Middle East Studies

CMES Director Nadje Al-Ali Quoted in the Guardian Newspaper: ‘A beautiful outpouring of rage’: did Britain’s biggest ever protest change the world?

February 13, 2023

Excerpt from the Sat 11 Feb 2023 Guardian Newspaper article by Tim Adams:

Some of those marching had internal struggles of their own. Nadje Al-Ali, of Iraqi-German heritage, who is now professor of international studies at Brown University, was among those. She was a leading member of a group of women, many of them Iraqi, called “Act Together: Women Against Sanctions and War on Iraq."

Although they were clear in their aims, she says, “We were always very uncomfortable with some of the British anti-sanctions and anti-war activism because we thought it was too often glossing over the atrocities of Saddam Hussein’s regime. In its focus on the imperialist west, it was often quite apologetic or turning a blind eye to Saddam. There was a lot of: the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”Professor Al-Ali, who taught at SOAS in London at that time, was closely in touch with sentiment in Iraq. “People there had totally mixed feelings, too, even in my family,” she recalls. “Everyone was against sanctions, partly because they allowed Saddam’s regime to control the population more. But in terms of the invasion, my family was divided.

“Some people felt ‘no way’, because we don’t trust the west – they’re never going to bring democracy and human rights. And others would say, ‘Well, what else in this situation, being caught between sanctions and the horrible dictator? What other options do we have?’”

Although she was never of the belief that war was any kind of answer – and has seen all her worst fears come true – she celebrated the downfall of Saddam along with other Iraqis. How did she feel about it all that day in February, before it all began?

"I didn't feel conflicted. We were against the war. I felt that the march was really a broad umbrella. I was marching with my daughter, who was just a year old. I remember being so moved by the quantity and also the range of different people. And for a moment there was a feeling of actually doing something collectively, and maybe they are going to pay attention and stop this."

Read the full article here