Position Statement

Statement on Peace, Justice and Resistance to War

Maulana Karenga
Chair, The Organization Us and
the National Association of Kawaida Organizations (NAKO)

2003 February 28

We live in difficult and dangerous times and now stand, bracing ourselves, on the brink of an almost certain war which could engulf the world in ways no one can perceive or predict. And yet we must be clear on where we stand and stand there resolutely. We stand with the oppressed who struggle for freedom, the wronged and injured who struggle for justice, the masses of people who struggle for power over their destiny and daily lives, and the peoples of the world who struggle for peace in their own time and place. Surely, it is the teachings of the ancestors in the Husia that say we are morally obligated "to bear witness to truth and to set the scales of justice in their proper place among those who have no voice." Thus, we stand in active solidarity with the actual and intended victims of aggression, occupation, neocolonialism, racism, sexism, classism and all other forms of oppression and constraints on human freedom and human flourishing.

We issue this statement, then, in resistance and opposition to the proposed war against Iraq which by definition is a war against the Iraqi people without justification and thus unjust, immoral and illegal. This position evolves from the ancient and ongoing tradition of our ancestors which teaches us to respect life, to love justice, to cherish freedom, to treasure peace, and to constantly struggle to bring good in the world and not let any good be lost. It is the ethical tradition of the Husia and the Odu Ifa, of Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Henry McNeal Turner, Fannie Lou Hamer, Malcolm X, Ella Baker, Martin Luther King and others who taught us a rightful way to walk in the world. It is a tradition which rejects the policy of peace for the powerful and war for the vulnerable, dominance and security for the rich and right race and oppression and insecurity for all others in the world. We stand resolutely among the peoples of the world who reject and resist this unjust war as we struggle for freedom for the oppressed, justice for the injured and wronged, power for all people over their destiny and daily lives, and peace for the world. And for us peace is the practice of justice which ends oppression and hostilities and provides security and well-being for all.

We call on African peoples everywhere to stand in active solidarity with the peoples of the world who have overwhelmingly rejected and resist this proposed war which is without moral and legal limits, and without due respect for collective considered judgment at home or abroad. In taking this stand, we also reject the willful misreading of the meaning of the tragic events of 9/11 and the manipulation of the resultant fear and sense of insecurity in order to wage a self-defined preemptive and limitless war of aggression, curtail and violate human and civil rights and establish a racial and cultural imperium in the world.

For the proposed war against Iraq is not an isolated initiative. Rather, it is part of a post-9/11 imperial offensive which carries with it racist and colonial conversations and commitments of "crusades" to protect "the civilized world" against "dark and evil nations" in "dark corners of the world." And if it is not checked, it will have a profoundly negative effect on the struggles for freedom, justice and peace in the world. Our position against war with Iraq is informed by the ancient African moral understanding that we are to pursue peace always, conscientiously avoid war, and engage even in just war reluctantly and with considered moral restraint. The aim here is to cultivate a predisposition for peace and a presumption against war and where war cannot be avoided, to provide guidelines to restrict its conduct and reduce its devastating consequences. Within this framework, our ethical tradition requires several conditions for a just war which the proposed war against the Iraqi people by the Bush administration does not meet. These criteria are: 1) just cause; 2) collective considered judgment; 3) just means; 4) consequences of common good, and; 5) last resort.

Just Cause.
There is no just cause for a war against Iraq. A just cause or just war cannot be aggressive or preemptive. It must always be defensive and it can be defensive in three possible ways, i.e., as: (a) an act of self-defense against immediate attack or imminent grave danger in the process of unfolding; (b) a liberation struggle against foreign occupation or severe internal oppression and (c) a humanitarian intervention to prevent or halt genocide, ethnic cleansing or any other massive killing of a whole population. The U.S. attempt to use the first justification is false on its face. There is no evidence of attack, involvement in an attack or an imminent attack on the U.S. by Iraq. Nor is there any evidence of Iraq’s having the ability to seriously attack or harm the U.S. or its allies, given the devastation it has suffered in the U.S.-led invasion of 1991 and the sustained brutal bombing by the U.S. and Britain ever since then. Moreover, there is no provision in the U.N. Charter for wars of preemptive aggression, or for overthrowing governments, assassinating leaders of other countries or conquering and colonizing other countries for national, corporate or family interests. Indeed such aggression is called "a crime against peace" and international law.

Therefore, the Bush Administration is rushing to wage a war not of self-defense but rather a war of self-aggrandizement - in a word, a war of vigilante aggression, outlaw resource acquisition and imperial expansion against a vulnerable and long-suffering people. More precisely, it is a war: (a) to seize and control the oilfields, water and strategic position of Iraq; (b) to expand and consolidate U.S. dominance of the Middle East and in the process strengthen its ally Israel, in its occupation of Palestine and in its status as the dominant power in the region; (c) to enhance the US’ and Israel’s capacity to dictate limitations on the inevitable Palestinian state; (d) to terrorize and cower other states and people who oppose its policies; and (e) to reaffirm and insure white hegemony in the region and the world, militarily, politically, economically and culturally. In a word, it is racialized globalization in its rawest and most ruthless form - i.e., white supremacy expanding and consolidating its presence and power in the world, camouflaging its quest to empire with claims of concern for national security and masking its racial aspects with culturally-coded references to saving the "civilized world."

Collective Considered Judgment.
War as a life-and-death matter should not be decided or declared without adequate discussion and debate. Nor should it be declared in the name of a people without their counsel and consent or be waged on behalf of a world that has overwhelmingly rejected it as unjust, illegitimate and immoral. The gravity of war requires a vigorous and varied public discussion that works its way through the customary mix of fact, fiction and manipulated fear and meaningfully addresses issues of morality, law, politics and horrific consequences of such a grave decision and act. The Bush administration has not explained in an honest and open way the horrible consequences and costs of war for Iraq, the U.S., the region and the world, nor offered space for public discussion, debate and dissent. And Congress, except for a courageous few, has conceded in submissive silence. Indeed, the Bush regime and its media allies have worked to discourage and divert public debate from the issue. In the wake of the tragic events of 9/11, they have cultivated a culture of fear and false alarm to suppress and cast suspicion on dissent from the official line, even suggesting that those who dissent are treading on treasonous ground and "should watch what they say and do." Also, they have created an endless enemies list and given the country daily doses of possible dangerous discoveries which range from missing vials of viruses to suspicious Muslim charities. And they have created a daily regimen of elementary school color-coded alerts to inspire different levels of alarm, fear and uncertainty.

Moreover, they have refused to discuss the occupation and liberation of Palestine, even though it is at the heart of the Middle East crisis and has unavoidable implications for peace, freedom and justice in the region and the world. Also, the Bush administration has framed its discourse and policies in fundamentalist religious ideas of the evil in the world and the evil of the world. In such a context, the president transforms into a preacher who demonizes countries and their leaders, prays for guidance to war and sermonizes on the need for an endless war and crusade to "rid the world of evil."

Moreover, with characteristic religious certainty, Bush has tried to devalue and discredit the unprecedented international opposition to the war which has emerged so quickly and extensively. In defiance of world opinion, international law, and the will of the American people, Bush has declared he will wage war with or without UN consent or cooperation. Seeking support only as a desirable cover for his conduct, he shows disdain for diplomacy and contempt even for his allies and rules persons, nations and the UN irrelevant unless they accept the rightness of his irrational and reckless rush to war. Furthermore, he has bullied, bribed and promised punishment to states to coerce them into compliance and silence. He thus has tried to stifle and discredit dissent, invoked peace while demanding war, and argued against dictatorship while dismissing the democratic dissent and will of the country, the UN and the world.

Just Means.
Even in the case of a justified use of force, a just war by definition is a limited war, a war with moral and legal limits. The principle of just means, thus, requires a conscientious effort to restrict and reduce the deaths, damage and devastation of war, especially in relation to innocent civilians. This demands discriminate and proportionate use of force, a condition not met by the Bush administration’s plans for the largest and most devastating bombing raids on Iraq since WW II and Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Indeed, the Bush administration boasts of its bombing intentions as if they were invoking a divine appearance, one which they say will cause "shock and awe."

The estimated deaths for an attack on Baghdad are extremely high and the resultant refugee population will also create additional burdens and pain for a long-suffering people. Already the U.S. and British incessant bombing and use of degraded uranium shells and the cruel and unjust sanctions against the Iraqi people have caused approximately a million deaths and injuries, increased cancer and birth defects and widespread malnutrition, as well as greatly damaged the country’s infrastructure. An intensified war with weapons of catastrophic consequences can only cause even more undeserved casualties and suffering to the Iraqi people.

The planned use of so-called "overwhelming force" and weapons of catastrophic consequences in Iraq insures massive civilian deaths and injures and extreme devastation of civilian infrastructure and the environment must be condemned and resisted. Such massive attacks, especially on cities and population centers are clear crimes against humanity and must be condemned and resisted. For they do not restrict weapons use nor the targets attacked. On the contrary, the bombing of Baghdad and other cities would make targets out of innocent civilians caught up in circumstances not of their making and not in their control.

Calling the mass killing of civilians collateral damage does not eliminate or ease the moral imperative to avoid the targeting and injuring of innocents. Nor does it hide the horrific nature of the use of disproportionate violence from high-tech catastrophic weapons which creates a greater evil than the supposed evil to be overcome. Indeed, for all the talk about the evil of weapons of catastrophic destruction, the catastrophic weapons which the U.S. boasts about will have similar devastating consequences. The U.S. has promised to use most of them in the planned war and has threatened to use even nuclear ones. In fact, the glorification of these high tech weapons of mass destruction and talk of their "precision" and "smartness" help to desensitize the American public to the planned deaths of the distant, demonized and degraded people now called enemy. They cultivate a callousness born of physical and emotional distance from the actual killing fields and the desire for a quick and devastating victory over the so-called evil enemy. Thus, delivery of the crushing blow is turned over to high-flying piloted and pilotless planes and distant computers which are not concerned with ground zero collateral damage. But we are morally compelled to be concerned, for this so-called collateral damage is dead and injured people and their devastated homes, hospitals, schools, factories, food and water supply and places of worship as well as other civilian infrastructures essential to the life and well-being of the people.

Consequences of Common Good.
There are no consequences of common good for such an unprovoked, unjustifiable and unjust war. It is grossly wrong and does not benefit the world or the American people to kill and wound thousands and thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians, half of whom are children; to conquer and occupy their country; to seize their oil, water and other resources; to damage and destroy irreplaceable treasures from one of humanity’s oldest civilizations, paralleling ancient Egypt in its age and importance to human history; to contaminate, degrade and devastate the environment of Iraq and neighboring areas; to violate international law and weaken international institutions; to trample on the right of self-determination of peoples; to destabilize the region and the world; to cause unnecessary casualties among U.S. and Iraqi soldiers in an unjust war; to encourage and provoke inevitable retaliatory attacks against the U.S. and its people in this country and around the world and to squander needed resources for social and human good on a needless and unjust war.

Clearly the human, environmental, economic and political costs outweigh the weak, transparent and self-serving arguments put forth for a preemptive war of aggression. The human cost to the Iraqi people are incalculable, especially for the vulnerable, children, women, the ill and aged who always suffer most in wars. People of color and the poor of the U.S. who are represented in the U.S. army in disproportionate numbers will pay a great price with lives lost in greater numbers and through the diversion of needed resources to a war the whole world condemns. In a word, domestic needs for housing, food, health care, education, employment and other vital requirements for social well-being will be sacrificed on the altar of racialist reasoning and imperialist assertion of power in the world.

Last Resort.
The principle of last resort grows out of a predisposition for peace and a presumption against war. It assumes, as the Odu Ifa teaches, that "war ruins the world" and is a great evil which should be avoided. Moreover, it assumes a rational and moral preference for peace over war and is always reluctant to wreak the havoc of death and devastation on the world that comes with war, even a defensive one. By definition a preemptive war is not a last resort, but the first even prior resort. For to preempt is to act prior to - prior to discussion, negotiation and the pursuit of alternatives to war. Preemptive war, then, is by definition, preemptive aggression. And in spite of the Bush administration’s raising the issue of self-defense, there is no issue of threat or attack. Even his intelligence agencies, before being coerced into compliance with the thrust for war, reported Iraq offered no real threat to the U.S.

Having failed to kill or capture its targeted prey in a war of retribution for 9/11, the Bush administration has turned our attention to a new demon and a war of manifest destiny and colonial "democracy" in a quixotic attempt to remake the Arab and Islamic world in its own image and interest. Having failed in its policies at home, it turns our attention to the quest for a quick, destructive and diversionary victory abroad. Bush proposes to achieve peace by waging an unjust and illegal war and to protect the world from a fantasized threat by violating international law and weakening international institutions in a series of actions resembling a rogue state. He proposes to teach the Iraqi people democracy by conquering them and imposing a U.S. military dictatorship over them until they are "mature" according to his measure. And he promises to protect this country from group terrorism by practicing a state terrorism against an already devastated country and long-suffering people.

It is a project that reeks with "chosen race" and messianic notions of U.S. power and place in the world. It assumes the U.S. has the might and thus the right to impose a pax Americana on the world and secure its safety through unilateral preemptive aggressive actions against any suspected and vulnerable threats. But peace and the security it cultivates cannot be built on or depend on the whims and weapons of a superpower acting unilaterally and against the opinion and interests of the world. Peace is a self-conscious and cooperative task, a shared good achieved through justice, reaffirmed in freedom and reinforced in mutual respect for the rights and needs of all.

To act coercively and unilaterally outside international law and international institutions is not only to set a dangerous precedent of international vigilantism and further erode both international law and institutions. It is also reinforces the evolving conception in the world that the U.S. is a superpower rogue state which dismisses international opinion, violates international norms and has no constraints or checks except what it wishes to impose on itself and is thus a real threat to the world. In such a context, the imperative of defense becomes one of arming like North Korea and not finding oneself vulnerable like Iraq.

A real concern for peace and security in the world must cultivate and sustain a comprehensive approach. It must realize there is no security without peace, no peace without justice, no justice without freedom and no freedom without the power of people over their destiny and daily lives everywhere whether in the U.S., Afghanistan, Iraq or Palestine. Thus, it must avoid the selective morality and hypocrisy of war on a weak Iraq and negotiation for a nuclear-armed North Korea, of approving Israel’s possession of weapons of mass destruction and prohibiting other states in the region from having them with threats of attack, of waging war to free an occupied Kuwait, and vetoing and dismissing initiatives to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Likewise, peace for the Middle East and the world must include the liberation and statehood of Palestine, self-determination or autonomy for the Kurds, freedom for other oppressed peoples, justice for all and the elimination of weapons of mass destruction in the region and the world.

The long and difficult task to eliminate WMD’s in the region and the world requires: 1) rejection of the double standard which permits WMD’s for racially and politically favored countries and prohibits them for others; 2) strict observance of conventions against them for all countries, large and small; 3) continuing negotiation for reduction and elimination of them; 4) reinforced systems of safeguard for existing ones; 5) eliminating export of them and related technologies; and 6) an earnest and ongoing struggle to ultimately eliminate armed force as a means of settling conflict among the nations and people of the world. This protracted struggle, the ancestors assure us in the Husia, requires a morality of self-discipline, hard work, patience and peaceful practices that "transforms our enemies into allies and our foes into friends." And at the heart of these practices must be an ethics of sharing, a genuine commitment to and equitable sharing of all the goods of the world. This includes: shared status with no superior or inferior people or person and respect for all as equal bearers of dignity and divinity; shared knowledge in its most profound and useful forms as a human right; shared space of neighborhood, country, environment and the world; shared wealth and resources of the world; shared power in self-determination and democracy; shared interests which are life-affirming and life-enhancing; and shared responsibility for building the good and sustainable world we all want and deserve to live in.