Views of a Leader of the Black Radical Congress

“Barbara Lee Speaks for Me”

by Frances M. Beal

[This article was posted on the Internet on September 18.  The author is a political columnist for the San Francisco Bayview newspaper and National Secretary of the Black Radical Congress. The views and opinions expressed in this article are her own. She can be reached by e-mail at]

With grief, horror, and anger over the World Trade Center and Pentagon carnage gripping the nation, the drums of war beat ever faster and louder from the highest office in the land to street corner apostles shouting, “Bomb them back to the Stone Age.” Amid this emotional milieu, it takes a lot of political courage to stand up against a precipitous rush toward military vengeance, and only one member of Congress found the temerity to do so. That person is the House representative from the Ninth District of California, the Honorable Barbara Lee.

In opposing the resolution that literally gave the President carte blanche to go anywhere and do anything militarily with a $40 billion budget in hand, Barbara Lee was speaking for me and for thousands if not millions here in the U.S. who do not believe that indiscriminate slaughter of civilian men, women, and children abroad is an appropriate response to the terrorist attacks in the U.S. Will it make us more secure and safe from future assaults of this kind? Do we really know what group is responsible? Is there an alternative approach? Addressing the military option earlier this year, Lee articulates a global justice option that is shared by many: “To be secure in this world,” Lee writes, “we must educate our children, house the homeless, and feed the hungry. We must work to promote peace and attack fundamental threats to global security such as AIDS and other profound health threats. These are national security issues, and they must be addressed as such.”

African Americans should have no problem understanding this link between justice and national security. It is the same argument we use domestically in the fight against racist criminal justice policies when we demand a switch from the criminalization of social ills and the incarceration of Blacks and other people of color to the provision of education, jobs, health, and welfare services.

Even more pertinent to coming to grips with the terrorist assault on the U.S., unfortunately, is a review of recent U.S. foreign policy, which Lee also proposes. The most prominent suspect (he categorically denies culpability), Osama bin Laden, for example, is a creation of U.S. intelligence forces that recruited and armed right wing Islamic fundamentalists in the Cold War zeal to defeat a Soviet-backed democratic regime in Afghanistan. And it was the almighty dollar that supported Pakistani dictator Gen. Zia-ul Haq in creating thousands of religious schools from which the seeds of the fanatics now in power in Afghanistan blossomed — the Taliban.

People have suffered greatly from this U.S. policy, particularly women. In condemning the assault on U.S. targets, the Women's Alliance for Peace and Human Rights in Afghanistan (WAPHA) notes, “The tragedy that has hit the innocent American people is deeply felt by the suffering people of Afghanistan. The people of Afghanistan have been tortured, terrorized, and massacred on a daily base by the international terrorists such as Osama bin Laden, his followers, the Taliban, the Pakistani ISI, the Pakistani religious extremist groups, and other foreign extremists. Hundreds of thousands of innocent Afghan people have lost their lives at the hands of these brutal criminals. The people of the United States, the people of Afghanistan, and the world community must join together to uproot and eradicate from the world these vicious criminals who are the enemies of humanity and civilizations.”

These are the people we are proposing to punish? Should we allow our country to turn into savages like the terrorists and kill thousands of innocent people, probably in Afghanistan, for the crimes allegedly committed by Osama bin Laden or possibly the Taliban? The justified feelings of grief, horror, and anger that yet fill our hearts and minds over the barbaric assaults in New York and Washington, D.C., are not American sentiments alone, and any precipitous assault by the United States could very well spread terrorism on a larger scale rather than acting as a deterrent. 

African Americans who are currently rattling their American sabers should stop and think for a moment. Collective guilt is a racist concept, one that we have suffered for years. In this atmosphere of Anti-Arab racism and anti-Muslim xenophobia, we can see evidence all around that America's racialist psyche is being brought into play to whip us into a warmongering frenzy. Vigilantism, and state-sponsored terrorism in the form of slave catchers of yore or today’s police murderers unleashed in our communities, are experiences we know well. Indiscriminate massive bombing in search of elusive terrorists will itself be a form of state-sponsored terrorism.

As grief-ridden as we are, African Americans cannot afford a case of collective amnesia right now. Can we really give unrestrained support to a hawkish President who only sits in the Oval Office because his political party helped to disenfranchise the Black electorate in Florida? What kind of trust does a president deserve from us when he exhibits complete contempt for the global racial justice movement and U.S. Blacks most particularly by ordering a walkout of the U.S. delegation at the recent World Conference Against Racism?

Phyllis and Orlando Rodriguez, whose son is missing and presumed dead in the rubble of the World Trade Center, write: “Our son died a victim of an inhuman ideology. Our actions should not serve the same purpose. Let us grieve. Let us reflect and pray. Let us think about a rational response that brings real peace and justice to our world. But let us not as a nation add to the inhumanity of our times.”

Yes. Barbara Lee speaks for me.