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Hundreds Gather at Rally for Peace

By W.S. Wang


Hundreds of students, faculty, and staff gathered on the McDermott Dot yesterday for MIT’s Rally for Peace, sponsored by the MIT Social Justice Cooperative. The event was the initiative of over a hundred and fifty college peace organizations across America. A press release issued by the event’s national organizers said that people on campuses all over the nation met yesterday at noon to “offer our condolences and support for the victims” and to “reaffirm the sanctity of life by seeking peace and justice in the wake of Tuesday’s tragedy.”

Students on both sides at the rally

Rajesh Kasturirangan G, one of three student speakers at yesterday’s rally, read a statement on behalf of a group of Southeast Asians urging Americans to “learn from our mistakes of the past and not repeat them.” Citing the murder of a Sikh in Arizona and the stabbing of a Boston University student of Arab descent, the statement called for an end to hasty discrimination.

Payal P. Parekh G recited a poem titled “Where the Mind is Without Fear” that celebrated the human spirit, by a Nobel Prize-winning Bengali poet.

However, there were students who did not agree with the message of peace. Some stood a few feet from the Dot’s perimeter, while others wandered through the crowd. They bore signs and flyers with messages such as “Avenge American Casualties of War,” “Support America,” and “Pacifism invites Terrorism.”

Professors offer perspective

Jean E. Jackson, a professor of anthropology, was the first of four MIT professors to address the crowd yesterday afternoon. “Making war on terrorism is a dangerous metaphor,” she said. “Bring [these perpetrators] to justice through legal means.” Jackson is a member of MIT’s Faculty Council on human rights and justice.

“A free society is vulnerable, but that is a strength,” she said. “Let’s resist the call to revenge and find justice, space, recognition, and human dignity for all.”

Linguistics Professor Wayne O’Neil, a member of the MIT Committee on the Middle East, spoke of U.S. soldiers painting sarcastically happy messages on missiles to be launched on Iraq. “Is this not as bad as Palestinians celebrating?” he asked the crowd.

O’Neil also discussed some old United States policies, including sanctions of Iraq and favoritism towards Israel. He called for “Operation Peaceful Justice” rather than “Operation Infinite Justice,” so that Americans can “bring ourselves and our country to justice, not just the perpetrators.”

Assistant Professor of Urban Studies and Planning Balakrishnan Rajagopal, director of the MIT Program on Human Rights and Justice, said that “law should be the answer to violence ... slaughter of innocents in response to slaughter of innocents is not justified under international law.” He added that “there is no lack of framework in response to terrorism in the legal system.”

Hugh Gusterson, an associate professor of anthropology and a specialist on the politics of weapons, said “if we bomb the Middle East, it will create a new generation of terrorists.” He also voiced concerns that anti-America sentiments may sweep away America-friendly yet fragile governments there.

Ayida Mthembu, the associate dean of counseling and support services and associate housemaster of East Campus, responded to the people on the periphery with “Support America” signs by saying that she is “a big supporter of America.” This country was unique in having “a possibility of all races working together,” she said. Fearing that “we are so close to being in the quagmire just like Vietnam,” she called for the celebration of activism by “stepping out of the sidelines and into the reality.”

Students react to rally

Aimee L. Smith G said the peace rally showed “there’s a community at MIT for people who want alternatives for war.”

Aram W. Harrow G agreed. “Although peace is hard to defend, war is much harder to defend,” he said. However, he also conceded that “it will be a challenge as to where to go next.”

For Mthembu, the message to this generation of Americans should be “raise your voices. Raise your hopes. Push forward on initiatives” to ensure democracy.

Brian M. Loux contributed to the reporting of this story.