Letters

"Peace kooks" lash back, and Salon's reporter responds.


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Salon Staff
November 16, 2002 12:24AM (UTC)

[Read "Peace Kooks,"by Michelle Goldberg]

On Oct. 16, Salon published a strident attack on the movement that has sprung into existence in the face of the Bush administration's determination to launch a war on Iraq and impose sharp new attacks on domestic civil liberties. The "Bush doctrine," as it has become known, encompasses a declared American right to impose will on the world by force, and to suspend basic liberties at home in the name of a war that has no end.

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The document that has best captured that deep-felt concern for the whole direction of things (including, but not just limited to a war on Iraq) has been the Not In Our Name statement of conscience.

The Not In Our Name statement first appeared as an Op-Ed in the Guardian of London back in June. It has since been published as full-page ads in newspapers from the New York Times to USA Today, and has been taken up locally and reprinted in dozens of community and campus newspapers. Its organizers, a group of prominent artists, writers and political activists, intended it as a statement by a short list of well-known voices of conscience. Yet it quickly caught fire and tens of thousands have added their names to it.

The idea behind the Statement was to carve out a space where people could feel resistance was possible, to give them a vocabulary to voice this opposition, and to make them feel not alone. This is a statement that cares about the people of the world, and about the kind of country we live in. The signers of the Statement aimed to reach out to millions, and the Statement has proven its ability to do just that. At this point it has mobilized and emboldened tens of thousands to resist. It might seem strange then, that Salon, which has a reputation for being a progressive publication, would lash out so sharply at a statement of conscience against war and repression. What's going on?

The Salon article upholds the argument that the most effective line of opposition to a war on Iraq is that it is not in America's national interest, assuming that America's national interest is the yardstick of what is right and wrong in the world. Quoting Todd Gitlin, it argues for a movement "opposing the war on the grounds that it would be costly, bloody and dangerous -- as opposed to simply immoral."

What does the Not In Our Name statement say by contrast? It tells the truth. It points out that we are confronting a new openly imperial policy toward the world and a domestic policy that manufactures and manipulates fear to curtail rights. It upholds our obligation to take responsibility for opposing injustice being done to other peoples by our own government and in our name. It rejects the government's contention that Bush's war on the world is being waged for our benefit. It affirms the principle that peoples and nations have the right to determine their own destiny, free from military coercion by great powers. It pledges to make common cause with the people of the world. And it pledges us to not remain silent, to not be sucked in, but rather to resist -- the only effective way to stop the juggernaut of war and repression.

The Statement has touched a real chord in the hearts of the American people. Its message has demonstrated an actual ability to unite people across an amazing political spectrum, including people who consider themselves patriots as well as those who feel little in common with their government. It is a message that is able to go beyond minor criticism at the margins to plant an actual pole of opposition -- a pole that has the very real potential to repolarize public sentiment against the looming catastrophe. Most people don't want to live in "the new Rome" and be hated by the peoples they rule over.

We fully acknowledge that the writers and organizers of the Not In Our Name statement come from quite divergent political philosophies and programs. There is much we disagree on. But on what we have said in our joint statement, we fully agree. On that basis we have demonstrated a capacity to work together and to grow. On that basis we have been able to become a powerful grass-roots movement, joined by thousands of ordinary people who are deeply concerned about the dangerous direction the country is going in.

Given the potential of this statement to mobilize hundreds of thousands of Americans from all corners of the political spectrum to oppose this war, we are not surprised that attempts would be made to target certain signers of the Statement for their political views and to send a chilling message to others to watch with whom they associate. We are disappointed, however, that this attempt to scare people away from a movement that has been marked by diversity and that is capable of activating and inspiring tens of thousands would be denounced by a journal that otherwise champions the very values NION seeks to defend.

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-- Russell Banks, C. Clark Kissinger, Rabbi Michael Lerner, Jeremy Pikser, Michael Ratner

Michelle Goldberg responds: It's curious that while Kissinger and company consider my article an "attack," they can't point to a single line that's false or even exaggerated. Instead, they avoid the main point of my piece altogether, which is that opposition to mass murder should be a minimum qualification for someone presuming to lead a peace movement.

I certainly never set out with any animus toward the burgeoning antiwar movement. However, I soon learned that Kissinger, the primary organizer and spokesman for Not In Our Name, also leads an organization, the Revolutionary Communist Party, that supports the fanatically brutal Shining Path terrorists in Peru, lauds the Maoist "liberation" of Tibet and publishes impassioned defenses of Pol Pot. An article in the RCP's house organ informs us: "'Traditional' Cambodia was a brutal feudal society that needed a revolution ... Pol Pot kicked the U.S. imperialists out of Cambodia. And that's why they hate him."

I admit to some strong feelings about this. I've spent time in Cambodia and lived in a Tibetan refugee community in India for several months, working as a volunteer in one of their schools, learning their language and listening to their dreams of freedom and tales of torture at the hands of their Maoist "liberators."

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Clearly, it would have been dishonest to write the piece without assessing the contradictions of a group like the RCP leading an antiwar effort. And while I have tremendous respect for Russell Banks, Rabbi Michael Lerner, Jeremy Pikser and especially Michael Ratner, I'm baffled by their implicit suggestion that, having learned what I did, I should have kept it to myself for the sake of the movement. That's not journalism, it's propaganda.

Nowhere do they deny anything I wrote about Kissinger's role in Not in Our Name or his devotion to some of the world's most brutal killers, because it's true. Rather, they skirt the issue by saying, "We fully acknowledge that the writers and organizers of the Not In Our Name statement come from quite divergent political philosophies and programs," as if his support for genocide was merely a recondite doctrinal difference.

The only way to defend his leading role in the antiwar movement is to argue that ideology doesn't matter -- a rather troubling position for intellectuals to take. KKK sympathizer David Duke also opposes the war with Iraq. However, if he had a prominent role in organizing against it, it would be considered scandalous -- even though the KKK is nearly as powerless in America as the RCP is. The point isn't that the RCP is going to insinuate itself into the mainstream. It's that Kissinger, a leader of the nascent antiwar movement, also leads an organization that sneers at human rights, pluralism and democracy -- precisely the values an antiwar movement would presumably champion.

I fail to see how merely pointing out his political affiliations constitutes an attack on the peace movement. That the writers' interpret it as such suggests they know how shameful his positions really are.


Salon Staff

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