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September 13, 2001
Breaking Ranks - Breaking the Cycle of Violence

By Ramzi Kysia


For almost forty days, members of Voices in the Wilderness have been fasting and vigiling outside the U.S. Mission to the UN in New York City. Our goal in New York City has been to encourage other Americans, and other countries in the UN, to "break ranks" with the U.S. government, and work to end the siege of Iraq, and yet Tuesday's horrible events are paramount in all of our minds as we stumble along in the wake of the destruction of the World Trade Center Towers. Today, as we near the end of our fast, our thoughts are with both the American and Iraqi peoples. Our hopes and prayers are with all the families who have lost loved ones; that they can find strength through their grief to rebuild their shattered lives, and that we can find the strength to insure that no more families should have to join them.

After Tuesday's suicide attacks against the World Trade Center and Pentagon, our fasters decided to quietly end our daily vigil at the U.S. Mission to the UN, and to do what we could to help the people of New York City cope with this catastrophe. But the question remains, where are we going from here?

I am struck by how there seems to be no debate whatsoever in our government, or in our media, over whether or not we should use overwhelming, military force to respond to Tuesday's catastrophe. The assumption seems to be that of course we will not only respond with overwhelming violence, but that we must respond with overwhelming violence. This is madness.

I am disgusted by the hatred being shown toward so many Arab and Muslim-Americans here in the United States, and by the seemingly popular acceptance shown toward such terrible prejudices. These are our fellow citizens, our neighbors, our friends members of our common, American family. Whether all of my fellow Americans like it or not, I am an American, and I am here to stay. This violence toward Arab and Muslim communities in the U.S. stands in stark contrast to the warmth and hospitality we have consistently been shown by ordinary Iraqis during our delegations to Iraq. Despite the fact that our government has been waging a one-sided war against them for over 11 years, they open their homes and their hearts to us. They tell us that they do not hate Americans for what our government has done to them. They tell us that we are not our government.

Are we our government? As American voices rise in anger over Tuesday's attacks to call for vengeance, for retaliation, and for war now more than ever we must truly be voices in the wilderness, we must be voices for peace. For many Americans the image of the World Trade Center's destruction was the first time since the Gulf War that they have seen such tremendous violence done to other human beings. And it seems clear that this terrorist attack was not a random act of violence committed out of some irrational hatred or jealousy, as many have said, but was in direct response to our government's actions around the world.

Violence begets violence. The seeds for the hostage crisis in Iran in 1979 & 1980 were planted when the U.S. overthrew Premier Mossadeq's democratically elected government in Iran in 1953, and replaced it with the brutal dictatorship of the Shah.

Who trained Osama bin Laden, or for that matter Timothy McVeigh? Who taught them to kill? The seeds for catastrophe are planted in our culture of militarism, and in our reliance on violence as a mean of making and enforcing political and economic decisions. Violence begets violence.

The seeds for catastrophe were planted in the Gulf War, where we responded to the invasion of Kuwait by killing 100,000-250,000 Iraqi soldiers and civilians. The seeds for catastrophe are planted in a policy of sanctions that seem to directly target Iraqi children, causing the deaths hundreds of thousands of innocents.

The seeds of catastrophe are planted in our consistently uneven policies toward Israel and Palestine, and our political, military, and economic support for the illegal occupation of the Palestinian people. Are there a people in the world who would accept occupation or the mass slaughter of their children? Our justified anger toward the terrorists who killed so many innocent Americans on Tuesday is reflected in our victims and would-be victims across the world with the oldest and clearest lesson in the history of the world: violence begets violence.

Today, as the American government & people call for war, what seeds are we planting for future catastrophes?

Tuesday's attacks have been called an attack on "civilization." I call on my fellow Americans to behave civilized: civil in their dealings with their fellow citizens, and civil in their dealings with all the children of God around the world. We must not continue a cycle of violence where our feelings of pain cause us to lash out and create similar feelings in those whom we would deem responsible for our suffering. For in imposing suffering on others we break our own compact, and become ourselves uncivilized. In using violence we create fertile ground for many more disasters like Tuesday's. We must face the hatred we have sown around the world, and the hatred we have sown in our own hearts, with understanding and compassion. We must face our own pain, and the pain we have already caused others through our terrible policies, with understanding and compassion. We must meet violence, at home and abroad, inside ourselves and in the world around us, with love.

For forty days we have been fasting for peace, and calling on the UN and American people to break ranks with the U.S. government and end the siege of Iraq. Soon we will end our fast, but our voices are needed now more than ever. All of us, around the country, must do everything we can to call on our friends, and families, and neighbors, and co-workers, and everyone we know, to break ranks yet again break ranks and be a voice for peace in the midst of all the cries for hatred and war.

Ramzi Kysia is a member of Voices in the Wilderness, a campaign to end sanctions against Iraq, and serves on the board of directors for the Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC).

Voices in the Wilderness
Education for Peace in Iraq Center.