As the nation stands on the precipice of war and the plunge seems all but inevitable, how should the antiwar movement respond? Will the peace camp remain true to its principles in the perilous and painful time that lies ahead? The movement will need to consider seriously a number of factors if that is to happen.
There ought not be any demonizing of President Bush or his associates. He is not Hitler or the Saddam of the West, but his theology of good versus evil is sincere though simplistic, in the opinion of many critics. He deserves respect coupled with unremitting dissent.
That dissent should take the form of nonviolent protests free from hate speech, vandalism and unreasonable disruption of public life. Anarchy is simply a form of violence that gives aid and comfort to America's enemies and discredits the peace movement as a whole.
Although antiwar demonstrations have dwarfed pro-invasion rallies thus far, that is beginning to change as the president's backers, including conservative talk-radio stations across the country, mount an offensive to support the war. How will antiwar demonstrators behave when they face war supporters at the corners of Bristol Street and Anton Boulevard in Costa Mesa or Imperial Highway and Brea Boulevard in Brea?
Whether on a street corner or in a living room, the peace camp should practice respectful listening to the other side's arguments. Kay Lindahl of Laguna Niguel, a prominent peace and interfaith activist and author of "The Sacred Art of Listening," believes we must "honor the other position" and "hold some space" for it. (Of course, this counsel ought to apply both ways.) The alternative to such sacred civility is polarization and mischaracterization of the worst kind.
Peace activists must remember that the potential for war in Iraq is prompting differing responses from religious communities. According to the Web-based religion site beliefnet.com, liberal Protestant, Roman Catholic and Muslim groups tend to oppose the war, and Jewish groups want to exhaust other alternatives before any invasion. Southern Baptists (and presumably most other evangelicals) favor the war. The pope opposes war, former President and Nobel laureate Jimmy Carter favors an extension of inspections, and Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel supports Bush's position.
This is an immensely complex ethical and religious question.
Our young servicemen and women need prayers, admiration and compassion. We must not allow the mistakes of the Vietnam era to be repeated. One concrete way to show such compassion is to send care packages to the troops via the USO (www.uso.org). Moral and financial support for innocent Iraqi civilians also will be imperative once hostilities cease.
Religious and political leaders and human rights organizations must be vigilant to speak out forcefully against any anti-Arab and anti-Muslim backlash -- especially if Saddam employs chemical or biological agents and the number of U.S. war dead starts to rise. The recent ugly beating of an Arab American high school student in Yorba Linda that may have had a racist motivation should remind us of the potential for hate crimes. Moreover, certain provisions of the Patriot Act -- including some already being challenged by civil libertarians -- must not be used as a pretext for rounding up or otherwise harassing innocent persons from the Arab or Muslim communities.
In a parallel way, anti-Semitism must be checked, should those on the far left of the peace movement start blaming the war on Israel and its U.S. supporters. David Brooks of the Weekly Standard wrote recently that "anti-Semitism is alive and thriving. It's just that its epicenter is no longer on the Buchananite right, but on the peace-movement left.... I occasionally get reports about conversations at sophisticated Washington dinner parties that turn into gripe sessions about the Israeli agents who have grabbed control of President Bush's brain."
Finally, people of peace should not only keep up the pressure on the Bush administration but also give gifts of service to the world that provide a positive energy outlet in the midst of the negative energy of war, death and destruction.
An example of this is the work of the congregants of Christ Presbyterian Church in Edina, Minn., who -- as reported on PBS's Religion and Ethics Newsweekly -- have adopted an AIDS-ravaged village in Uganda and donated more than $1 million in assistance.
Although this action was undertaken simply out of Christian charity with no antiwar incentive, it is illustrative of what peace groups nationwide might do at this time.
This is a time that tries the souls of women and men of conscience no matter what their views are on the war, and that calls for moral courage.