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An overflow crowd of more than 125 people filled the Kirby Hall of Civil Rights auditorium, sitting and standing on the steps, to hear Ilan Peleg, Charles A. Dana Professor of Government and Law, discuss “Players, Origins and Consequences of the Current Crisis.” His talk was the fourth in a five-part Campus Conversations series addressing issues related to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S.

Peleg, an expert on international relations and the Middle East, said the Sept. 11 attacks were a well-coordinated assault with at least four targets, resulting in more than 6,000 deaths, millions of dollars in material damage, and “harm to our collective psyche.” It was the “result of numerous actions of many groups and individuals,” Peleg continued, calling it “a crime against humanity” in which civilians were massacred.

In addition to suspect Osama bin Laden and his terrorist group al-Qaeda, Peleg said bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian surgeon, is a key figure in the terrorist action. Al-Zawahiri has links to the terrorist group al-Jihad, which is held responsible for the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and the attempted assassination of President Hosni Mubarak.

The Taliban are “religious fanatics” who took over the government in Kabul with the assistance of Pakistan, bin Laden, and Western aid, said Peleg. He does not consider bin Laden solely to blame for the Sept. 11 attacks, since the coordinated assault required large sums of money. Peleg believes Iraq and its president, Saddam Hussein, were also involved.

“An alternative theory is that Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime are to blame,” Peleg said. “We know that Mohammed Ata, the Egyptian who flew the plane into the first (World Trade Center) tower, met with an Iraqi intelligence officer. We know that Iraqi agents have met bin Laden in Afghanistan many times. We know that Iraq was behind the ’93 assault on the World Trade Center, and after the attack vowed to complete the job and harm America.”

After Hussein’s “humiliating” defeat in the Persian Gulf War, Peleg said, Hussein knows that he is not able to directly challenge the military power of the West, so he has looked to terrorism and unconventional weapons such as biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons, going so far as to try some of these on his own people.

Peleg believes the Sept. 11 attack fits the modus operandi of Hussein by in effect hiring bin Laden as the “contractor” to execute the plan with the assistance of Iraqi intelligence.

“The goals of both groups are the same: to get the U.S. to leave the entire area, demolish the Saudi Arabian regime, and destroy moderate regimes like Egypt,” he said.

Peleg stressed that the U.S. is not inherently anti-Islamic, citing support and financial aid for Muslim countries such as Egypt, Pakistan, Bosnia, and Macedonia. “The U.S. has never been a blind supporter of Israel,” said Peleg. “Going back as far as (President) Lyndon Johnson, the U.S. has always insisted on a return to the 1967 borders (of Israel) and a Palestinian homeland.” He added that Islam is the fastest growing religion in America.

Peleg agreed with an audience member who said that Saddam Hussein would be easier to deal with than the Taliban, because there are clear targets in Iraq to target. “Historians in 35 or 40 years may say that it was a mistake of President Bush not to go after Saddam during the Persian Gulf War,” said Peleg.

Asked if the U.S. should reconsider its foreign policy in light of the attack, Peleg said the U.S. should always be evaluating its foreign policy, but the last thing it should do is change it because of bin Laden, or “terrorists will think this is the way to get America to change its policy.”

He said there can be no compromise with groups who still think they are fighting the wars of the Middle Ages or Crusades against other religions. He sees these groups as using Islam as a powerful tool in a geostrategic conflict. He believes a “democratization of the East is the best hope for resolving conflicts in the East.”

Peleg urged the audience to be very careful to avoid overreaction. While wanting to bring those responsive to justice, “we must remember the principles of a ‘just’ war, which calls for any reaction to be in proportion to the initial action, and to minimize civilian casualties,” said Peleg. At the same time, Peleg believes the U.S. needs to make an example of the Taliban as a deterrent against future terrorist actions.

Peleg is the author of six books and more than 60 articles on the Middle East and international conflicts.

The final program in the Campus Conversations series, “International Perspectives on the War Against Terrorism,” will be held 12:10-1:10 p.m. Friday, Oct. 5, in Hogg Hall. Lunch will be provided free of charge.

The forum will feature the following panel of students: Nurjahan Noaz ’03 (Ocean, N.J.), Edward Asiedu ’03 (Accra North, Ghana), Johannes van Gorp ’04 (Hong Kong), Farahleena Laiwalla ’04 (Karachi, Pakistan), Tarik Ghanim ’03 (Amman, Jordan), and Metin Aslantas ’03 (Istanbul, Turkey).

The panel will be introduced by Irshad Haji ’02 (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania).

The Campus Conversations series is sponsored by the offices of the college chaplain, dean of students, dean of studies, and intercultural development; the Lafayette Activities Forum; the International Students Association; Student Government; and members of the faculty.

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