Long-time leaders in Bay Area’s peace movement were among the 130 attendees who flocked to the Martin Luther King Room at the Unitarian Universalist Center in San Francisco Friday September 26 to hear internationally renowned activists tell about peace activism in Afghanistan, the complexity of conflicts in Iraq and Syria, and the dangers of escalating U.S.-led violence.
SF Campaign Nonviolence and UUs for Peace and Justice sponsored the event. Endorsees bringing their materials for display included American Friends Service Committee, Jewish Voice for Peace, Peaceworkers, SF Chapter 69 of Vets for Peace, and SF Bay Area Chapter of World Can’t Wait. Literally dozens of members asked questions. Both speakers and audience seemed reluctant to bring the evening to an end.
Rev. Buehrens introduced the evening with a brief history of Unitarian Universalist peace activism, UUFPJ chair Robin Larsen introduced the event’s other sponsor, Sherri Maurin of Campaign Nonviolence, and she reported on her recent trip to organize youth activists.
Kathy Kelly, founder of Voices for Creative Nonviolence and known worldwide for her peace activism quoted Leonard Cohen’s line from “Anthem,” “every heart to love will come, like a refugee.” She said that United States’ third war on Iraq makes her want to seek refuge, but she also quoted Martin Luther King in his Riverside speech when he urged Americans “to try to see the humanity in our enemies.”
Kelly, who made 27 visits to Iraq before the second Iraq war and has been jailed many times for her direct peace activism, urged the audience and all Americans to become much “more literate about the people who cannot escape our wars. ”
She cautioned that “when people are subjected to terror and humiliation, they become easy to recruit,” also that she didn’t think “the United States can control the forces that our violence has unleashed in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.” Instead, we should withdraw and be willing to say we’re sorry, keep the U.N. alive, and embargo our arms trade.
In reviewing how today’s reign of terror in Iraq came about, University of San Francisco Professor Stephen Zunes recalled that Sunni and Shia conflicts were practically non-existent until the U.S. abolished Iraq’s armed forces and civil service and instituted a new army of sectarian Iranian Shias that Iraqis viewed as hostile occupiers. That was when the Sunni extremists began to blame all Shias, which led to the Shiite Maliki government sending out death squads to kill thousands of Sunnis.
Now, he said, the Sunni ISIL group is viewed as too extreme by Al Qaeda. “What can we do?” he asked. Since the U.S. began its recent bombings, ISIL’s recruitment has increased. “Further militarization is not going to work.”