Saturday, November 1, 2003

Toussaint (All Saint’s Day) is a public holiday today across Europe; it is the day of the year that is set aside for remembering departed loved ones. Trips are often taken to cemeteries and many candles are lighted in churches. My three-year-old son is working on a painting that we will send to my sister in California to place on my father William’s grave, it was five years ago that he passed away.

Toussaint is also the day that the Algerian War began in 1954, with uprisings against French colonial rule across Algeria. The eventual victory by the F.L.N. is still regarded, across the Arab world, as the one shining example of an Arab victory against a militarily superior Western power.

Juan Cole today links to an article in the Charleston Gazette that describes a call for a “day of resistance” today in Iraq: I have not seen much mention of this in the larger, national newspapers.

Graffiti and fliers that U.S. officials believe were generated by supporters of Saddam Hussein popped up around Baghdad on Friday, calling for a three-day strike starting today to mark the beginning of an uprising against Americans.

“Nov. 1 is resistance day! No to occupation!” read some graffiti on the blue masonry wall of al Farazdak primary school. Fliers threatened that shopkeepers could be killed if they opened for business.

One flier, in Arabic, asked government employees, shopkeepers and transportation workers to stay home, warning: “Anyone who does not take this seriously will be responsible for his life and his possessions.” It also told merchants not to deal in foreign goods, even though such goods were widely available under the old regime.

So far the resistance to the American occupation of Iraq has taken the form of military/terrorist activity, i.e. bombings and attacks on foreign (American usually) soldiers. There has not really been a political element to it. Normally during a guerilla war there are lots of slogans and propaganda being thrown around. General strikes are common tool to disrupt economic activity, thereby putting pressure on the ruling entities. Within the guerrilla movements themselves, there is often much conflict between the political and military wings. But in the end the terrorists/freedom fighters have political goals in mind (i.e. the departure of the American-lead occupation and the installation of a new government that reflects the beliefs of the guerrilla movement). We are witnessing the start of a political campaign by at least one of the participants in the resistance (it is likely there are several different groups fighting the Americans, and that these groups may have very different political aims).

According to Le Monde, the general strike called for in Iraq has been generally observed:

Samedi matin, le trafic routier dans la capitale, habituellement dense, était extrêmement fluide et de nombreuses écoles étaient vides. Les parents ont préféré ne pas envoyer leurs enfants dans les établissements scolaires.

Les administrations et des organisations internationales comme CARE ou l'ONU tournaient au ralenti, une grande partie des employés ne s'étant pas rendue au travail. Des gardiens et des policiers irakiens étaient déployés devant les écoles et les établissements de la ville.

Des rumeurs se sont répandues à travers le pays sur des tracts qui auraient été distribués pour mettre en garde contre des attentats majeurs et proclamant le 1er novembre "Journée de la résistance" contre les forces de la coalition.

Saturday is the beginning of the workweek in the Islamic world. The New York Times is also reporting that the general strike has been a success:

Most Baghdad schools were deserted and normally busy shopping areas were quiet. Residents said they were worried that schools, markets and mosques could be the target of attacks.

"My family wouldn't allow my two sisters to go to school today because of the threats. Even my friends at university and college are staying at home," said Luay Adeeb, 19, a cigarette vendor in a Baghdad commercial district.

"To be honest, I'm scared, but I have to work."

The mainstream media will spin this in a couple of ways. They have been emphasizing the threat of new “spectacular” attacks against Western targets this weekend, when these fail to materialize, the “day of resistance” will be called a failure. The fact is that guerrilla movements usually don’t announce attacks a couple of days before executing them, since guerrilla movements normally prefer not to go up against the enemy at full strength and in a state of heighten awareness. I will be very surprised if there are any major attacks during this three-day period.

The other analytical trail that the mass media consumer will be corralled through will be that the Iraqi people stayed home, not out of sympathy for the resistance, but out of fear of attacks on civilian targets. At best it is extremely difficult for any observer to quantify exactly why people take certain actions, but given the amount of animosity that has built up between the American occupation and the Iraqi people, many will be taking a political decision to stay home today. In fact it is going to be quite difficult for the Bush Administration to continue the “it’s morning in Iraq” storyline if the country is regularly shut down by general strikes. In a country where people have never really been allowed a say, they may be taking the opportunity here to vote against the occupation.

The choice of Toussaint to launch the political side of the Iraqi resistance is not a coincidence. There are many strong parallels between the two conflicts, as well as some strong differences (the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is actually a better match). At the very least, the Algerian War demonstrates some of the problems that a Western power will face in trying to occupy an Arab country. The best single volume history of the conflict is A Savage War of Peace , by Alistair Horne.

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