MORE DIEBOLD VOTE FIXERS
In “Fighting for a Fair Vote” [June 26], John Nichols approvingly cites the candidacy of Democratic State Senator Debra Bowen for California Secretary of State. Bowen has a laudable concern about hackable paperless electronic voting machines like the Diebold machines that were banned by Secretary of State Kevin Shelley–before the Republicans dug up some dirt on him, forced him out of office and replaced him with Bruce McPherson, a Republican who sneakily re-certified Diebold machines for California back in February. So Senator Bowen’s quest to become Secretary of State could well depend upon questionable Diebold electronic voting machines. Lots of luck, Senator Bowen: You’re going to need it.
MR. PANTSONFIRE & THE MEDIA
As a hard-news reporter who recently retired after almost forty years at The Oregonian, the biggest daily newspaper in the Northwest, I think Eric Alterman’s observations about the nation’s news media are right on target [“The Liberal Media,” June 26]. The media’s gutless reaction to George W. Bush’s commitment to lying whenever possible about whatever possible has been driving me nuts. I can’t figure out why the MSM individually and collectively have not hung Mr. Forked Tongue out to dry. I’m beginning to think he could molest 6-year-olds on the White House lawn and get plaudits for assertiveness from the media.
JOHN PAINTER JR.
VETS & CINDY–STANDING TOGETHER
Mountain View, Calif.
Thank you, Karen Houppert, for “Cindy Sheehan: Mother of a Movement?” [June 12], on one of my heroes. A photo of a grieving Sheehan is on my refrigerator next to snapshots of my beautiful sons and daughter-in-law, as a reminder of how this war affects us at the family level.
Karen Houppert’s excellent article didn’t mention that Cindy is the author of three books: Not One More Mother’s Child, Dear President Bush and Peace Mom (coming in September). After long days traveling and speaking, she often stays up into the night writing on her laptop. Italian Nobel Laureate Dario Fo has said, “There is a rhythm and tempo in her prose which recalls the great epic writers of Greece. Cindy is a born writer.”
Publisher, Koa Books
College Park, Md.
Karen Houppert cites my Washington Post article “On the Home Front: The Politics of Motherhood” to show that Cindy Sheehan has been criticized for “speaking beyond her place as a mother.” Her analysis of the Sheehan controversy is correct, but she doesn’t address the underlying central struggle between private and public.
Is “mother” a private identity whose proper place is the private sphere of family life? Is that why so many people find it troubling that a mother would publicly mourn her private loss? For parents who lose a child in the public service of their nation, the illusion of the “private” sphere–safe from government intrusion–is gone forever. In such cases the expectation that private opinions about issues like war should be kept out of the public (read: political) sphere is unrealistic. And we all know this. It’s why the government has awarded Gold Stars to mothers who lost their sons in wars since WWI. It’s why President Lyndon Johnson addressed his 1965 propaganda film, Why Vietnam?, to mothers who wanted to know why their sons were being drafted into a conflict halfway around the world. It’s why authoritarian regimes from Ceausescu to Videla and Stalin have cast mothers as essential players in the narrative of the “new” nation.
Mothers are powerful, but not always in ways that traditional politics are comfortable with. They blur the line between the public and the private in ways that threaten the hegemony of the state. The more nuclear, isolated and patriarchal a family, the more likely its members will be to fall in line with the state. Sheehan’s family is none of these, which is why she gets so much press. She asks us to acknowledge that the interests of the public, national “family” can be profoundly threatened by the bonds of the private, nuclear family. She claims that all issues in a democracy are really public, despite our efforts to hide from them in our private worlds. Without great imagination or tragic personal loss, these are realities that few of us are comfortable facing.
Jersey City, NJ
Karen Houppert claims that Veterans for Peace organizers were worried that Cindy Sheehan’s protest would draw members and media attention away from their convention and that “somewhat reluctantly” a busload of protesters was sent to Crawford.
Excuse me? When Cindy came to speak at our national convention, she had already announced her intention to camp out at Bush’s vacation ranch. I urged our members to divide our forces so we could support this Gold Star Mom and also continue the convention business. I used the analogy of a military company, saying we should send a platoon on this special operation to open up a new front opposing Bush’s war. Early next morning those going with Cindy boarded the Mendocino Chapter 116 White Rose Impeachment Tour bus, as well as numerous cars, and convoyed to Crawford.
Over the next month large numbers of Veterans for Peace members stayed in “the ditch,” many for the duration. When we broke camp, we ran a three-vehicle Bring Them Home Now bus tour through many cities in the South, East and Midwest to help build for the big September 2005 march in Washington as well as sending a fourth bus to the Gulf Coast to conduct Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.
If Houppert asks any of the thousands of people involved in this campaign, she will find no one who says we “reluctantly” agreed to any of these actions.
National president, Veterans for Peace
Deer Park, NY
Karen Houppert gives a positive description of the massive impact this dedicated and heroic woman has had on today’s peace movement. However, she continually refers to the “antiwar” movement. How quaint and retro ’60s-ish! The movement Cindy Sheehan is a spokesperson for is much broader than merely “antiwar.” From the coalition of organizations forming United for Peace and Justice to Veterans for Peace, who strongly supported and provided logistical support for Camp Casey last August, the movement articulates an enlightened progressive agenda for substantive, even revolutionary, change in American policy and politics. To characterize it merely as “antiwar” diminishes its goals and objectives.
I take exception to Karen Houppert’s characterization of VFP’s reluctance to accompany Cindy on her initial foray to Crawford. I and many others were extremely enthusiastic to make the trip. And our membership, along with the Iraq Veterans Against the War, has ceaselessly supported and accompanied Cindy on all her actions.
We are not and never have been just “antiwar protesters.” We are veterans of America’s wars who oppose war as a national policy. It is precisely our experience as veterans that brings us to an antiwar movement. Karen Houppert does us dishonor and indicates she has little feel or knowledge for who we are, what we have to say and who was on that bus with Cindy when she left our convention in Dallas for Crawford. Don’t swiftboat us!
As a Vietnam-era veteran and 2005 VFP convention delegate from Nashville, I met and listened to Cindy Sheehan and was deeply moved by her life story and “Call to Crawford.” My only “reluctance,” probably for the majority of those in attendance, was that I (we) could not be at two places at one time! We not only morally applauded our fellow delegates joining Cindy “in the trenches” at Crawford but provided funds for our VFPers to take our Impeach Bush campaign on the road with Cindy to Crawford. I stayed at the convention, but I later made a “save our soldiers, save our democracy” pilgrimage to Crawford. There with me were two brothers-in-arms: a WWII soldier wounded at Bastogne and a Vietnam vet who is now a minister. We took turns waving Old Glory under the Texas sky and stood a solemn vigil to honor all the Casey Sheehans of this “pre-emptive” war and to protest Bush’s illegal and immoral war on the Iraqi people and the US Constitution.
Several sources I spoke to described some heated debate at the 2005 Vets for Peace conference over whether to trek to Crawford in support of Sheehan’s protest or whether to focus participants’ energies on something closer to home for the annual conference-related day of protest. Perhaps this was just the healthy tug-of-war democratic organizations engage in when gambling on how best to allocate limited resources and manpower. In any case, I certainly never intended to imply that Veterans for Peace is a reluctant supporter of Sheehan today–or vice versa.
EXTREMIST MUSLIMS IN AFRICA
Fatin Abbas’s review of Wole Soyinka’s latest memoir in your Spring Books Issue is very informative [“Dining With Devils,” May 29]. But like most progressives, she seems to have a disturbingly benign view of Islam. Soyinka is hardly alone in his criticism of Arabs and Islam. Nor is he alone in his criticism of Ali Mazrui and his public television series The Africans: Many intellectuals and scholars share Soyinka’s views on Arabs, Muslims and the TV series.
While it is certainly debatable whether “Islamic civilization was as devastating to Africa as Western colonization,” there should be no denying that extremist Muslims have wrought much damage on Africa and the collective psyche of its people. Do Nation readers really need to be reminded of the horrors occurring in Sudan? One could also look at Soyinka’s native Nigeria and see the horrific results of Sharia law in numerous Nigerian states. Thousands of Nigerians have been killed over the past few years as a result of religious violence, usually, though not always, initiated by fanatical Muslims. In Somalia, Muslims are spreading terror throughout that troubled land.
Militant Muslims have destroyed numerous African shrines, churches and non-Muslim objects of worship throughout the continent. In Senegal, Sudan and other African nations, many black Muslims identify more closely with Arabic culture than with indigenous African culture. It is time progressives abandoned the notion that Islam is benign. Those Africans, and people in many other parts of the world who are victimized by Islamists, do not have the luxury of ignoring the fanatics who are making their lives a hell on earth.
NORM R. ALLEN JR.
Deputy editor, Free Inquiry magazine