Thursday, November 19, 2015

In the Wake of the Paris Attacks, Saying 'No' to War, Racism and Islamophobia

Yesterday afternoon I joined with around 25 others in braving the cold and rain to attend the weekly peace vigil on the Lake St./Marshall Ave. Bridge. I made the sign I'm holding in the photo above especially for yesterday's vigil, the first to take place after the horrific November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris which claimed 128 lives. Accordingly, yesterday's peace vigil was entitled "Say No to War, Racism and Islamophobia: Don't Let Paris Be An Excuse for More War."

My sign's message was inspired by the words of Phyllis Bennis (right), director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies and a political and social analyst for whom I have great respect. She was recently on Lawrence O'Donnell's MSNBC show The Last Word, where she talked about the need to understand the lessons of the failure of 15 years of war to deal with terrorism. "Wars of vengeance won't work for France anymore than they worked for the US [after 9/11]" said Bennis. "Terrorism survives war, people don't."

This sentiment is echoed in an open letter from four former U.S. Air Force drone operators to President Obama, in which it's said that civilian killings by drone strikes are driving terrorism and instability. The U.S. drone program, write the Air Force whistleblowers, "is one of the most devastating driving forces for terrorism and destabilization around the world."

"We came to the realization that the innocent civilians we were killing only fueled the feelings of hatred that ignited terrorism and groups like ISIS," the whistleblowers wrote, "while also serving as a fundamental recruitment tool similar to Guantanamo Bay."

(Note: In September, some friends and I traveled from the Twin Cities to Little Falls, Minnesota where we joined with 30 others outside the gates of Camp Ripley to protest the U.S. military's use of weaponized drones. For commentary and images of this event, click here.)

Above: My friend Marie Braun, longtime justice and peace activist and member of the Twin Cities based Women Against Military Madness (WAMM). For over 15 years, Marie and her husband John have been the key organizers of the weekly peace vigil on the Lake St./Marshall Ave. Bridge, which spans the Mississippi River and links the cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul.

In their promotional material for yesterday's vigil, WAMM and the Twin Cities Peace Campaign noted the following:

At this time, following the tragic events in Paris, we must work to ensure that these events do not result in a growing U.S. military presence in the Middle East and/or an increase in racism and Islamophobia.

U.S. and western powers have been at war in the Middle East for years, not in the interests of the people of the region, but rather to control their resources.

Endless war breeds endless terrorism. Cruise missiles, boots on the ground, air strikes, and other well financed political and economic meddling are the rich man's form of war. Terrorism is a response.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has now said, “As NATO allies, as leaders of the counter-ISIL coalition, as nations working shoulder to shoulder from West Africa to the Indian Ocean, the United States and France will only strengthen our resolve.” This statement sounds ominous – like Washington is seizing this opportunity to convince us of the necessity of waging endless war throughout the world.

Above: My friend Steve, a stalwart participant in the weekly peace vigil on the Lake St./Marshall Ave. Bridge.

Above: My friend Brigid McDonald, CSJ at yesterday's peace vigil.

Brigid's sign reminds me of Peter Certo's excellent article "Military Intervention Is the Problem, Not the Solution." Following is an excerpt.

[Y]ou can’t simply bomb extremism out of existence. And as governments from Moscow to Paris to Beirut are learning, you put your own people’s lives on the line when you try.

Military intervention has succeeded mightily in breaking things and killing people, but it’s done nothing to wind down the greatest factor fueling the rise of ISIS: Syria’s wider civil war. An international arms embargo and a deal between the Syrian regime and other rebel groups — jobs for diplomats, not drones — would go much further toward curtailing the threat of ISIS.

Yet France has responded to the carnage in Paris by pounding Raqqa with yet more air strikes — reportedly bombing medical clinics, a museum, and a stadium of its own, among other targets.

Leading U.S. presidential candidates aren’t proposing anything smarter.

Hillary Clinton declared that ISIS “must be destroyed” with “all of the tools at our disposal.” Ted Cruz called for “overwhelming air power” and condemned the Obama administration for having insufficient “tolerance for civilian casualties.” Ben Carson called for “boots on the ground,” while Donald Trump swore he’d “bomb the s— out of” ISIS-controlled oil fields and hand them over to ExxonMobil.

Virtually all GOP contenders, along with a gaggle of Republican governors, agreed that they’d close the door to Syrian refugees, too — as though they can evade the consequences of war by making life more miserable for the innocent people fleeing it.

None of this bravado makes me feel safer here in Washington, where ISIS threatened more Paris-style bloodshed in a recent video. When I imagine those cold-blooded killers running roughshod through the bars, restaurants, and concert halls my neighbors and I frequent, my stomach drops.

But that’s the lesson, isn’t it: When your government answers every problem in the world with military force, war begets war. And eventually there’s nowhere left to hide from it.

– Peter Certo
Excerpted from "Military Intervention Is the Problem, Not the Solution"
Common Dreams
November 17, 2015

Above: My friend Carol took this photo of me (while my friend Steve snapped the opening image). I have to say that by the end of the hour-long vigil my sign was rather worse for wear, what with the constant misty rainfall. I was rather wet-through too! Still, it felt right to be part of this vigil and to spread its overall message to the rush-hour commuters passing by.

It's an "overall message" that is summed up in the title of Vincent Warren's recent online article: "War is Not the Answer." I close with an excerpt from this well-written and insightful article.

We have been down this road before, and we already know that military responses, restrictions of democratic rights, and hostility and discrimination against Muslims do not stop terrorism. Rather, they provide the perfect breeding ground for terrorism. Indeed, the bitterest of ironies is that the Paris and Beirut attacks by ISIS are, in some respects, the fruit of the U.S.’s response to 9/11, including the disastrous Iraq war.

I have written about this before. On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I reflected on how the U.S. militaristic response to the attacks did more to erode our core democratic principles than it did to keep us safe. The most painful political truth, I observed, about the decade (now decade and a half) following 9/11 is that it represents a severe undoing of our democracy such that the values which defined us before that date may never be regained.

Everything about the aftermath of 9/11 counsels us to avoid seeking vengeance through wanton military responses abroad and militarized policies at home. Our experience has shown that sending troops, drones, and missiles to wage war on terrorist groups in the end only strengthens the resolve of those groups at the same time that it weakens the resolve domestically to be at war with the world. It is a strategy that simply cannot be successful.

Military responses are incompatible with the values of democracy. Sending troops means bringing home body bags. Dropping bombs means killing civilians, and ultimately far more civilians than military targets. Waging war means creating desperate refugee populations with no safe place to go.

Domestically the very construction of the concept of “terrorism” is one that is easily manipulated by the government to enhance and abuse its power. The U.S. “War on Terror” has led to a host of secret government actions, mass surveillance, targeted surveillance of Muslim communities and progressive groups, immigration abuses, and let’s not forget indefinite detention without charge or trial and the systemic use of torture. Along with these, it has also led to the jailing and teargassing of protesters, and cracking down on people who disagree with any or all of the above actions as well as journalists that try to expose them.

“The biggest danger terrorism poses to our society comes not from the direct harm inflicted,” Paul Krugman wrote on Monday, “but from the wrong-headed responses it can inspire.” The world we live in today is a testament to the truth of this statement, as are the current actions of the French and U.S. governments.

– Vincent Warren
Excerpted from "War Is Not the Answer
Center for Constitutional Rights
November 18, 2015

Related Off-site Links:
After the Paris Attacks, A Call for Justice – Not Vengeance – Phyllis Bennis (The Nation, November 14, 2015).
Former Drone Pilots to Obama: Civilian Killings Driving "Terrorism, Instability" – Lauren McCauley (Common Dreams, November 18, 2015).
Hysterical Corporate Media Fueling War Fervor, Xenophobia in 24/7 Cycle – Deirdre Fulton (Common Dreams, November 18, 2015).
The Paris Tragedy and the End of Strategic Thinking – Peter Isackson (Fair Observer, November 17, 2015).
Stock Prices of Weapons Manufacturers Soaring Since Paris Attack – Glenn Greenwald (The Intercept, November 16, 2015).
In UK, Corbyn Warns Against Cycle of War That Brings "More Mayhem . . . More Loss" – Nadia Prupis (Common Dreams, November 16, 2015).
"Shock ... Awe": The Aftermath of Paris – Robert C. Koehler (Common Dreams, November 19, 2015).
Six Steps Short of War to Beat ISIS – Phyllis Bennis (Foreign Policy in Focus, September 10, 2014).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Vigiling Against Weaponized Drones
Rallying in Solidarity with the Refugees of Syria and the World
Something to Think About – November 17, 2015


McAuley Hentges said...

Thank you for your witness, Michael.

David Hay Gibson said...

I respect your stand on this issue and admire your spirit in doing so, Michael.

Kat said...

I'm so proud of you all! Peace is what we need! Great to see you all doing this!

Peter said...

Heartening to see such devotion to common sense. It is all to rare.