- Amir Amiranidirector and producer of the documentary We Are Many, about the February 15, 2003, global protests against the Iraq War.
The documentary “We Are Many” focuses on the February 15, 2003, global protests against the Iraq War. The film tells the story of that historic day and how its events have helped shape political movements around the world ever since. In this web exclusive, we continue our discussion with the film’s producer and director, Amir Amirani. “In Egypt, antiwar activists, who were part of the global antiwar movement, held a small protest … but they could see what was happening in the rest of the world,” says Amirani. “On the first day of the war, they came out in huge numbers and occupied Tahrir Square for a night. They all point to that moment as the birth of the modern democracy movement in Egypt.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. We are still with Iranian-born British filmmaker Amir Amirani, in Part 2 of our interview with the director and producer of a new film called War Are Many, about the February 15th, 2003, global protests against the Iraq War that rocked the world for peace. Thirty million people around the globe marched. In New York, among those who spoke were Harry Belafonte.
HARRY BELAFONTE: Today is a historic and a proud day in the name of America. The world has sat by with tremendous anxiety and with a great fear that we did not exist. They have been told and they have felt that what our country, with its press and the leaders in the administration, have said. We today invalidate all that. We stand for peace. We stand for the truth of what is at the heart of the American people.
This is not the first time that we as people have been misled by the leadership. We were misled by those who created the falseness the Bay of Tonkin, which falsely led us into a war with Vietnam, a war that we could not and did not win. We lied to the American people about Grenada and what was going on in that tiny island. We’ve lied to the American people about Nicaragua, El Salvador, Cuba and many places in the world. And we stand here today to let those people and others know that America is a vast and diverse country, and we are part of the greater truth of what makes our nation. Dr. King once said that if there is—if mankind does not put an end to war, war will put an end to mankind.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Harry Belafonte speaking on February 15, 2003, at the huge protest, about a million people, here in New York City. And, Amir Amirani, in your film, you put out the thesis that this was really a seminal moment in terms of how—shaping the popular movement since then. Could you talk about that, particularly?
AMIR AMIRANI: Yes, because a lot of people who came out on that day were not the usual suspects. They were first-timers. And one of the things that I discovered in the making of the film was the seeds that were sown in the Middle East. So, for example, in Egypt, antiwar activists, who were part of the global antiwar movement, held a small protest, and it was very, very small, a few hundred people. There were more police than there were people. But they could see what was happening in the rest of the world, and they resolved that should the war start, they will come out in bigger numbers. But they didn’t know how big that would be for them. And on the first day of the war, they came out in huge numbers, about 50,000 people, and they occupied Tahrir Square for a night.
And they all point to that moment as the turning point in what would become the democracy movement. Indeed, they say that was really the birth of the democracy movement, of the modern democracy movement in Egypt. In fact, it got a name: It was the March 20th Movement. And the people who were involved in that went on to found different groups like Kefaya and so on and the April 6th Movement. And so it was an extraordinary discovery for me and, I think, for the movement, because nobody knew that this demonstration could have such an impact. And then it fed right the way back through Europe with Occupy and so on.
AMY GOODMAN: And it goes to Syria. Talk about what happened with Syria and Britain, then the United States.
AMIR AMIRANI: Well, in August 2013, the British government wanted to—the prime minister, Cameron, wanted to have a vote to support the bombing of Syria. That vote did not succeed. And in fact it was the first defeat for a vote on war in the British Parliament in 231 years. The MOD, the minister of defense, in the U.K. was so stunned, they carried out a study, which showed that in fact public opinion had swayed MPs and that it was basically a major shift in public opinion, which I think largely could be put down to the efforts of the antiwar movement in shifting the framework of the debate and the references of the debate.
AMY GOODMAN: The Parliament had never before repudiated a British Parliament—a PM’s request, prime minister’s request.
AMIR AMIRANI: Not in 231 years.
AMY GOODMAN: And then the effect that had on President Obama, leaving him completely alone.
AMIR AMIRANI: Right. And, in fact, a couple of nights ago, we showed the film in Washington, and Patrick Tyler of The New York Times, or back then from The New York Times, he saw it, and he said that—and I agree with him—that the bar for going to war has now been raised by the movement, by the failures of the Iraq War and by the demands that the public are now putting. So, yes, President Obama—
AMY GOODMAN: And hopefully it’s raised the bar for The New York Times and their reporting—
AMIR AMIRANI: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —which was so critical as it beat the drums for war and then, what, more than a year later, would write a piece, the Times on Iraq: how we got it sort of kind of wrong.
AMIR AMIRANI: How they got it wrong. Right, exactly.
AMY GOODMAN: But also, in terms of establishment politics, let’s go to the protest that took place just before the mass protest February 15th. This was January 18, 2003, when as many as half a million people showed up for a rally in Washington, D.C., the largest demonstration against the war. This is Jeremy Corbyn, who at the time was a member of Parliament, British Parliament, from the Labour Party, a steering committee of Stop the War, talking about the growing movement for peace as evidenced by other rallies and the upcoming huge demonstration that would take place February 15th.
JEREMY CORBYN: And I have to say, as a member of the British Parliament from the Labour Party, that there is overwhelming public opposition to British involvement in a Bush’s war over Iraq, because we recognize this war for what it is. It’s not about peace. It’s not about democracy. It’s not about justice. It’s a war about oil, and it’s a war where the main beneficiaries will be the arms manufacturers, who have made so much out of so much misery for so long. We are in one of the richest countries in the world, and I also represent another very rich country in the world. If all we can say to the poorest people in the poorest parts of the world, suffering water shortage, health shortage, a pandemic of AIDS and so many injustices, all we can offer is weapons of mass destruction and further wars, all we do is spawn the conflicts of the future. A world—a world at peace can only be achieved if we are a world based on social justice. So our message to the Capitol, to the White House, to Downing Street in London and all the others is: Pull back! Bring the troops home! Bring about peace in the region! No more wars for oil!
AMY GOODMAN: That was Jeremy Corbyn, then a member of the British Parliament and a Labour Party member, member of the steering committee. Now—yes, still a member of Parliament—he has been elected head of the Labour Party in Britain. And do you think, Amir Amirani, that this moment, this period in 2003, as one of the leaders of the Stop the War Coalition, has fueled his rise?
AMIR AMIRANI: I think we can say that, because he’s been consistent. I mean, I think one of the things that people from all sides have respected about him is that he’s been a consistent—has had a consistent position against the war and has not shifted on that. It’s given him, obviously, a profile. So, yes, I think it’s played a major part. And interestingly, he won on a bigger share of the vote in the Labour Party than Tony Blair got in 1997.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, and speaking of Tony Blair, last month the former British prime minister spoke to Fareed Zakaria on CNN. He issued what you could call a qualified apology about going into war, saying that there were, quote, “elements of truth” to the claim that removing Saddam Hussein played a part in the creation of ISIS.
TONY BLAIR: You can’t say that those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015. But it’s important also to realize, one, that the Arab Spring, which began in 2011, would also have had its impact on Iraq today, and, two, ISIS actually came to prominence from a base in Syria and not in Iraq.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Tony Blair making somewhat of an apology. Your reaction to this extraordinary comment, and what’s behind it?
AMIR AMIRANI: What can one say? It seems to me as a very orchestrated and insincere spin operation. I think that—and he’s also coming to it, you know, very late. The Chilcot Inquiry announced that it’s going to report next year. It’s been very, very delayed, seven years. And what they do is they—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And for those of us in the United States who are not aware, what is the Chilcot Inquiry?
AMIR AMIRANI: Oh, the Chilcot Inquiry is led by Sir John Chilcot and four others. And it was like an investigation, so-called, into the Iraq War. But they called it a “lessons learned” inquiry. It has no binding powers, it has no legal powers. And there are no lawyers on it. And so, this is going to report next year. And what they do is they give the report and what they’re going to say about certain individuals to them to give them a chance to respond. And clearly, this is, in effect, to head that—an attempt to head that off by addressing some of those points in advance. I call it a non-apology apology, because he does not regret, as he says, removing, you know, Saddam Hussein, which was an illegal thing to do. He says that they got false intelligence from the intelligence agencies. Everyone knows that in fact the intelligence was very weak or non-existent. The British government and the American government spun that into misleading everyone into thinking that there was weapons of mass destruction. And then he talks about how they couldn’t foresee what was going to happen, the disaster. And they were warned about that. In fact, experts went to Downing Street before the launching of the war and told him it was going to be a disaster. And the officials told these individuals who went to Downing Street, “Just don’t tell him that it’s wrong or tell him how it’s going to be.” You know, it’s kind of extraordinary.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, sticking with British politicians, former British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who served under Tony Blair, saw your documentary, We Are Many. This was his reaction.
JOHN PRESCOTT: Well, it was a remarkable film. And you’ll remember—I’m sitting in the audience, having sat in the Cabinet, heard all the debates about Iraq and whether you should go in, argued my own line it should never be a regime disposal, which is what it turned out to be. And then, to be in that audience and seeing the scale of it—of course I knew about the million that was in London, but the scale of it—it was a global protest. It was really remarkable how it got across to so many people. That was its biggest message. And I think a lot of people should go and see it and ask yourselves what you learn from it. And then, of course, from the same as the film goes, it just reminds us, of course, you didn’t stop the Iraq War, clearly, but when it came to invading Syria, which is a question up in the air again, that influenced the decisions of parliamentarians who thought they’d been kidded by it.
AMY GOODMAN: So that’s former British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott. Amir Amirani, so he went to see We Are Many.
AMIR AMIRANI: Yeah. I mean, we wrote to him when we were making the film, asking for an interview. We didn’t ever hear back. But then, when we released the film in cinemas in the U.K., someone tweeted, “I’m sitting in the cinema about to watch We Are Many, and here in the cinema is John Prescott, the former deputy prime minister.” I couldn’t believe it. Anyway, we reached out again. This time he contacted one of our executive producers, Omid Djalili. And they spoke, and he told that to him. And I said, “Go back and say, 'Can we do this on camera?'” And he did. And as you can see, he was struck by the film and concedes that actually the decision on Syria was largely a result of what the movement and the demonstrations and the change in the mood of the public in Britain—and the world, in fact.
AMY GOODMAN: So, as we wrap up, what does this teach us today, 12 years later, in 2015?
AMIR AMIRANI: I think it teaches a few things, that I think governments should really not dispense with the law, that grave decisions like war have to be based on legality. And if the law is imperfect, we have to improve that. Also, people hopefully will—must sort of view this demonstration and these events in a different light, that they should be seen over a context of a long period of time. That’s why they’re movements, that they don’t have an immediate effect, but that the context can be seen much—the impact can be seen much later. So, I think that those are the two major kind of issues and that people should continue to resist wars.
AMY GOODMAN: And where you got the title, We Are Many?
AMIR AMIRANI: We Are Many comes from a line from a poem by Percy Shelley, The Mask of Anarchy. And at the end of it, there’s a line that says, “Arise like lions from slumber In unvanquishable number. Shake to earth your chains like dew, that in sleep had fallen on you. Ye are many. They are few.” And I changed the “Ye are many” to “We are many.”
AMY GOODMAN: Iranian-born British filmmaker Amir Amirani is the director and producer of this new documentary, We Are Many, about the February 15, 2003, global protest against the Iraq War. It’s on the long list of contenders for an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature, and it’s Oscar-qualifying run will be in New York at the IFC from December 4th to 10th, and it’s opening at the Laemmle Theatre in Los Angeles from the 11th to the 17th of December. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.