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Forum on the War in Afghanistan

To provide a broader view on a variety of different topics, the UMB Coalition Against War and Racism hosted six speakers at the “Forum on the War in Afghanistan” on Wednesday, November 14 at 5:30 in the Small Auditorium in the Science Building.

Margaret Collins, a September 11 witness, NYC hotel worker, trade unionist and member of Socialist Alternative, opened with a discussion of how the working and poor people in this country have been affected by the attacks. She discussed how big businesses have used the current war emergency to break contracts with workers, laying off thousands of employees while the government has made sure that the airlines quickly receive their bailout packages. Republicans and Democrats united rapidly to provide $15 billion to the industry. “Big business and capitalism used this horrible event to their own benefit”, Collins stated, “while the families of the victims are still without reparation.” Pushing national healthcare in this context, she added, in some cases families are now without insurance due to the deceased having been the insurance provider in the family. But, she noted sarcastically, “The important thing is to show patriotism and support the government in every situation they get us into.”

Since September 11, Collins reported that there has been $66 million in cuts for AIDS and cancer research, while the Bush stimulus package has handed over $75 billion to corporate America.

Collins pessimistically pointed out, “We have no political representatives, we have to face that fact.” She recommended a call for workers to unite, saying “we have to organize for the only realism which is the way we want to live our life today.”

George Capaccio, a local activist spoke on Iraqi sanctions, and how Iraq relates to the current situation. He explained, “For us to understand what’s going on in Afghanistan and the bombing, it’s important to understand Iraq and what’s happening there.” He added, “for years people have forgotten about Iraq, and what was going on there.” For over ten years, since the Gulf War, Iraq has suffered enormously under UN sanctions, backed by the US. Capaccio reported conservative estimates show that 200,000 children under five have died as a result of the sanctions, however, other estimates report as many as one million or more. According to Capaccio, “sanctions are genocidal.”

Capaccio stated that the people in Iraq are opposed to the Iraqi government and UN policies because they both create misery in Iraq-and the Al Quaeda and Osama Bin Laden exploit these issues. The US has continued bombing raids on North and South Iraq, which have claimed the lives of civilians that are not reported in the media. Capaccio stated, “These bombings only strengthen the government, if anything.”

The State Department reports that the bombing of Iraq has nothing to do with the people, only the government in Iraq. Capaccio points out that this is similar to how the US now states, “If there’s a problem getting food to the people in Afghanistan it’s the

Taliban, not the US bombs.”

Paul Atwood, a Marine veteran and war researcher at the UMB Joiner Center, spoke on US foreign policy in the region. Atwood reported that at the end of WWII the US emerged as the most militarily dominant and powerful country on Earth. The new enemy was international communism which threatened the capitalist way of life. Moreover, any ‘ism’ threatened American capitalism, Arab nationalism, Islamic Socialism, etc.

The first explosion of Islamic Fundamentalism emerged in Iran. The US intervened to overthrow the government led by the Mossadegh. Norman Schwartzkopf trained the corrupt police force while the Shah was reinstalled, armed by American taxpayers. Like the Taliban, (in the days of the Mujahadeen), the CIA trained the secret police in Iran. There was a deal between the US and Iran to keep Iranian oil cheap and available to the US.

Atwood reported that under the Shah, Iranians were murdered and tortured. Due to the increasing westernization of Iran, the women wore the traditional dress as a form of rebellion, and the Shah subsequently ordered the secret police to fire on those women.

Washington, afraid that what happened in Iran would happen in Saudi Arabia, focused on that important source of oil. Atwood stated, “They said that the Soviet Union’s invasion in Afghanistan was a threat to the availability of oil in the Gulf.” He added, “The CIA in Afghanistan supported Islamic Fundamentalist recruiting to fight Godless Communism.”

The CIA recruited 100,000 Islamic Fundamentalist Mujahadeen to get the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan. Atwood explained that the US called them Freedom Fighters, however, now they are terrorists. Atwood concluded with his perception of a US which is, “Only routed in getting terrorists where they don’t serve our interests.”

Palestinian activist and expert on Middle East politics, Amer Jubran, spoke next, answering the often asked question: why do they hate us in that region? The first reason, he said, is that there are numerous ongoing conflicts in the region: Palestine, 53 years; Lebanon, 25 years; Iraq, 11 years; Sudan civil war, 20 years; and conflicts in Yemen, Algeria, Iran, and Afghanistan. With each of these conflicts, according to Jubran, “somehow you always find the fingerprints of the US government or the CIA.”

Secondly, the US interest in oil, he explained, has only caused people economic grief. People, as a result of US policy in many places, now live below the poverty line, he said. US foreign policy dominates and dictates what occurs in that region, and if people’s lives are miserable, they see it as a result of US policies. Jubran stated, “The US needs to stop robbing the third world of resources.” He reported that sheiks, and other heads of state in the Middle East have been brought to power by the US. We need to understand terrorism and that the way the US treats other countries determines whether or not those countries breed terrorism.

Jubran summarized the American manipulation of the media as attempting to assure the public, “We are protecting freedom, just listen to what we have to say.” However, he feels that, “The controlling of minds is so un-Liberal, so un-free.”

In conclusion, Jubran referred to the US as a military might which does not seek UN legitimacy for it’s actions, and does whatever it wants.

Anthony Arnove, author of the book, Iraq Under Siege, and a member of the International Socialist Organization, spoke on a variety of topics. He began with the problems of the newly formed US coalition against terrorism with countries which violate human rights in the world. Arnove reported that Pakistan, seeking aid and F16’s from the US, and Uzbekistan, have joined the US in the coalition against terrorism. Arnove stated that we should look at the background of these countries which are now partners in the coalition.

Touching upon Amer Jubran’s statement about the narrow perspective of the media in the US, Arnove reported that, “Walter Isacson the head of CNN, ordered his reporters not to focus on Afghanistan suffering.”

Arnove suggested, and the speakers seemed to concur, that the events of September 11 were a result of the “blowback” phenomenon in US foreign policy. Moreover, he added, the problem is with the US being global cop, and activities such as the US training of terrorists in the School of Americas, for example.

Following Arnove’s speech the forum’s moderator, Natalia Cooper, reiterated that the speakers had been kept to a minimum of 12 minutes a piece to leave room for discussion time. Many in the audience stayed on and presented interesting questions which each speaker was eager to comment on.

Interested students should watch for upcoming events and forums on campus, or email Tony at [email protected] for more information about the UMB Coalition Against War and Racism. The forum was also sponsored by the Socialist Club and the International Socialist Club.