Shouting for Attention

Burn­ing up the blo­gos­phere is a post and dis­cus­sion on Michael J Totten’s site about the “Work­ers World Par­ty and Inter­na­tion­al ANSWeR”:
He calls them “the new skin­heads” (huh?), but his cri­tique of these orga­ni­za­tions and the “uncon­di­tion­al sup­port” they give to anti-U.S. fas­cists the world over is valid.
As a paci­fist it’s often a tough bal­anc­ing act to try to remain a steady voice for peace: this spring we were try­ing to simul­ta­ne­ous­ly cri­tiquing both Sad­dam Hus­sein and U.S. war plans against iraq. Both left and right denounce paci­fists for this insis­tence on con­sis­ten­cy, but that’s okay: it is these times when non­vi­o­lent activists have the most to con­tribute to the larg­er soci­etal debate. But hard-left groups like Inter­na­tion­al ANSWeR refuse to draw the line and refuse to con­demn the very real evil that exists in the world.
Inter­na­tion­al ANSWeR has spon­sored big anti-war ral­lies over the last year, but anti-war is not nec­es­sar­i­ly pro-nonviolence. Many of the par­tic­i­pants at the ral­lies would nev­er sup­port Inter­na­tion­al ANSWeR’s larg­er agen­da, but go because it’s a peace ral­ly, shrug­ging off the pol­i­tics of the spon­sor­ing group. I sus­pect that Inter­na­tion­al ANSWeR’s sup­port base would dis­ap­pear pret­ty quick­ly if they start­ed ral­ly­ing on oth­er issues.
Inter­na­tion­al ANSWeR just had anoth­er ral­ly last week­end but you didn’t see it list­ed here on Non​vi​o​lence​.org. Oth­er peace groups co-sponsored it, echo­ing the All-caps/exclamation style of orga­niz­ing. It’s very strange to go the site of “Unit­ed for peace,” a coali­tion of peace groups, and look down the list of its next three events: “Stop the Wall!,” “Stop the FTAA!, “Shut Down the School of the Amer­i­c­as” When did paci­fism become shout­ing for atten­tion along­side the Work­ers World Par­ty? Why are we all about stop­ping this and shut­ting down that?

Must Freedom Be Another Victim?

Nation­al crises bring out both the best and worst in peo­ple. On Sep­tem­ber 11th, we saw ordi­nary Amer­i­cans step up to the task at hand to become heroes. The thou­sands of sto­ries of peo­ple help­ing peo­ple were a salve to a wound­ed nation. We have all right­ly been proud of the New York fire-fighters and res­cue work­ers who became heroes when their job need­ed heroes. We will always remem­ber their brav­ery and their sac­ri­fice as a shin­ing moment of human history.
But crises can also bring out the worst in a peo­ple and a nation. Some of the most shame­ful episodes of U.S. his­to­ry have arisen out of the pan­ic of cri­sis, when oppor­tunis­tic lead­ers have indulged fear and para­noia and used it to advance long-stifled agen­das of polit­i­cal con­trol and repression.

Pres­i­dent George W. Bush and Attor­ney Gen­er­al John Ashcroft are just such oppor­tunis­tic lead­ers. Under the cloak of fear and the blind of ter­ror­ism, they are try­ing to strip away civ­il lib­er­ties in this country.

It is true that we must review our pri­va­cy laws and secu­ri­ty poli­cies fol­low­ing the hor­rors of the air­plane hijack­ings. We must see if some judi­cious re-balancing might cre­ate more secu­ri­ty while keep­ing true to the spir­it and tra­di­tions of Amer­i­can liberty.

But George W. Bush and John Ashcroft are not the men for care­ful, judi­cious review. With every day that goes by, with every press con­fer­ence or speech, it is becom­ing clear­er that they are using the times to grab pow­er. The Attor­ney Gen­er­al in par­tic­u­lar is sul­ly­ing the hero­ism of those who died on Sep­tem­ber 11th try­ing to res­cue their fel­low Amer­i­cans. He is a cow­ard in the unfold­ing nation­al drama.


Over 1,200 peo­ple have been arrest­ed and detained since Sep­tem­ber 11th. Hun­dreds of them remain in jail. There is no evi­dence that any of them aid­ed the Sep­tem­ber 11th hijack­ers. Only a hand­ful of the detainees are sus­pect­ed of hav­ing any con­nec­tion with any ter­ror­ists. Attor­ney Gen­er­al Ashcroft has refused to give basic details about these peo­ple – includ­ing their names!. He has defend­ed the secre­cy by imply­ing that jail­ing such large num­bers of for­eign­ers might maybe have pre­vent­ed oth­er ter­ror plots, though he’s nev­er pro­vid­ed any evi­dence or giv­en us any details.

His is a legal stan­dard based on the fear and para­noia lev­el of he and his Pres­i­dent are feel­ing. But we here in Amer­i­ca do not lock up any­one based on our para­noia. We need evi­dence and the evi­dence of someone’s skin col­or or nation­al ori­gin is not enough.

The evi­dence of skin col­or and nation­al ori­gin was enough in one oth­er time in Amer­i­can his­to­ry: the shame­ful round­ing up of Japanese-Americans in World War 2. Polit­i­cal oppor­tu­ni­ties saw the pos­si­bil­i­ties in American’s fear fol­low­ing the bomb­ing of Pearl Har­bor and we con­struct­ed con­cen­tra­tion camps. Many of those sent there were full Amer­i­can cit­i­zens but they had no choice. There weren’t enough clear-headed, decent Amer­i­cans then to say “enough,” to demand that the U.S. live by it’s birthright man­date to ensure free­dom. The prop­er­ty of Japan­ese Amer­i­cans was also tak­en and giv­en to politically-connected landown­ers who had long cov­et­ed it. It was a dark moment in Amer­i­can his­to­ry. Now, in 2001, we are once again lock­ing up peo­ple based only on the coun­try of their origin.


Pres­i­dent Bush has by sleight of hand declared that sus­pect­ed ter­ror­ists can be tried by Unit­ed States mil­i­tary tri­bunals. This is an extreme step. We have judi­cial process­es that can try crim­i­nals and the Unit­ed Nations does as well. The only rea­son to use the mil­i­tary tri­bunals is out of fear that oth­er courts might be more fair and more just. They might be more delib­er­ate and take longer to weigh and con­sid­er the evi­dence. They will sure­ly be seen as less cred­i­ble in the eyes of the world, how­ev­er. We will have lost any moral lead­er­ship. But more impor­tant­ly, we will have lost the true mean­ing of Amer­i­can lib­er­ty and justice.


Yes­ter­day, Novem­ber 30th, John Ashcroft announced a fur­ther grab of polit­i­cal pow­er, anoth­er attempt to erode civ­il lib­er­ties. He is con­sid­er­ing allow­ing the Fed­er­al Bureau of Inves­ti­ga­tion to begin spy­ing on reli­gious and polit­i­cal groups in the U.S.

The New York Times says: “The pro­pos­al would loosen one of the most fun­da­men­tal restric­tions on the con­duct of the Fed­er­al Bureau of Inves­ti­ga­tion and would be anoth­er step by the Bush Admin­is­tra­tion to mod­i­fy civil-liberties pro­tec­tions as a means of defend­ing the coun­try against terrorists.”

For those of you who don’t know the his­to­ry. These restric­tions against open spy­ing were put into place in the 1970s when the extent and abuse of for­mer spy­ing became known. The F.B.I. had a wide­spread net­work that active­ly tried to sup­press polit­i­cal groups.

Fig­ures such as Mar­tin Luther King, Jr., were not only under con­stant sur­veil­lance by the F.B.I. They were harassed, they were black­mailed. Often incrim­i­nat­ing evi­dence would be placed on them and rumors spread to dis­cred­it them in their organization.

The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment active­ly sup­pressed polit­i­cal dis­sent, free speech, and orga­niz­ing. The reg­u­la­tions Ashcroft wants to over­turn were put into place when the extent of this old spy­ing and dirty-tricks cam­paign­ing was exposed.

Pres­i­dent Bush and Attor­ney Gen­er­al Ashcroft are using the fear of ter­ror to return us to an era when domes­tic spy­ing and abro­ga­tion of lib­er­ties was the norm. When fear of for­eign­ers and polit­i­cal dis­sent gave U.S. offi­cials pow­ers far beyond those that democ­ra­cy and secu­ri­ty require.

The words you read right now are a gift from the U.S. found­ing fathers and from gen­er­a­tions of good Amer­i­c­as who have stood up bold­ly to demand con­tin­ued lib­er­ty. Like the fire-fighters of Sep­tem­ber 11th, dis­senters and free speech advo­cates are nor­mal peo­ple who were called by the times to be heroes. Our coun­try and are world needs mores heroes now. Speak out. Demand that our free­dom not be anoth­er vic­tim of Sep­tem­ber 11th. 

How Come the U.S. Trains All the Terrorists?

I’ve just been read­ing today’s New York Times arti­cle about the con­vic­tion of the New York City World Trade Cen­ter bombers. With it is a com­pan­ion piece about the plot leader, Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, who hoped to kill 250,000 peo­ple when the tow­ers col­lapsed onto the city below. Born in Kuwait to a Pak­istani moth­er and Pales­tin­ian father, his life began as an alle­go­ry for the social dis­place­ments of the Mid­dle East, and he grew up with anger towards the Israelis-and by exten­sions the Americans-who had forced his father from his home­land. Even so, Yousef came to school in the West, to Wales, where he stud­ied engi­neer­ing. But in 1989 he left it for anoth­er edu­ca­tion, fueled by his anger and lead­ing to the death of six in the heat and smoke of the mas­sive under­ground explo­sion in down­town Manhattan.

Yousef trav­eled to Afghanistan to join the Muja­hedeen rebels in their fight against Sovi­et occu­piers, and there learned the guer­ril­la tech­niques he would lat­er employ in New York. Who sup­port­ed the Muja­hedeen and paid for Yousef’s train­ing in ter­ror­ism? The Unit­ed States Cen­tral Intel­li­gence Agency, who fun­neled the Afghan rebels mil­lions of U.S. tax­pay­ers dollars.

It would seem a sim­ple case of U.S. mil­i­tarism com­ing home to roost, but it is not so sim­ple and it is not uncom­mon. Fol­low most trails of ter­ror­ism and you’ll find Unit­ed States gov­ern­ment fund­ing some­where in the recent past.

Tim­o­thy McVeigh was anoth­er angry young man, one who had to drop out of col­lege, couldn’t find a steady job, and moved from trail­er park to trail­er park as an adult, won­der­ing if the Amer­i­can Dream includ­ed him. He did what a lot of economically-disadvantaged young kids do, and enlist­ed in the U.S. Army (this has been described by some as “the pover­ty draft”).

In 1988, he met Michael Forti­er and Ter­ry Nichols at the U.S. Army base at Ft. Ben­ning, Geor­gia (coin­ci­den­tal­ly home of the infa­mous School of the Amer­i­c­as). There he was taught how to turn his anger into killing and was quick­ly pro­mot­ed, get­ting good reviews and being award­ed with the Bronze Star and Com­bat Infantry Badge for his ser­vice in the Gulf War.

Lat­er he came back to the U.S. with his Ft. Ben­ning friends and turned his anger against the U.S. gov­ern­ment. He used his mil­i­tary skills to build a bomb (alleged­ly with Nichols, now at tri­al, with the knowl­edge of Forti­er, who turned state’s wit­ness). On a spring day in 1995, he drove the bomb to Okla­homa City’s fed­er­al build­ing and set it off, killing 168 peo­ple. McVeigh’s moth­er said, “It was like he trad­ed one Army for anoth­er one.” (Wash­ing­ton Post, 7/2/95)

Anoth­er ter­ror­ist trained by the Unit­ed States government.

But it doesn’t end there either. This same dynam­ic hap­pens on the nation-state lev­el as well. Today’s head­lines also include sto­ries about the stand­off between Iraq’s Sad­dam Hus­sein and Unit­ed Nations arms inspec­tors, a sit­u­a­tion which threat­ens to renew mil­i­tary fight­ing in the region. Who fund­ed Hus­sein and gave him mil­lions of dol­lars worth of weapons to fight the Ira­ni­ans dur­ing the 80s? Why, it’s the U.S. gov­ern­ment again.How come the Unit­ed States is direct­ly involved in train­ing some of the biggest ter­ror­ists of the decade? Haven’t we learned that mil­i­tarism only leads to more mil­i­tarism? Would Ramzi Ahmed Yousef and Tim­o­thy McVeigh just be polit­i­cal unknowns if the Unit­ed States hadn’t taught them to kill with their anger? Would Sad­dam Hus­sein be just anoth­er ex-dictator if the U.S. hadn’t fund­ed his mil­i­tary dur­ing the 1980s?

We can nev­er know these answers. But we can stop train­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of ter­ror­ists. Let’s stop fund­ing war, let’s stop solv­ing prob­lems with guns and explo­sives. Let today’s angry twen­ty year olds cut peo­ple off in traf­fic and do no more. Let’s stop these unde­clared wars.