NEWARK - A bipartisan group of speakers at a weekend forum ripped the Bush administration for leading the country into the Iraq war and not trying to understand Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaida terrorists.� The Sunday afternoon "War or Peace?" symposium, which drew about 100 people to the Chandni Restaurant in Newark, was sponsored by the American Institute of International Studies.
The event was designed to stir anti-Iraq war activism, said institute President Syed R. Mahmood. If enough money is raised, the organizers will create DVDs of Sunday's passionate speeches and send them to state and national leaders.
It featured Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, former Republican Illinois Congressman Paul Findley, who was the keynote speaker, and several local scholars with interests in U.S. foreign affairs.
"Why did we invade Iraq?" asked Findley, 83, who served 22 years in the House of Representatives and lives in Jacksonville, Ill. "They had no weapons of mass destruction. They pose no threat whatsoever to the United States. In fact, they impose no threat whatsoever even if they had weapons of mass destruction.
"America was once revered worldwide," he continued. "Yes, worldwide, especially in the Middle East. Now, we are reviled worldwide, and the American people seem unaware of this grim reality.
"If we keep tiptoeing around this subject, we risk even more peril in the future."
The U.S. government's policy of providing weapons to some countries while trying to ban them in others leads to bitterness and oppression, said Stark, who was invited to the event by Mahmood, his former rival for the 13th Congressional District seat.
"Bush said the freedom of the United States depends on the freedoms of other countries," Stark said, with each of his comments bringing zealous applause from the more than 100 attendees of all races. "He seemed to forget the reverse is true.".
"I never voted in 30 years for the sale of weapons. I see no reason why America should be the perpetrator of the arms races around the world. If we are to stop the proliferation of weapons, it stops at home."
Stephen Zunes, a political science professor at the University of San Francisco, looks at crimes from the perpetrator's point of view. While he doesn't condone the actions of bin Laden, his research focuses on what drives bin Laden to drastic measures.
"Extremists come from ... people (who are) denied basic freedoms where they cannot address their grievances" peacefully, said Zunes, also the coordinator of his school's Peace and Justice Studies Program.
"Far more civilians have been killed by the United States and the allies we've armed than by all the Islamic and Middle Eastern terrorist groups combined," he said. The terrorists "don't see our freedom - they see 'Made in the U.S.A.' in bomb cases and tear gas canisters. The more we militarize the Middle East, the less secure we become."
In particular, Findley criticized every U.S. leader since President Eisenhower for not withdrawing financial and military support for Israeli crimes against Palestinians, which he said are the root of most of the attacks on America.
He cited a recent videotaped speech by bin Laden in which he demanded that America stop providing aid to Israel, a comment that he said is being ignored by Bush.
"If the United States refused to finance Israel's subjugation of Palestine, then 9/11 would have never occurred," Findley said. "That is a demonstratively accurate statement. National security would not be a problem."