Compléments de Multitudes 13
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Asian Peace Movements and Empire

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American war and its impacts

It started in a small way. In October 2001, we, a score of Asian social
action groups, their coalitions, and NGOs met in Hong Kong and agreed to
establish an Asian regional peace network titled the Asian Peace Alliance
(APA).[1 We scrambled reacting to the massive U.S. military invasion of
Afghanistan We were enraged by the showering of bombs on the Afghan people
by the world’s richest and strongest military power. To this situation, we
wanted to crystallize Asian people’s concerted response.

There was a keen sense of crisis shared by all of us over the U.S. military
attack on Afghanistan, the poorest Asian country. We were all indignant
against the American arrogance to call it a war to defend civilization,
disgusted with the conceit and hypocrisy of dropping “humanitarian aid”
packages together with lethal bombs. We all strongly disapproved the
September 11 attacks, but we concurred that the most serious danger to peace
and lives of the people came from the way the United States was reacting to

But at that time it was also felt that organizing effective peace action in
Asia vis-à-vis the U.S. war was not an easy task.

In countries with overwhelmingly Islamic population like Indonesia and
Pakistan, it was Islamic fundamentalists who had promptly and visibly taken
to the street shouting anti-American slogans and carrying Bin Ladin’s
portraits. Friends from Indonesia reported that it was difficult to stage
independent civic peace action without falling into the Bush trap, “with us
or with the terrorists.” Certainly the Islamist demonstration was more
forceful and photogenic. Media would either identify any peace action with
the Islamists or simply ignore it.

War had been brought into a series of Asian countries. Pakistani friends
were then reporting that under the Musharaf regime that pledged to support
Bush, rule of law had been obliterated. American FBI agents were running
rampant, seven arresting any persons as terrorist suspects, including tenant
farmers protesting landlords.

By that time, the war was already spread to the Philippines, opening the
“second front” of the American “war on terrorism.” The United States had
sent its special military units to Mindanao and Basyylan islands allegedly
for joint exercise with the Philippine military for the purpose of wiping
out a small band of Islamist-turned bandits, whom the U.S. branded as Al
Qaeda-connected terrorists.[2 The whole locale was overwhelmed by massive
presence of the U.S.-Filipino military, shrouding the local communities with
the climate of terror. This situation created serious obstacles to the peace
processes with Muslim forces promoted patiently by local voluntary groups.
Yet in the fall of 2001 opinion polls showed that public opinion in Manila
was still overwhelmingly supportive of Bush and his “war on terrorism.”

The nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir issue
was already serious and peace movements were preoccupied with it. In East
Asia, the keenest social movement concern of South Korea was with national
reunification, hopes for which, raised with the 2000 North-South summit,
were eclipsed as Bush shifted the American North Korea-policy from
normalization to hostility. In Japan, the hottest issue was the wartime
legislation pushed forward by the center-right government to break the
constraints of the pacifist Constitution riding on the Bush crusade.

Situations, concerns, histories, and cultures were widely different country
by country and subregion by subregion in this vast continent. Movements
groups were already fully preoccupied with their respective national issues.
Given this diversity of concerns and issues, what could it mean to bring
into being an Asian people’s peace alliance rooted in the diverse Asian
realities that is capable of confronting the imperial war of global
pacification? What is the new context into which Asian people, and peoples,
can emerge as forceful peacemakers effectively exercising their influence on
the global centers of power? Answering these questions was a challenge faced
and taken by all of us.

Peace redefined

By the time APA held its founding assembly in August-September 2002,
however, we began to understand what it meant to take this challenge. The
contours of the imperial project in the meantime were fully shown as Bush’s
state of the union address early in the year made the real imperial agenda
clear to all. No longer in the guise of retaliatory war against terrorism,
the United States was now claiming its right to rule the world as it
pleased, feeling free to name sovereign states it handpicked as members of
an “axis of evil” on which the U.S. had the right to preemptively attack and

Titled “Kalinaw – Asian People Speak up for Peace!”, the APA assembly was
convened at this stage of the Bush war.[3 Held in the University of the
Philippines campus in Quezon city, northern part of greater Manila,
Philippines (Aug. 29-Sept.1) drew 140 activists from 17 countries and 95
organizations. It was not a conference held in a vacuum. For months prior to
its opening, the Philippines host committee worked hard to make it an event
rooted in the local movements, and succeeded. In the Philippines, two major
peace coalitions had already been set up, and including them almost all
major movement trends came together not only to host it but also to actively

The assembly was a real activists’ workshop not delimited by any
institutional interests, all participants speaking up freely on an equal
footing. The prevailing atmosphere was an intense urge for action in
response to the actual people’s needs and concerns. As the assembly
proceeded, it proved to be an arena into which all the real problems Asian
people suffered from were brought into, shared and thrashed out. We
experienced a process in which national and local pieces fell into a full
picture of an Asia placed under the U.S. Empire and its war scheme.

The assembly had three agenda items: I. The World under the War on
Terrorism, II. Overcoming Conflicts and Violence among People, and III.
Hopes and Strategies. Workshops (called sub-plenaries), prepared and
conducted with full participation of local host organizations, examined a
whole gamut of our problems: under topic I, (1) militarization,
nuclearization and the role of the US; (2) war and the economy, (3) the
erosion of international standards; (4) media and public discourse; under
topic II, (1) Internal conflicts and peace processes; (2) gender and
violence in multi-ethnic communities; (3) religion, ethnicity, and the
search for peace; (4) amidst a world at war: the role of social movements.

I am not going into details of the discussion, but one thing that struck me
was that we were spending very much of our time and energy, say 60%,
discussing our own, meaning Asia’s own, problems and issues. In other words,
the second agenda item had to absorb much of our attention. This does not
mean that we did not discuss the American war. The assembly did discuss it
and did take a clear position over the Bush war itself. All the speakers,
analysing the post-911 situation from different angles, concurred that the
Bush war was the attempt to establish imperial rule over the world. We also
were agreed that violence wielded against civilian population such as the
911 attacks had nothing to do with any people’s cause and only be
conveniently used by the imperial center to justify its global pacification
scheme. Another perception shared by all was that the Bush’s global war
integral to the neo-liberal globalization processes that are working social,
economic, cultural, and environmental havocs on the world community, hitting
its most vulnerable segments.

But there was more to it. Listening to, and participating in, the
discussion, I began to ask myself, and imagine, what the scene would be if a
peace conference of this kind were being held in Canada, or Australia, or
somewhere in the west. Then the basis and premise of discussion, in fact the
implication of the very word, peace, used would be significantly, if not
totally, different. There the reasoning would be much simpler. Probably we
would be discussing the American policy and “terrorism” more
straightforwardly. We would criticize them against our shared criteria and
values and come up with a short resolution and plan of action. There we
would be grasping the war situation as external to us and responding to it
to remove it. Differences of views would certainly exist but they would be
resolved using the same, shared frame of reference, and the frame would stay
intact. I said that the whole process would be much simpler because we would
not be discussing ourselves so much as we did in Manila. We would be
discussing peace, but to simplify, peace largely would mean a return to the
status quo ante.

Things did not go on like that in Manila. For us who came from the vast
expanse of South Asia, Southeast Asia, and East Asia, a different procedure
was necessary to discuss the Bush war. We had to discuss ourselves as much
as we discussed Bush. We had to go through the painful realities of the
India-Pakistan nuclear confrontation, rampancy of Hindu, Muslim and other
fundamentalisms and other sectarian violence destroying communities, Gujarat
massacre, military repression on separatist movements, constant human rights
violations by the military, police, and private agencies, economic violence
wielded on the large bulk of population in the name of neo-liberal
globalization, refugees of all kinds, and notably patriarchy underlying all
these cruelties. In many Asian settings, vast numbers of people are deprived
of peace and security. For them peace is what they badly need to create here
and now and not a state that existed before but is now disturbed by what has
befallen. In other words, peace means creating new relationships and
situations out of the almost hopeless realities.

I know that essentially peace should be understood as building new
relationships. Peace should not be a simple going back to the status quo
ante but creation of new social, human, and cultural relationships, and this
is so in societies of the North as it is in third world Asia. In fact, the
difference between them is a matter of degree. But in actual terms the
degree matters and the degree makes the approaches asymmetrical. The
situation where peace should be emphatically understood as change of the
status quo is certainly a negative situation for the people captive in it.
But peace in our sense at once can carry a positive significance, if we take
its challenge, because it involves radical transformation of societies and
cultures. This, I felt, is a crucial dimension of peace often missed in
northern peace movement.

The point is that the Bush war has been grafted on to this already peaceless
structural setting, transfiguring it, making it more violent and repressive,
and multiplying the suffering of the already suffering people. Reflecting
this overdetermined complexity of Asia, the founding declaration of the APA
assembly had to be a long statement. It points out the relationship between
the Bush war and Asia as follows:

« In the past year, the peoples of Asia have experienced a significant rise
their already high levels of insecurity. From Korea in the East to Palestine
in the West, from Central Asia in the North to Indonesia in the South, wars,
conflicts, and rising tensions have been our shared reality. The common
source of our heightened insecurity is unmistakable: the winds of war
unleashed by the United States in its pursuit of the so-called campaign
against terror. This is based on a militarism that links physical coercion
and patriarchy as the currency of power.

The Bush war has conglutinated with the local fabrics to make more vicious
the “already high levels of insecurity” accelerating militarization and
reinforcing anti-democratic forces all over Asia. The declaration gives a
glimpse into what I might call the “nexus of evil” after Bush being
organized between the global war machinery and the local nodes of power. Let
me quote in part.

« Confident of Washington’s backing, Pakistani dictator Musharraf flouts
rising demands for democracy, consolidates his repressive regime, and
massacres unarmed landless peasants and fisherfolk. Taking advantage of
Washington’s rhetoric, the Hindu chauvinist government in New Delhi labels
the Pakistani government ‘terrorist’ in order to close off any peaceful
resolution of the Kashmir issue and cover up its culpability in the barbaric
pogroms that its own followers have carried out against Muslims.

« George W Bush’s naming of North Korea as part of the ‘axis of evil’ has
effectively scuttled the move towards rapprochement between the two Koreas
and set back their eventual reunification.

« The US push to enlist Japan in the anti-terror coalition has resulted in
Koizumi government compounding the violation by previous governments of the
Japanese constitution by sending Japanese Self Defence forces to the Indian
Ocean to support Washington’s war on Afghanistan. In addition, the emergency
military bill has been promoted. These moves have stoked legitimate fears of
Japan’s remilitarisation.

« In the Philippines, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has effectively
overturned the Filipino people’s decision a decade ago to kick out the US
military bases by allowing US troops to return in force via the Visiting
Forces Agreement. In the name of the war against terror, the Pentagon has
renewed its aid to the Indonesian military, an institution notorious for its
violation of human rights. In Malaysia, Mahathir has been emboldened to
carry out more repression under the draconian ISA (Internal Security Act).

Let me cite another case of the nexus of evil and escalation of violence
under the global war on terrorism. An urgent letter from an Indonesian
activist/scholar to her Asian friends tells us about the aftermath of the
bomb explosions in Bali in October 2002:

« …This terrible incident occurred when President Bush is persuading many
countries to join him to launch a “holy” war against Iraq, and
unfortunately, the Bali event became food for his campaign. This event
happened during the time when the U.S. and the neighboring countries under
U.S. influence, had just been pressuring Indonesia to tighten its control
over the radical Muslim elements in the country.
Does stopping terrorism mean increasing state repressive power? Politically
there is global pressure on the Indonesian government to be more repressive.
The government has hurriedly issued an anti-terrorist bill. Internationally
this is considered an important requirement to make Indonesia a safer place
for entry.The Urban Poor Consortium is now starting to mobilize a movement
against this bill… What many pro-democracy activists fear is that the bill
will increase “State terrorism” instead.

Peace building

Building peace movement in Asia in the midst of this reality is a difficult
but extremely challenging task. For peace movement as a permanent category
that directly addresses global peace as exists in the west does not exist in
most part of Asia (with the exception of Japan with a long postwar history
of anti-nuclear bomb movement). On the other hand, there is great potential
of the power of the people in Asia, whose occasional explosions from South
Korea to Indonesia have brought about regime changes in the past couple of

As was earlier hinted, Asian people’s response to the war-making Empire
would inevitably come as a comprehensive movement transforming the local and
national repressive, exploitative, patriarchal, and violence-ridden
relationships and at once resisting and undermining the global imperial
regime. In urbanized parts of Asia with growing middle class population,
traditional peace movement will emerge directly addressing world peace
issues, and that will play an important role in broadening the vistas of
national movements. But generally, if peace is to be redefined as the
remaking of the status quo and not as the going back to some better old
days, the challenge is to let emerge comprehensive Asian people’s alliances
resolving their issues autonomously and confronting and ultimately
liquidating the global-to-local imperial meshes of power.

Why then is it peace movement, instead of general people’s movement against
the global regime? Because, though the naming does not matter much, it
represents intense efforts to bring into the various social movements,
communities, families, and societies as a whole as well as global relations
distinct elements and cultures of peace and justice – demilitarization of
society, non-violent ways of resolving conflicts, and elimination of
exploitative, repressive, patriarchal, and exclusivist power relationships.
The APA founding declaration thus stated:

« The dominant militarist statist and masculinist theory and regime of
‘national security’ and ‘international security,’ in short, must be replaced
by one that is de-militarised, peace loving, feminist, universal, and

People’s Alliances for Peace

For the Asian peace movement to emerge, we are faced by the problematic well
expounded by Hardt and Negri, that of incommunicability and lack of a common
language. Or rather we would note that the excesses and exclusivity of
national political languages, or the national perceptual frames, entrenched
in Asian countries, while reflecting the historical rootedness of social
movements, also can serve to narrow our vistas and prevent us from taking a
whole view of the landscape unless they are encouraged to interact with one
another. As some of the fixed frames I have in mind the notions of national
reunification for Korea, the peace constitution for Japan, and national
democracy for the Philippines. In the same vein, the Indian understanding of
themselves as the world’s largest democratic country, though nothing wrong
in itself, seems to sometimes serve as an obstacle to imagining the world
beyond the South Asian borders. These are the particular movement values and
assets established through years of struggles and should not be cast away or
replaced by a simple, cosmopolitan language. But it should also be
recognized that these of themselves do not provide us with the basis of
transborder alliances. Besides, these can keep us confined to the bilateral
interpretation of events that the United States has been conveniently
manipulating to maximize its strategic benefits.

The Asian Peace Alliance will play its role in letting a new common language
emerge through joint action, interaction, and exchanges as do the World and
Asian Social Forum movement.

We are at the beginning of a long and challenging process of formation of
global people’s alliances, focusing our efforts on Asia. Under the impact of
the American war with all its direct dire consequences befalling us, we have
stepped into this dynamic process. Asian social movements participated
actively in the unprecedented February 15 international anti-Iraq war
mobilization by holding street demonstrations in a number of cities.4
Compared with mobilization in the West, the sizes of Asian demonstrations
were still small, but as the global situation develops, we will see fresh
swells of a new type of peace movement arise throughout Asia.


1. The conveners of the Hong Kong consultation were the Asian Exchange
for New Alternatives (ARENA) in Hong Kong and Focus on the Global South in
Bangkok. Tokyo-based People’s Security Forum, that had convened in 2002
together with Focus and Okinawan groups, the Okinawa International Forum on
People’s Security in Okinawa was also active in promoting the idea.

2. In March 2002, a 14-member Focus-APA fact-finding mission visited the
war-affected areas of Basyylan and Mindanao. A full report of its findings
is available from

3. The full documentation of the APA assembly and its activities,
including the Founding Declaration, is available from ARENA in Hong Kong currently serves as the APA
secretariat (