Adham Bader Bader itibaren Pratappura Kalan, Rajasthan 303801, Hindistan
The largest peace movement in the history of the world. More than twelve million people, on every continent. All before the war had begun -- pre-empting the pre-emptive war. It's easy to focus on these rather simplistic formulations of the events around Feb. 15, 2003 (and similar protests following the start of the war on Mar. 20), and for the most part, this book does not venture beyond them. The editors have amassed an impressive array of images from these demonstrations, many of them from independent and non-commercial photographers, and that is no small task. 2/15 is certainly a worthy book -- in many instances, an exceptionally beautiful one -- in the annals of the Iraq peace movement, but there is little contained that would lift it from the coffee table to the library shelf. While for the most part the editors let the images speak for themselves, there are enough snippets of text included -- from speeches given at the time to sympathetic essays and narratives written after the fact -- that a thesis does emerge from this collection. Through visual imagery the editors argue that, contrary to appearances, the peace movement succeeded. While the movement was not able to stop the United States and its allies from invading Iraq, it was able to mobilize millions of people around the single goal of peace. Robert Muller is quoted proclaiming: "Never before in the history of the world has there been a global, visible, public, viable, open dialogue and conversation about the very legitimacy of war. Shock and awe has found its riposte in courage and wonder" (130). It's true that around the globe people turned out for peace, but it was never clear what "peace" meant, exactly, and it is yet to be seen whether this mobilization created a viable method of change. A German journalist wrote of the movement, "In pop, fashion, and youth culture, being for peace is an attitude or a business, if not both" (47). The hip anti-Bush crowds in Europe were probably not motivated by the same forces as the Muslim throngs in Indonesia and Turkey. Protesters in the Philippines, South Africa and Northern Ireland likely had a different conception of the empire to which they were standing up than the Midwestern Democrats who had supported sanctions on Iraq throughout the 1990s. This may seem to be splitting hairs, and in some sense it is -- there is no doubt that the global movement against war in Iraq was a watershed moment, and one this book aptly captures. What it also conveys, however, is the movement's uncertainty for the future. "The fact that this effort could not prevent war reflects not the weaknesses of our movement," David Cortwright is quoted as saying, "but the failures of American democracy and the entrenched power of US militarism" (116). The reason this book falls short in reaching to explain the movement is precisely because of the mythologies from which it acquires its poise; that is, words like "peace" and "democracy" and "freedom." A somewhat meandering preface by Arun Gandhi laments that in modern democracy "there appears to be no machinery that citizens can use to stop the perpetration of violence in their names" (15). Yet Gandhi and the book in general offer little to overcome this obstacle to a democracy to which they continually appeal -- just continue speaking your mind, live simply and peacefully. It is unfortunate that in seeking out almost exclusively "indie" photographers, the book does not include some of the more iconic photographs from the mainstream press. But ultimately the collection is strong enough to stand on its own as a historical record -- and, to my knowledge, the only one so far. For all the bluster of the speeches contained in the book, demonstrations are never really about who is on the stage but who is in the street, and in this sense, 2/15 succeeds admirably in placing the cheering, dancing crowds in North America, Europe and Asia before an ominous military police presence. "There is nothing inherently superior about resistance," writes Susan Sontag toward the end of the book. "It depends first and last on the truth of the description of a state of affairs that is, truly, unjust and unnecessary" (146). 2/15 could have been stronger in articulating that truth, but it does an impressive job of illustrating the resistance. See pictures from the book on the Galeropia website.