Our Borders are Blast Walls

Andrea Schmidt

April 19, 2004

As the US pursues its War of Terror in Iraq, the kidnappings of foreigners by the muqawama (resistance fighters) has grabbed the media spotlight. In response to the kidnappings, many international NGOs and humanitarian aid organizations have moved their foreign staff to Amman. Foreign journalists who haven’t already left the country are nearly paralyzed, reporting from their seats in front of TV sets in hotel compounds ‘secured’ by blast walls, armed guards and the right connections. This isn’t a huge change for the staffs of some news channels – for security reasons, CNN hasn’t let its foreign journalists out on the streets of Baghdad after 4 PM for the past year of occupation. But for many reporters, both independent and mainstream, the current immobility is insanely frustrating.

Those of us who came here as anti-war or anti-occupation activists intent on bearing witness to the injustices perpetrated by occupation authorities aren't managing a whole lot better. I haven't even really been out walking on the streets of Baghdad for a week now, and have submitted, in spite of my better sense of moral judgment, to being driven between 'safe' houses where sympathetic Iraqi and international friends have extended their hospitality.

The concrete blast walls that surround NGO, humanitarian aid organizations, ministry buildings, political party headquarters, the CPA and hotels frequented by foreigners in Iraq have always struck me as obscene. They are obscene because of the way in which they demarcate the lives that are considered worthy of 'protection' from those which are not, in the context of this occupation in which one of the most common complaints heard from ordinary Iraqis is the almost total lack of security that for themselves and their families.

The blast walls are also obscene because of the hypocrisy of NGOs and humanitarian organizations that they make manifest in concrete. They are barriers that prevent Iraq’s ‘multitudes’ -- the poorest people, the unemployed families whose women and children panhandle in the streets, people without the mandatory identification or the right contacts – from entering the very organizations and institutions that purport to be present to ‘help’ them. The blast walls send a message: “We will help you, but only at a distance, and only at a level of risk that WE choose and can control.”

At the same time as the fear of being kidnapped has paralyzed foreigners in Iraq, US Occupation Forces have massacred hundreds of people in the town of Falluja, a hundred people in Sadr City, bombed practically every one of Moqtada Al-Sadr’s offices in Baghdad and have announced that they will capture him dead or alive (essentially threatening to martyr him as Saddam martyred Moqtada’s father before him). Explosions resound across Baghdad at intervals throughout the day and night. The helicopters fly so low that the windows rattle.

This crossroads of terror has made me think constantly about the blast walls. I remember an observation made several weeks ago by a perceptive friend. For those of us who are ‘first-class’ citizens of North American or European countries in a global system best characterized as one of apartheid, our borders are blast walls. They shield us from the conflict and the poverty that our governments and our corporations create and profit from in the rest of the world.

Iraqis didn’t choose their country to be the battleground for George W. Bush’s War on Terror. And I don’t think that most of them would even have chosen it as the battleground for a righteous stand against US imperialism. That doesn’t mean that various sections of Iraqi society aren’t fighting and won’t continue to fight to resist the occupiers. They are and they will – and if the US forces that surround holy town of Najaf at this moment actually invade the town, Shiite resistance will begin in earnest and “it won’t ever stop.” At least that is the prediction of an acquaintance of mine, a Shiite man and an ex-officer in the Iraqi army who participated in the 1991 uprising against Saddam. But he also added, referring to the current Intifada, “we are not fighting for an anti-war or an anti-imperialist movement. We are fighting for the people of Iraq.”

If our borders are blast walls, then they are what many of us -- as anti-war and anti-imperialist activists living in Western countries -- rely on to keep a safe distance between ourselves and the danger-filled reality that Iraqis, peoples of other occupied and colonized nations, and people displaced by war, poverty and occupation have no choice but to survive on a day-to-day basis. Maybe solidarity and justice demand that we stop playing it so safe. Maybe it is time to put our own bodies at risk in the sort of direct actions that confront the empire within its own fortress. Maybe it is time to move the battleground within our own borders, and to become the resistance inside the blast walls – the sort of resistance which would effectively take them down.

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This report was written by Andréa Schmidt for the Iraq Solidarity Project. The Iraq Solidarity Project is a Montreal-based grassroots initiative to provide direct non-violent support to Iraqis struggling against the occupation; strengthen the mobilization against economic and military domination and anti-war work in Quebec and Canada; and build links of solidarity between struggles against the occupation of Iraq and struggles against oppression in Canada and Quebec.

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