‘What is Imperialism?’ – Public Meeting; Report and Video

When people turn up for a public meeting an hour and a half before it’s due to start, you know it’s a good sign.

We had an aim on Friday evening.  To bring together young people from all sections of society, to discuss and educate ourselves on one of humanity’s biggest enemies; Imperialism.  From a glance across the sea of people crowded into the University of London Union, numbering 600 by most estimates, we had succeeded in our aim.

Logic introduced proceedings, describing Seamus Milne as “an all round legend” and Tariq Ali as “a brother you can’t mess with”, before stating the five principles of the Equality Movement.  We then heard an introductory speech from Lowkey via video-link:

“There will always be a moral difference between imperialism and legitimate resistance to that imperialism.”

Although his presence was missed, Lowkey’s words perfectly set the tone for what had become a truly massive meeting.  Seamus Milne was next to speak.

“To oppose imperialism,” Seamus began, “you have to understand it and grasp what drives it…”

Seamus described how imperialism had grown out of European colonialism, until “under modern capitalism, imperialism in essence is the use of force and coercion… to extort profits.”  He went on to describe the current role of the United States, which “during the second half of the twentieth century [has become an] unchallenged global capitalist power, and early rivals such as Britain became auxillaries.”  But he finished on a positive note:

“Our job is to oppose and expose imperialism, and to fight for an alternative to the economic order that drives it.  This very meeting shows that that process is already well underway.”

Dr. Hanan Chehata took the stand, and silenced the crowd with her grasp of the Palestinian conflict.  “How did we get here?” she asked.

“Imperialism plays a major role, both in the origins of conflict and why it is allowed to continue today.”  Hanan went on to explore the Balfour declaration, signed by British Foreign Minister Arthur Balfour in 1917 and promising the land of Palestine to the Zionist movement.

“What gave Britain the right to do this?” Hanan asked.  “Purely to protect imperialist interests.”

Hanan went on to question “not only the humanity but also the manhood” of political leaders such as Tony Blair for their justification of the siege of Gaza which, she noted, serves as collective punishment to, amongst other, 300,000 children under the age of four.

“The Palestinians have been the victims of imperialism since the inception of the Israeli state,” Hanan concluded, “and the millions of Palestinians living scattered around the world are a living testimony to the evils of imperialism.  The arrogant belief that one country can dictate the living conditions of another country thousands of miles away by virtue of wealth or power is anachronistic.  Isn’t it time we said enough is enough?  If international law is implemented, Israel will have to end their occupation of Palestinian land.”

Hanan said it was her first public speech, but none of us believe her.

Lizzie Cocker spoke next, describing the case of a large number of Muslim and Arab youths being arrested in the aftermath of the Gaza demonstrations in London during Operation Cast Lead as a strong “example of imperialism at home”.

“Unprecedented numbers of largely Arab and Muslim youth flooded into the streets,” Lizzie began, “and were met by brutal suppression by the state.  The government tried to portray these people as thugs and louts, just as they had criminalised the people of Gaza.  Just as Israel’s leaders thought they could bomb the people of Gaza into submission, the British government believed they could bully and intimidate an increasingly angry Muslim youth into submission, at a time when our imperialist wars are escalating and spreading into other countries.”

Her comments were timely and her argument passionate.  We must remember those political prisoners in all we do.

Tariq Ali was greeted with a warm round of applause, and deservedly so.  “We need more meetings like this,” Tariq began, “across this city and across the country.”  The Equality Movement wholeheartedly agree.

“We’ve seen this before,” Tariq continued, “we’ve seen the targeting and victimisation of communities resisting against imperialism in different parts of the world and in this country; the most recent example is the Irish, when they were fighting to get British troops out of their country, innocent Irish people were locked up.”  Tariq’s reference to Lizzie’s speech showed the potency of her words.

“This is a tiny northern European country, it shouldn’t have such a large military force, it shouldn’t be attached to the American empire, but it is!”  Another reason not to be proud of being a British citizen.

But Tariq suggested that the United States were trying a different approach to empire, using what he described as “local oppressors” to keep populations subservient.  “This is the advice the British Foreign Office has given to the Americans.”

“Without collaborators,” Tariq suggested, “imperialism cannot exist in these regions… so popular movements are extremely important for bringing these regimes down.”

Tariq finished with words of optimism; “Of course there is an alternative, and the alternative is to challenge this form of capitalism.  It can be done, but it needs continuous resistance!  They are trying to attack our democratic rights, the very democratic rights that we fought for, so we must fight together, young and old, against the system that tries to punish us for it’s own mistakes.”

“Both the struggle here and the struggle against the empire in different parts of the world go hand-in-hand, and we will fight together.”

I was last to speak, and felt that I could begin in no other way but to thank the four other speakers.  Their words had touched my heart.

“Cecil Rhodes couldn’t have been robbing nobody,” I continued, “’cause he said there was nobody there.  Israel isn’t a racist, apartheid State.  It’s a land of no people, for a people of no land.  Britain is still flying the flag of imperialism today.  I’ll give you a clue, one of those three statements is true.”

I gave words from my heart, but really, there was only one way I could convey what I was trying to say…

“What is equality? /
Is that equality? /
I get the same weird looks you get for being black /
I get the same weird looks you get for being brown /
I get the same weird looks you get for being Muslim /
But I’m not really disabled, or in a wheelchair /
I’m just using that to strike fear /
I’m just trying to manipulate the media /
But that can’t be right, cos if it was, I’d make it much easier /
I’d make my hair blonde and my eyes blue /
I’d go shopping all the time and eat loads of junk food /
I wouldn’t be reading Pilger, Robert Fisk and Tariq Ali stupid /
I’d be reading The Times, The Sun, and all the papers for Rupert /
I wouldn’t be listening to hip-hop music /
I could never see the speeches of Guevara, Malcolm and Lumumba /
My only heroes would be Gandhi, Mandela and Martin Luther…”

“If I say I am not the victim /
Then I am playing the victim /
If I say equality for all /
I am placing myself on a pedestall /
You can keep peddling your lies if it makes your lives easier /
Or propping up politicians with your excuse of a media /
Despite the bias I’ll still talk to BBC news /
They rep the government so we need to voice our views /
For every town, village and city that’s been destroyed by our bombs /
If you had to see their faces this could never go on /
If you saw the white phosphorus and the skin as it’s peeling /
Your COD gaming wouldn’t be so appealing /
If you saw the napalm dropping on Vietnamese /
Or the terror of Iraqi children bent down on their knees /
Or the proud Afghani man with his fist in the sky /
Saying you can take my blood but you can’t take my life /
Or the Kashmiri teenagers throwing rocks at borders /
Or the Northern Irish they refer to as social disorder /
Which institution has really become lawless /
When the Irish children died, the BBC could never report it /
All I give is the facts, and all they do is distort it…”

This was the re-birth of a movement.  The fight begins now.  And the final words of my speech reiterated our aim:

“In 2011, we must bring this government down.”


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