Shutting Down the U.S. Consulate in Montreal to Resist a War Crime
Montreal, 18 April, 2004
As US bombers continued to terrorize people in Fallujah, and as their troops surround the holy city of Najaf, a small group of people in Montreal succeeded in closing down the US consulate for four hours on Friday.
Five organizations - Block the Empire Montreal, Canadian Muslim Forum, Iraq Solidarity Project, Parole Arabe, and Voices of Conscience - came together for the first time to plan the interruption of business as usual at the imperial outpost. The Canadian government having failed to condemn the war crimes and the illegal occupation of Iraq, it is left to us to respond. We lay siege to the consulate and break the guilty silence with anti-war music and the protest of our pots and pans orchestra, slogans and drums. A security agent who works at the building tells us that only a few consulate staff have showed up because of the shut-down.
"Yes!" said an older man, stopping to nod with feeling at a banner which reads, "US Imperialism: Vietnam 3 million; El Salvador 200,000; Iraq 600,000 kids and still counting ... God bless America!" He is from El Salvador. We read the poem by Emmanuel Ortiz, "A moment of silence in honor of those who died in the World Trade Center last September 11th ... also for all of those who have been harassed, imprisoned, disappeared, tortured, raped, or killed in retaliation for those strikes in both Afghanistan and the US ... Six months of silence for the million and a half Iraqi people, mostly children, who have died as a result of an 11-year US embargo ... Anhour of silence for El Salvador ... An afternoon of silence for Nicaragua ... Two days of silence for the Guetmaltecos ... 25 years of silence for the hundred million Africans who found their graves far deeper in the ocean than any building could poke into the sky ... We could be silent forever, or just long enough to hunger for the dust to bury us ... Here is your silence. Take it. But take it all. Don't cut in line. Let your silence begin at the beginning of crime."
A Muslim couple stops to thank us warmly for organizing the shut down. Passing trucks and cars honk in solidarity. Even several of the people prevented from entering the consulate support the action. There is enough support to build on, out of which something significant could come.
Echec a la guerre, the 160-member anti-war coalition in Montreal, begins a press scrum in front of the shut-down. They demand that Canada denounce the massacre and the illegal occupation of Iraq. Then the good folks of CKUT 90.3 FM radio bring in a live report from Iraq Solidarity Project delegate Andrea Schmidt in Baghdad. Her disembodied voice comes to us through one of the car-battery powered Sonic Resistance mobile sound units built by these same local community radio activists. She describes what she has witnessed first-hand in Baghdad and the reports she has heard from people coming out of Fallujah. She talks about the blast walls in Baghdad which separate those whose security is deemed to deserve protection from those who can be bombed with impunity.
Every hour or so, the police caravan down the street in a display of legitimate force. Otherwise they seem shy of media attention. Only a few were visible, grimly guarding the consulate's locked door, when we arrived. But in a nearby alley, nine vans full of riot police are hiding, and a little police army lurks in the neighbouring carpark, poised to come to the defense of the empire should we get out of hand.
We don't get out of hand, choosing for various reasons to leave the more confrontational roles in the capable hands of the police, well-equipped with their guns and swagger. We let them bar the door and tell people that the consulate is closed for the morning. We step in only to explain that the closure is due to the massacre at Fallujah. The police are silent on this point.
At one point we threaten security by chalking the names of Iraqis killed since the beginning of the invasion on the walls of the consulate. Ali Hamada; parents of Seif Saleh, age 10; Mustafa Mohammed Saleh, age 7; Hussein Abdul Fattah; Haki Ismail; Hakim Abdul Reza, age 36; Ali Bakr, age 9; Salwan Jalami; Jafer Abdulmajid Bilbas; Cimshid Khorshid Rashid; family of Metaq Ali; Salima Hashem; Fateha Ghazzi, age 8; Nada Abdallah, age 16; Khowla Abdel-Fattah; a sister of Thamur Sheikel and also his 2 nephews; ... On and on and on until the police become alarmed by the dangerous rise in the level of reality in the area. We are ordered to stop by the security forces. So much truth threatens our freedom.
Stories from un-embedded reporters have been coming out of Fallujah of snipers shooting anyone who moved - children, grandmothers, fathers - of the use of cluster bombs, of F16s bombing residential areas ... of hundreds of people killed, the power station bombed, the main hospital bombed, ambulances being shot at, and medical supplies blocked. One hundred dead in Sad'r City, the poor Shi'a neighbourhood of Baghdad. Najaf, the holy city for Shi'as, is surrounded by US troops. They threaten to enter and trigger a blood-bath.
But the tidal wave of disgust and anger that should rise up against such terrorism hasn't even made it over the blast wall. It has, in part, been quieted in these parts by the dominant media outlets, which give far more importance to the deaths of relatively few soldiers and mercenaries who are in Iraq to uphold an illegal occupation, than to the deaths of thousands of Iraqis - hundreds in the past week in Fallujah alone. In most mainstream outlets, the detention of an astounding 18,000 Iraqis by Occupation Forces has been overshadowed by foreign hostage-taking, as though the Iraqis have no families who weep over them and fear for their lives. An embedded journalist nonchalantly reports watching an F16 drop a 2000 lb bomb on a building in Fallujah, whether an apartment block or a business, we are not told. It is an aside in an article whose chief concern is with the boredom facing US troops - and it normalizes the extraordinary violence. News agencies even lend credibility to Bush's hypocrisies about terrorism and Bremer's risible account of the uprising, "Iraq's democratic future is challenged by violent minorities".
The shut-down succeeds at least in interrupting the empire for a few hours. We end it when visiting hours are over. The names of the dead remain on the walls when we leave.
(Thanks to Mary Foster of Block the Empire and Homes not Bombs for this report)