February 2, 2004

Iraq debate continues with new series

By Eric Rangus

Through the debut event of the Emory in Perspective debate series, "Iraq Revisited: The Left and Right vs. You?" 16 speakers took aim at the war in Iraq from at least as many viewpoints in one of the highlight academic events of the weeklong Charter Celebration.

The debate took place Tuesday, Jan. 27, in Cox Hall and was followed by the Atlanta debut of a dramatic reading of War Daddy a new play by one of the debate's organizers, creative writing's Jim Grimsley.

"Our individual thoughts on important issues may cover a wide spectrum of philosophies and practical approaches," said Emory College senior Paige Rohe, one of the event's organizers and co-moderator with the Center for Ethics' James Fowler. With 16 speakers on stage, Rohe, if anything, understated the size of the spectrum.

"[But] we must never allow our differences in opinion divide us," she said. And for the afternoon, it didn't. The audience of about 150 was polite throughout (snickering only when one speaker made a joke at the expense of Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy), and all the speakers were on their best behavior. Many exceeded their five-minute limit and had to be shooed away from the microphone with a curt "thank you," but considering the volume of addresses, the debate moved along briskly.

As might be expected, many of the speakers played ideological table tennis. War supporters spoke of the world being a better place without Saddam Hussein and reminded the audience about the thousands of people who died at the hands of his regime. The anti-war faction (nine of the speakers fell into this category, seven were in the other) brought up weapons of mass destruction that have yet to be found, ongoing questions about intelligence and military planning, and Bush administration diplomacy or perceived lack of threat.

The fourth speaker, Andrew Ackerman, editor-in-chief of The Emory Wheel, was the sole panelist to eschew the political. He discussed the student newspaper's deliberately neutral editorial approach to the war.

"We shied away from commenting on Iraq," said Ackerman, one of few speakers not to read from prepared text. "We have such a diverse editorial board, there would have been no agreement."

Instead, Ackerman said, the Wheel's editorial pages were opened to the University community so that its members could express their views. "We try very seriously to get all points of opinion in print," he said. "We think that falls in the purview of our mission."

Several speakers looked at the Iraq war from innovative angles. Dabney Evans, health educator in the Rollins School of Public Health, identified the many ways war affects the public health of civilians, noting that 90 percent of people killed in the wars of the 1990s were civilians, while just 10 percent of deaths in World War I were non-combatants.

Paul Rubin, professor of economics and law, outlined a formula stating that fighting the war now is actually cheaper that containing the Hussein regime for another decade and saves more lives. Tens of thousands more Iraqis would die over the next 10 years if Hussein remained in power, Rubin said, than have died as a result of fighting in 2003-04.

Abdullahi An-na'im, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law, said he was born in Sudan while the country was still a British colony. He added that Americans have a naïve ideas about what colonialism is and that Iraq now could qualify as a colony. An-na'im did not have kind words to say about the war.

"Unilateralists and terrorists are two sides of the same coin," he said. "They have in common illegality and unaccountability."

Pedram Bezhadi of the Persian Club and Omar Babar of the Muslim Students Association--both spoke of the war though the eyes of Muslims--but were on different sides, pro and con, respectively.

Speakers from Emory's College Republicans and Young Democrats (seated next to one another on stage), not surprisingly, also came out swinging from opposite sides of the debate.

The event was based on the format of last spring's Classroom on the Quad, which was held one week after hostilities between the U.S.-led coalition and Iraq began. Several of Tuesday's speakers also took part in that event; one of them, Frank Lechner, associate professor of sociology, titled his speech "A War of Liberation, Revisited," a direct reference to his address 10 months ago.

Following the debate and closing remarks from President Jim Wagner, several speakers and remaining attendees broke into half-hour discussion groups to further explore some of the themes.