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Mon, May 20

Forum offers views on Muslim anger with U.S.

PRESCOTT – "Osama bin Laden is not a lunatic," Yavapai College geography and international education instructor Jim Bennett said.

"He is an extreme voice in a sea of frustration and mistrust ... he is a symptom of what can grow if given fertile ground that was created by decades of foreign policies and out of what some people perceive as a U.S. policy of dominance, arrogance, hostility and insensitivity."

Bennett was one of the four guests who spoke Tuesday at a public forum titled "Understanding and Reflection" at Mile High Middle School's Hendrix Auditorium in Prescott.

Other speakers included Prescott College President Dan Garvey, Richard Bloom, an Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University professor, and Bernardo Aguilar, professor of integrative studies at Prescott College.

Bennett's presentation reflected on the origins of East-West tensions and the United States' policies in the Middle East.

Bennett said that history and geography separated the West from the Muslim world, and that U.S. foreign policy in the past century has especially divided these two worlds.

"The United States developed policies that were geared to specifically accomplish two objectives – to keep the flow of oil going and to support governments that were friendly to the West," he said.

Once the United States offered its support to Israel, which came to life in 1948 on primarily Palestinian land, the division between it and the Muslim world broadened, Bennett stressed.

"We tell the region we want peace," he said, "but recent history makes the Muslim world wary" as U.S. military actions and policies prove different.

In his introduction on the psychology of terrorism, Bloom said, "Terrorism has been an equal opportunity employer," crossing racial, ethnic or geographical boundaries.

"Terrorism is the psychological war," he said, adding that it is not about victims. Its main objective is to create fear and confusion among those who survived and observed the Sept. 11 events, for example, so "they would act in support of perpetrators of terrorism," he said.

"President Bush's psychological war is to affect how people think and feel about terrorism," he said.

The mass media's role is an important one in the psychological war, he said.

Bloom stressed that research shows that people who engage in terrorism are not crazy.

"Severe psychiatric disorder does not correlate with coherent and intelligent planning," he said. "The vast majority of the terrorists are normal," but their motivations differ. Religion, various political ideologies and money drive them to act in a devious manner, he said.

Garvey talked about the role of higher education in understanding and seeking solutions to our changing world. Explaining the evolution of educational institutions, he said that people do not pay much attention to the verb "to think."

"Those of you who came today, a part of the reason that you are here is because you value and understand that the verb 'to think' is very, very important," he said.

"Colleges and universities emerged from a need of having a place for 'great thinking'," he explained.

Garvey raised several questions in his introduction that reflected on the United States' past and present political and military endeavors.

"A great deal of people in this world are dealing with a fair amount of despair," he said. "What we are seeing and what we are dealing with is a notion of despair." He added that people do act irrationally when they feel desperate because they have nothing to lose.

Aguilar said, "This war has serious political, economical and ecological dimensions."

He stressed that often in crises like these, supporters of military actions label those who are against the war as traitors and pro-terrorists.

"The diversity and the spectrum of opinions is healthy for democracy," he said.

The audience of some 200 people asked various questions pertaining to terrorism, the current military action in Afghanistan and how it would affect the global economy, freedom of speech, the role of mass media in the war against terrorism, etc.

Responding to a question about racial profiling Garvey, Aguilar and Bennett stressed that it imposes a danger in instances like this and it should be avoided in most instances. Bloom had a somewhat different opinion.

"Profiling can be a very effective tool to prevent some very bad things from occurring and we should support it for that reason," he said.

Contact Mirsada Buric-Adam at mburicadam@prescottaz.com

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