Challenges to the "War on Terrorism"

Amy Dickinson

If you've ever found yourself a little disheartened _ thinking thoughtless compliance and fervent war-cheerleading the public's only response to Bush's "War on Terrorism," wondering just how many US flags you've seen whipping from car windows this week _ then you can breathe a tiny sigh of relief. People across the US are challenging the injustice of Bush's war _ the thousands more innocent lives lost, the assault on and denial of civil liberties, the ever-inflating defense budget as millions go hungry, homeless, and without medical care. These challenges come from a widening spectrum and are being issued forth in increasingly creative ways. From courts to comic strips, from San Francisco to Syracuse, people are demanding answers and alternatives, and finding surprising amounts of support for such dissent.

Washington, DC

July 5 marked Afghan-American groups' first organized protest of the bombings of Afghanistan. The Women for Afghan Women, the Young Afghan World Alliance, and other organizations collectively picketed the White House, demanding that there be no more innocent victims. They called for Bush and Congress to "send aid NOT bombs to Afghanistan, support the creation of an Afghan Victims Fund, [and] conduct a US government detailed study of civilian casualties." Back in April, the Utne Reader cited a teacher at the University of New Hampshire, Marc Herold, as estimating casualties in Afghanistan. Based on newspaper and international reports, he estimated more than 3,700 people dead since October 7. And that was five months ago.

Berkeley, CA; Ann Arbor, MI; Cambridge, Amherst, and Northampton, MA

These cities _ ahem, Syracuse _ have all passed resolutions designed to protect civil liberties and debunk the USA Patriot Act. They say, rightly, that it poses a danger to residents of their communities by threatening, among lots of other rights, "the rights to counsel and due process in judicial proceedings," according to the Northampton resolution. Further, resolutions like Northampton's are intended to combat possible discrimination, by asking federal and state law enforcement to comply with the police department by "not engaging in or permitting [racial profiling in law enforcement] or detentions without charges" (City of Northampton Resolution). Hmmm … "detentions without charges" … where have I heard about that egregious violation of rights before?

US Courts

Speaking of violations of rights, courts slowly may be coming around to rectify some violations and reprimand John Ashcroft. For example, in response to a suit filed by many civil rights and human rights organizations, US district judge Gladys Kessler declared in New Jersey that the Justice Department is not warranted in failing to disclose the names of the more than 1,000 people detained since September 11. Citing the Freedom of Information Act, she gave the government 15 days to provide the names of detainees. Unfortunately, she has just issued a stay of her original ruling while it is being appealed, which could take months. In another suit, a Detroit court ruled "unconstitutional Ashcroft's decision to try in secret all people picked up on immigration charges in the September 11 investigation" (The Nation 6/3/02).

Openly Disclosed Names

Though the Justice Department may worship secrecy _ to a terrifying degree _ a flood of people are openly adding their names to a statement defying the Bush administration and encouraging resistance on the part of the people of the US. Entitled "Not In Our Name," this statement of conscience mourns the thousands lost in the US on September 11 but implores people to question and protest the war and its grievous accompaniments, including more lives lost. Its fiery reply to Bush's "with us or against us" rhetoric is: "We refuse to allow you to speak for all the American people. [ … ] We will not hand over our consciences in return for a hollow promise of safety." Signed by artists, writers, and public intellectuals like Mos Def, Alice Walker, and Noam Chomsky, the statement has been receiving upwards of 60 new signers a day, one of its organizers told the Guardian. To read the statement and full list of signers, and to sign on yourself, check out

On May 12, Artspeaks 2002, a production of the Artists Network of Refuse and Resist, held an accompanying "Not In Our Name" concert at the Palace in Hollywood. It was billed as "a concert against the war" and featured dozens of performers, from Ozomatli to spoken word artist Saul Williams. In yet another challenge to Bush rhetoric and policy, Palestinian-American poet Suheir Hammad proclaimed, "You are either with life or against it. Affirm life."


Okay, sure, our congresspeople haven't been jumping to add their names to the "Not In Our Name" statement. In fact, it's been almost the opposite, with Congress practically trampling over itself to pass junk like the USA Patriot Act. Yet while most of Congress hastily hopped on the war bandwagon, many people remember the lone vote cast three days after September 11 in the House of Representatives against handing Bush seemingly unchecked war powers. California Representative Barbara Lee cast it, and the people of Santa Cruz, CA, not only remember but celebrate it. June 2, 2002, was declared "Barbara Lee Day," and Santa Cruz mayor Christopher Krohn presented Lee a key to the city before crowds of cheering supporters. She brought much of the crowd to its feet when she declared dissent a staple of democracy, saying, "It must not be unpatriotic to question a course of action; it must not be unpatriotic to raise doubts."

Those words are echoed by House member Dennis Kucinich, from Ohio, who delivered a speech, "Prayer for America," to the Southern California Americans for Democratic Action. He might not have echoed Lee's action in Congress on September 14, but in his speech on February 17, he led the charge to challenge Bush's war. "We did not authorize an eye for an eye. Nor did we ask that the blood of innocent people, who perished on September 11, be avenged with the blood of innocent villagers in Afghanistan," he proclaimed. "We did not authorize war without end. We did not authorize a permanent war economy." The speech quickly circulated the web, and Kucinich _ who before has sought creation of a Department of Peace _ told The Nation (3/25/02) that he received over 10,000 emails in the days following his words.


Aaron McGruder, creator of the daily comic "Boondocks," about a couple of young black kids in a mostly-white suburb, has come under attack for satirizing the war and just about every aspect of the Bush Administration. In November, papers ran a strip in which Huey Freeman, the comic's resister-hero, says a Thanksgiving prayer at the dinner table: "Ahem … in this time of war against Osama bin Laden and the oppressive Taliban regime, we are thankful that OUR leader isn't the spoiled son of a powerful politician from a wealthy oil family who is supported by religious fundamentalists, operates through clandestine organizations, has no respect for the democratic electoral process, bombs innocents, and uses war to deny people their civil liberties. Amen." McGruder's reply _ to critics and to the decision by a few newspapers not to run the strip _ was the creation of a temporary new strip, "The Adventures of Flagee and Ribbon," in which Flagee and Ribbon sing the national anthem and boast about US might.

"It's wrong. It's really wrong." These were just a few of McGruder's words when asked about Bush's war in a interview.

Peaceful Tomorrows

In perhaps one of the most heart-piercing challenges to Bush's war, family members of September 11 victims have formed an organization whose mission is "to seek effective nonviolent responses to terrorism, and identify a commonality with all people similarly affected by violence throughout the world." The group hopes "to spare additional innocent families the suffering [they] have already experienced _ as well as to break the endless cycle of violence and retaliation engendered by war." September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows announced their founding on Valentine's Day and, as of July 5, had at least 70 members. Already, in two separate trips, some members have visited Afghanistan to learn about the country, to meet those who have suffered as a result of US bombing _ by losing family and friends, homes, and possessions _ and to bear witness. Many support the creation of an Afghan Victims Fund to provide compensation for those affected, something which 38 congresspeople have signed a letter supporting and which Global Exchange has launched a campaign to secure. Amid the frenzied calls for war, these family members are a great reminder of compassion, of peace, of people more concerned with justice than with blind vengeance.


Resistance to Bush's war, to the Bush Administration agenda, is only spreading. Cities, schools, and community groups have hosted flurries of panels, discussions, and teach-ins in the past 11 months. Big protests, like the one in the Washington on April 20, and smaller protests, like the one in New York City on Martin Luther King Day targeting the assault on immigrants' rights, dot the map. Books exploring more just responses to the events of September 11, 2001, and denoting the multiple injustices of Bush's war, have been released. Posters and flyers imploring sentiments like "Our grief is not a cry for war" are springing up in homes, cars, and businesses. Global Exchange, in response to the rise in Anti-Arab and Anti-Muslim discrimination following September 11, began a campaign to make communities across the US "Hate-Free Zones." They encouraged businesses to hang posters with a message condemning discrimination and the war, and advocating respect, peace, and justice. By only October 12, the Associated Press reported that the organization had distributed 20,000 posters. Weekly peace vigils are held from San Jose to Austin to Syracuse. People are dissenting; they want to be heard. Rather than rush to war, they rush, in Suheir Hammad's words, to "affirm life."

Amy Dickinson is a recent Syracuse University graduate, and a weekly volunteer at SPC. She will soon move to California .