L to R: Former Congressman Paul Findley, Congressman Pete Stark and Syed Riffat Mahmood
The issue itself may appear to be simple to many Americans. Our country was attacked on 9/11/2001 and we have retaliated in a befitting manner. Yet a "War or Peace" symposium held at the Chandni Restaurant in Newark, California on Sunday April 10, 2005 raised many difficult questions about that retaliation, especially since it was the answers that were being sought here. Close to 300 people from very diverse backgrounds gathered to participate at this event arranged by the American Institute of International Studies (AIIS), a small group of thinking individuals who are taking a very close look at America's policy vis a vis the Middle East, Muslims and even the United Nations.
The AIIS can be commended for bringing together such a distinguished group of scholars and politicians. US Congressman Pete Stark from the 13th District of California delivered the opening keynote speech, to give this six-hour symposium a befitting start. Former US Congressman Paul Findley from Jacksonville, Illinois closed the day with his after dinner keynote address, one that had many decades of experience and patriotism behind it (even though that patriotism may find little agreement with the current Administration policy).
The event was broken up into three panels, two before dinner and one after. Panel 1 focused on "The Fear and Threats of Terrorism", Panel 2 dealt with "Major Conflicts" and the after dinner session addressed "A Vision of Global Peace." And even though many of the speakers did overstep the perimeters of these topics on a number of occasions, the very fact that such "outside the box" thinking was taking place appeared refreshing. This single flavor of the Bush model for the world that our mainstream media has been projecting for us ad nauseam certainly deserves some second thoughts.
From L to R: Mayor Gus Morisson, Dr. Hatem Bazian and Dr.
Syed Riffat Mahmood of the AIIS opened the symposium with his words of welcome. On the day's agenda he requested all to speak their minds and the truth. "This is the United States of America. Freedom of speech is our right," he said.
Congressman Pete Stark (D-Fremont) who ran a successful campaign and won against Syed R. Mahmood just a few years ago and was now invited by him at this event said a number of encouraging words for and about the AIIS. Congressman Stark commented on the changing demographics of the area and how the number of Asians here had grown. He also called attention to American values and called for their reflection in our foreign policy. He reiterated the fact that the freedom of other nations depends upon freedom in the United States and was critical of the violation of American civil rights under the Patriot Act. On foreign arms sales he was very blunt. "I have not voted in 30 years to sell arms to any foreign nation," he said. His call for a further taxation on gasoline was not received with much enthusiasm here. But his closing ideas on keeping America safe and prosperous without selling arms and without war were much more popular.
The first panel of the day on "The Fear and Threats of Terrorism" was moderated by Jim Hartman, Chairman of the Alameda County Republican Party. The three panelists were Dr. Stephen Zunes a Professor Department of Politics at the University of San Francisco, Dr. Rick Allen a former Director of Counseling and Psychological Services at the University of California at Santa Cruz and Dr. Ivan Eland, Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute. Dr. Zunes spoke from the perspective of a social scientist. He pointed out the need to find out why we were attacked on 9/11. He said that the Al Qaida resembled some of the fascist movements of the 1930's and fringe leftist movements of the 1960's and 70's. He spoke briefly about the environments where terrorists originate, of the "great social dislocation in countries where people are denied their basic freedoms." But on responding to such groups he pointed out that we should not make the mistakes of the past and 'drive people into the arms of radical clerics." Dr. Rick Allen spoke next from the psychological perspective. He was a part of a disaster team at ground zero shortly after 9/11. "Why would somebody do this?" was his question. "Were they mentally ill?" He spoke about the great variance in terrorism around the world but with one common recruitment angle. "They find people who have a perceived injustice," he said. He added that change in the Middle East will take a long time. Dr. Ivan Eland closed this panel presentation with a call to make our population here more resilient, and the need to educate them on probability (of being a victim of terrorism). "One of the problems is that we see a lot of disinformation in the media," he said. He spoke of the fact that terrorists don't have addresses and that attacking Iran might be extremely counter productive.
Panel 2 on "Major Conflicts" was moderated by former Fremont Mayor Gus Morrison.
L to R: Dr. Stephen Zunes, Dr. Rick Allen, Dr. Ivan Eland and Dr. Jim Hartman
The panelists were Dr. Laurence Michalak, Vice Chair at the Center of Middle Eastern Studies, University of California, Berkeley, Dr. Hatem Bazian, Professor at the Near Eastern & Ethnic Studies Department also at UC Berkeley and once again Stephen Zunes from Panel 1. Dr. Michalak started things off with a joke on the media making its rounds. A reporter approaches a young man who has just saved a child from a rabid dog (by killing the dog) and tells him what a hero he is. But after a couple of questions and finding out that the young man is a Pakistani of the Islamic faith the headlines the next day read: "Muslim terrorist kills defenseless puppy." He said that the news media was forced to simplify things and in the process missed the reality of conflicts in process. Dr. Michalak said that academics could do a better job in analyzing the reality since they had more than 30 seconds which the news media reserved for these issues.
Dr. Hatem Bazian followed next from the Muslim viewpoint. He said that this day (April 10) was the anniversary of a massacre of Palestinians by the Israelis, which contributed to the fleeing of 800,000 Palestinians from their homes. He spoke of UN Resolutions and the right of return of this Arab population. He said that the big elephant in the living room was being ignored here. On the backdrop to the current scenarios of conflicts involving the US and Muslim populations he was even more critical. "Weren't the Afghan Mujahideen once our best buddies?" he said. "Muslim blood was spilled at the frontlines against the Soviet Union," he added. He questioned if we had the right to interfere in every part of the world and made the observation that America currently has a bad product to sell to the world.
"Treat others as you like to be treated," he said. Dr. Stephen Zunes returned to close this panel. "This administration did not tell the truth about Iraq," he said. Speaking of occupation and aggression he made some interesting observations. "We are not the world's policemen. We are the world's vigilantes," he said. Dr. Zunes closed his speech with another interesting observation. "The US does not get into trouble (overseas) because of its values," he said. It is when we stray from them that problems arise.
After a fine Chandni Restaurant dinner Panel 3 moderated by Dr. Douglas Treadway on "A Vision for Global Peace" and much more got under way. Syed R. Mahmood did a little introduction of the AIIS and asked all the panelists present to stand up and be acknowledged before he himself offered his own version of global peace. He asked what Thomas Jefferson meant by the words "All men are created equal," and their relevance today. "As Americans we believe in liberty and justice for all," he added. He said that for real peace to break out, the critical element of justice cannot be ignored. He gave statistics of the hundreds of millions of lives lost in war just in the last century. He pointed out that America is globally friendless today (except for Britain and Israel) and that needs to change. He pointed out that the United Nations needs to take on a stronger role and that the UN Security Council needs to be readjusted to include more permanent member states so that it can better represent the globe. He suggested that Pakistan and India should both be given consideration, one representing the Islamic world and the other due to its size (both are now nuclear powers). "In my opinion the UN is the only option," he said.
L to R: Dr. Douglas Treadway, Diane Rejman, Syed Mahmood and Paul Findley
Diane Rejman from the Veterans for Peace organization next offered her views and reflected the sentiments of many in the audience. She said that she was very happy to represent her group here. She called for social change "one person at a time". "Talk to people who don't get it yet," she said. She shared her care for the 24/7 soldier currently serving in Iraq and what trials and tribulations he or she go through, some of which extract a very heavy lifetime price. She said that there were already suicides and other problems within the ranks of returning soldiers. Diane drove many at this event and herself to tears as she presented her views about war.
Former Congressman Paul Findley closed the speech segment with his frank and colorful delivery. The Muslim community in the United States owes Paul Findley a debt of gratitude for a lifetime of struggle for "the powerless little guy" both in this country and globally. Thanking Syed Mahmood, the former Congressman touched on many subjects during his keynote address. "I am here because I want to weep for my country," he said. "I am not giving up," he added. Findley reflected on his visit to the rubble of Nagasaki and its impact on him. He said that he deplored anti-Semitism and believed deeply in the rule of law. He mentioned that he had once told the Iraqis to take their land dispute with Kuwait to the International Courts and wished that they had listened. He said that at the moment America is bogged down in two guerilla wars, an unenviable position.
He said that our Government needed to try to find some answers to why 9/11 happened but instead "foreigners now see us as an imperial power" and that "we talk about initiating more wars." "America has become the world's self-appointing policeman," he said. "At home precious liberties have been sacrificed," he added pointing to the rounding up of hundreds of Muslims on flimsy charges.
After discarding one premise after another, the president now trumpets the Iraqi war as urgently needed to bring democracy and freedom to Iraq. Ponder this question: Could President Bush have rushed Congress and the American people into a bloody, $200 billion war in order to bring freedom and democracy to the Iraqis? Of course not. That justification would be rejected as preposterous," said Findley.
"Invading Iraq was the worst folly in American history. As a grim testament, more than sixteen hundred caskets containing youthful remains have been shipped from Iraq to their grieving families in America. Wounded fill military hospitals. Thousands of families in America and many more in Iraq are blighted forever," he added.
"Zealots among US Jews and conservative Christians have become a political powerhouse. They are aided and abetted unwittingly by radicals who profess to be Muslims, people who engage in reprehensible suicide bombings and thus violate Islamic rules by taking their own lives and the lives of innocent people," said the former Congressman.
"Most Americans mistakenly believe that Muslims condone suicide bombings and other violence, that they worship a strange, vengeful God, that they abuse women, and want to make radical changes in the American system of government. These stereotypes are false, but they are so prevalent they constitute a road block to the reform of US policy. Until the stereotypes are dismissed, they will evoke sympathy for Israel, surrounded as it is by millions of Muslims, people mislabeled as terrorists," added Findley.
In closing the former Congressman had this to say. "Be not afraid to demand justice in the Middle East. And never give up. The stakes are high. It is not too late. Be not afraid. Never, never give up."
Much more transpired in the closing question and answer sessions and after the two earlier panels that are not possible to report on due to length constraints here. But a closing observation is in order. The current predicament of American Muslims can be countered by how they themselves can communicate to their fellow Americans their abhorrence of terrorist violence. But that does not mean that they should not continue to demand fairness and justice for fellow Muslims under brutal occupation overseas, especially in the Middle East.