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Monday, 30 May 2011

PEACE VIGIL - Bring our troops back

A tribute to Capture of Osama Bin-Laden
On Sunday May 1st America rejoiced in learning that Osama bin-Laden, the alleged mastermind behind the terrorism attack of September 11, 2001, was killed and breathed a sigh of relief. 

As the story of the capture and assassination of Osama bin-Laden by U.S. Navy SEALs was unfolding the operation prompted questions. Why did we have to sacrifice so many lives and spend billions to bring Osama to Justice? Why couldn’t we do it without waging a war and sending our troops halfway around the world?  Why did we have to put our kids in harms way and send them to faraway lands to capture Osama? Perhaps the following quote by Winston Churchill, the famous British Prime Minister, says it best, "You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing—after they have tried everything else." 

Let’s have a ride to downtown Glendale to meet a dedicated corps of people who come together on Friday evenings to demonstrate opposition to the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq, and see how the group perceives the operation that killed Osama bin-Laden

They call themselves the Glendale Peace Vigil.  They come every Friday – rain or shine.  They bring signs, banners and their hopeful spirits.   They are there to fight injustice.  They say war makes our lives less safe because it creates enemies for America – it brings terrorism, it depletes our coffers and it consumes the money that can be spent on the country’s infrastructure. 

Perhaps there are thousands in Glendale, who believe in their hearts that the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan are futile and that our troops should be returned home.  But only this handful of Glendalians sacrifice the comfort of their homes and make their voices heard by showing up on Friday evenings to protest the wars and the mistakes of the government.  They meet from 5 to 7p.m. at the southwest corner of Brand and Broadway.  Julianne Spillman and Nancy Kent spearheaded the group in September of 2002, six months before the troops were deployed in Iraq. 

Kent, a soft-spoken petite woman, with flat short hair in her 60s, is quick to iterate her opinion for the assassination of bin-Laden: “The irony is that bin-Laden wasn't even found in Afghanistan. He was in Pakistan.  And not captured by 100,000 ground forces in Afghanistan. It was a small sophisticated tracking effort of a few dozen.” She points that the war in Afghanistan has already cost us so much, in terms of the lives of our soldiers and many civilians.  She adds, “The only thing a war does is to create more Osamas.”

Who are these people? The Peace Vigil started during the fall of 2002.  Kent recounts the story, “There were a lot of protests against the war of Afghanistan that was already underway and people were against the upcoming War in Iraq. The main Vigil was in front of the Federal building on Wilshire.  Julianne and I thought instead of driving to Wilshire, why not to start our own group. That’s how we formed the Glendale Peace Vigil.” She continues, “At the beginning, before the war of Iraq got on its way, there were more people, but after the war in Iraq started, the number has dropped. At the beginning we were getting 20 to 40 people, but the number has gone down and now only eight or ten regularly show up. In case of rain we get protection under the overhang of the Glendale Galleria.”

Julianne Spillman has a knee problem so she comes in her scooter-wheelchair.  She is in her 70s.  She is from Michigan where she was active in peace groups before coming to Glendale.  She says proudly that she has brought the Raging Grannies to California. 

The Raging Grannies movement was founded in Canada and has been expanded to Israel, Japan, Greece, England and the United States.  The group makes its message of peace heard through parodies that they stage on street corners.

Julianne in her scooter is holding a curious sign printed in red and blue. It’s hard to tell what it means: “STOP – WAR on WORKERS.”  It refers to taking away the rights of the Union in Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio. She wears the group’s white T-shirt that has a picture of a white dove holding an olive branch in its beak. The “Glendale Peace Vigil” is printed with calligraphy. 

Kent holds in her hands two signs a small round Peace symbol and another sign that says 90.7 FM KPFK.  She explains, “KPFK is a commercial-free, listener-sponsored radio.” She smiles and continues, “Most radio stations are owned by large corporations or oil industries. We’d like to encourage people to listen to KPFK, during their morning commute.”  She passes small size 4-by-5-inch yellow flyers with information about KPFK radio. The flyer promotes the syndicated program of the news “Democracy Now!” hosted by investigative journalists Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez.  Monday to Friday 6 to 7a.m., which repeats at 9a.m.  She emphasizes, “KPFK is ‘powered’ by the people without a corporate filter.” Kent wears the Peace T-shirt.

A few feet away from Kent is Sharon Weisman, a tall woman in her 60s.  Her hair is in simple ponytail.  She also wears the group’s white T-shirt.  Her sign reads, “NO WAR. NO EMPIRE, NO OCCUPATION.” That’s self-explanatory.  But she likes to educate me.  She says, “The United States spends 46 percent of the total money globally spent on military, whereas China spends only 6.6%.”
A man approaches.  He is wearing a white dress shirt black dress pants and a baseball cap.  He identifies himself as Vahraz from Iran.  He has joined the group six years ago.  He holds a yellow sign protesting the bombing of Libya.  The yellow sign has a website:  He explains A.N.S.W.E.R  is a coalition that was formed in September of 2001 to end racism and to stop wars.  He tries to explain the absurdity of any war.  
Further down, Norm Anderson and his wife Pearl Anderson are sitting on their folding chairs and behind them rainbow colored flags are willowing.  They’re wearing black  T-shirts with purple letters – it reads:  STR8 – AGAINST – H8  Norm explains the puzzle:  STR8 means: straight.  H8 means: hate.  
The message is: “Straight people, against Hate. “ Number 8 stands also for proposition 8 which overturned the California Supreme Court’s ruling that the same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.”

Norm says they are opposing not only wars but also any injustice, in general. He points to a button among several buttons pinned on his and his wife’s T-shirts.  The button reads: “The true Cost of war.”  There is a date: March 19, 2011.  Norm explains, “On that day my wife and I marched in Hollywood opposing the wars. 

Andersons volunteer for Courage Campaign, an organization supporting gay marriage.  Another button on their T-shirt says: “I do support the freedom to marry.”  Behind them there are several flags willowing. They get up from their folding chairs and extend the flags to show the colors and the sketches.  A few of the flags are multi-colored consisting of stripes in the colors of the rainbow: purple, blue, green, yellow and orange. At the corner there is a blue square with white imprints of two female symbols – a circle, connected to a cross. The other flag has the same rainbow strips but in the center it carries the medallion of the peace sign.

Henry Fliegel is in charge of distribution of flyers.  Today he is distributing an article published in the LA Times on Monday March 7, 2011 about the high cost of oil.  The article tells the history of how United States, during the cold war, trying to ward off the expansion of communism in the Middle East, they decide to make allies with countries such as Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, by furnishing those countries with weapons and promising military backing in case of an invasion of Soviet Union.
The article criticizes all eight Presidents from Nixon to Obama who have not been able to solve the nation’s energy problem and dependency to foreign oil.  The article finishes with the following paragraph: “The president recently described Libya’s oppression of popular unrest as unacceptable. It is. But so is our longstanding failure to address our inadequate domestic policies concerning oil.”

Every Friday Henry prints and brings a batch of new flyers – 200 of them.  Last week he was distributing an old article from the Wall Street Journal of almost two years before – Monday June 1, 2009 by George McGovern, a former U.S. senator and the 1972 Democratic presidential candidate.  The title: My Advice for Obama.  First Mc Govern advises Obama to pull the troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan by November of 2009.  Second to use the military budget to create more jobs, to upgrade the decaying infrastructure and the most importantly to built a high-powered railway system. 
Reverend Skip Lindeman of La Canada Congressional Church, is not part of the Peace Vigil but when asked about the verdict of killing of bin-Laden he brings an analogy: “We may remember the many-headed Hydra of Greek mythology.  What that particular myth says is that if you cut off one head, another grows in its place.” He continues, “I suspect that’s what will happen with al-Qaeda. Osama won’t hurt us anymore, but there are plenty of Hydra heads just waiting to step in and be the next revered terrorist.”

In Montrose area of Glendale, there is another Peace Vigil that meets every Friday evening from 5:30 to 7p.m. at the northwest corner of Honolulu and Ocean View.  The Montrose group has a bigger attendance – sometimes the number reaches to over 15.

The group keeps their vigil next to Vietnam Memorial, built in 1968, which is considered the first in the country.  Same as the downtown group, they bring their banners and flags.  Although the site next to Vietnam Memorial, may seem to be relevant to the theme of “No War,” but Ms. Medford says their location is controversial, because the merchants’ association on Honolulu takes it as a disrespect to soldiers killed in Vietnam…

When asked the question about the death of bin-Laden, Roberta Medford, one of the main founders of the group, says, “The success of concentrated police action, conducted by a small group, huge in skills and backed by superb intelligence should make us stop and seriously question our reliance on an occupying army of 100,000 in Afghanistan.”

Nancy Hutchins, another member of the group, comes direct from work in her high-heel pumps and dressed in a career suit. She holds a beat-up sign saying: “WAR IS OVER.” The words are part of the title of a popular song composed by John Lennon and his wife – Yoko Ono.  The complete title is: “Happy Xmas, War is Over” – it is a protest song about the Vietnam War.

As the group is shuffling to get ready, a young man approaches and introduces himself as Hayk Alcyan, a veteran of US navy, who has served four years from 2006 to 2010 in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He expresses his disdain about the group protesting the wars especially next to Vietnam Memorial.  Jeannel Lavieri who has joined the group in 2007, tries to explain that the group supports and appreciates the military sacrificing their lives and their families to serve the country.  But Alcyan, not satisfied with her response and still arguing and trying to raise his voice, lives the scene muttering to himself, “There will always be wars as long as humans are living on this planet…” He returns to the “Coffee Bean” café, across the street, from where he had noticed the group, to continue his studies. 

A few years ago in March of 2009, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Bed-in-protest, the Montrose Peace Vigil recreated the Bed-in scene at the corner of Ocean View and Honolulu.  On March 25, 1969, the couple had spent a week at their presidential suite at the Amsterdam Hilton to protest the war of Vietnam by inviting the world’s press into their hotel room.

The Montrose group was created in 2006 and same as the main Glendale Peace Vigil in downtown Glendale are vigilant to continue their quest until all troops are called back from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ever heard the famous quote by Margaret Mead, the well-known anthropologist? "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Perhaps these two small Peace Vigil groups will change the world and bring Peace on Earth, a virtue that Alcyan doesn’t believe in it. 

Monday, 23 May 2011

The Islamic Revolution 1979 – putting pieces together

At the time we were not aware that Ayatollah Khomeini was behind all the disobedience and turbulence and that the BBC radio served as a loudspeaker for Khomeini and the opposition. Today I know how it all started.

Strange as it sounds the plan to overthrow the Shah was hatched skillfully by Ayatollah Khomeini 15 years earlier, during his exile in Iraq and later in France. The story goes back to1963 when the late Shah had launched a series of social, cultural and economical reforms. His intention was to transform Iran into a global power – a noble concept. The movement was called the "White Revolution”: it was a long-range plan and consisted of 19 initiatives to be enacted within a 20 year-time period. Among the reform were: abolishing Feudalism, profit sharing with industrial workers, formation of literary and health corps, free education, women’s suffrage, and many measures to fight the existing corruption.
On January 26, 1963, the elements of the White Revolution were put under a referendum and were overwhelmingly approved. These changes didn't sit well with clergy and landowners. They were worried and feared that they would lose their footing. Clergy headed by Ayatollah Khomeini denounced the White Revolution and condemned the Shah for spreading moral corruption.

The feud between clerical class and the state was nothing new; it dated back to the 1920s when Reza Shah Pahlavi, the father of our late Shah, brought forth measures to modernize Persia. The opposition of Ayatollah Khomeini to the Shah lasted almost a whole year, during which he attacked the Shah several times and created riots and disturbances. During those riots I was at middle school; I remember martial law being imposed in Tehran.

At first Khomeini was placed under house arrest, but finally on November 4, 1963, he was escorted to the airport and sent into exile. In his lectures and attacks, Khomeini referred to the Shah as a "wretched miserable man." He rejected the monarchy and warned people: "The day will come when his regime will be overthrown..."

In exile, the Ayatollah spent his time planning a comeback. Over the following decade he built and strengthened his position and set the course of the Revolution of 1979. He reached out to the Shah's secular enemies, to those with democratic ideas, and to the young educated Iranians outside of Iran. He mobilized an army of followers. They spread out through different countries. They organized meetings condemning the monarchy. They systematically steered young Iranians towards an anti-monarchy movement, promoting an Islamic revival.

They were able to win over naive students by brainwashing them. Some of the students who turned against the Shah had been among those whose education abroad had been funded by our government – another travesty.

When I was growing up, I had a notion that the Shah was Devine and it was unthinkable that there would “come a day that he had to say goodbye to his country.” On January 16, 1979 the Shah and his wife, Queen Farah, were forced to leave the country before completing the program of reforms that they had started. Their children had left a few months earlier.

That is how a thirty-seven-year tenure and the golden years of Iran ended.
There are two sides to everything... I say: “the Shah was unjustly criticized.” I recall a few years prior to the revolution we could read articles in Time and Newsweek about the cruel and uncivilized ways the Shah was treating his subjects. It was not true.

I clearly remember an article about President Carter's humanitarian diatribe and how he had targeted the Shah in his human rights campaign by disapproving of the Shah and his policies. 

Farah Pahlavi in her biography "An Enduring Love" says: "...Western journalists, who were so punctilious about respecting freedoms, seemed to see Ayatollah Khomeini as the incarnation of the spiritual..." In my opinion the Shah had dedicated his life to the love of his country and instead he was judged as a dictator.

On February 1, 1979, just two weeks after the Shah left, Khomeini triumphantly returned to Tehran and was greeted by a jubilant crowd estimated at two million. It is said on his way back to Iran, Khomeini was asked by journalist Peter Jennings how he felt to be back after fifteen years in exile. To everyone's surprise, Khomeini answered: "Hitch ehsâssi nadâram" (I don't feel a thing). The answer resonated in the media and made headlines. It was startling. If he didn't have any feelings, why had he pushed so vehemently to oust the Shah? This is how a rigid and oppressive Theocracy replaced the beautiful life we had in Iran.

My kids often ask me, “Mom, why do you get so emotional when remembering the Shah and his family?” I hope this serves as an answer. Recently, I received an email with old pictures of the Shah and his family. I forwarded it to my friend and I got this response: “I think Farrah is so elegant, so beautiful and so calm and poised – a real queen. I thought the Shah was very handsome too. He died homeless - very sad.” Yes, it is sad.