We Are Many

****

Reviewed by: Maryam Ghorbankarimi

We Are Many
"Makes a profound point about what democracy really is in practice."

Amir Amirani’s documentary, We Are Many, unravels the truth about the illegitimate armed attacks of the US and UK, led by George W Bush and Tony Blair respectively, on Iraq in 2003 – an issue which has otherwise been muted or, as Ken Loach puts in the film, ‘whitewashed’. While this well-researched and well-executed documentary should be praised for its factual accuracy, it also unveils a greater message of the power of people and their voice in shaping democracy. This is a movie about the ‘Stop the War’ movement and its legacy. Its message is encapsulated in its title, taken from Percy Shelly’s poem Masque Of Anarchy:

Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquished number
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you
Ye are many – they are few

Admittedly, I had anticipated my reaction to the film would be uniquely influenced by my personal links to the events unfolding in the years covered. As an Iranian university freshman who had just migrated to Canada in 2001, witnessing the events of 9/11 from close proximity and the threats to the region I come from, as well as labels such as ‘the axis of evil’ and the wars that ensued, I thought that the film would make me relive the angers and frustrations I had experienced throughout those years. I was expecting to feel hopeless by the end of it. Though it does not diminish my sadness over all the lives that were lost as a direct consequence of decisions made by leading politicians, what this film revealed to me was a sense of unity and reassurance that I was not alone in my frustrations – something I had missed living through those years!

The film is very much an expository documentary, juxtaposing archival footage and contemporary interviews and taking the audience through a journey of months and weeks before the attacks in March 2003. The access is incredible and the film is narrated through many on-camera conversations and statements of politicians, activists and celebrities who were leading the anti-war coalition and movements across the UK and US, in addition to examples from other groups around the world. What distinguishes this documentary from other notable documentaries on the subject, such as Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), is that it does not focus on the decision-making process which compelled these two powers to go to war. Rather, it starts with the fact that there was no evidence corroborating their reasoning to go to war with Iraq, and instead focuses on the public’s reaction to the events - the public who were making it known – loud and clear – that they did not agree with what their elected representatives were about to commit in their name.

The film offers a fresh juxtaposition of the facts and follows ten years of activism and anti-war protests, demonstrating that perseverance can ultimately pay off. It does end on a high note, concluding with the events surrounding the fear of another unjust war on Syria in 2013, and the news that first the UK parliament, then the US congress, had voted against it. The film makes it clear from the outset that it is both intended for, and takes as its main protagonist, the members of the public. The iconic worldwide protests against war just days before the Iraq War broke out are also presented as a point of ignition for what is known as the Arab Spring, which toppled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.

I think this is an inspiring documentary to be watched by young voters everywhere, and which deserves to be part of the secondary school curriculum in both the UK and the US. It makes a profound point about what democracy really is in practice, and how it is the people who can eventually make a difference. The one shortcoming of the film, obviously attributable to its limited format, is that it overlooks the bigger questions about the involvement of the two powers in the region. The matter is only briefly addressed in Robin Cook’s resignation speech from Tony Blair's cabinet In addition, no context is given about the conflict in Syria, except communication of the positive outcome that the two countries on the surface voted against military action.

While the film tries to offer a global perspective, it has failed to offer any unique perspective on Syria, which is reduced to the name of a country. Although they are few, there are representatives featured from Iraq and then Egypt to offer their points of view. The conclusion of the film, however, relies too much on the viewer’s knowledge. At least with the situation in Egypt, it offers a fair assumption and hope for better days, now that the people have demonstrated their will. One of the journalists who is interviewed seems hopeful, but also clearly articulates her awareness that Egypt will go through difficult times until they can remove the military regime that came into power after Mubarak, implying that while they are on their way to full democracy, they have not yet reached their destination.

Reviewed on: 27 Sep 2020
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We Are Many packshot
A documentary about the protests against the US and UK going to war with Iraq that took place in 2003.

Director: Amir Amirani

Starring: Noam Chomsky, Medea Benjamin, Mark Rylance, Jesse Jackson, Danny Glover, Ken Loach

Year: 2020

Runtime: 110 minutes

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