approximately 2,000 noisyanti-war protestors marched down University Avenue and rallied outside Queen's Park and Metro Hall on Saturday afternoon, November 17. Speakers and chanters stressed that war is always wrong, that Bush is just as evil as bin Laden, that the Northern Alliance is just as bad as the Taliban, that being raped is as bad as wearing a burka and that violence just begets violence.Apart from sounding rather odd coming from the same Toronto crowd who were recently chanting "No justice, no peace," "Smash the IMF" and other warlike rhetoric in their calls for the overthrow of everything from Harris to the WTO, the new, monkish emphasis on pacifism and the futility of action took up, perhaps, a bit too much speaking time.
In the meantime, the question of what -- specifically, in practical terms -- should be done in Afghanistan at this moment, with rival gangs of thugs threatening the security and food supply of 25 million people, was left unaddressed.
While an ad sponsored by the Canadian Peace Alliance in the Globe and Mail Saturday called for Canada to provide leadership in establishing "humanitarian aid and fair political solutions," there's no sign here on University Avenue that anyone feels any responsibility for the formulation of solutions.
The "everything is just as bad as everything else" tone is set early in the proceedings when Nillab Pazhwak of the Afghan Women's Organization reminds the crowd that although the citizens of Kabul may be cheering the arrival of the Northern Alliance now, they also cheered the arrival of the Taliban a few years ago.
Atif Kumbersi, president of the National Council on Canadian Arab Relations, picks up on the theme when he tells the cheering crowd, "The outcome of violence is violence, and that's the only outcome to come out of violence."
Not to be outdone in the moral equivalence or redundancy departments, history teacher Abdul Rehman Malik tells protestors that "war is not a way to prevent more war. The devastating war has simply led to more war. We oppose Bush's war. We oppose bin Laden's war. We oppose every armed conflict in every war."
Curiously, some of the speakers don't feel bound by their own rhetoric of pacificism, and make a convenient exception to the violence-is-always-wrong rule when it comes to Palestinian terrorism.
"Peace can only come out of justice," says Kumbersi. "And you cannot get justice when people are living under the brutal occupation of Palestine."
Fortunately, at least one speaker at Saturday's rally is willing to go on record with a specific, concrete proposal to halt the bloodshed and chaos in Afghanistan, though she makes her remarks only after the rally itself is over and there's no chance her comments will offend either doctrinaire pacifists or purist anti-imperialists.
"The international community has a responsibility not to withdraw from Afghanistan, but to take a more active part in this, and to be there to prevent human rights violations in our country," says Pazhwak in a phone interview. "I think the people of Afghanistan have nothing against UN peacekeepers, except for particular Afghan warlords who do not find it beneficial for their own activities."