Peacemakers in Our Face

The Families, the Ayatollahs, and Brahimi

By Greg Moses

Call me a fat, Western pacifist, but I’m not in a hurry to choose between gunslingers this week. In view of the dust, fire, and death in Iraq, perhaps there are other choices.

For example, the families. One can simply say “the families” these days. Everyone knows who you are talking about; family members of 9/11 victims.

After the Presidential briefing memo was abruptly de-classified over the Easter/Passover weekend, family members explained how they cut the path to the memo by getting the commission appointed and getting questions asked.

Yet if everyone this week talks about the families, no one has learned how to treat them very well. There are abrupt introductions on television shows: meet the wives of men killed in the twin towers. Hello, thank you for being here.

There are “little notes” that commissioners sometimes read, when catering to the curiosities of the “little people.”

And there is the astonishment that paralyzes the war script when the “wives” or “ladies” are asked–“are you not now more right wing than you were before? Don’t you find yourself more in favor of giving up civil liberties and going after the bad guys with guns?”—-and when all three of the “wives” or “ladies” in response shake their heads no, and look at you. As if it’s true. Boys never do grow up. Now what do you say?

Not that all men are gunslingers. Three Grand Ayatollahs, for instance this week made a peace call to Najaf. Will we learn as much about their action as we learn about soldiers and generals? Not likely. Peacemaking is too quiet for commercial tv. We’d have to be drawn into a complex discussion of the relationships between Americans, Al-Sadr, and the Ayatollahs. We’d need real questions, a real desire to resolve.

Which brings us back to the families. They warn us that the Commission is not asking excellent questions. The families have demanded an investigation, but this is not quite the investigation they asked for. If the commission is not talking about the problem of 9/11 in a way that satisfies families of victims, then we can worry that more families of victims there will be.

“You don’t have to take away someone’s civil liberties in order to get people to talk to each other,” said one of the wives. She was referring to the people in the Executive Branch who conversed so privately and so poorly about threatened hijackings, and who then followed up with really bad, and loudly broadcast discussions about terrorism. Had the conversations been better, who knows where we might be today.

The families say also that key witnesses, whistle blowers, who make themselves and their stories known to the families, are not being called to testify.

As the problem of 9/11 is usually put, either you do nothing or you go to war. But the families argue that a change in conversation would have crucial effects. And they argue that even the conversation that would change the conversation is a conversation not allowed to take place. Not by the commission, not by the media.

President Bush, at his press conference, confirmed that he’s as single-minded as he ever was–“Mr. President, you say the same things over and over again”—but the President also brought with him news that the world’s most renowned peacekeeper, Lakhdar Brahimi, is negotiating on the President’s behalf. Apparently, even the gunslinger wants an end to dust
and death, but doesn’t quite know how to talk his way into it.

Along with news of Brahimi, the families, and the Ayatollahs, this awful week brings hope that highly informed conversations can actually find ways to give the gunslingers a rest.

Meanwhile, I am in no hurry to choose a gunslinger. Until we find the conversations that the families, the Ayatollahs, and Brahimi are looking for; relax, there will always be gunslingers to choose between.

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