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News ::
Peace Vigil in Remembrance of the Victims of 9-11 and the US War on Terror (english)
11 Sep 2003
On the eve of the 2nd anniversary of 9-11, 250 of us gathered on the Boston Common for a vigil in remembrance of those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks and the ensuing US wars. Organized mainly by local churches, synagogues and mosques, the speakers shared their grief for the dead, their rejection of the hatred driving the attacks on immigrants and the US's wars, and their hope for a better future.
Peace Vigil in Remembrance of the Victims of 9-11 and the US War on Terror
By Matthew Williams

Boston, MA; Sept. 10, 2003--On the eve of the second anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, about 250 of us gathered on the Boston Common around the bandstand for a vigil in remembrance of all those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks of that day and the ensuing US wars on Afghanistan and Iraq. Organized mainly by a coalition of local churches, synagogues and mosques, the speakers shared their grief for the dead, their rejection of the hatred driving the attacks on Arab and Muslim immigrants at home and the US’s war-making abroad, and their hope for a better future, free of bigotry and war.

The vigil was supposed to start at 6:00, but did not start till 6:30 as people--both attendees and the speakers and musical performers--filtered in slowly. The vigil was organized by September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, a group of people who lost loved ones in the 9-11 attacks and are working for a nonviolent response to terrorism, and the Alliance for Jewish-Christian-Muslim Understanding, a group of relatively mainstream churches, synagogues and mosques. So mainstream, in fact, that none of them had ever organized anything like this before. While some of us there were the usual suspects you would expect at a peace rally, most were not. Scattered among the gathering were groups of people holding signs bearing the photos and names of the victims of both September 11th and of the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. It seems to me a very hopeful sign that such a group of relatively mainstream religious groups were willing to organize something like this, speaking out against war, violence and hatred.

Jeffrey Ryan, the event’s MC and chair of the Massachusetts Episcopal Diocese’s peace and justice committee, set the tone for the event when he said, “We have come here to heal. We are still grieving from September 11th. We have come to find support from each other and the God who dwells in all our hearts.” Although the event was organized by representatives of the three Abrahamic traditions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), Ryan welcomed people of all religions and no religion to the vigil.

Representing the Jewish community, Andy Dubin invoked Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, saying, “Forty years later, Americans are still not free. Those with an outward appearance of otherness are still shackled by bigotry. I was grief-struck by September 11th, but I refused to be consumed with hatred for those who are different, including Arabs and Muslims. The Bible give me no choice but to love them,” and he quoted Leviticus: “You shall love the stranger as yourself”--a command that appears over ninety times in the Bible--then continued, “In doing so we see ourselves within the stranger and align ourselves with God.” He spoke eloquently against the xenophobia that has plagued the US since 9-11. Since that time, the US Department of Justice has rounded up and held incommunicado thousands of Arab, South Asian and Muslim men, holding them suspect because of their ethnicity and religion; exactly how many is not known, as Attorney General John Ashcroft has refused to release their names, locations and numbers. Additionally, following a “special registration” period, many immigrants from Middle Eastern, South Asian and predominantly Muslim countries have been summarily deported because of minor errors in their complicated paperwork. (For more coverage, see .)

Between speakers, musical groups performed, including choirs from Unitarian, Episcopalian and Catholic churches; Christina Olsen and Jonathan Tynes of Peaceful Tomorrows; and a Jewish folk group. Among the songs the last group sang were the words of the prophet Isaiah, in both Hebrew and English, “Everyone under their vine and fig tree shall live unafraid. They shall beat into plowshares their swords. They shall make war no more.”

Bud Cederholm, a bishop of the Massachusetts Episcopal Diocese, echoed this sentiment. He quoted a folk song from the 60s by Ed McCurty, “I dreamed the world had agreed to put an end to war,” and then looked out on the gathering closed his speech with, “Tonight I am dreaming with all of you that the world will agree to put an end to war.” Despite the image of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq painted by the mainstream media, the wars resulted in massive civilian casualties. Conservative estimates run around 3,000 for Afghanistan and 5,000 for Iraq--far more than lost their lives in the September 11th attacks. In addition, massive damage was done to the civilian infrastructure, making it all the harder for people to put their lives back together (For more coverage, see and .)

Representing for the Muslim community, Dr. Sepi Gillani simply expressed her continuing incomprehension of the September 11th attacks: “Two years later, I still do not understand. How could someone of my faith do this? Our Muslim faith calls on us to forgive others, even at the cost of our own interests. But the perpetrators of September 11th are not here to take heed of this.” This reflects something of the sentiment of the whole vigil, a rejection of all violence and hatred, whether theirs or ours, in favor of forgiveness and love.

The vigil differed in many ways from a conventional peace rally. Although I have included a few facts and figures above, the speakers did not--there was no real political analysis. It is nonetheless a very hopeful sign that mainstream religious groups like those that organized this are feeling the need to publicly speak out against hatred and war, even if they perhaps lack a sophisticated analysis of their causes. They are also building ties with groups to their left--to organize the event, they turned for advice to a seasoned organized with United for Justice with Peace, the main Boston-area peace coalition.

And if the vigil lacked political analysis, it also lacked something else we usually find at most progressive events--the bitterness. Instead, the vigil was animated by a more positive spirit of grief for the dead, love for all humanity, and the fervent hope for a better future. I found the atmosphere of the vigil uplifting and renewing. I think much of our hope for the future lies in conventional left-wing peace groups and faith communities working together more, combining the political analysis of the left with the spirit of love and hope at the vigil.


The Alliance for Jewish-Christian-Muslim Understanding may be reached at . United for Justice with Peace may be reached at .

For in-depth analysis of the issues, see the websites of ZNet ( ) and the Middle East Research and Information Project ( )
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