Ryan Chartrand

“I genuinely believe that George W. Bush has supplied al-Qaida with more recruits than bin Laden himself,” said As’ad AbuKhalil, a professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus, who lectured to a packed classroom of Cal Poly students and community members Wednesday evening. Students for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (SJPME) sponsored the event.

“He’s very knowledgeable. The guy spends pretty much all his time researching this stuff and blogging it online and he has a great blog, The Angry Arab News Service,” said Marya Mikati, SJPME president and an architectural engineering senior. “So we felt he would do justice to speaking about Iraq.”

AbuKhalil, born in Tyre, Lebanon received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science from the American University of Beirut and his Ph.D. in comparative government from Georgetown University. Along with his position at Stanislaus, he is a visiting professor at UC Berkeley.

“Particularly since he speaks with students and works with students and cares about them a lot, we felt like he had a great perspective to bring on Iraq and the Middle East in general,” said Ian Muir, vice president of SJPME and materials engineering senior.

AbuKhalil opened his lecture, “The Social Implications of the U.S. Occupation of Iraq and the Future of the Iraqi People,” by commenting on Americans’ lack of knowledge on Middle Eastern affairs, foreign affairs and world geography.

He issues a public opinion survey to students in every country he visits; France, Canada, Germany and Britain all scored much higher than the United States on every question pertaining to foreign affairs.

AbuKhalil said people know that whatever happens in Mexico or Canada will not affect their lives, and noted that just five U.S. media correspondents are stationed in Canada.

The presidential election process thus far does not cover foreign policy much, in part because it is not what Americans want to hear, he said. Americans returned to voting on foreign policy the way they did prior to Sept. 11, 2001. The issue now is security, he said.

“You want America to be secure. The rest of the world can burn to hell. I mean more or less,” he added.

AbuKhalil suggested other parts of the world are “burning” due to U.S. foreign policy.

Although the numbers vary, he said between 650,000 and 1 million Iraqi civilians were killed by U.S. troops throughout the Iraq war. The Bush administration says according to its own classified studies, a mere 50,000 Iraqi civilians were killed, he said.

“These are not surgical strikes like you hear. These are not video games. These are wars that inevitably kill innocent civilians,” he said.

AbuKhalil noted that unless people read the newspaper scrupulously, they will continue to think that most attacks in the Middle East are Al Qaeda-related. The truth is civilians are killed by U.S. strikes in several countries, he said.

“Do you know that we are how many years into the Iraq war and U.S. fighter jets are still bombing bridges and towns in a country under occupation by the United States? How many people are paying attention to that?” he asked.

Muir said, “As he was saying, the Iraq story is kind of painted out of the news and I think students are particularly susceptible to that because if something doesn’t grab their attention, they’re not really going to be interested in it.”

He pointed out that a majority of military attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq are by “Iraqi nationalists, Iraqi religious, people who – and I know this offends the American feeling tremendously – people who do not find American occupation to be pleasurable,” he said, while noting that just 4 or 5 percent of attacks are Al Qaeda-related.

Osama bin Laden is a popular figure on college campuses in Pakistan and other parts of the Middle East out of deep resentment toward the U.S., he said.

“This is the legacy of U.S. foreign policy. This Bush administration, after eight years, is going to leave us with a legacy of harm and damage and insecurity that is going to continue for years to come,” AbuKhalil said, noting that current presidential candidates are not saying or doing enough about that.

He said many politicians listed chief goals for the war as eliminating weapons of mass destruction and establishing a democracy in Iraq that can be emulated around the region.

“When you look around the region, there are no takers,” he said. “There are no people in the Middle East who are saying, ‘please, we want to copy the Iraqi models.’ We are dying to have daily car bombs, being shot at checkpoints by U.S. troops, we want to have a Grand Ayatollah running the country and we want to have foreign occupation.”

“We ignore foreign policy at our own peril,” he added, explaining that an absence of foreign discussion in the election is the public’s fault because they continue to watch Britney Spears instead of international news.

“Our candidates will care about foreign policy if we care about it. If we start paying attention, they’ll pay attention. But we don’t pay attention and as a result we get candidates, and we get presidents whose only experience in foreign affairs is the fact that they’ve probably once or twice had a Chinese meal.”

AbuKhalil held a 25-minute question-and-answer session following his lecture.

Biology junior James Tumulak said of the lecture, “Obviously as college students, we’re tied up in our own lives. We want to get good grades, pay our tuition, put gas in our cars, eat our meals and just get through our day, but hearing things like this really opens your eyes and really makes you appreciate and critique the life we live.”

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