On a bitterly cold afternoon in Toronto, tens of thousands of people came out onto the streets to voice their opposition to a war on Iraq. The February 15 protests were part of a worldwide day of action as millions of people demonstrated in various cities. It was one of those ‘mad as hell and won’t take it any more’ moments that not even Hollywood could have produced.
People took to the streets in a phenomenal display of people power. There were men, women, youths, and children; there were people of all faiths and of no faith – Christians, Muslims, Jews, agnostics, and atheists; there were workers, students, business people, academics and professionals. They came from all spheres of life and from all backgrounds. The New York Times columnist, Patrick Tyler made the sweeping statement after the demonstrations: “there may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion.”
Governments in Western capitals are scrambling to figure out this phenomenon and what it means for their countries. As the pundits and experts try to come up with answers for this grassroots upsurge of people a few things are clear.
Many people just do not believe Bush, Blair and Associates. The case for a preemptive war to stop Saddam Hussein because he threatens U.S. is so ludicrous that many people in the West do not accept it.
Also, after 9/11 there is awareness among the masses of the repercussions of U.S. escapades in the developing world. The irony of the situation is that the U.S. is making the case that Iraq is a threat to America and the West while, in fact, the pending U.S. invasion and proposed military occupation of Iraq is the real threat to the West as it will breed extremists and provide foot soldiers to Al Qaeda.
However, these mass demonstrations sent an important message to the Muslim world and peoples. Despite the self-serving rhetoric of the extremists who say that the West is against Muslim world, Muslims were able to see millions of citizens in North America, Europe and Australia come out onto the streets against war on Iraq and stand for justice and peace. And this message should not be underestimated.
More than ever before, the peoples of the Muslim world and the West need to see each other differently. For Muslims they need to see that ‘they’ are not ‘crusaders’; and for the citizens of the West they need to see that ‘they’ are not ‘extremists’.
It is to be hoped that these massive demonstrations are the beginning of a global movement for change and that people will be so empowered that they may actually start believing they can make a difference. If this were to happen the New York Times statement might not be so far off the mark é there may actually be a super power in the making.