Get on the Bus

For one fellow traveler, the road to an anti-war protest in Washington is paved with good intentions and bad politics

"Do I believe this is about bringing democracy to the people of Iraq? No," Lon Burnam says. "Do I believe a major part of this is about access and control of oil? Yes."

To mobilize local activists, Burnam, a Quaker who also doubles as a state representative from Fort Worth ("I may be the only pacifist in the Texas Legislature," he says), called a meeting that led to the birth of yet another coalition: the Dallas Coalition Against the War in Iraq, which would stage weekly demonstrations outside City Hall. Hadi Jawad, a Dallas Peace Center board member, agreed to help coordinate the coalition.

Jawad was born in Pakistan and has lived in this country since 1972. "I am as American as macaroni and cheese. Baseball, football, apple pie--the whole bit," he says.

A gentle man who writes poetry and calls everyone "friend," Jawad says he was "radicalized" several years earlier after he received a phone call from his sister informing him that their uncle had fled Iraq and showed up in Pakistan. "Life under sanctions had become unbearable," Jawad says. "My uncle shut down his watch-repair business; he sold his car, his possessions. Except for a few elite, the entire Iraqi society has been devastated by sanctions."

But doesn't Saddam bear responsibility for those sanctions? Hasn't he prolonged the agony of his own people by playing hide-and-seek with U.N. inspectors?

"We have imposed the most comprehensive sanctions in modern history," Jawad argues. "I have to wonder about the value of Arab and Muslim lives to our government."

The more Jawad learned about the sanctions, the more he began to speak out publicly. The Peace Center heard about his activities and asked him to help coordinate the Committee in Solidarity with the People of Iraq. Apart from educating the public about sanctions, the committee helped raise funds to rebuild four Iraqi water purification plants.

Jawad's anti-sanction campaign, however, has gone beyond the charitable and includes a harsh indictment of what he perceives as this country's uneven policy toward Israel. "Iraq is in violation of 16 U.N. resolutions, while Israel has thumbed its nose at 70," he says. "Even if Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, so does Israel." His anti-Israel position has fermented into yet another group he helps coordinate, United for Peace and Justice. That committee--also led by African-American activist and perennial municipal candidate Marvin Crenshaw--appeared before the city council in August, asking that the council divest itself of all business dealings with Israeli companies, much like the council had with South Africa under apartheid. Not only is this divestment group pro-Palestinian, but it also struck an anti-Semitic tone at the council meeting.

"The speakers [Crenshaw] publicly attacked Mayor Miller and two other city council members from the podium, saying they were not neutral on the Israel/Palestinian question because they were Jewish," recalls Cliff Pearson, then a Green Party member who was present at the meeting. "When the mayor said the issue wasn't a local one that the council could do anything about, she was attacked as being a Zionist."

Jawad says he is not anti-Semitic and believes the group was making its case against the Israeli government, not the Jewish faith. But Pearson says that after the meeting he rode on an elevator with the group whose members spoke freely about Miller's membership in several Jewish charitable organizations. "I would expect Jewish people to give money to Jewish charities," Pearson says. "This group seemed to be doing some very frightening surveillance of the mayor," Pearson says.

That some of these activists would later petition the city council for a resolution against the war seemed politically naïve. Yet 40 activists again led by Crenshaw filed into the council chambers on January 8, challenging members to join the dozens of cities that have signed off on a similar resolution. Even if their argument had been compelling, it lost its authority when framed by Crenshaw, who seemed to alienate at least one African-American council member. Leo Chaney complained he was tired of Crenshaw's "we're not black enough for you" rhetoric.

United for Peace and Justice is certainly entitled to lobby the city council for whatever cause it deems righteous. But the Dallas coalition has allowed it to join its anti-war protests. Any peace movement that would align itself with a group that would hector city council members over their religious beliefs risks losing credibility, as well as its soul.

"What we are seeing are groups that were formed because of anti-Israelism are now coalescing on the anti-war movement," says Mark Briskman, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League. "These coalitions want a big tent, and they hope to bring together those who have genuine concerns about a war in Iraq. But as these groups come together, there is no vetting, and they let some garbage into the tent."

In early October, the Dallas Coalition Against the War in Iraq began to stage weekly demonstrations outside City Hall. Among its coalition partners was the Nation of Islam, which has a well-documented history of hate-speech. When its local leader, Minister Jeffery Muhammad, spoke to the gathering of about 300 people, he lapsed into an anti-Semitic rant. "He told the crowd that the vast Zionist Jewish conspiracy that controlled the media, the government and the world economy was the wicked and corruptive influence behind the United States' plans to go to war in Iraq," Pearson says. No one challenged his statements, and Muhammad spoke at two more rallies, during the last of which, "He said that gays, lesbians and fornicators were an abomination before God and the terrorist attacks were God's punishment against their wickedness," Pearson recalls.

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