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Background to War: SAIC Sponsors Forum

As the SAIC community grapples with the challenges of combating ignorance and apathy with education and action during the current "war in Afghanistan," attendees nearly filled the Columbus Drive auditorium in support of the recent SAIC-sponsored faculty forum, Background to War: Islam, the Middle East, and Afghanistan, on Wednesday, November 14.

The forum featured local experts from area universities, including Thomas Mockaits (History department, DePaul University), Ghada Hashem Talhami (International Relations, Lake Forest College), Salim Yaqub and Lisa Wedeen (both from the University of Chicago). SAIC faculty member and F News advisor Paul Elitzik introduced the panel. Elitzik, along with a long list of co-sponsors including the Faculty Ad Hoc Committee, Student Government, International Affairs, Office of Multicultural Affairs, Activist Student Union and Post Impressionist for Peace organized this informative educational event.

The event was focused on a history that was largely ignored by the public before September 11. Since the attacks on U.S. soil, blamed on Osama bin Laden and associated terrorists based in Afghanistan, the world's attention has been focused on Middle Eastern politics. The speakers provided an overview of the history of Afghanistan, the Middle East, and Islam and of their relationships with America and its foreign policy.

Arguing that what the Bush administration has said about the "terrorists hating democracy and our way of life" is not accurate, Mockaits said, "[Terrorists] hate that we keep our democracy for us - and support dictatorships in the rest of the world; they do not hate democracy."

Wedeen added, "Osama Bin Laden is a hero by default, his real power lies in bad American foreign policy. ... Islamacist movements have stepped in and filled the gaps that failing governments have left as they are busy searching to support Americanized policies and classes," Wedeen said. "Islamacist movements provide a critical vision and political critique and a sense of hope."

The term Islamaphobia came from the United Nations' 2001 World Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa and it refers to the historic marginalization of Muslims. Ghada Hashem Talhami discussed Islam and its relationship to the U.S., citing the seven million Muslims in this country as an indication that the culture of Islam is not a foreign one and is not worth viewing in such generalized ways as we often are pushed to do. She argued that misinformation perpetuates the misconceptions about Islam as "the other" through generalizations about Islam and its relationship to the West. One example is the now famous Sam Huntington piece in Foreign Affairs magazine "The Clash of Civilizations?" which cites potential global conflict as occurring between "the West and the Confucian Islamic state." Ghada Hashem Talhami said this is not an informed perspective given that "this article was written by a man who has never been to the Middle East and is far from an expert on Islam."

She went on to discuss the misconception that American Muslims are monolithic in their opinion about U.S. foreign policy, the war on terrorism, the Palestinian conflict, and many other issues that people assume have a "united Islamic opinion." Islam is spread all over the world, encompassing every race, ethnicity and socio-economic class, and has a wide variety of different political, social and religious opinions contained within it- as different as each individual that is Muslim. She added that there is no one view within Islam, and that it is a common misconception among non-Muslims that Islam can easily be easily understand something, which they have ignored for so long, through simplified slogans, news briefs or presidential addresses.

This forum was another in a series of steps that SAIC is taking to help inform the variety of opinions that can be had on the current war, and on the highly complex issues that have been largely ignored for along time.

Catch the next SAIC faculty forum: Terrorism and the War, will be held Wednesday, December 12, 5- 7:30 p.m.; 280 S. Columbus Drive, SAIC Auditorium.

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