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THE NATION

Turnout Gives Lift to Activist

Dissent: A self-styled 'old lefty from the '60s' finds kindred spirits at the antiwar rally.

April 21, 2002|ALAN C. MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — She's been called anti-American and anti-Semitic by her students for criticizing the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan and Israeli policies in the Middle East, but professor Karen Dugger remains adamant that government-sanctioned violence only begets more violence.

"What primarily brought me here was an extreme sadness for the state of the world," Dugger said as she stood on the grassy Ellipse behind the White House during Saturday's rally supporting the Palestinian cause and opposing the U.S. war on terrorism.

"That sadness comes from empathizing with the pain of people who are being slaughtered, oppressed and degraded. It comes from compassion, from understanding how we're all connected."

Dugger, a self-styled "old lefty from the '60s," said her current antiwar stance has been a lonelier experience. But she found solace Saturday, surrounded by tens of thousands of kindred spirits.

"You can't really speak out," Dugger said, referring to the overwhelming public support for the Bush administration's military response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. "Here we can speak out because we're all together."

Dugger, 54, of Alexandria, Va., who teaches women's studies at Towson University in Maryland, said her opposition to the U.S. war effort should not be construed as support for Al Qaeda or its ally, the Taliban that ruled Afghanistan.

She said she was horrified by the Taliban's subjugation of women well before Sept. 11. And she said the United States was justified in freezing the assets of those with links to Al Qaeda and going after those directly responsible for sending hijacked planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"But doing it at the cost of what they call collateral damage--the killing of innocents--is too high a price," Dugger said.

Moreover, she said, "Sept. 11 created a justification for fascism. Fascism is permeating American society right now."

For example, she said, Jewish students accused her of being anti-Semitic when she discussed "the history of colonization of the Palestinians" while teaching about women of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. And one student suggested she was anti-American for challenging the war in Afghanistan.

"It has been difficult because it questions your soul," Dugger said, trembling visibly.

Despite her sympathy for the Palestinians, Dugger has no support for the suicide bombers who target Israeli civilians.

"They're killers too," she said. "Basically, it is a stupid, politically uninformed way of trying to bring about justice for the people. . . . You don't come up against a superior power with violence because they could annihilate you, which is what's happening."

Dugger traced her left-wing activism to opposition to the Vietnam War as a college student. She was a senior at Kent State University in Ohio when National Guardsmen opened fire on antiwar protesters, killing four students in May 1970. In despair, she recalled, she retreated to Venice, Calif., in search of escape. Eventually, she became a Buddhist.

Subsequently, she marched in Washington with the Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition to protest the policies of then-President Reagan. She volunteered for Ralph Nader's 2000 presidential campaign. Last year, she traveled to Cuba, another of her causes, for an international women's conference.

Dugger, like other antiwar activists interviewed at Saturday's rally, said she backed the event's heavy pro-Palestinian focus because of the intensity of the current conflict.

"I feel good being here today," Dugger said. "I was really worried riding the [subway] down here that there wouldn't be enough people. . . . This restores your hope.

"It was a day for me that has broken the silence."

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