Published on Tuesday, February 11, 2003 by the San Francisco Gate
Rattling For Peace
by Emil Guillermo
These days, you'll hear plenty of voices for war. But not many voices for peace.
Bush rattling a saber can make headlines all day. What can a person of peace rattle? I mean, besides Bush's conscience.
So, in these times of orange alert, let me introduce you to two unique American voices you should know about.
They both want more time for inspections and a more humanitarian way of dealing with any threat Iraq might pose.
One is a nun who's a lawyer. (Go ahead, try to name another one. Sally Field played a nun who flew but didn't sue. Others may have acted as prosecutors during your youth, but that was just habit). Sister Simone Campbell is a bona fide barrister who can take you to court for bad behavior.
The other is Kawal Ulanday, an Asian American of Filipino descent who just got a visit from the FBI -- one that can serve as a message for you, and for any others out there who rattle for peace too loudly.
Because I'm a good Catholic, let's begin with the nun.
Sister Simone Campbell practiced poverty law in Oakland for 18 years, then moved to Sacramento to become executive director of Jericho, an interfaith group that lobbies politicians on issues such as health care, welfare and affordable housing.
Sister Simone was unimpressed by Secretary of State Colin Powell's U.N. presentation the other day.
"If we've had information we've been holding on to, the inspectors should have had it, and they should have checked it out," she said. "And those unnamed sources ...
"He didn't convince me," Sister Simone added. "But I've been there, so I'm probably harder to convince."
Concerned that the government seems to be diverting money from domestic issues and applying it to preparations for war, Sister Simone decided she needed to go to Iraq as a witness.
While the media followed Blix and the gang, Sister Simone's religious group went to see how people live in Baghdad and Basra.
"We went as a spiritual journey," said Sister Simone. "But we had to be open that we might find things that support the war. We heard that the Iraqi people wanted the U.S. to liberate them. So, if we found that out, we'd have to say that.
"But that's not what we found."
No liberation necessary?
"Not by the United States, and not by war," said Sister Simone. "People would come up to us on the streets because they heard us speaking English. Every person we talked to said, 'Please, let's have peace. Can't there be a way we can talk?' There was a great fear and apprehension about war and a real desire for peace. And an end to sanctions."
The infamous U.N. sanctions were imposed in 1990 after Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. Unfortunately, they have worked all too well. Not on Hussein, but on the Iraqi people.
"The closest thing to anyone wanting liberation is a man who said he just wanted it over because we are killing them slowly with sanctions," said Sister Simone. "'You might as well bomb us,' is what he said."
Sister Simone called witnessing the sanctions at work "horrific" and claimed they have worked in unintended ways. More than 1 million Iraqis have died -- 500,000 of them children -- because of U.N. policies that have destroyed the country's water supply. She recalled seeing raw sewage in the rivers. Thousands unemployed.
So, why haven't the people revolted against Hussein?
"The irony is, the sanctions have preserved Hussein's power," said Sister Simone. "If 70 percent depend on the government for employment and 40 percent depend on the government for their sole source of nutrition, they're not about to risk changing the government."
Yet, to her surprise, Sister Simone did find some Iraqis willing to criticize Hussein openly. Just not enough of them to overthrow him. "They called him 'the Big Guy,'" she said.
With the prospects of a war, she saw the Iraqi people as an afterthought, caught in the middle in a dispute between the United States and Hussein.
"I'm terrified how they'll end up," she said. "War is not just one person."
Going to Iraq convinced her of that.
She's heartened that the pope has agreed to meet Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz Feb. 14.
Maybe George Bush should, too.
As Sister Simone and I ended our conversation, I wondered what the president who quoted somberly from Isaiah after the space shuttle Columbia accident might say when the first body bags of Americans return from the Gulf.
A preemptive strike will be a choice, not an accident.
Another person of peace you should know about is Kawal Ulanday.
In the Asian-American community, he works as a professional conscience. If you don't have one, you can borrow his. If you don't feel like taking action, he'll act on your behalf.
He's a member of the steering committee of the Asian and Pacific Islander Coalition Against the War and belongs to the Filipinos for Global Justice Not War Coalition.
And that's just some of the groups he's affiliated with.
On Jan. 20, Ulanday got a "home visit" from agents of the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force.
As a "pro," Ulanday knows what you should do if you get a knock on the door from the FBI. He knows you have a right to remain silent. And that anything you say can be used against you -- or somebody else.
But Ulanday talked to the FBI anyway.
"I was just caught off guard," he told me. "It was the day before my brother's funeral service. We had so many people at my house because it was a time of loss. I knew I just needed to cooperate at a time when my family's needs were paramount."
See, even activists have priorities.
The FBI knew Ulanday had no criminal record. In fact, they knew all the answers they asked him: Were you born in Mindanao? Are you Muslim? Do you have any connection with any Muslim extremist groups connected to al Qaeda? Are you anti-American?
The answers to all the questions were no, of course. But this visit wasn't about getting information.
"It was clear they were sending a message," said Ulanday. "That Big Brother was watching -- not just me, but a rapidly growing peace movement of countless individuals, groups and alliances who share a popular people's sentiment against a looming war in Iraq."
If it was intimidation, it didn't work.
"I'm still going forward," he told me. "I'm not intimidated at all. If anything, I'm definitely stronger."
That's an activist talking. But what about you, and others?
Will intimidation silence others who question the actions of our democracy? Or will you have the courage to be like Sister Simone and Ulanday, two voices rattling about peacefully while others bang away for war?
Emil Guillermo is a radio and TV commentator and the author of "Amok: Essays From an Asian American Perspective," winner of an American Book Award. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
©2003 SF Gate