Remember the 30's?
Dissent isn't easy these days. You're branded unpatriotic for questioning an unelected president's rush to war, and dismissed as insignificant even when you number in the millions.
It gets much worse. If you work in an American university, you could be blacklisted, harassed and even lose your job for questioning the Bush Administration's conservative pro-war agenda. Thanks to a small number of deep-pocket groups with close ties to the government, campuses have been pummeled with a right-wing political agenda; one stated goal is to replace liberal-minded professors (found to be "short on patriotism" or failing to teach that civilization itself "is best exemplified in the West and indeed in America") with more politically correct conservatives.
If you're a human rights activist in the States, things get even bleaker. Of the 10,000 who demonstrated in Fort Benning, Georgia last November to shut down what they call a terrorist training camp on US soil - the School of the Americas, renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/WHINSEC) - 96 peacefully crossed the forbidden line into the facility and were charged with civil disobedience. Those arrested included a priest, a reverend, Catholic nuns and veterans; as of now, 83 have been adjudicated, many receiving federal prison terms. Who says we don't have political prisoners in America?
But of course, dissent comes at a high price everywhere. At the infamous 2001 Genoa G8 summit, the world was stunned when a young protestor was shot dead by police, but only recently did the rest of the ugly story emerge. In one especially vicious event, Italian police raided a school being used as a temporary dormitory by international demonstrators and independent media. Claiming two petrol bombs had been found in the school and that an occupant had tried to stab an officer, police charged into the school and proceeded to smash windows, computers and heads in a gruesome attack that injured 72 occupants, many seriously. Bystanders kept outside the school during the prolonged raid reported hearing spine-chilling screams and then seeing the battered bodies carried out on stretchers.
What happened later is significant. Of the 93 inside the school arrested by the police that night, all were later released without charge. Then just last January, a full year and a half after the brutality, it emerged that the Italian police had in fact planted the petrol bombs at the school, and the officer who claimed to have been stabbed had in fact lied.
In other words, the Italian police had fabricated evidence against dissenters in order to justify beating them to a pulp.
We could be heading that direction in the States. The proposed Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, a.k.a. Patriot Act II, would grant the government sweeping new powers for surveillance, wiretapping, detention and criminal prosecution. Court appointed limits on police infiltration and disruption of dissident political groups would be terminated, and the government would be exempted from disclosing information on individuals detained in terrorism investigations; in other words, as the Bush Administration's "you're with us or with the enemy" mentality seeps down into the domestic arena and dissent becomes increasingly equated with terrorism, it will be easier to "disappear" political opponents.
Despite the risks, dissent is on the rise and from some unexpected sources. In the UK, an unprecedented 20% of reservists called up for military action have either ignored the order or claimed exemption. Stateside, a group of soldiers, parents of soldiers and Congress members have filed a lawsuit challenging the authority of George W. Bush to launch a military invasion of Iraq without a congressional declaration. Similarly, a bill making its way through the House of Representatives (House Joint Resolution 20) would repeal Bush's authorization to use force against Iraq. Over 120 cities in the US have passed resolutions against a war in Iraq.
And dissent today is not without its own creativity - or humor. In an ironic twist, a delegation of politicians, academics and scientists from abroad recently descended on the US Army's Edgewood Chemical Biological Center in Maryland to search for Weapons of Mass Destruction. Across the Atlantic, German relatives of US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld castigated his warmongering and publicly disowned him.
But those pushing for war have some creative ideas of their own. Last month, it was big news when ten Central and Eastern European nations issued a statement supporting the Bush drive to attack Iraq. Less well reported, however, was the fact that none other than Bruce Jackson (former US Defense Department official and weapons manufacturer executive) had helped draft the controversial statement and pushed to have it released. And of course, the final pretext for the last Gulf war - reports that Iraqi soldiers had ripped Kuwaiti babies from their incubators and left them to die on hospital floors - was later exposed as a downright lie, fabricated to silence dissent.
As the CIA says, it's the "Mighty Wurlitzer" in action: propaganda repeated so often and by such credible sources it becomes conventional wisdom.
Many of us can see past the lies. We're horrified that nuclear devices, depleted uranium, and Orwellian weaponry such as microwave technology and weather modification could be used against civilians in the name of somehow creating peace. We're appalled by Rumsfeld's plan to ditch the Chemical Weapons Convention, thus allowing American forces to use biochemical weapons against Iraqi troops and civilians proactively. We're sickened at the prospect of sending our service members into this bottomless pit.
The ultimate irony of course is that the hawkish politicians leading us into this mess are the true dissenters. Public opinion internationally opposes an attack on Iraq, but the handful of men who have seized power apparently disagree. And everyone knows Iraq is just their first stop.
Given the stakes, it is far less dangerous for us to dissent than to accept the alternative.
The Dangers of Dissent
Posted on the Independent Newswire on 14 April 2003.