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ISSUE 121 VOL 9 PUBLISHED 11/30/2007

Academics ignore looming crisis

By Ben Swenson
Visual Director

Friday, November 30, 2007

Anyone who listens to the news is aware that a military confrontation between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States is becoming more and more likely.

The mainstream media propaganda mill is currently demonizing Iran in the same way it demonized Iraq in the months before the U.S.-led invasion. The Pentagon has recently requested $88 million to complete the development of the Massive Ordinance penetrator, a 13-ton, satellite-guided, bunker-busting bomb, most likely aimed towards nuclear facilities in Iran.

Hans Blix, a Swedish diplomat and former head of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, says that his impression is that the United States has been trying to push up the accusations against Iran as a basis for a possible attack -- as an excuse for jumping on them. Above all, President George Bush has vowed that he will not leave office until the Iranian nuclear program has been dismantled. A war that could have disastrous consequences for the Middle East, and the world at large, looms on the horizon.

There are many problems with the Iranian government, just like there are with governments throughout the world. However, we need to debunk the deliberate exaggerations of this government in order to derail the tacit consent Americans have been giving for war.

An example of an exaggeration, which is actually an invention currently being thrown around the mainstream media and even on the St. Olaf campus, is that Iran threatened to wipe Israel off the map. Although it has been quoted so many times in the news and in political rhetoric, in actuality it is an inaccurate translation of something Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a speech. The consensus among Farsi professors is that Ahmadinejad said, We look forward to the day when Zionism, like communism and Nazism, is wiped off the page of history. Far from a call for war, Ahmadinejads comment expresses discontent with an ideology that has caused turmoil in the Middle East. In this respect, he is like the opponents of communism who did not want to destroy the entire Soviet Union but found fault in communist ideology.

Our duty as Americans and as students is to do our best to become informed. How can we engage in fruitful discussion and debate if we are only informed by U.S. television, radio and the limited discussion that happens at our academic institutions? I think that as an academic community interested in peace and social justice, we need to place more importance on understanding these issues so we can influence the foreign policy of the government that supposedly represents us. If more people had been informed and listened to sources such as the anti-war movement in the months before March 2003, maybe we would have avoided this catastrophe in Iraq.

I hope this message will succeed in making you seek out other sources of information to educate yourself on the War on Terror and the current confrontation with Iran. If you think you are already informed, then who is Hassan Nasrallah? Why is Syria applauded by leaders of the anti-war movement and deemed a terrorist-supporting state by the U.S.? What are the reasons the Hezbollah is not considered a terrorist organization by so many people in the world?

It would be naïve for an American to think they are completely and properly informed at any given time, but if you do not know the answers to the above questions, than you are uninformed about major peoples and countries of the Middle East that are directly affected by U.S. policy. In a one-sided manner, the U.S. deemed Iran a terrorist supporting state largely because it has given aid to the Hezbollah of South Lebanon (who have been resisting illegal Israeli occupation for over 27 years). Iran also gives financial assistance to the democratically elected Hamas government of Palestine. Labeling these different resistance groups as terrorist organizations has been a tool to garner support for war and to move attention away from them as victims of occupation and oppression.

It seems to me that a sense of apathy has overtaken the mentality of so many Americans regarding the political position of the U.S. in the world and the War on Terror. Wars are raging in different areas of the Middle East, causing much death and destruction, and it is still not at the very forefront of discussion at academic institutions such as St. Olaf. You may disagree, considering the amount of credible speakers that have been on our campus in the Liberal Arts in a Time of War series.

However, my impression is that we as a community are not dedicated to understanding these important issues. General Georges Sada, a proponent of U.S. policy in the Middle East and a supposed leader of peace campaigns in the region, was well received when he spoke in Boe Chapel about the U.S. military successes in the region. Nonetheless, he never once addressed the root causes of violence and terrorism in the region. The chapel was packed for Sada, but when the renowned Muslim academics Omid Safi and Sohail Hashmi lectured in the smaller Viking Theater about possible solutions to problems in the Middle East, few students attended.

Has the six-year U.S.-led global War on Terror taught us nothing? It tells us that American military attacks in Iran would lead to huge instability in the Middle East and Asia and an increase in anti-American sentiment and action throughout the world. British Parliament member George Galloway has also warned that an attack on the powerful country of Iran would result in Irans military retaliation against many of the U.S. and British interests in the Middle East, including troops in Iraq, U.S. military bases all over the Persian Gulf and in London. In addition, he said the price of oil would severely affect the world economy.

There is a lack of discussion that speaks out against the military plans with Iran. This is eerily disturbing not only because of the results that the U.S. could find themselves facing, but also for world security as a whole.

There are important cards that Washington could play; instead, they have three aircraft carriers sitting in the Persian Gulf, Blix said. A war against Iran, a country that has not attacked another country in over 300 years, a country that promotes dialogue among civilizations and, unlike Israel, signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, is a possibility.

The possibility of yet another war is all too real. Will we passively follow the administration down the same road again?

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