Revision history: 20030321T165737Z/version_0001.2000 (updated to reflect street demonstration of 2003-03-20, and changed title) 20030311T012944Z/version_0001.1000 (improvements to literary style); 20030227T200036Z/version_0001.0000 (base version, submitted unsuccessfully to a Nova Scotian daily newspaper).

Letter from Toronto:
Two Styles of Activism

My voice is still hoarse from yesterday's demonstration outside the local US Consulate. That rally marked for Toronto the evening of the first full day of war. I still hear the not particularly peaceful chanting ("PEACEful protest! PEACEful protest!"). I still see the police riot shields, the police yellow wet-weather jackets, the police multi-kilowatt floodlight slicing in a Soviet manner through thin, ice-cold rain.

In some small measure, I am hoarse not only from the chanting, but also from declaiming my "Peace Hymn of the Republic": "We lived in ease and splendor and disdained the huddled poor,/ Raping soils and seas and foreign skies, in arms and gold secure:/ Now we've lost our proud twin towers, now we fear the dark of war;/ God's truth goes marching on. // Unhappy world, you grieve for us, and yet for you we mourn;/ Some billion souls seek sustenance, a tithing of our corn:/ From dying fields, from teeming slums, fresh terrors will be born -/ Can truth go marching on? // Our strength lies not in battle gear but in humility;/ Through anguished meditation we discern our destiny:/ Our city on a hilltop shall embrace humanity;/ God's truth shall lead us on."

It is salutary in such histrionic times to think back to a quieter evening some weeks ago. On the night of 2003 February 27, about forty-five of us ordinary citizens gathered as friends of the Catholic Worker Movement in a simple west-Toronto living room. The main speaker was Jim Loney of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), back in January from two weeks in Iraq. Also speaking were a Human Shields volunteer, who had returned from his Iraq duties eight days ago, and an Iraqi émigré. Humble white linen served as a projection screen for Jim Loney's 35-millimetre slides.

What did these voices - more direct, more gentle, therefore more terrible than yesterday's chanting mob - offer us?

Some of their points emerged with a certain inexorability. If you were a member of the Iraqi junta in January or February, aware that your life and the lives of your kin now hung on a thread, the logic of self-preservation was bound to drive you to try any hopeful tactics, and in particular was bound to make you try winning Western hearts and minds through appropriately selected displays. The two Iraq-touring speakers thus remarked to us that they had been shown the same bomb shelter, with its human burn marks on interior concrete surfaces. That was (of course) Al-Amiriya, the shelter in which, on 1991 February 13, two Gulf War I missiles smashed through six feet of concrete, killing over four hundred.

Similarly, both reported having been shown the same hospital. (The inevitable presentation to Jim Loney: a mother in emotional shock, having earlier in the day lost her dehydrated child, as a probable consequence of the economic sanctions; the government minder pulling aside a concealing blanket, with the words, "If you want, you can take a picture." Nobody took up his offer.)

Other points, however, were not inevitable at all, and so reminded us in a specially revealing way in what sense the Pentagon and Whitehall were now threatening our core values. Jim Loney's CPT group visited the purported location of the Garden of Eden, near the confluence of the Tigris and the Euphrates. As they subsequently learned, their visit came a day or two after an American bomb, in the current no-fly-zone peace enforcement operations, had killed one and injured three.

The CPT showed a group of excited boys in that precinct their so-called "magic sheet" of paper - magic because its Arabic text had been found to make initially hard Iraqi faces soften. (The glimpse of Westerners in the streets was at that time not, as a general rule, initially reassuring to local people.) The words were simple, recounting a parable about a master and his disciple. The disciple asks how to define the start of dawn. Is it when there is enough light to let me distinguish a dog from a sheep? No. Is it when there is enough light to let me discern a rabbit? No. What, then, marks the dawn? Dawn, answers the master, starts only when you can recognize another person's face as the face of a sister or brother. Until that moment arrives, the night is with you.

Every boy wanted a copy of the magic sheet for himself. In the end, order was restored when a local man with a big beard simply read the text out. As the CPT workers drove away, one lad ran after the departing vehicle, slowly at first, and then for a while quickly enough to keep up. Thank you. he said; and again thank you, he said; and again he said thank you.