Campus Protests Absent Despite Possible Strike on Iraq

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As President Bush pushes for military intervention in Iraq, the nation moves closer to striking abroad. But unlike last year, no protesters have marched on Sproul Plaza decrying a potential war.

Last year, only 10 days after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2,500 protesters marched through Sproul Plaza. On Oct. 9, the day after the United States began its bombing of Afghanistan, 600 protesters rallied on Sproul Plaza to speak out against the war.

This year, however, Sproul Plaza remains void of any mass organized protests against the possible war in Iraq.

Snehal Shingavi, a member of the International Socialist Organization, said the lack of protests do not indicate UC Berkeley students are not opposed to the U.S. involvement with Iraq. Rather, he said, they have found alternative methods of expressing dissent.

"You can say that the number of protests are fewer, but there have been other ways that people have shown their opposition to the war," he said.

The Berkeley Free Iraq Foundation and Muslim Students Association held a teach-in Wednesday night, where speakers questioned whether Iraq posed a threat to the United States, said Salman Alam, a board member of the Muslim student group.

The Muslim Students Association has also handed out literature on Sproul Plaza opposing the war, he added.

"I don't think the question should be 'Why aren't there rallies on Sproul?'" Alam said. "I'm not sure how you can gauge campus awareness with rallies."

But many students and professors agreed protests are difficult to organize because the United States has not actually engaged in war.

"It's difficult for a movement to respond to anything before it happens," said Jerry Sanders, a UC Berkeley peace and conflict studies lecturer. "It doesn't show a lack of support people have but that they are bewildered."

Shortly after a speech by President Bush urging the United Nations to support a U.S. military action in Iraq, Iraqi officials said last week they would allow weapon inspectors uninhibited access within the country.

But there remains a sharp division among U.S. officials who continue to press for military action against Iraq.

U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice alleged Wednesday that Iraq has trained Al Qaeda terrorists in the use of chemical weapons. Shortly after that, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Berkeley, opposed a preemptive strike on Iraq and urged Congress to work with the United Nations last week. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, yesterday also expressed the need to limit the president's military power.

Shingavi said opposition to the war in Congress has kept many Berkeley activists from protesting Bush's stance.

"People believe that there is something that will stop the United States from entering the war," he said. "They are hoping the war isn't going to happen but are slowly realizing that the Bush administration is bent on war."

The current debate over the possible war on Iraq leaves room for doubt, Sanders said.

But some said the absence of protests may indicate that more UC Berkeley students support U.S. military intervention in Iraq.

"There's a good possibility that more people are in favor of getting rid of Saddam Hussein," said Bret Manley, president of the Berkeley College Republicans. "People are realizing that he isn't good for the Iraqi people."

UC Berkeley political science professor Eric Schickler said protest movements are usually slow to start.

"Once action is actually taken, I'd be pretty surprised if there were no protests," he said. "It takes people a while to focus on an issue. I wouldn't read it as increased apathy among students."


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