Talking with Muslim Students about Protesting the US Drone War

World Can't Wait - San Francisco | January 27, 2014

Student workshop against dronesIn January, just after the Close Guantanamo NOW Tour left the Bay Area, World Can’t Wait gave a workshop about the U.S. drone wars at the Muslim Student Association’s “MSA West” annual conference. The 1,000 plus students there come from campuses up and down the West Coast and further west also.  The conference title this year was “The Islamic State of Mind” and the basis of the conference and its sessions went to that from many different disciplines, but all faith-based.

So World Can’t Wait’s presence there was a little different; we was invited to present because some MSA activists feel an urgent need for Muslim students and youth to be more aware and involved in struggling against the drone wars and the whole related package deal: Guantanamo and torture, endless wars ravaging the Middle East and South Asia, and government surveillance.  Working with an MSA activist, we planned a workshop packed with information and (as we were strictly instructed by this student!) motivation and resources.

We presented before about 80 MSA members, all young students both women and men from many universities, community colleges (a few high schoolers too).  As they arrived, some told us they have “some” knowledge of the wars, others knew quite a lot but hadn’t previously been actively involved with any protests or political activism.  We had photo exhibits around the room depicting the drone attacks, the hunger strike at Guantanamo (including names and photos of the prisoners, and the “Close Guantanamo Now” New York Times ad) for the students to look at, while hearing and thinking about the horrors of this post-9/11 so-called “war on terror” in its most human, most anguishing and outraging dimensions.  We began the workshop by showing “Wounds of Waziristan,” the short documentary film made by Pakistani-American filmmaker/journalist Madiha Tahir.  The film tells the drone war story in the voices and stories of people living in northern Pakistan, including a teenager and elders, and for so many in this room this up-close reality hit them very hard.

After Stephanie Tang from World Can’t Wait followed the film with a short presentation, although the time was short, many people wanted to talk about what we’d presented, what it means to the peoples of the countries on the other end of the drone strikes -- and what they as youth and students, and as Muslims living in the U.S., could do.  (The Global Deaf Muslim volunteers who were signing the entire workshop for a group of deaf students were 100% valiant in keeping up with the discussion!)  Clusters of students hung back afterwards to talk with us more – to ask questions about why the prisoners are in Guantanamo still, to say how much the film and presentation moved their hearts, to add their messages to our banner to the people of Afghanistan -- and to sign up to stay in contact with World Can’t Wait, with activities against the war they themselves can network thru the MSA chapters.  One student led others to ask us how they could show “Wounds of Waziristan” on her own campus to get other students involved.

Something interesting that we hadn’t expected: in the conference plenary just before our workshop time, the entire audience was led from the stage to put pens to paper (provided!) to write letters about the drone wars to Senator Dianne Feinstein, asking her “to reconsider the U.S. position on drones.”  Later, at the workshop, Stephanie emphasized World Can’t Wait’s orientation – to rely on and mobilize the people to denounce and demand an end to the crimes of our government, through independent political action, in contrast to the conventional idea most people living in America are taught, that all we can do to change things is rely on getting those in power to “listen” to the people and act in our interests.  Very lively conversation(s) ensued.  And although time was up, a lot of students stayed behind to talk, and several took a long time writing personal messages on our banner.

Some of the questions students asked:  why do so many Americans believe that all Muslims support terrorism?  Where are there colleges that have active anti-war movements organizing the students to make protest actions about these wars?  One student spent a long time looking closely at the photos of the Guantanamo prisoners, and asked with a distressed voice: “But they MUST have done SOMETHING to be put in Guantanamo?  Didn’t these guys do something wrong?  Are you sure?”  One told us she was moved to meet people (the World Can’t Wait team) who aren’t Muslims yet have so much passion to stand up for these people (pointing to the photos).  We told her about the internationalism that exists out in the world, pointing to our T-shirts (Humanity and the Planet Come First) and the slogan “American Lives Are Not More Important Than Other People’s Lives” and she was one of the first to sign up to stay in touch and work together.