Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Letter from an American Pacifist

(Sent to Al Jazeera.net)

These are strange times to be inspired by Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. But I am, and have been for a long time. I write from behind the iron curtain of media propaganda here in America, terrified that indeed, as we are told, all Muslims hate not only our government but all of us: even those, like me, who struggle daily to live a completely different idea of peace, freedom and democracy from the one presented to you in the Middle East at gunpoint.

Sometimes I have a little hope, that you are less blind than so many of my countrymen, that you do not equate all of us with the crimes of our leaders. It’s very easy for me to see that, while a few men from your countries may have killed and seek to kill more, they are a tiny fraction. Most of you are just trying to get by and raise families under the almost unbearable weight of the world. Just like me.

I hate the Iraq War. I hate all war, all hatred, all despair, and all violence. I struggled through the streets of New York City in February 2003, as millions thronged streets all over the world, to stop this war. I can’t yet find words for how powerfully I felt the failure of our global effort the March night that “shock and awe” began to rain down death and unspeakable pain on the people of Iraq. I watch the growing, spiraling violence with a sense of suffocation.

Much ink has been spilled, while the blood has flowed even more freely, about America’s reputation. Just after 9/11, we’ve been told, the world sympathized with our losses, our grief for the deaths of our loved ones.

But President Bush wouldn’t allow us to pause in that grief, and move through it to greater awareness of universal suffering. Instead, he told us that the terrorists hated our “freedom,” and that to answer such hatred, we should kill and maim more people. He whipped our grief into vengeful anger, and unleashed the unprecedented power of our military onto the people of Afghanistan and then Iraq. Perhaps there will never be a grosser demonstration of bullying in human history.

The propaganda mill here in America churns on, and tells us that now, as the invasion, the blowback, the insurgency and the torture continue, now the world hates us for our war crimes, our hubris and arrogance.

But I make distinctions. I hate the crimes but not the criminals. Like many people around the world, I love the ideas of individual liberty and mutual support, but not the lying leaders who falsely claim to uphold them. I don’t think there has been a dramatic shift in world opinion about America. For at least a century, and arguably for our whole history, America has stomped around the world stealing stuff and killing people to get it. Anger at America is new to many, but not all Americans. If more of us had better history educations, we'd all understand where the anger comes from, and how justified it is.

I also see more than one possible future for my country and the world. President Bush talks of the war on terror, the long war, the war of many generations, the war on Islamo-fascism. He’s establishing himself as a unitary executive with completely unchecked power, and preparing the death blow to the U.S. Constitution. He’s setting up domestic spy networks and concentration camps and laying the groundwork for martial law, while the military he commands struggles under the strain of his over-reach, frets and frays. To bomb people abroad and build new, more deadly weapons, he’s starving the government of the ability to provide basic services to our people, and starving our people of the education, health care, housing and jobs we need to provide for ourselves.

In this darkness, the light of different possibilities shines all the more clearly. Many of us are gathering ourselves up around clear, simple goals.

We want power non-violently removed from the abusive hands of our federal tyrants, and placed back into truly accountable regional and local hands.

We want a systematic reduction of unnecessary energy use, and systematic development of public transportation systems and clean, renewable energy supplies needed for vital functions.

We want small, neighborhood schools to foster individual creativity, not to fit all of us square pegs into the round holes of multinational corporations.

We want organic community gardens, community kitchens and small health care clinics in each and every neighborhood.

Most important, we want a foreign policy completely grounded in reciprocity: never doing to others what we don’t want others doing to us. No stealing. No shooting. No bombing. No torture. No humiliation, of ourselves or of others. We want unilateral disarmament: America first.

We want for you what we want for ourselves, our children, our children's children: quiet neighborhoods; clean air, water and soil; good health and satisfying, life-sustaining work.

This question keeps me up at night, as I’m haunted by images of you being kept awake by explosions and gunfire: How long? How long will the transition take? How many more minutes, hours, years, decades, centuries of stored up rage and lashing out must we all endure before we reach that new level? How many more cycles of hit and hit back will it take to get beyond this terrible sickness of cruelty and disconnection?

Please know we American pacifists are working hard to end that cycle here, and our strength is growing, even if we are still barely perceptible to our press and our government. We know you are doing the same over there. Please keep going.


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