Activists fast in war protest
By Prabhat Mehta
Armed with only water, lemon juice, and fresh lemons and limes, antiwar activists began fasting at noon Wednesday, in remembrance of the casualties resulting from Operation Desert Storm. The students are spending much of their time in a special camp set up by the MIT Initiative for Peace in the Middle East in the back of Lobby 7, next to the entrance to the Infinite Corridor.
Five students -- Sam Grant K. Emison G, Archon Fung G, Jory D. Bell '91, Todd W. Rowland '92 and a student who wished to remain anonymous -- intend to fast for an entire week, while several other students said they will fast until today or tomorrow, or at broken intervals. Another student, Ajay G. Advani '91, said he is taking his fast "day by day."
About 10 students -- some fasting, others merely expressing support -- were present at the carpeted camp last night, a few minutes past 10 pm. Generally reserved and somber, the group nonetheless appeared determined to press ahead with its antiwar efforts.
"If [other students] see some people enduring just a little bit of pain here, they'll think about some of the pain over there in Iraq," Fung said.
Planning for the fast began in response to the allied forces' initiation of a ground war last weekend. But with news of rapid military success in the liberation of Kuwait, the purpose of the fast turned to remembering "the tens of thousands who have been killed."
(In a televised address Wednesday evening, President George Bush proclaimed allied victory and announced that a cease-fire would begin that night at 12:00 am EST.)
"To a lot of people it's the end of a war and a time to celebrate," said Hninhnin Pyne G, who intends to fast until today. "One of the reasons why we're here is because we want people to stop and think. . . . A lot of people have died."
Pyne's statements echoed the concerns of both fasting students and their supporters for Iraqi casualties in the war. Several students at the camp remarked that while many Americans are breathing a sigh of relief at the relatively low number of US deaths, Iraqis have suffered tens of thousands of deaths.
"So far everyone at MIT who talks about the war thinks about it in cold, analytic terms," Fung said. "I think the only way to think about war is emotionally. . . . People have to think with their hearts."
Pyne said her decision to fast was affected largely by a sense of sadness and frustration over the outcome of the Persian Gulf crisis. "I was frustrated by not being able to do anything about the war," she said.
Another reason Pyne gave for her involvement was the continued need to raise awareness and inform people about the situation in the Middle East. "People aren't getting the right information or enough information," she said.
Despite a general feeling of frustration, many activists said they were pleased by the response they were receiving from the MIT community.
"The number of people who've stopped by has been tremendous," Bell said. "We've been giving out a lot of black-and-white ribbons," he added.
A less enthusiastic Fung said, "Some people just murmur stuff, like, `Why are you here?' Others have stopped by."
The Lobby 7 camp has tables stocked with information, posters for upcoming events and other materials, including the black-and-white ribbons. Many of the items in the camp come from the Initiative's for Peace's information center -- the "Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Center" -- on the third floor of the Julius A. Stratton '23 Student Center.
Activists plan to stay in Lobby 7 at least until the week-long fasts are completed. So far, the group has not run into any problems from the administration, Advani said.