Since October 2019, people throughout Iraq have gone out en masse to protest the corrupt, kleptocratic political elite that has been denying them basic services, rights, and dignified living for 16 years. This protest movement, Iraq’s largest in decades, has been the culmination of years of grassroots mobilization against incompetent and malicious administrations influenced by foreign governments, such as the US and Iran.
Now identified as a revolution, the Iraqi protest movement has engulfed various sectors of Iraqi society and unified a good majority.
Now identified as a revolution, it has engulfed various sectors of Iraqi society and unified a good majority. Various unions and guilds support it, such as the Iraqi Bar Association, which has been working pro bono to get thousands of protesters released after illegal arrest. This revolution has been societal, too, for women have emerged as its stars, leading crowds in chant.
State forces such as anti-riot police and non-state militias have been targeting protests with live fire, tear gas grenades thrown at the heads of demonstrators, and hunting rifles loaded with pellets that explode into tiny pieces to maximize harm. In the revolution’s early days, snipers atop buildings targeted activists. In response, protesters took over the tallest building at Baghdad’s Tahrir Square; ensuring they had the highest vantage point.
Throughout, Iraqis – shot, or kidnapped and tortured – are dehumanized. They are reduced to bodies silenced by violence. Indigenous peoples in Iraq (Assyrians, Ezidis, and others) perish in Internally Displaced Persons camps. Still, protests continue, despite over 600 lives lost in the past four months. The revolution’s standout slogan has been “We Want a Homeland,” reflecting a desire to belong to a safe land with respect and dignity in a society unshattered by divisive politicians. For years, Iraqis have known that divisive and inflammatory rhetoric comes from the political elite installed and supported by foreign governments who want to divide and conquer.
To discredit the revolution, politicians and militia leaders have been claiming it is led by foreign agents, funded by the US, and that its participants are “radical thugs” and “jokers” – a reference to the Arthur Fleck character portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix – and hell-bent on destruction. Their language choice intends to silence, delegitimize, and dehumanize protesters.
As an Iraqi-Canadian, I’m saddened to see the same language used against Indigenous protesters in my second home, Canada.
Indigenous peoples are tired of unfulfilled promises. They are tired of false reconciliation talk as their children are taken away, women raped and killed, and water poisoned by mercury.
Like their Iraqis counterparts, Wet’suwet’en protesters, along with other Indigenous and non-Indigenous allies, have been blocking roads, railroads, and a port to get the government’s attention. While this is about a gas pipeline through Native land, it is also about much more. Indigenous peoples are tired of unfulfilled promises. They are tired of false reconciliation talk as their children are taken away, women raped and killed, and water poisoned by mercury.
They are done with being dehumanized.
After 150 years of racial injustice, the self-righteous tell Indigenous peoples to let the “rule of law” resolve matters – the same “rule of law” that was set by colonialists for the sole purpose of protecting and maintaining a colonial legacy. Abiding by this “rule of law,” the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) – the national law enforcement agency – deemed “lethal overwatch” the appropriate way to deal with Indigenous activists, and had snipers prepared to take them down. As state forces brutally removed protesters and barricades at Tyendinaga on February 24, snipers were noticed on the scene.
This week, Conservative leaders Andrew Scheer and Peter MacKay described Indigenous protesters as “radical thugs.” Scheer even labelled them “professional protesters” – a baseless claim implying they are paid; straight out of a corrupt Iraqi politician’s playbook. He also denied protesters’ indigeneity, claiming they are white people appropriating an Indigenous cause. Both he and MacKay openly advocated for protesters’ violent removal. MacKay tweeted a video where he brazenly advocated for vigilante justice.
Ironically, those asserting that protesters are radical thugs want to take them out like thugs would.
Although Scheer was excluded from a private meeting about the protests as a result, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used similar language days later, backtracking on promises of reconciliation and insisting that the barricades be lifted. His government, it seems, had lost patience with the protesters and caved to the conservative rhetoric. Imagine, after 150 years of genocide, how Indigenous people must feel.
Incidents of verbal attacks against Indigenous persons have spiked in Canada over the past two weeks.
It’s reasonable to expect dangerous hate speech repercussions. MacKay’s comments signaled right-wing racists to attack Indigenous peoples. Incidents of verbal attacks against Indigenous persons have spiked in Canada over the past two weeks, even as they are treated as ingrates and not given an iota of the dignified treatment the rest of the population living on their stolen lands receives.
Also frightening is that around 60 percent of Canadians oppose the protests, according to the Angus Reid Institute. A good majority of the population remains silent and believes in the myth that Canada is a post-racial society granting all citizens equal rights. This majority remains in denial about the injustices and biases surrounding them, refusing to acknowledge ongoing violations of Indigenous peoples, all while patting themselves on the back for land acknowledgments (the public recognition of Indigenous people as traditional stewards of the land) at the opening ceremonies of their events and conferences.
What purpose does a land acknowledgment serve if it stops at mere words? What intent does inaction serve? Whose peace is being disrupted by the protests and barricades, and at what human cost should things go back to “normal”? What kind of progressive society is this where racial privilege and entitlement have the collective conscience hostage?
A just and humane society cannot but prompt itself to question such emotional entrenchment. As social activist and author Cornel West wrote: “It takes courage to ask – how did I become so well-adjusted to injustice?”