Photo by Virginia Lee Hunter
FUNDAMENTALISTS ALL AROUND US. Certainly to our right. And also to our left. For fundamentalist is the most polite and diplomatic characterization I can attach to a small choir of leftists who as much as declared jihad on me and a couple of other writers when we suggested that at least a tad of critical thought should be applied in building a peace movement.
With the Bushies blindly pushing for conflict with Iraq, we had argued, it's going to take a very big, a very broad and — yes — a very mainstream anti-war movement to maintain the peace. That's what The Nation magazine's Washington editor David Corn wrote in these pages when he publicly worried that the organization that ran this season's major national peace rallies was dominated by a cultish sect of Stalinists in the minuscule Workers World Party. Todd Gitlin, a former Students for a Democratic Society leader and now a writer and academic, made similar arguments in Mother Jones. I did the same in an L.A. Times opinion column. We were heartened that so many tens of thousands had turned out for the demonstrations. But we were concerned that just as the peace movement failed to gain traction during the first Gulf War, the new anti-war movement would be similarly doomed if the shrill rhetoric of the Workers World and the Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party loonies would dominate. Fronting for Saddam Hussein (and Slobodan Milosevic) as self-appointed peace leader Ramsey Clark has and exhorting the peace protesters to defend convicted cop killers like Mumia Abu-Jamal and H. Rap Brown as Workers World does, we said, was hardly the way to win over the millions we need to stop Bush.
Our invitation to think of ways to broaden the peace-movement leadership was met with nothing less than an ideological fatwa. Fundamentalists adhere to rigid dogmas and their belief systems obviate any need for any of the sort of dialogue we sought. So columnist Alexander Cockburn, in one of his trademark switchblade attacks, slashed Corn, Gitlin and me as the “light cavalry” of the “anti-anti-war movement.” Corn's exposé of the Workers World Party, ruled Cockburn, read like an “FBI field report” (even though in a 1990 column Cockburn also fretted about the role of the WWP, calling them “Marxist-Leninist-Bonkerists”).
The attacks didn't stop there. Setting himself up as the Ayatollah of Political Correctness, academic Ed Herman called us critics the “Cruise Missile Left” and officially excommunicated us out of the “real left” — whatever that is.
Then there is a handful of local L.A.-based career leftists whom I will not embarrass by printing their names as I still have some lingering respect for some of their political work during the 1980s — though some of them haven't had a new thought since. They have been circulating a crudely written letter on the Internet responding to David Corn's Weekly piece by accusing him of “red-baiting” and of conducting a “witch-hunt.” Worse, they express “admiration” for the work of International ANSWER, the front group used by the WWP in an attempt to control the anti-war movement. This letter reflects precisely the sort of primitive reflexes and grunts that pass for thinking and analysis on the fundamentalist fringe.
NOW HERE COMES THE GOOD NEWS. Corn, Gitlin and I were not the only longtime peaceniks concerned about the movement leadership. For the past couple of months some veteran anti-war organizers — some who privately say they had an “Oh shit . . .” reaction when they heard the superheated rhetoric coming out of the October 26 rally in Washington — have forged a new, broad-based coalition being unveiled this week. Headed up by former SANE leader David Cortright, the new Win Without War alliance includes the National Council of Churches, the NAACP, the National Organ-ization for Women and several other politically substantial groups. And far from being soft on Saddam, the new coalition supports the U.N. weapons-inspection regime and calls for all reasonable measures, short of war, to disarm the Iraqi dictator.
“We clearly recognize that there is a real problem with Saddam Hussein, even if the Bush administration exaggerates it,” says actor and activist Mike Farrell. “We want the inspectors to do their job, to find and disable any threat.” Farrell, along with producer/director Robert Greenwald, has co-founded and now co-chairs a sort of Hollywood affiliate of Cortright's group. Artists United To Win Without War has gathered a hundred name celebrities — from Ed Asner and Kim Basinger to Matt Damon, David Duchovny, Samuel L. Jackson and Mia Farrow — along with a handful of ex-diplomats and military brass, to sign a public letter against the war. The text, which will appear in full-page newspaper ads this week, says, “The valid U.S. and U.N. objective of disarming Saddam Hussein can be achieved through legal diplomatic means. There is no need for war.” ä
Or as Greenwald put it when I spoke to him: “We'd rather have inspectors on the ground than Marines.”
Unlike the more rough-edged author of this column, both Greenwald and Farrell are gracious gentlemen and are reticent to speak ill of others. But even Farrell obliquely acknowledges that to stop this war, the peace movement needs more strategic thinking and structure and some sort of leadership other than the admirers of North Korea. “When the new peace movement surfaced,” says Farrell, “we saw some ad hoc coalitions with agendas that scared people away, and in some cases, understandably so.”
Farrell is an admirably committed activist who has on more than one occasion demonstrated a deft skill in neatly threading the political needle. Whether it has been his yeoman's work around Central America or his sometimes lonely opposition to capital punishment, Farrell has shown how to take a principled stand while pushing his issues further into the mainstream instead of toward the wastelands of the political margin.
(In the Mumia case, for example, Farrell has ardently argued that Mumia deserves a new trial but has steadfastly refused to call him a “political prisoner” as the fringies have demanded.)
Hats off, then, to Cortright in Wash-ington and Greenwald and Farrell here in Hollywood. They've come forward with some crucial, much-needed contributions to the peace movement, and, given the fundamentalist zeal of the Bush White House, not a moment too soon. I hear that as part of this new initiative, we may soon be seeing folks like Janeane Garofalo going on The Today Show and other network venues to argue the case against war. What a welcome relief that will be.
Just as I don't want George Bush making war in my name, I don't want apologists for Saddam Hussein like Ramsey Clark going on TV anymore speaking in my name for peace.