Monday, May 08, 2006

The Peace Quilt

Dear Mr. President….

Diplomacy has at least one trait in common with war: its course is unpredictable and therefore can catch governments by surprise.

As the still unsuccessful occupation of Iraq continues, some analysts see signs that the Bush administration is planning for a fight with Iran. This view is empirical – Bush had not completed the process of regime change and building democratic institutions in Afghanistan before vital assets – personnel, funds, intelligence platforms, unmanned reconnaissance-strike drones – were diverted to plan or be available for invading Iraq.

Even as the White House insists it wants a multinational diplomatic resolution of the status of Iran’s nuclear program, what it really wants is a “solution” on U.S. terms. And Iran, for its part, has demands of its own.

Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s rhetorical forays against the U.S., Israel, and Europeans have been so consistent in their defiance that his dispatch of a letter offering to discuss a range of issues seems to have caught the White House a bit flat-footed. Washington is focused on stopping Iran’s enrichment program so as to preclude the possibility of diverting highly enriched fissile materials for bombs. Washington’s position is Iran cannot be trusted to stop at three percent enriched fuel for energy production.

The White House also wants Iran to cease interfering in Iraq, a charge Tehran says is baseless. Ahmadinejad, for his part, says he is ready to talk on a host of issues directly with the U.S. Talk he is able to do, but in reality, his status and the status of any promises he might make are subject to the governing councils and the Supreme Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

While Washington dithers, ordinary citizens in Idaho are acting. Their dialogue, like that between Washington and Tehran, has two sides. Unlike Washington and Tehran, Idaho’s two sides are reinforcing.

The first actual begins in 1870 when, on the second Sunday of May, a “Mothers' Day for Peace” proclamation, written by poet Julia Ward Howe (who also penned the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”), was read. Its concluding paragraph was a powerful appeal.

“In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of internationalquestions, the great and general interests of peace.”

As the post-Napoleonic “Concert of Europe” disintegrated, peace societies multiplied across the country. Many actively sought alternatives to war rather than relying on religious proscriptions against killing. Inevitably, the great gathering envisioned by Howe took place – but it was not restricted to women. In mid-April 1907, as diplomats negotiated what became the 1907 Hague Conventions protecting noncombatants in times of war, 40,000 marched in New York City to express their support while in churches across the United States, 50,000 sermons were delivered on “Peace Sunday.”

Fast forward 77 years to 1984 in Boise where a red, white, and blue “National Peace Quilt” with 50 panels – one for each state – is unveiled. Each panel contains a child’s vision of what peace and security would “look like.” The inscription on the quilt reads:

“REST beneath the warmth and weight of our
hopes for the future of our children,
DREAM a vision of the world at peace,
ACT to give the vision life.”

Each U.S. Senator is challenged by the Boise ladies to take the quilt home and sleep under it for one night. In return, the names of those participating were embroidered on the quilt. Over the course of 1985-86, sixty-seven senators participated, recording in the “National Peace Quilt Log Book” their own personal vision of peace and how to achieve that goal.

This Mothers' Day, May 14, marks the 20th anniversary of the collective dreams of peace recorded in a log book in Boise following (one hopes) a restful night. The Idaho Peace Coalition will send Mothers’ Day Peace Entreaties to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – whose chairperson and ranking member took their turn resting an dreaming under the blanket 20 years ago – asking the committee to redouble their efforts to develop diplomatic solutions to will resolve the animosity between the United States and Iran.

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