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'd 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 U.S. 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 were to dominate.
Fronting for Saddam Hussein (and Slobodan Milosevic), as self-appointed peace leader Ramsey Clark has, and exhorting the peace protestors 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. 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."
Then there's a handful of local L.A.-based career leftists whom I will not embarrass by printing their names. They have been circulating a crudely written letter on the Internet responding to David Corn's L.A. 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.
Now, here comes the good news. Corn, Gitlin and I were not the only long-time 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. Headed up by former SANE leader David Cortright, the new Win Without War alliance includes the National Council of Churches, the NAACP, the National Organization for Women and several other politically substantial groups. And far from being soft on Saddam, the new coalition supports the UN 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.
Hats off, then, to Cortright in Washington and Greenwald and Farrell 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. 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 any more speaking in my name for peace. From the L.A. Weekly