Why I Cannot Hold a Candle

This morning, I find three forwarded messages in my email, urging me to step outside my door with a lighted candle at a set hour tonight: "We will show the world that Americans are strong and united together against terrorism," the message says. I wish it were true.

Unfortunately, many of the people running this country are long-time supporters of terrorism, and they are among those shouting loudest for a strong and united response to the current crisis. What they mean by that is that we must all get together behind the cynical and murderous policies that got us where we are today, and they are already using this crisis as a way of favoring their agenda.

If Bush were serious about hunting down those who trained and supported Osama bin Laden, he could easily start at home. State Department and CIA officials thought bin Laden's fanatical, fundamentalist, terrorist organization would only be a problem for the Soviet Union, and now we all are paying the price.

Buried inside the second section, today's New York Times tells me that a congressional committee rushed through the appointment of John Negroponte as our ambassador to the United Nations yesterday, because we need someone to coordinate the world response to terrorism. Negroponte certainly knows plenty about terrorism, having been our man in Honduras during the height of the US-trained death squads there, supporting the mass murder of civilians as a way of breaking the will of our enemies.

On the facing page, I read that Israeli tanks are rolling into the West Bank. "Arafat is our bin Laden," Prime Minister Sharon says, appealing for solidarity. Actually, it is the suicide bombers of Hamas that are Israel's bin Laden -- the group that has become Hamas was supported by the Israeli government, because it was thought that the presence of a still more fanatical group would weaken Arafat's control.

If I believed that the United States government would take strong action to end the threat of terrorism, restrict access to weapons of mass destruction, and make the world a safer place, I would light candles, march, write, fight -- do whatever I could to support the effort. Tragically, I fear that our leaders will cynically use this crisis as an excuse to do just the opposite: to break treaties, increase arms sales, and increase the worldwide level of terror. In the next weeks, I fear massive action to restrict civil liberties in the United States, and to build up our military might.

I hope I am wrong. I hope that we will see new unity with previously hostile governments to disarm and arrest those responsible for this and other murderous actions. I hope we will not revenge the civilian deaths in New York by bombing other civilians, in other countries, in an ascending cycle that can only lead to more death here as well.

I want to do whatever I can to oppose terrorism, and that means opposing anyone who would bomb and kill innocent people in hopes of crushing the will of their leaders. The Iraqi people suffered from Saddam's dictatorship when he was a US arms client, and from American bombs when he was our enemy. The Afghanis have suffered under the Russians, under the fundamentalist guerrillas the US sponsored to oppose the Russians, and now they are in danger of being targeted again.

I will light a candle, give blood, do whatever I can to show solidarity with all those who died in this horrific attack. I will light a candle, or do whatever else I can, to try to end the cycle of terror. But I will not join an action to show America's current leaders that we are "strong and united" behind them. They are not among the victims, they are among those who brought us to this pass, and I fear that their idea of "strength" will only mean more death, fear, and suffering for all of us.

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