Just before President Bush vowed retaliation against terrorism in front of a joint session of Congress last night, students from various Yale cultural organizations concerned with social justice gathered at Dwight Hall to oppose war in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
An ad hoc coalition of professors, graduate students and leaders of cultural groups joined to discourage a knee-jerk reaction by the United States in light of last Tuesday’s events. The speakers told the audience of more than 50 people that justice rather than revenge should be the impetus of any U.S.-led action.
Suggesting terrorism could not be attributed to any nation, American Studies professor Michael Denning said, “Terrorism is the name of a tactic, not a political group.”
Denning said retaliation would not solve the problem of terrorism and, citing Ghandi, added “An eye for an eye leaves the world blind.”
Amy Rasmussen GRD ’04 said the group assembled at Dwight Hall was “united in grief, but not in retaliation.”
She said collateral damage would certainly follow U.S. military action in Afghanistan. Posters on the wall carrying messages such as “Peaceful Justice,” “A time for mourning — not destruction” and “Operation Infinite Violence” echoed her statement.
The discussion came after a vigil held at noon on Cross Campus, which called for peace and commemorated those who died in the terrorist attacks.
The teach-in and vigil for peace are parts of a larger movement that began with an e-mail from students at Wesleyan College. Students at about 150 campuses nationwide — including Harvard, Princeton, Northwestern and Stanford universities — have held similar events.
Wesleyan junior Sarah Norr, who helped organize a vigil at that college that attracted 600 students, said the idea for an event supporting peaceful justice started the night after the terrorist attacks. Wesleyan students then informed students at other campuses, and their plan grew into a national movement.
“We thought that if we e-mailed friends at other schools and national networks, we could get together something pretty big,” Norr said.
The coalition that gathered at Yale also demanded the United States safeguard civil liberties for minorities.
Panelists last night expressed concern that Middle Eastern citizens living in the country fear unfairly becoming the scapegoat of this national tragedy. A recent Gallup poll — cited by one of last night’s speakers and confirmed by the Gallup organization — indicates 49 percent of Americans support requiring Arab citizens to carry special ID and 58 percent said they agree Arabs should undergo special, more intensive security checks at airports.
“It brought tears to my eyes when [the speaker] announced those statistics,” said Will Tanzman ’04, one of the organizers of the event. “We don’t want hate to erupt here. [Military action] will only precipitate a larger conflict between Islam and the U.S.”
“We’re not pacifist groups,” Tanzman added. “We believe in justice, not vengeance.”
Members of the group said better solutions to the problem of terrorism throughout the world include bringing members of terrorist organizations to the International Court of Justice and being more forthcoming with evidence about Osama bin Laden to the Taliban.
The Arab Student Association and the Interfaith Coalition were just some of the Yale organizations whose members organized the teach-in. Those attending were invited to speak in an “open-mike” session toward the end of the discussion.
Many of those attending expressed strong concerns about the country turning to violence.
“The knee-jerk reaction is really scary,” Rachel Goodman ’05 said. “I think there’s a more constructive way to handle it.”
Norr, the Wesleyan organizer, said the goals for this movement have historical roots, such as the anti-war protests during the Vietnam era.
“The first big goal is to bring ideas that you can have justice without going to war to the forefront,” Norr said. “I think that’s already happened. [Another goal] is to stop the U.S. from going to war, and that’s going to be a longer battle, but if you look, history students have played that role before and been really influential in changing people’s ideas about war.”