New York City: The candles that haven't yet melted are held between bruised and peeling fingers. The cleaner fires give off a bit of light in the corners lucky enough to escape the worst smoke in the city, but only a few blocks down 5th Avenue, these glows are nothing but clouds of rhythmic dust and thick, shaded haze. Looking straight ahead, the horizon extends no further than the arm, and the stars this evening are more difficult to spot than those of the night before. The everyday filth, the nosebleeds, the scraps of garbage with bits of civil war scribbled over them-they were always there, but, suddenly, it's as if another twelve Twin Towers collapsed hours ago, and the rubble, so fat and grey that it's still visible in the late evening, broke its way into our nostrils and then into the skyline.

Now, in violent abruptness, half of the criminals are sitting across the pavement, thinking, rubbing their infected cuts and quietly watching newly-blinded kids stepping on torsos and legs chewed open by explosives and napalm; the other half are knocking the glass out of windows, pushing their rifles against jaws, stomachs, arms, and necks, flirting with a dazed and shivering woman paralyzed from the neck down, finding it hard to even think of living for another hour with dead relatives, semi-automatics, steel barrels, and lustful soldiers staring at her humiliated face.

It's been almost a day since the occupation first marched towards, threatened, struck, and broken Manhattan-tanks bulldozed Wall Street, soldiers intimidated families from their Harlem tenements, and video cameras, news teams, and international propagandists did their best to legitimize the invasion and blanket the foreign army with a fake, brutal innocence.

At the same time, medical journals already made estimates of future casualties and social consequences. The concrete sidewalks are drenched in anger and the broken streetlights spit confusion. At this point, what self-respecting, able-bodied New Yorker could possibly refuse to defy this violence, this attack upon his family, the intrusion upon his city, his career, ideals, culture, and peace? The offenders make themselves so obvious, and so saturated with notoriety, that they become animated, taunting, mechanical bulls-eyes to any person concerned with her health and safety.

What New Yorker preoccupied with survival and stability would refuse to stack knives, guns, and ammunition? Those days of love-here, just a week ago!-can no longer be a priority; within the space of twenty-four hours, the other-an object, a function-has planted the seeds for an over-night jungle: wild brutality, storms, and fatal dangers.

But if those days of love, of the freedom to wake up every morning, of the freedom to walk, speak, and lay down one's sated body, are desired, what else is there to do but spit on romance, on idealism, on fake negotiations, and simply focus on reality: I want my life back!-a broken and clichéd melodrama, but clichéd only because thousands of other people have already felt, ignored, addressed, or followed that same, familiar desire so many times before. It would be no different if that desire were to escape the people of Iraq, and visit the sheltered, unconscious people of America.

The hypothetical situation above poses some interesting questions. First of all, and most importantly, do a group of civilians have the ethical right to resist a force they perceive to be threatening, especially if this perception is substantiated on a daily, almost hourly, basis? Second, is this ethical right limited only to certain regions, thus establishing, say, New York City as a legitimate place for civilian resistance, and condemning, for example, Iraq as a mere refuge for terrorists and anti-imperial criminals? Third, can we expect an attack on New York City to be met with civilian resistance, whose weapons can only be bought from "shady" groups. whose tactics have to be brutal to defeat a much-superior, well-trained, well-equipped army? Wouldn't be obvious, logical differences in the groups that emerge, and whose ultimate aim is to remove the occupiers in hopes of returning to the life (not the political or economic system, but to the life itself) they once knew?

Fourth, how many anti-imperial, blue-collar militants from Washington Heights, Harlem, the Lower East Side, South Bronx, and etc. would actually fight not for their lives, and not for the possibility of a new and better life, but for the pro-poverty, pro-status quo Bush regime that was just displaced? Fifth, regardless of the inevitable, natural error of some of their tactics and regardless of the undesirable interests of some of the groups, can't we say that the New Yorkers' common intention-that is, to free their city-is not only legitimate, but also admirable?

Moreover, if the international media is infatuated with the militants' brutality, is infatuated with the emergence of criminal groups (a necessary social product of the inequitable, previous regime), and is infatuated with the catastrophic, seemingly-unending violence of both sides, the solution should be clear - a simple withdrawal of the soldiers would, of course, defeat the purpose of the militants' existence and a new (albeit imperfect) equilibrium would be established. It is only at that point-when the external threats are removed-that serious discussion of long-lasting social and political structures can begin.

These are all sensible conclusions. Anyone who has ever been evicted, intimidated, or attacked understands not only the dangers of the situation, but also the possibility of, and the reasons behind, a violent reaction. While every person is expected to do everything they can to protect their homes and their lives in New York City (and across the United States, for that matter), this "privilege" is, somehow, not extended to any other place in the world. Self-defense, it seems, is legitimized by states as a matter of convenience, not necessity. Survival is, thus, regulated and distributed as a commodity.

An unfortunate exchange against the interests of a certain group (such as the Iraqis) does not mean a lapse into poverty, or degradation, such as in an economic chain; rather, if self-defense becomes a commodity, life itself and whatever good remains of public opinion is at stake.

It is in this way that "support our troops" no longer means a demand for their safe and immediate return home, but a continuation of the soldiers' stay in foreign, hostile territory; the soldiers, in removing the legitimacy behind self-defense, strip the Iraqis of not only their right to survival, but also extinguish all possible sympathy.

The Iraqis are no longer the justified militants of New York City; suddenly, unlike the Americans described in the hypothetical situation, they have no claims to a culture, no claims to a home, to a family, to happiness. They "become" (not realistically, but arbitrarily) despicable apologists for Saddam Hussein; they "become" terrorists, criminals, religious fanatics (note-the difference between an American Christian and a Muslim terrorist is that only one takes his religion seriously), and obstacles simply to be broken.

It's almost as if such a large group of people, which suffered for decades under an American-backed dictatorship, is grieving not over the loss of direction, wrecked social institutions, demolished homes, massive poverty, and every other negative imaginable, but for Saddam Hussein.

Surely, that assertion sounds a bit much. It's so incredibly obvious very few Iraqis have sympathy for Saddam Hussein that refuting the contrary is painful. Yet the contrary (along with a few other hilariously-transparent bits) is exactly what's accepted. Even some leftists, genuinely concerned with the plight of all struggling people, have fallen for the well-crafted trap. The conservative party line, equipped with a lethal hook and a bit of poisonous bait, has convinced some progressives to "stay in Iraq and clean up the mess," as if such a-historical claims and military campaigns have also "cleaned up the mess" in Haiti, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, etc.

It's extremely easy to criticize the Iraqi resistance. It is a scattered and partly religious movement that relies on a crude, myopic ideology. It focuses on military targets, yet is just as capable of killing civilians. It has the support of certain undesirable groups and its violence (or, rather, its logical reaction to the invaders' provocations) has led to massive casualties on both sides (although this last criticism isn't a criticism at all, but merely an observation of the inevitable). Despite these (obvious) shortcomings, however, something must be understood: this is all part of a system. It is systemically natural and expected that the Iraqi resistance is religious, is not culturally progressive, and etc. because the material conditions in Iraq do not allow any other kinds of resistance movements to become successful (note that the phrase "to become successful" was used intentionally; I will return to this later on).

Even one of the "most humane" of these militant groups, Jama` (The Islamic Front for the Iraqi Resistance), although distancing itself from groups that kill civilians, proclaims itself so utterly nationalistic that they refuse to resist the Iraqi interim government and the Iraqi police force (as if the interim government, protected by the police force, is not the hand-picked puppet of America's political designs in the Middle East). Their name, too, betrays their religious intentions. Of course, religion in Iraq (and many places in the Middle East) is merely a bit of convenience and justification; just like patriots use nationalism to justify a struggle for independence, just like Marxists use class to justify a struggle for economic freedom, religious groups use faith as a unifying force for resistance.

This is temporarily acceptable because Iraq, just like nations centuries ago, needs its own middle-class revolution of civil rights, of bourgeois-style democracy, and of economic development before it can take its place as a modern, secular capitalist state. It is only at that secular, developed point that meaningful class issues can be raised. Presently, Iraqis are concerned with "preserving culture" (religious implications and all of that) and independent nation-building. Given the anachronistic historical conditions, however, that is, too, perfectly acceptable for the time being. The aforementioned "resistance movements [that] become successful" are not the only possibilities, but are, of course, the most realistic ones; there is a difference between encouraging Trotskyist, anarchist, and social-democratic groups to appear in the region (and encouragement to this end is certainly welcome!), and actually dealing with the groups that can and do exist.

There is no class-conscious group of much consequence in Iraq, and for the person that criticizes the only and most realistic Iraqi resistance as "un-Marxist," let him actually try to form a communist guerrilla movement in one of the most reactionary and (relatively) undeveloped regions of the world. Not to his surprise, I'm sure, he'll find the task impossible, if not simply impractical.

Revolution is not an act of the will and it is not a triumph of consciousness. Rather, it's a triumph of material conditions, and if there's one important thing the history of China, the Soviet Union, Cuba, and company, have taught us, it's that material reality always prevails. Where nations failed to build genuine socialism (in other words, everywhere), they have brought about admirable and necessary coups and replaced one reactionary state with a progressive apparatus for economic and social development; October 1917 was, thus, Russia's 1789. Presently, Iraq, in preparation for the hopeful future, requires the same kind of transition to be brought about by the only anti-imperialist movement currently available. We can (and should) measure movements against the backdrop of ideally-constructed revolutionary groups, even if these groups don't and temporarily cannot exist (such as in Iraq), but we can also work for the realistic defeat of American imperialism here and everywhere, watch newly-independent societies modernize, and, in the meantime, help consciousness (but, regrettably, not material conditions) develop in the right (or, rather, left) direction.

That has, I hope, always been the aim-the situation in Iraq, especially in today's context, should not be treated differently.