Two of his relatives were killed in the World Trade Center last week, but Wesleyan University junior Sajjadur Rahman insists military retaliation is not the answer.
"So many innocent lives have died through acts of war," Rahman, a Muslim, told the roughly 750 students gathered Thursday in front of the university's North College. "People's lives matter, and so many lives get afflicted by a few for their own interests."
Thousands of college students on about 150 campuses held similar rallies Thursday, putting them at the front of a growing movement urging military restraint in response to the last week's terrorist attacks.
Harvard University senior Molly McOwen of Northfield, Mass., holds a sign during a peace rally on the school's campus in Cambridge, Mass. Thursday, Sept. 20, 2001. Students called for non-violent justice, not revenge, for last week's terrorist attacks. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
At Wesleyan, students spoke of "peaceful justice" — or narrowly targeting those responsible for the attacks instead of entire countries filled with innocent people. Sharing that view is a surprising coalition that includes Hollywood actors, business groups, clergy and conservativessuch as commentator Pat Buchanan.
In fact, some say there is a fast-growing network of peace activists who will likely outnumber the demonstrators who rallied during the Persian Gulf War a decade ago.
By Thursday, nearly 1,500 religious leaders had endorsed a statement by the National Council of Churches of Christ USA calling for "sober restraint," not military retribution.
Business executive and CNN founder Ted Turner argued against a military solution Wednesday at the United Nations as he delivered a $31 million check to cover part of the United States' U.N. dues.
"We should not, I don't think, go around and indiscriminately start bombing countries that we suspect the terrorists are in because there are terrorists everywhere, [including] here in the United States," he said. "What were [Oklahoma City bombers] Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh but terrorists?"
But the protesters are going against the national tide. A recent Gallup/CNN USA Today poll found that 88 percent of Americans favor military action not only against the guilty parties, but also against countries that harbor them.
At the University of Connecticut, veteran antiwar activist Joanne Sheehan was heartened to see students talking about peaceful alternatives to war.
"Some of us began our activism as college students," said Sheehan, who runs the New England office of the War Resisters League out of her Norwich home. "Colleges are places where people need to explore creative thinking processes, where people need to explore truth and reality."
Sheehan sees students today learning from the Vietnam-era antiwar movement.
"People want to find ways not to polarize discussion, so they can have a discussion," she said. "That didn't happen in Vietnam, and the discussion became very polarized."
On the University of Hartford campus, sociology professor Wick Griswold said the initial feelings of rage and hostility have mellowed.
"I think that we should be as measured and reasoned and peaceful in our response as possible," said Griswold, one of 30 at the school’s rally. "We should temper our response with caution and restraint."
While bringing the perpetrators of the attacks to justice is an "admirable goal," said University of Hartford senior Brian Anderson, "given the recent history of U.S. military intervention, the victims are not going to be only the perpetrators."
Many students taking part in the rallies stress that "peaceful justice" doesn't mean inaction. U.S. officials should go after those responsible for the attacks, they say, but not in a way that jeopardizes more innocent people.
"We should treat it like a crime, not an act of war,'" said Tom Deere, a junior at Yale, where a few dozen Yale students gathered in a corner of Yale's campus.
Students have also been quick to point out that their sentiments are hardly shared by all on their campuses. The Yale students' calls for peace have raised more ire at Yale than previous protests. One critic scrawled expletive-laced graffiti across a peace flier tacked on a campus bulletin board.
"I expect it," said Deere, who added that the vigils Thursday don't have much chance in the face of the hawkish majority momentum. "To me, it looks like we're going to war whether my friends like it or not."
At Boston College, about 150 students held a peaceful rally — but all visitors and media were kept away because the campus was shut down to anyone but students, faculty and staff.
"We wanted the students to have an opportunity to host their rally free from any security concerns that the result from outsiders coming on campus," said spokesman Jack Dunn.
In Amherst, the community's five colleges issued a joint statement imploring the U.S. government to seek justice in a way "that honors humanity, including through the resources of the national and international legal systems." The statement was signed by the directors of Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith colleges and the University of Massachusetts.
Not everyone favored a peaceful resolution.
Tom Lancaster, 24, of Somerville, Mass., stood on the fringe of the Amherst Green holding "Support America" signs and engaged in lively debate with some of the students wearing peace signs on their shirts. He thinks the United States has been patient enough.
"I think we've tried it their way," said Lancaster, a graduate student in chemical engineering.
Wesleyan's Sarah Norr, who helped organize the "National Day of Action," said Thursday's event was held precisely to counter what participants see as a one-sided view presented in news reports.
"There's a lot of agreement on this," she said of the peace movement.
Staff writers Matthew Brown,Janice D’Arcy and Dan Jones contributed to this story, which also includes a wire service report.
©2001 MyWay Corp.