Essays on Friendship and Peace

The Volume of Friendship

By Alex House

Lord make a factory of peace,
Make more hope,
Hate the least.
Make war as small as a speck of sand
And terrorism a wick on a candle that burns to ashes.
Make love and peace as big as a skyscraper,
And hope like a mountain that’s 1000 feet tall.
And make the volume of friendship be so loud
It shakes the ground.

Alex House is an 8 year old student at Touchstone Community School in Grafton, MA. He wrote the poem as a prayer in his Sunday School class at the Hopedale Unitarian Parish.


Just This Once

by Coleman Barks

President Bush, before you order airstrikes, imagine the first cruise missile as a direct hit on your closest friend. That might be Laura. Then twenty-five other family and friends. There are no survivors.

Now imagine some other way to do it. Quadruple the inspectors. Put a thousand and one U.N. people in. Then call for peace activists to volunteer to go to Iraq for two weeks each. Flood that country with well-meaning tourists, people curious about the land that produced the great saints, Gilani, Hallaj, and Rabia.

Set up hostels near those tombs. Encourage peace people to spend a bunch of money in shops, to bring rugs home and samovars by the bushel. Send an Arabic translator with every four peace activists.

The U.S. government will pay for the translators and for building and staffing the hostels, one hostel for every twenty activists and five translators. The hostels are state of the art, and they belong to the Iraqis at the end of this experiment. Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela, and my friend, Jonathan Granoff at the U.N., will be the core organization team.

No one knows what might come of this. Maybe nothing, or maybe it would convince some Iraqis and some of the world that we really do not wish to kill anybody, and that we truly are not out to appropriate oil reserves. We’re working on building a hydrogen vehicle as fast as we can, aren’t we? Put no limit on the number of activists from all over that might want to hang out and explore Iraq for two weeks.

Is anything left of Babylon? There could be informal courses for college credit and pickup soccer games every evening at five. Long leisurely suppers. The U.S. government furnishes air transportation, that is, hires airliners from the country of origin and back for each peace tourist, who must carry and spend the equivalent of $1001 US inside Iraq. Keep part of the invasion force nearby as police, but let those who claim to deeply detest war try something else just this once, for one year. Call our bluff.

If this madman Saddam’s WMD threat is not, somehow, eliminated by next February, you can go in with special ops and do it that way. Medical services, transportation inside Iraq, along with many other ideas that will be thought of later during the course of this innocently, blatantly foolish project will all also be funded by the U.S. government.

There’s a practice known as sama, a deep listening to poetry and music, with movement sometimes involved. We could experiment with whole nights of that, staying up until dawn, sleeping in tents during the day. Good musicians will be lured, with modest fees, to come: cellos, banjos, oboes, ouds, and French horns. Hundreds of harmonicas and the entire University of North Carolina undergraduate gospel choir.

Thus instead of war there’s much relaxed, improvisational festivity from March 2003 through February 2004. It could be as though war had already happened, as it has. And now we’re in the giddy, broken-open aftertime.

So let slip the pastel minivans of peace and whoa be they who cry surcease! I’ll be first to volunteer for two weeks of wandering winter desert reading Hallaj, Abdul Qadir Gilani, dear Rabia, and Scherazade’s life-prolonging Thousand and One Arabian Nights. I am Coleman Barks, retired English Professor ee-meritus living in Athens, Georgia, and I don’t really consider this proposal foolish.

Coleman Barks is a well known translator of the 13th-century Persian poet Jelalludin Rumi. Barks read this poem at the Washington National Cathedral on February 26th, and gave permission to those who heard it to send it out over the Internet in hopes it may inspire the rest of us to envision our common future with such vitality and creativity.


The True Majority

By Ben Cohen

“The people want peace; indeed, I believe they want peace so badly that the governments will just have to step aside and let them have it.” — Dwight Eisenhower

This is a sad time for all of us. President Bush is hell-bent on taking the world to war despite opposition from nearly all quarters. His deafness is shocking. He ignores the wishes of the United Nations claiming he must because Saddam Hussein has ignored the wishes of the United Nations.

Now the people of the world must fight a war we do not want. Our first thoughts and prayers must go out to the victims of this war: the soldiers sent to kill and be killed, the civilians who will be sacrificed in the name of “shock and awe,” the children here at home who will go without a proper education or medical care so that George Bush can pay for his adventure while still enriching the already rich. In the end we will all be victims of his war.

Despite all the sadness, we can draw strength from our remarkable successes over the last months. We are witnessing the dawning of a new superpower, the power of organized, coordinated, internet people worldwide. And it is challenging the old power of money and guns. The peace loving people of the world have risen up in ways never before seen in human history. We have just been participants in the largest anti-war rallies in history, and the first large scale rallies to take place before the shooting starts. Last Sunday’s global candlelight vigils took place in 140 countries and was organized in a matter of days by an army of peacemakers.

This is what waging peace looks like, and we have never seen it before. World leaders are being forced to respond to these new pressures. George Bush tried to use the old tactics of money (your money) and guns to buy support for his war aims, and in the end was rebuffed by Turkey and the members of the UN Security Council. Almost all of the 30 countries Bush claims are supporting this war are really doing little more than agreeing to avert their eyes to the horror we are about to launch. Only the United Kingdom is sending a large contingent of troops, and Tony Blair is suffering terribly because of it.

So this is the last gasp of an ancient way of ruling. A few men with guns and wealth are being threatened by the billions of people they rule over, and the people are beginning to win. And in terms of failing to get support from the UN, we did win — an unprecedented win. Going forward we are better prepared to resist the warmongers than ever before. Our tools are more advanced, our tactics smarter, our lists of supporters longer.

So what do we do now? First, all the members of the Win Without War coalition are urging all peaceloving people of the world to keep a light burning in a window. It can be a candle, a lamp, Christmas lights, anything that symbolizes the enduring light of hope and reason during this time of darkness.

Some of us will want to take a more direct action. The United for Peace and Justice coalition has compiled a list of direct actions you can engage in. While resisting this war I was arrested for the first time engaging in an act of civil disobedience and I can tell you I found the experience uplifting, joyous and deeply rewarding. Here is their website:

So don’t dismay. WE are the new superpower, the superpower of peace, and we aren’t done yet.

Stay strong,
Ben Cohen
President, TrueMajority
Co-Founder, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream

I am writing this email on my own and not on behalf of Ben & Jerry’s, which is not associated with the TrueMajority campaign. If your friends want to join the new superpower they can register at


We’re All On the Same Side

By Mohsin Hamid

As someone drawn to writing, someone who likes to tell stories, who likes to dream, I have often lived between worlds. At Harvard Law School, while many of my classmates signed up for electives in securities law and corporate tax, I found ways to earn credits from literature courses. I saw no contradiction in my behavior: I wanted to be a lawyer, but I also wanted to study fiction. And university regulations tended to agree, within limits, that this should be possible.

On one of my forays into non-legal education, I encountered a book by Primo Levi called Survival in Auschwitz. The narrator is a man, an Italian and a scientist. But he is sent to a concentration camp because he is a Jew. As his story unfolds, he realizes that being Jewish, an aspect of himself to which he previously attached little significance, is now considered the most important component of his identity.

I face no concentration camp. I work as a management consultant, previously in New York and now in London. I am free to write novels and articles. But more and more I find myself thinking of Primo Levi’s narrator because, like him, I consider myself a secular, liberal, progressive man, and like the people around him, actors in a politicized conflict are attempting to make my religion — Islam — the most important component of my identity.

This is happening on many levels. Muslim friends of mine in America have been picked up in their homes and workplaces for government-sponsored interrogations. When I travel, I am routinely harassed and subjected to long delays at immigration, even though I have a valid visa and carry ridiculous amounts of additional documentation such as bank statements, employment letters and utility bills. Teenaged cousins of mine face the prospect of being unable to enroll in colleges outside of Pakistan because the “background checks” performed by Western embassies can stretch for months.

Around the world, non-Muslim officials are reminding people like me that we are Muslims first and businessmen or novelists (or heart-broken lovers, for that matter) second. On this point, these non-Muslim officials are in complete agreement with Muslims like the Taliban who say that a Muslim identity must come before all else.

To a certain extent, these narrow-minded non-Muslims and Muslims have already succeeded. Like many of my friends, I have come to see the Muslim component of my identity as much more important now than

I did two years ago. I feel that Muslims are being persecuted. I feel that Muslim countries are under military threat. I feel that many Muslims live in impoverished, underdeveloped conditions. And my sympathy for my fellow Muslims has grown.

At the same time, I remain firmly opposed to the idea that this widening division between Muslims and non-Muslims is inevitable, and to the simplistic and dangerous notion that more than a billion Muslims around the world can be disassociated from their ethnic, cultural, political and personal characteristics and meaningfully grouped together for any positive purpose.

For example, I believe in democracy, the right of people to elect their own leaders. I believe that religion should influence laws only through universal ballots, not through the will of a clerical elite. I believe that markets, trade and immigration are powerful forces that can be harnessed to improve living conditions on our planet. There is nothing particularly Muslim about these beliefs. There is nothing particularly non-Muslim about them, either.

Similarly, I see nothing particularly Muslim or non-Muslim in my personal tastes. I like many types of music, ranging from the blues to qawwali. I like novels of the Japanese Haruki Murakami and the Egyptian Naguib Mahfouz. I like to watch cricket. I like dogs. I like to dance. I love sushi and have a particular soft spot for fresh-water eel. In other words, I am a reasonably well-off large-city dweller, no more different from millions of my fellow large-city dwellers around the world than they are from each other.

Surely, shared values and shared tastes (or at least a shared fondness for a diversity of tastes) are components of identity that cannot and should not be brushed aside. The fact that I support a plebiscite in Kashmir and a viable state for the Palestinians does not make me violent. Nor does my opposition to war in Iraq make me a threat worth the attention of an immigration officer. In the end, I remain a law-abiding, productive inhabitant of whatever city I currently choose to call my home.

Personally, I would like to propose a new and more useful division of the world. I would divide us into those who think that conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims is desirable and those who think it is not.

I suspect those of us who oppose such conflict are in the vast majority, and if I had to be seated next to someone on a long-haul flight from London to Hong Kong, I’d rather it be one of us, Muslim or non.

Mohsin Hamid is a gifted Pakistani author, best known for his book Moth Smoke.