It was February 15, 2003. In Toronto it was freezing cold. But the world was running a high fever of protest against the impending U.S. attack on Iraq. These were heady times, hundreds of thousands of people around the world poured out into the streets with one voice, one intention: to stop the war. It was as if the whole humanity had become one creature, speaking with one conscience. How could one not to feel the pulse of the zeitgeist, not to be part of this collective heartbeat?

We too, the whole family, went downtown to join the protest march. The previous night we hurriedly put together a couple of posters with catchy slogans. In the morning, we bundled up, crammed the posters in the boot of the car and headed downtown. We parked the car at a distance and walked to the square where the march was to start from. It was cold like hell and our breath seemed to freeze in midair and I wondered whether it was a good idea to venture out in this arctic weather – with the family, with little kids.

But we were not alone. There were tens of other families with little kids. We thought we were doing it for them, to safeguard their future and our world from the depredations of an empire gone mad. We knew the U.S. was invading Iraq for its oil. The pretexts were many and justifications many more. But nobody was fooled. The high point of selling this fraudulent war to the world was Powell’s ridiculous presentation to the UN General Assembly. How good men can be enlisted to do bad things!

Protest march against Iraq war, Feb 2003.
Protest against the war in downdon Toronto: Was it all in vain?

One can make a case for a just war. But if there was ever an unjust war it was this. Come to think of it, this is the goddamn 21st century, not some dark ages of barbaric tribal warfare. We have an international rule of law, a Western Civilisation that never stops crowing about itself, an evolved human race with mind-boggling achievements in art, science and culture. But suddenly, at that point in our benighted times, it seemed as if none of it mattered. One superpower drunk with power and hubris was bent upon destroying our history, our dignity.

And it did. With aplomb and with impunity. Seven years on, millions dead and a country devastated, the madness continues. In retrospect, all those fevered days of protests look surreal, even ridiculously naive. But what else could have we done? The world agitated and churned in desperation, the dis-empowered consumers for once tried to become citizens. For that brief moment we held out a hope that at last people’s will be done. But that was not to be.

What followed was shock and awe, and the world watched on with impotent anger and disbelief. The following are the words I wrote in helpless rage. They do not matter much today, except to refresh our memory and mock our innocence. Here goes…

Full spectrum madness

An Empire out of control

Is there no one to stop this madness?

we tried, millions and millions
around the world
but failed
we protested, we prayed
but to no avail

these hollow men
armed with ‘vile maxim’
drunk with power
dreaming of ‘avarice beyond dream’
with hubris in their heart
mammon on their mind
will stop at nothing

no reason, no rhyme
will stop them
no god, no faith
will stop them

they speak in democracy’s name
but ignore peoples’ cries
they speak in truth’s name
but utter nothing save lies
they talk of liberty
but snare minds in chains
talk of peace, but wage war

high hypocrisy, low cunning
what shock, what awe
the like of which
Orwell and Swift, Twain
and Thoreau never saw

these hollow men
are not stupid
nor are they mad
working on a grand plan
nursing, nourishing a vision
they want a finger in every pie
a jackboot on every land

for centuries they’ve conquered
foreign lands and made their own
destroying culture, life, memory
in their wake

today they march again,
bomb again, mutilate again
without a care for life or law

that thousands of children
have died already is not enough
that depleted uranium is mutating
babies already is not enough
that the country is starved
and strafed already is not enough
the Empire now must
kill them to save them
as if Vietnam never happened

these hollow men
talk of morality and rights
while making mockery of both
swear by resolutions
while having vetoed most

weapons of mass destruction
is the new mantra
here’s a preamble to
the new tantra

who has the largest stockpile of WMD
biological, chemical, nuclear?

who has used WMD wantonly
with intent clear?

who is the only one who has used
the A-Bomb not once but twice?

who is making the most noise
shrill and sanctimonious?

who should disarm and destroy WMD?

Hark. Bark. Laugh.

what civilization is this
that doesn’t die laughing
in face of such absurdity
what progress is this
that has gagged your voice
amid media unreality
what age is this
that worships still at the altar
of high and mighty

these hollow men
come into power and pelf
by hook and mostly by crook
they wangle your vote
strangle your voice
they give you liberties
that matter not
then rule over life and death
our life and death

cheer cheer for gift of life
life crushed by
routine work, endless debt
slave away for the American Dream
earn spend, spend earn
in two words is end of life
that’s what the masters want
and that’s how you must behave

blood and sweat oil the system,
every minion, every satrap
in oil’s thrall
nature under the thumb
time to conquer men and all
to appease SUVs, heat
huge homes and granite hearts

time to feed fires of profit
with mindless slaughter
time to assault truth
with official blather
time to pacify demons
of the new world order

welcome to the
New American Century
age of unchallenged power
chilling arrogance
age of stifled hopes
unleavened nightmares
age of congealed imagination
slumbering outrage
age of ‘either you’re with us
or with them’

Empires have risen and
fallen before
this Empire too will
bite the dust
but not before the world
has gone bust
not before blood is spilt
for power lust
not before gods are buried
under earthy crust

9/11 came out of the blue
a godsend, a manna from heaven
a neo-con dream come true
a sun of black fears rises anew
a pretext for endless war 24/7

war of the rich against the poor
war of the powerful against the weak
war of the smug against the unsure
war of the conceited against the meek

regime change is back in fashion
rulers will be made and unmade
at mere fancy and whim
Yesterday Afghanistan
Today Iraq
Tomorrow your country and mine

it had come to this
how could centuries of wisdom
flowering of intellect and grace
quest for beauty and elegance
achievements good and great
come to this?
this apocalypse?
this moment of truth
terrible, tragic?

what is this truth that
holds such sway?
that profit, greed, power
have won the day?
that finest of human values
have turned to clay?

for how long will flawed
humans stumble and fall?
for how long will cruel
gods delight in our folly and gall?

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