Medea Benjamin's Remarks  |  Progressive Portal Home Page


Extended Remarks of
Michael Sherman, founding member of
City of Berkeley, California
Peace and Justice Commission
prepared for the ZENKO National Assembly,* Japan,
July 2002

I would like to begin by expressing my deep appreciation at being extended the invitation and opportunity not only to attend this 32nd national assembly of Zenko but also being afforded the opportunity to share a dialogue with you on some critical issues facing the world and our two countries today. Also, a special word of thanks to Mr. Ninagawa who helped facilitate not only my presence here but that of my grandson as well. And thank you, Mori Fumihiro for your efforts and help.

I have been asked, in keeping with the main theme of this assembly, "to stop this war now," to address the issue of "what is 'this war'?" and "what should we do to stop this war?"

First of all, I would like to bring you very warm greetings from the City of Berkeley and the citizens of Berkeley to the citizens of Japan and other foreign visitors who have come from near and far. We are here today to deal with very serious and profound issues both locally and globally following the mass murders of 9/11 -- an event that forever changed our globe as we knew it. We are here because we all care deeply about our communities, our world and the future that we will pass on to our children, and because our daily news headlines or broadcasts are replete with alarming stories and events.

This is a monumental task because we have not one war but in fact two wars that we must address, take on, roll back, fight against. The first and most obvious, because it is the most publicized, is the U.S.-led global war on terrorism, a war that I will argue briefly here tonight and in more detail in the days ahead is misled, misguided, counter-productive and potentially very dangerous.

The second war, which I will refer to as The War at Home, is that which is taking place within the national borders of both democratic and authoritarian countries. This war at home takes two forms.

One is an all-out assault on civil rights and civil liberties, including a crackdown on dissent through either censorship or a form of self-censorship imposed as a result of a vehemence of a reaction to dissenting opinion in the form of hate mail, death threats, isolation, ridicule or accusations of being unpatriotic, un-American or even anti-American. Given the mood of my country, one should not and cannot underestimate these factors. This reaction is probably not unusual for any country that comes under attack, but the horrific nature of the attack on 9/11 profoundly stunned and shocked Americans from coast to coast, emotions that soon merged with a deep and profound and boiling anger. It's a day that I will never forget, even down to some minute details.

The attack of 9/11 was entirely unique in that we were not attacked by a state but by an entity -- an international terrorist network that most Americans had never heard of before, or if they had, paid little attention to, as it was until 9/11 mostly faceless. An exception to this generalization would be those who follow international news and U. S. foreign policy, especially in the Middle East. In either case, a sleepy, complacent, somewhat self-centered but now very angry giant was awakened -- a giant that demanded a response, that wanted payback (revenge), and was not prepared to listen to a discussion of, why us?, or why do they hate us? It was in the face of this national mood that two very brave women --Berkeley City Council Member Dona Spring and Congressmember Barbara Lee -- chose to make a stand. When the U. S. bombing of Afghanistan began on October 7, 2001, people responded on the campus of U.C. Berkeley, the home of the Free Speech Movement of 1964, at Berkeley High School and took to the streets in San Francisco and other locales in the Bay Area. On October 9th, Ms. Spring, a member of the Green Party, proposed her resolution on this military response. It was, in my opinion, a mild statement but at the same time a totally appropriate response given what happened in New York City, and also given the mood of the country, which was shared by many of Berkeley's citizens -- mild also in the sense that it was a far cry from other, much more severe resolutions of condemnation that Berkeley has passed regarding U.S. policies in places like Vietnam, El Salvador, Nicaragua, South Africa, or on other issues concerning human rights, international law, international treaties, the Gulf War, etc., etc. Let me quote for you the operative language:

"That the City of Berkeley, which has a long tradition of speaking out on national and international issues, including peace and social justice, adopt the following resolution in response to 9/11. ...

"Condemn the mass murder of thousands ... and express our profound grief at the atrocities. ..."

And the section that generated the most publicity worldwide as it turned out:

"Ask our representatives to help break the cycle of violence, bringing the bombing to a conclusion as soon as possible, avoiding actions that can endanger the lives of innocent people in Afghanistan, and minimizing the risk to American military personnel."

[For the full text of the resolution, see Item #31 in the City Council Meeting Summary.]

The first reactions, fed by the press to a large degree and coupled with some unfortunate and unhelpful statements by our mayor, were largely negative. Thousands of letters, e-mails and phone calls poured in, some were death threats, accusations of being "traitors," and statements that Berkeley was "unpatriotic." There were also many messages of support that grew in even greater numbers over time.

When our Congressional representative, Ms. Barbara Lee, cast the only negative vote out of the 435 members of The House of Representatives on a bill giving the President unlimited and unquestioned power to make war, she too was vilified and attacked much in the manner I just noted. It is also worth noting that she remains extremely popular in her district, that she will be re-elected to the House of Representatives in November, 2002 (she is running unopposed), and in April, 2002, she was named the winner of the Wayne Morse Integrity in Government Award, in part for her challenging President Bush's military plans. Senator Morse was one of the two U.S. Senators who voted against then President Johnson's Gulf of Tonkin Resolution for waging war against the Vietnamese people, and the award is presented to that politician who embodies Senator Morse's political courage and commitment to justice.

Important global support began to build in November, 2001, when two members of the Japanese Diet, Tomon Mitsuko and Renko Kitagawa, visited Oakland and Berkeley to thank Ms. Lee and Ms. Spring for their stands. This support from Japan for Congressmember Lee was important for her constituents to see. For Dona Spring and the other four council members who voted for her resolution, the visit from the two Diet members was equally important and powerful, as the visit received favorable media coverage.

In January, 2002, another delegation from Japan, Kiyoshi Matsuya, head of the Rainbow and Green organization; Ippei Torii, Secretary General of Japan's All United Workers Union; and Ichiro Kobayashi made a visit to Barbara Lee and Berkeley to offer their support and thanks. This visit attracted nationwide attention.

The Berkeley resolution has now received so much global interest that it was translated into many languages and sent to citizens groups, activists, and peace centers around the world. It has also become a model for other cities to adopt.

The second factor [in the two aspects of the war] is the remilitarization taking place in the form of huge increases in military expenditures, the deployment or redeployment of U.S. troops to far-flung reaches of the world, as well as increased power and authority given to domestic intelligence agencies, law enforcement departments, not to mention taking the gloves [restrictions] off the CIA. In your country, it is reported in our papers that Japan is "considering breaking with a half-century-old policy of pacifism by acquiring nuclear weapons" by calling into question its three non-nuclear principles. As in my country, where neo-conservative nationalists - "America First"ers, unilateralists -- hold power in the halls of government and to a large degree on the reigns of power, so, too, is that reflected, according to our press, in your Diet through the influence of think tanks like Nippon Kaigi.

Regarding my first point, the assault on civil liberties, on October 26, 2001, with little or no debate in Congress, President Bush signed the PATRIOT Act into law, a bill that has been described by many as a huge attack on the civil liberties of citizens and non-citizens alike. It gives the U.S. Attorney General Ashcroft, an ultra right-wing Christian fundamentalist conservative, unprecedented detention authority, expands wiretapping and electronic surveillance authority, denies individuals basic rights of habeas corpus, limits access to the courts, and expands the already broad definition of terrorism to the point that it is feared by some that it would be possible to label thousands of protesters at an anti-war rally as "conspirators in a terrorist plot." Then, on May 30, 2001, Attorney General Ashcroft announced the unleashing of the FBI, by announcing new guidelines that now allow FBI agents to conduct surveillance in places open to the public -- "including houses of worship -- read [including] mosques -- libraries, political meetings, and Internet sites -- without specific evidence that those being watched have committed or are planning to commit any crimes. In a somewhat similar vein, it is my understanding that your Prime Minster Koizumi is also seeking to pass Japan's version of the Patriot Act, so called emergency or contingency laws.

We, your country and mine, are not alone in this. In democratic nations around the world -- Britain and India, for example -- copy-cat Patriot bills are being debated, discussed, and passed. In authoritarian regimes -- Egypt, Jordan and Uzbekistan and the other "-stans" and most importantly, in Pakistan -- civil rights, civil liberties, democratic principles, the questioning of authority and challenges to social policies and conditions, already severely restricted and repressed, are being further restricted, all in the name of fighting terrorism.

This, I would argue, poses not only a grave danger to the citizens of those countries, especially those advocating reforms, but also a real threat to the long-term peace and stability of those countries as well as the stability of their regions -- Central Asia and the Middle East. Further, and here I reference my opening remarks, since all of these regimes owe their staying power to the support and backing they receive from the U.S., this can only serve to be but one factor -- an important one at that -- that will increase the terrorist threat to the U.S. as well as those countries that buy into its totally misguided, counterproductive, and dangerous foreign policy.

Indeed, since 9/11, in order to build his alliance to support the U.S. attack against Afghanistan and wage this war against terror, Bush has essentially given the green light [approval to proceed] to Russian oppression and massive human rights violations in Chechnya, Israeli repression in the occupied territories, Chinese repression in Tibet and Xinjiang Province, and Indian repression in Kashmir, which very recently brought Asia to the very brink of nuclear war!

President Bush is badly mistaken when he and others claim that we were attacked by people who hated the fact that America stands as a beacon of freedom and democracy and individual liberties. Quite the contrary. The anger is aimed at our hypocrisy and double standard -- what we pronounce so loudly and then deny for so many. In the Middle East and in many parts of the wider Muslim world, we are seeing the results of policies similar to that we carried out during the Cold War when we made friends of governments and elites but enemies of the people and became complicit in the deaths of millions in the 1970s and 1980s in Vietnam, Central America, Chile, the Congo, Angola, Indonesia, East Timor, Greece, Brazil, Iran -- the list goes on [continues].

U.S. policy in the Middle East has never been about freedom and democracy. It has been about oil and Israel. It has been about allowing a 35-year illegal occupation to continue to defend a settlement policy which we pay for but directly contravenes international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention. If one reads Osama Bin Laden's pronouncements, he makes no mention at all about hatred for our values. The issues he raises are the presence of U.S. troops in the Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia, site of two of the holiest places in Islam; the disastrous humanitarian consequences of the ongoing U.S. sanctions policy against Iraq that has killed hundreds of thousands, the majority being children between the ages of 1 and 6; and U.S. support for repressive regimes in the Arab world. With or without Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, these are issues that resonate throughout the Middle East with all people, regardless of their state or their politics or their socioeconomic status.

In my concluding remarks on this second war -- The War at Home -- let me conclude on a positive note. Through assemblies such as this, and in my home town of Berkeley, by the active participation of many citizens groups, city commissions, community-based organizations, NGOs, a politically active citizenry, a sympathetic city council that is generally very supportive of citizen participation in local, national and international concerns policies and actions (thinking globally and acting locally), in time we will be able to defend those rights so precious to us. By gathering here at this Assembly, by sharing ideas and strategies, we will emerge stronger and be in a better position to raise our voices in dealing with the issues I've mentioned. Finally, in answering the question put to me, "what is "this war'?", I described it as the U. S.-led global war on terrorism. Coming from the country that proclaimed this war, I don't doubt it for a minute. As to the second part of the question, "what should we do to stop this war?", let me state my opinion bluntly and unequivocally. Israel's continued illegal occupation of Palestine, its ongoing and again illegal settlement policy, along with land confiscation, road building and restrictions on Palestinian access to water, pose not just a grave and serious threat to Israel, but serve as a fertile recruiting ground for those very forces that Israel broadly defines as "terrorists" or "terrorist organizations" willing to carry out terrorist acts. And here I paraphrase Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Israel's Defense Minister, who in an interview in the daily [newspaper] Haaretz said that the ongoing occupation serves as an incubator for future terrorists, that recent Israeli military actions in the occupied territories, while necessary, "kindle the frustration and despair that make Palestinians more willing to carry out suicide attacks by strengthening their motivation. " Mr. Ben Eliezer also said that it was now easier to recruit suicide bombers than find explosives in the Palestinian areas. During the recent Israeli incursion into Bethlehem, an Anglican Bishop was quoted on CNN as saying that for every terrorist that Israel killed, 1,000 took his place.

In the wider Middle East and the broader Muslim world, there is a seething rage and anger against both Israel and the U.S. -- Israel for its ongoing occupation and brutal repression of the Palestinians, and the U.S. for its policies in the Middle East in particular. These policies include a one-sided support for Israel, its ongoing occupation and settlement policy, the deadly sanctions imposed on Iraq that have killed hundreds of thousands, a majority of those children between the ages of one and five, and support of autocratic, undemocratic regimes in the region. In a recent series of interviews, Rohan Gunaratna, author of the just released book, Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror made the following points:

He further states that Al Qaeda is able to generate most of its support because of the ongoing Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

When asked the following question in an interview, "What kind of an impact would a Palestinian state have on Al Qaeda's activities?", he answered, "Actually, the formation of a Palestinian state will reduce the level of terrorism, because today Al Qaeda is able to recruit so many people for one reason -- because the Palestinian people are suffering and Al Qaeda is recruiting Muslims who see the West and especially the U.S. as complicit and unreasonable. ... We must do our best to resolve the Palestinian conflict as quickly as possible, and also Kashmir, if we are really serious about confronting Al Qaeda and fighting global terrorism. So yes, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a main source of support for Al Qaeda and of course, the U.S. support of Israel has in many ways generated the milieu for Al Qaeda to recruit."

For us to fight terrorism, we have to confront U.S. policy in the Middle East first and foremost. To be effective in killing the terrorist fish who swim in the swamp of hatred and despair, it is much safer in the long run to drain the swamp. [To stop terrorism, it is best to eliminate the conditions that promote terrorism.] Regarding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, this means, first and foremost, a complete and total freeze on any further settlement building and expansion to be followed by the positioning of an international peacekeeping force along the green line separating Israel and Palestine, concurrent with a complete withdrawal of all Israeli forces from the West Bank and Gaza and the convening of an international peace conference to negotiate the final remaining outstanding issues. In the immediate future, urgent discussions need to take place that simultaneously deal with the issue of security for both peoples, and political and economic issues as well. This process would be based on the following principles:

It is understood that there is an international consensus that a final solution to the conflict would entail respecting the following principles, which are based on the Saudi Arabian Peace Plan supported by all the Arab states as agreed upon at The Arab Summit in Beirut: As to the Middle East as a whole, we must recognize that current U.S. policy only helps create terrorists and that any serious effort to combat and defeat a very real and serious threat to peoples and nations throughout the world is doomed to fail unless we address the issues and grievances of the Arab and the larger Muslim world. This is not giving in [surrendering] to any form of terrorist blackmail, but rather carrying out policies we should be doing anyway: policies based on a respect for human rights; promotion of democratic rights; upholding the principles of international law, arms control and sustainable development. We need to put aside our arrogance and hubris, deal with our ignorance, and fight terrorism in a way that is effective -- that drains the swamp -- and not counter-productive and dangerous by increasing the level of hatred.

As Councilmember Dona Spring so eloquently noted in one portion of her October 16, 2001 resolution on the bombing of Afghanistan, we need to "urge our representatives to devote our government's best efforts, in collaboration with governments throughout the world, to address and overcome those conditions such as poverty, malnutrition, disease, oppression, and subjugation that tend to drive some people to acts of terrorism."

It is written that if you kill a terrorist when political hope exists, you kill a terrorist; kill a terrorist in the absence of such hopes, and you create 10 new terrorists. One can only speculate that given current U.S. policy in the Middle East, and the arrogance it displays in other parts of the world, how many more joined the terrorist ranks and how many more Al Qaedas were constituted [since the "war on terrorism" began.]

Language in square brackets [] added by the editor.

*The link above provides a rough English translation of the ZENKO site, done by computer.
To see the site in Japanese, CLICK HERE.

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