Peace Yes, Fundamentalism No

My son was home from college this weekend, telling me about a peace rally on his campus. I was struck by his report that one of the speakers spoke somewhat favorably about the Taliban, in the context of the reign of terror from the skies they and the people of Afghanistan are now enduring. This speaker referred to reports that, prior to the beginning of U.S. bombing on October 7th, the Taliban had said they would be willing to turn over Osama bin Laden to a neutral party if shown the evidence against him by the U.S. He could have said that there is no indication that the Taliban knew anything about the 9-11 attacks beforehand. And they’re clearly the heavily overmatched “underdogs” in this brutal war.

In a culture which glorifies competition and exalts winners, and which propagates the myth that there can only be two political alternatives for voters to choose from, it is not surprising that some of us who are against this war might be drawn, at least temporarily, towards rooting for the Taliban. But this would be a huge mistake.

Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Islamic fundamentalism or, for that matter, Christian, Jewish or any other religiously-based, fundamentalist, anti-woman, repressive group–these cannot be seen as allies of the movement we are building. We must be clear on this even if, when it comes to a critique of imperialism and the U.S. role in the world, there are similarities in perspective. These similarities cannot blind us to the negative, anti-democratic aspects of those groups.

To use another example, we can’t look upon right-winger Patrick Buchanan as an ally because he opposes NAFTA, WTO, FTAA and other “free trade”
agreements. He is doing so not because of a commitment to global justice but out of a nationalistic defense of certain U.S. business interests threatened by the growing dominance of the U.S. and world economy by multi-national corporations.

The confusion can come because there are moments when there is a convergence in approach. Right now, the growing peace movement and the Taliban are both in opposition to the war the United States is waging in Afghanistan. But our vision is profoundly different.

Over the short term, the September 11th attacks have had a serious impact upon the global justice movement. As this column is being written the World Trade Organization is meeting in Qatar. If not for September 11th there would have been massive demonstrations around the world, including in the United States. There are demonstrations taking place, and some may be massive, but there is no question but that for the heart of the global justice movement in the United States, young people and students, there has been a refocusing of political energy into opposing the war and related government repression here at home. This is not a bad thing; indeed, it’s a good thing, but those who are part of the peace and justice movement have a responsibility to bring both their global justice political views and their commitment to building an alternative vision of the future into the way we do our work and engage in action around the war crisis.

We need to do this because mass poverty and environmental destruction are, if anything, only getting worse because of the reaction to September 11th, the shift of world attention from issues like Kyoto and the WTO to Islamic terrorism, and the transfer of resources that could have been used positively to war-making.

We also need to do it because in doing so we will be better able to build support for peace and for non-violent, or at least much-less-violent, means of bringing those responsible for the 9-11 attacks to justice. Let’s not forget: before September 11th there was widespread public support for the essential message of the global justice movement despite corporate media distortion of that message. We were definitely making political headway. We need to prominently link the need for a new U.S. foreign policy and fundamental reforms in the global economy with the desire virtually all Americans have for an end to terrorism. Many people know or are open to hearing this truth. We need to counterpose our approach, our views, our hope for the future to the Bush/Cheney/Ashcroft/Ridge/Rumsfeld approach of decades of war and an increasingly repressive society.

We also need to counterpose our commitment to deepening and broadening democracy with repressive, religious fundamentalism of the Islamic, Christian or Jewish variety. We need to support the rights of women, women in leadership, development policies which put women at the forefront of economic priorities, as distinct from the approach of Taliban/Al Queda. We support workers organized into trade unions; they don’t. We believe people should be free to choose a religion, or an approach to spirituality, or neither one; they don’t. And the list could go on.

Let’s not lose sight of our objectives during this difficult time of war. Indeed, it is only by keeping them in the forefront of our consciousness that we will be able to emerge out of this period stronger, broader and wiser. While doing everything we can to stop the bombing and stop the war, give hope to those facing starvation now and through the winter, we must keep alive the possibility of a truly new world.