Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets across North America and Europe to protest against the air strikes on Afghanistan, but the protests were cautious and the rhetoric careful as peace activists tried not to separate themselves from public horror over last month's terrorist attacks.
While antiwar marches were held yesterday and Sunday in New York, Washington, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Toronto, Montreal, London, Tokyo, Seoul and continental Europe, church and antiwar leaders acknowledge it is a difficult time to protest against the actions of the U.S. government and its allies in the fight against terrorism.
A protester holds up a placard in front of Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square during an anti-war demonstration in London Monday Oct. 8, 2001. The demonstration is against the current military strikes by Britain and the U.S. in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
"We've tried to be low-key," said Ernie Regehr, director of Project Ploughshares, one of Canada's most established peace organizations.
"There are ambiguities, a feeling that the rights of the Taliban are not something to be championed. It's prudent to be cautious in the present environment."
Alice Woldt, interim executive director of the Church Council of Greater Seattle, a city with a long history of antiwar protests, said: "There is a different sense out there that now may not be the time to protest."
Dianne Flowers, a literacy teacher in Long Beach, Calif., illustrates one American's attempt to maintain solidarity with other citizens while working for peace.
A long-time peace activist, she was shocked and horrified by the Sept. 11 attacks. Her daughter-in-law was near the World Trade Center when it was hit by hijacked aircraft and it wasn't known whether she was dead or alive.
But when peace-march organizers proposed on the Internet that demonstrators march with peace flags -- U.S. flags with the peace symbol replacing the stars -- Ms. Flowers circulated an e-mail to activists that said: "I think we should use the regular U.S. flag for demonstrations, to show that we are not separate from the American people but one with them."
In an interview yesterday, she said, "Whose flag is it? It's my flag. I'm an American. There's a lot of things that flag represents. It represents a lot of things that are the best in people. And, for the peace movement, it's a question of how do we win over the hearts and minds of people, how are we going to move the American people? A lot of people are ignorant about what's gone on, they don't know what's been done by their government."
She is convinced people in her community are not blindly supporting war but, rather, want to discuss the issue with their friends and neighbors. She described the scene in neighborhood churches on Sunday: The priest at the local Hispanic Roman Catholic church said it was not a time for vengeance; so did the pastor at the neighborhood Baptist church. But the priest at her own Episcopal church favored the attack on Afghanistan. Many Americans taking part in protests drew a connection between their government's foreign policy in many Third World countries and the Sept. 11 attacks. They objected to Washington's unilateral decision to attack Afghanistan rather than turn the issue over to the United Nations.
Mr. Regehr said his organization and others have tried to focus attention on the root causes of terrorism, including U.S. Government actions that have fomented hatred for America, particularly in the Middle East. "Attention to the roots doesn't signify tolerance [for terrorism]," he added. "What it means is that we've got to get the response right."
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