The Iraq War 10 Years On: Death of British Popular Protest?

Image‘The War on Terror’, and its’ legacy, have undoubtedly had a profound impact on a truly global scale. Precipitated by the 9/11 atrocities, successive American governments have spearheaded an aggressive, international pursuit of Islamic extremists that have enveloped (most notably) the nations of Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the Blair government’s shunning of popular opposition to, in particular, the invasion of Iraq, has left a tangible scar on the British psyche – fundamentally undermining the perceived effectiveness of peaceful civil protest.

The damage to the credibility of western states (not least the United Kingdom), on an international stage, through our going to war citing their possessing of non-existent weapons of mass destruction, has been severe, but not as severe as the whole sagas undermining of our own democratic system at home. The sheer populist opposition to the Iraq war was graphically highlighted with the enormity of the 2002 and 2003 public marches against the war, where hundreds of thousands strong throngs marched on British streets.

One of the greatest single examples of British grassroot activism was quickly eclipsed with the political elite’s shunning of the vociferous public calls for peace – thus illustrating the truly distorted power balance that so favours parliament over the people.

Democratically elected and with the mandate to rule in consideration of the will of the masses, the failure of Tony Blair’s government to then recognise the will of the people (an early February 2003 Guardian poll put support for an invasion at just 29%), may be sited as a precursor to what is now reality: a culture of popular discontent with the political establishment.  What sort of precedent does it set to the nation’s youth, when an elected government takes a nation into a war which the majority of the people oppose on moral (or other) grounds?

True, disestablishmentarian sentiment is not new, yet resurrecting Thatcherite disunity amongst the population, through the pursuing of overtly unpopular policy i.e. war, is damning, and as much culpable for contributing to our ‘Broken Britain’ societal image as anything. The perceived ignorance of parliamentarians to their constituent’s views, permitted to go unchecked by the three party’s monopoly over the House of Commons, has fostered a culture of resentment– only furthered with the revelation of collective dishonesty, as the expenses scandal came to light.

 A common distrust and a growing wedge between politicians and the people is not the only legacy of the decision to get involved in an unwanted war. The explicit shunning of mass peaceful protest has surely only furthered the innately dangerous notion that violent protest is the only way to support a cause. A generation, witness to the 2011 London riots, have grown up in an atmosphere where a sizeable minority feel the necessity to fight ‘the system’, rather than to try to work with it – albeit not always for an express aim, or as an organized force.

 The protesters of 2013 are not nearly so vast in number, with even the recent financial crisis and subsequent anti-government cuts protests, failing to inspire anywhere near the dizzy heights of the two million who flocked to London for the mid February 2003 Stop the War march. Instead, a new era of more militant activism has emerged, with groups such as Anonymous testament to the new generation turning toward more damaging, confrontational tactics.

Surely though, with the tenth anniversary of the US led invasion of Iraq passing in February, and a year on from the killing of Osama bin Laden, it would seem that the Bush administration initiated assault on Islamic militancy to its’ very hiding places, has been a success? Could one not argue that a certain degree of social disharmony at home was necessary for the establishment of global peace?  No. The continuing stark domestic instability of the nations that saw coalition troops (namely Iraq and Afghanistan), is surely proof as to the chaotic and ill-conceived notion of forcefully implementing western modelled democracy upon such states.

 State building, and the American government’s interpretation of it, has surely been damned through its failure to address the unique sectarian sensitivities within the wider region, and the scope for internal conflict that ethnically or religiously affiliated political groupings can bring. The aim of bringing democracy to a region is surely noble, yet the disharmony that plagues Iraqi domestic politics in 2013 is evidence that the framework delivered by the west has not worked.

The failure of the British government to heed public calls for peace ten years ago, has undermined the United Kingdom’s credibility in more ways than one. Social fragmentation at home is one of many implications the Iraq War has had on a domestic scale, ushering in a new era of concentrated militant activism, but more commonly, a tragic apathy to events that affect us all.


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