resistance” in Iraq, whose pacifism consisted of butchering Iraqi trade unionists and the “wrong” sorts of Muslims.
But We Are Many does get to the crux of what a great deal of anti-war activism is now about: protesters wrestling assurances from government that no killing will be carried out on their behalf. Killing per se is a different matter — the 2013 House of Commons vote against bombing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces is portrayed in the film as a spectacular victory for peace, despite Assad’s bombs continuing to rain down on children ever since — what’s important is maintaining the illusion that activists’ own hands are clean.
In reality, if one has the ability to affect the outcome of a war then one’s hands are bloodied whether one likes it or not. The filmmakers undoubtedly believe that stopping war in Iraq was a realistic possibility, but leaving Saddam in power would surely have prolonged another war — the war his regime was waging against the Iraqi and Kurdish people, where on average between 70 and 125 civilian were killed by the regime every day for Saddam’s 8,000-odd days in power.
One is struck by a notable absence of Iraqis in the film. This seems odd until one grasps that much of the activism on display doesn’t actually appear to be about Iraqis, Syrians or the oppressed at all. Instead, it is about blameless protesters feeling warm and fuzzy as the crowds filled London’s streets on a gloomy February afternoon. Not In My Name, the placards said. Better in somebody else’s, they might have added.