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Opposing John Wayneism
Students against war

November 1, 2001
The Iranian

It is now a month or so after the terrorist attacks and the U.S. would like to have us believe that all Americans are in support of destroying Afghanistan. Of course, there is dissent even in this with-us or against-us, world. Americans from various communities, churches, universities, and public radio programs have spoken out against the U.S response.

At the University of California at Los Angeles, a group of diverse students have established an anti-war organization in order to challenge the basic ideas and assumptions motivating this war. Their three points of unity?

1) No War -- military action won't stop terrorism.
2) No racist scapegoating of Arabs and Muslims.
3) No to attacks on our civil liberties.

A week ago I interviewed two students in the Student Coalition Against the War (S.C.A.W.) about the anti-war movement and their place in it. I also spoke to Roozbeh Shirazi, an educator who witnessed the destruction and chaos of the September 11 attacks from his bedroom window. Our conversation, or rather, their answers to my questions, are below.

Behzad Raghian (BR), Political Science major, S.C.A.W.
Julia Wallace (JW), History major, S.C.A.W.

Q. How does the current anti-war movement relate to other causes that you might be working with as an activist?

BR: For some time now I have been active in the globalization movement as well as fighting against the criminal justice system as well as on labor issues, most notably the boycott of Taco Bell by the Coalition of Imokalee Workers. Much of the work in this area has come to an indefinite halt, not that the issues have gone away, but because peoples consciousness is focused on the war and the tragedy of September 11.

These areas of work will pick up again shortly if a strong anti-war movement develops nationwide. The reason being, with the attacks on civil liberties especially, protesting will come to be seen by many as un-American. In fact, a strong anti-war movement establishes the legitimacy of protest.

Ultimately, the same reasons that led to the attack on the World Trade Center are the same reasons why people have been active on the globalization front, and that is global justice, of which workers struggles is a central part. As for the death penalty and the criminal justice system, those are manifestations of the type of terror the system unleashes onto its own citizens.

Q. Have your perceptions of the U.S. (both the U.S. government and the American people) changed since the September 11 events? If so, how? If September 11 and related events have only strengthened a previously existing critique or perception of the U.S. government, please explain what this perception is.

BR: Not really. After the initial shock of September 11 wore off, I was quite clear in assigning the blame to the guilty parties, namely the U.S. government. As someone I met at a rally made quite clear, the chickens have come home to roost. A history of U.S. military and economic involvement which has immiserated the people of this world has finally come back to haunt the U.S., not in hurting the government but the very people, everyday people like you and me, in a most horrific way. The idea that the U.S. government can do what it wants around the world to further its own interest, mainly economic and ideological, and have no repercussions, has been challenged.

JW: My perceptions have course changed. But I cannot say that my mind has, in fact it has only reaffirmed what I already believed was true about the U.S. government. I think that this government is run only in the interest of the profits of big business.. As well, the September 11th tragedy also brought home how horrific the suffering of other countries is. I have always known that the U.S. has bombed this or that country and killed thousands of people, but I only could relate to that in an abstract sense. Now I know, however in a far lesser degree, how harsh it is for people all around the world. Their suffering has become all the more real to me, and because of it, I am feel all the more dedicated in fighting against those same kind of attacks in other countries.

Lastly, I realized how quickly the U.S. government could begin to declare war not just the people of Afghanistan but on activists as well. Bills are being passed in order to monitor and watch the activities of Arabs and Muslims as well anti-war activists. In fact this point was so clear to me that on the day of the bombing, I had been reading the book Negroes with Guns by Robert F. Williams commuting by bus to work. Needless to say, I decided to read the book at home that day.

Q. What effect do you think the September 11 tragedy will have on the Palestinian cause?

BR: The first images the media showed in the aftermath of the bombings was Palestinian children celebrating in the street. This had a disastrous effect on people's perception of the Palestine conflict. Just when international condemnation against Israel was at its height and U.S. policy was coming into question, the media used an image taken completely out of context to further their agenda, namely uncritical support for Israel while demonizing Palestinians.

JW: I think a lot of people who are supportive of the Palestinian cause are maybe a little less open about their support. But I think that anyone has lost sight of who is the aggressor in the region. In fact, I would make the argument that those who have been involved with the fight against Zionist oppression see now immediate the action against Zionist oppression needs to be. I think the problem maybe though, reaching new people who have no idea about the region, and who only get their information from U.S. mainstream media.

Q. In the past few weeks, the ever-present consciousness gap in American life between ill-informed and well-informed individuals has become especially clear. Evidence of this would be the comments and discussions in places like public radio and non-corporate media compared to the discussion (or lack thereof) in mainstream media and national news. Do you foresee a possible remedy for this consciousness gap? What do you think should be done in order to diversify mainstream opinion or at least to provoke established ways of thinking and perceiving among average Americans?

JW: I think that as long as world issues have an effect on everyone directly or indirectly that there will always be a possibility to transmitting the information and views of the intellectual to regular people. I think as well, many people are willing to take the time out now to listen to other perspectives on the war even if at the time they don't agree with them.

Public radio cannot compete with mainstream corporate media in terms of resources but, if there is a time, such as now where many people are longing for information and have a certain suspicion of mainstream media, they will come looking for it. I also think that it is our responsibility as anti-war activists to transmit out ideas to regular people in the most friendly and welcoming way and to encourage individuals to listen to public radio and read alternative media sources.

It's also important to talk about these issues to encourage human solidarity. Relate the issues of Afghanistan people as if they were people who we knew personally. Most of the people who die in this war will be have no authoritative positions in their government, bringing up that fact can may relate feelings of helplessness that both Americans and Afghanis feel.

RS: By its commercial nature, major media cannot inform the public if that information can cost them their revenue -- it is profit over the integrity of the profession.

Increasing consolidation of media outlets (through mergers and acquisitions) is further limiting the scope of opinions/perspectives/information the public has access to. Basically, we see homogenized accounts of what Disney, Viacom, General Electric, and AOL-Time-Warner want us to see.

When Americans bother to tune in network television usually echoes the government's position, and often provides the images (or fails to) that shape public perception to support American endeavors (ten year old footage Palestinian of celebrating/protesting on the streets). So, it is hard to get an objective, independent perspective from the major networks.

If there is to be a shift in the "consciousness gap", it has to be a grassroots effort aimed at getting people to ask the questions that the networks avoid -- such as, "Why are they so mad?", "What have we done that might have contributed to this?" Ask them the questions that the commentators (can't call them journalists) refuse to address. Change in this consciousness gap will occur when someone or something steps forward and fills or closes the gap.

On a large scale I cannot offer a solution -- large scale requires, planning effort, money, expertise, money... buy a major network? How we can change the perceptions on our own individual, daily lives starts with our interactions with other people. Ask them what they think -- challenge them to explain their ideas, where they obtain their information. Suggest alternative and non-profit media that might answer some of those difficult questions, or at least attempts to address them.

Q.What do you think of the individuals/persons who are responsible for the Sept. 11 tragedy? Who do you think is ultimately responsible?

JW: I think that the people who committed the attacks are of course responsible for the acts of September 11th, but I think that they existed in a society where their country, whatever country that may be, was subjected to US domination. That means more often than not, that they came from a country of starvation, poverty, and resentment towards the US government.

Q. A few politicians in the past weeks have made references to "protecting America and "protecting Americans. What America do you think that they are speaking of? What does it mean to protect the "American way of life to you? Do you consider yourself an American? Explain.

JW: Usually politicians will use rhetoric that is all-inclusive to give the illusion that this war is in our best interest and that because of that, we regular people should support the war and the policy makers who are using our money, daughters and sons to fight this war. But this war is in no way going to benefit regular people. But only thing they are interested in is protecting is U.S. economic interests. For the government really had regular peoples, interests at heart, it would not allow huge companies to lay off tens of thousands of their work force at a time. This is especially upsetting since these same companies are receiving tens of millions of dollars in loans each.

RS: I am not sure what they mean by saying that. If they are talking about preventing attacks from occurring again, I think that is fine. But if there is some quasi-nationalism in that statement, it changes my feelings about the quote. I'd have to hear the context of how these words were used. As a rule though, I have found that when many politicians begin to speak about America and Americans, they are not speaking about any reality or people that I personally know or have observed. I think certain politicians address their own self-serving visions of what America and the American lifestyle are -- but Trent Lott's America is not my America.

Which is a great segue into the next question -- yes I consider myself an American, more than ever before. But in the sense that I live in America, and have as many rights as anyone else who lives here. Who said that term belongs exclusively to blond blue-eyed Christian people? We have as much a right to this country as they do. The terms "America" and "American" has been hijacked by conservative, traditional elites in this country; and this was condoned by many people who were not included in their narrow definition of what an American was. I personally have sought to reclaim and redefine the term.

So, yes, I am an American, as was Malcolm X, as was Charlie Chaplin, as is Al Sharpton, as are any immigrants who have lived and invested themselves here. God bless OUR America.

Q. Since you are opposed to this war, what options or alternatives to bombing do you think should have been pursued?

BR: First off I want to say that from the perspective of those who make these "official" decisions, there is no alternative. For the rest of us, there is, and that is to stop this madness, to stop this war. No policy or alternative can be pursued unless we talk about the material conditions that lead to September 11 from happening in the first place.

RS: First and foremost: some sort of PROOF -- one concrete link between the actions and the parties responsible. We went from grieving to bombing the shit out of Afghanistan in three weeks, and yet no one has taken responsibility for this, nor have we inquired, or sought to internationally legitimize this campaign. I think that the unilateral course that the U.S. has once again embarked on (Britain's parroting does not count) really takes away from the international endorsement of its policies. If we really get down to it, this John Wayneism is what helped cause resentment, anger, and even some of the fundamentalism we see.

The U.S. should have sought some sort of formal consent from the UN, if it wished to be viewed as legitimate in its actions. But bombing Afghanistan, destabilizing Pakistan and possibly Saudi Arabia could touch off a much greater catastrophe than the US could have anticipated, so it better be careful how it conducts this operation. With Bush in charge, it might be hopeless -- he's absolutely inept.

Q. What is "terrorism"? How would you eradicate Terrorism non-violently?

BR: Terrorism is what they term violent actions carried out by people without armies. Palestinians are termed terrorists, yet Israeli defense forces are not. Bin Laden was a freedom fighter when fighting the Soviet Union, and today he is a terrorist. The U.S. sees Hammas as terrorists, and the Lebanese see them as liberators.

Q. Is it morally acceptable for the U.S. to bomb so-called terrorist training camps in Afghanistan (assuming that they are indeed training camps)?

BR: Was it right for the U.S. to bomb Iraq, the Sudan or Yugoslavia? When bombings occur, who decides what gets bombed? There is no recourse for the public to this. They can claim that they are only hitting strategic targets, but are they? In Yugoslavia, 90% of the casualties were civilians, yet they claimed they were bombing "strategic" sites. Ultimately we must see through their lies. None of the bombing carried out by the U.S. is acceptable because ultimately innocent civilians pay the price in their lives.

RS: I personally abhor the repressive and zealous nature of Islamic fundamentalists. I view them as backwards, barbaric, and cruel (look at the IRI). When such parties leave no room for change or dissent, and do not tolerate differences, then one must find a solution. It is hard to think of any reason why not to oust the Taliban if given the chance-they are intolerant thugs and cold-blooded murderers.

With these extremists, I don't see the possibility of compromise -- so to a degree, I support the bombing of certain sites in Afghanistan. The problem is, the bombing is not limited to only terrorist sites-already, there have been reports of bombs missing their targets. I absolutely am against an extended Yugoslav-like bombing campaign. That might provoke a new wave of anger, escalate the conflict and cause more fundamentalism. So I am not certain how I feel about the bombing yet.

Q. What do you think should be done about the Taliban?

BR: I do not agree with the Taliban in any way shape or form. I think they are an extreme right wing using the guise of religion for legitimacy. The U.S. is not and should not be seen as a solution to the Taliban. That is the role of the people of Afghanistan, they must overthrow the Taliban themselves, and I do not refer to the other warlord factions such as the Northern Alliance, etc. The people of Afghanistan must be the ones.

Q. It is often said that every nation pursues its interest. In your opinion, what is so especially offensive about the U.S. doing this?

BR: U.S. interests have always been and always will be (as long as they are in power) to further its economic and ideological interests around the world. The military is there to make the world safe for U.S. business and it cronies to continue the rape of the world and its people for their economic gain.

What is incredibly offensive is the level of misery it has wrought on the worlds poor. As Rosa Luxemburg said in the early part of this century, "the world faces two choices, barbarism or socialism". I believe that is even more so the case today. If the U.S. and its cronies continue in their "interest" we are most definitely going to see barbarism, either through the destruction of the world's environment or through the incredible destructive power of their militaries.

Q. In the heavily quoted Madeline Albright/Lesley Stahl interview, Albright states that killing Iraqi children via U.S. sanctions is the worthwhile price that we must pay in order to combat Hussein. Since that opinion continues to exist in the current U.S. government, what do you think Americans must do in order to combat that thinking?

Does protecting the American way of life demand that we disregard the basic value of human life elsewhere? What is our role as persons living in the US in this debate? What should be the citizen's or consumer's role? It seems that activists are caught in the position of being critical of the Albright-esque perspectives on foreign policy while simultaneously living in and benefiting from this land that we call America. What is to be done to deal with this contradiction?

BR: First off, I don't believe that every day Americans "benefit" from these policies. Americans live better lives than most people of this world because there is a rich tradition of labor in this country fighting for the rights of its citizens. They do not benefit from the misery of people around the world. What seems like apathy or indifference should not be interpreted as such. People in the U.S. work for a living, and the reality is that they work quite hard, more hours for less pay.

People do not have time to be political, and when they do, they focus on issues that affect their lives and the lives of their families. Americans are like any other people the world over, they work to take care of themselves and their families, unfortunately their lack of involvement in politics is perceived as indifference, and it is clearly not. What free time Americans have, they spend with their families, I know I do.

Q. Are you a pacifist? If so, why? If not, why not? As a pacifist, the most appealing argument that I can muster up against pacifism comes through the words of Emiliano Zapata: "When dealing with tyrannical governments, one cannot go with hat in hand." What do you think of this argument? If you would like to elaborate or comment further on pacifism, please do.

JW: I am not a pacifist and I don't think that pacifism will as a way of life eliminate capitalism or the problems that capitalism creates. I am interested in the interests of working people around the world and however means they must achieve their emancipation I think that is acceptable. I think that pacifist ideas can be used as tools at times but when the U.S. government is willing to annihilate the entire population of a certain group organization or ethnic group, that that group of people should be willing to take up arms.

Q. What activities and events is your group currently involved in? Have you been received positively by the UCLA community?

JW: The reception of the UCLA population as usually been one of curiosity. Many people are pro-war but I don't think they understand what that means and it seems as though they are doubting whether that is the right stance to take. Then there are people who are very excited about joining the S.C.A.W. and this is their first time joining an activist group.

I have a friend who I saw at an demonstration at the Federal Building who I thought would never (I mean ever! ) be interested in politics. However, things have not always been so rosy and many people have vandalized S.C.A.W. signs and just today, a member of the Bruin Republicans heckled me for my anti-war opinions while I passed out flyers.

BR: We have had educational programs, teach-ins, and rallies. We are hoping to grow so we can have more actions like walk-outs, sit-ins, and strikes, etc.
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