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Sunday, January 12, 2003

More on the Anti-War Conference at the U of M:
Congratulations to the Anti-War Action and the Muslim Students' Association, student activist groups at the University of Michigan, for putting on a fabulous conference! I haven't heard final numbers, but I believe that around 1000 people attended at least some of the sessions. I don't think anyone was disappointed. I got to hear a talk from the author of perhaps the best book on the "war on terrorism" (Rahul Mahajan: The New Crusade: America's War on Terrorism). I also heard from an author I've read many times on Common Dreams, Robert Jensen, and an author I plan to read a lot of soon, Michael Albert. And, as I said before, the opening speech by Mahdi Bray of Washington was immensely inspiring.

I heard Michael Albert speak in two different sessions: on Saturday he spoke fairly briefly on the subject of "War and Corporate Globalization" while today he discussed his theory/proposal called "participatory economics." In the Saturday session, he thoroughly debunked all of the reasons given by the Bushies for going to war with Iraq: weapons of mass destruction, threat to our security, support for terrorism. About Iraq being a threat to US security, he said "This is basically an IQ test. If you believe it, you don't have an IQ." Albert is the founder/publisher of Z Magazine, and you can read much of his work at the Z web site, and you can learn specifically about "participatory economics" at

Jensen talked about "The Problem of Patriotism," where he pointed out the flaws in the whole concept of patriotism. It was somewhat dry and strained at times, and although I guess I agree with him on a lot of it, I'm not sure that it is useful or necessary to totally reject the concept of patriotism. I think that it is so ingrained in many people that attacking it is a sure way to get them not to listen to you. Jensen argued against the approach of co-opting patriotism that many progressives take, saying that opposing illegal wars and defending civil rights is being truly patriotic. Perhaps I haven't fully grasped his logic, but I think that this co-opting of patriotism is a winning strategy. I think there are a lot of people out there with flags on their cars that could be swayed by an argument that says "do you want that flag to stand for pre-emptive strikes and imprisonment without trials? Isn't that what this country opposed when it fought the Nazis and faced off with the Soviets? The flag should stand for liberty and justice, not war and oppression." Still, Jensen was a good speaker and made several good points.

Another speaker I heard was Stephen Zunes from San Francisco, who presented a history of US intervention in the Middle East and how almost every intervention has had its negative consequences. Zunes is affiliated with Foreign Policy In Focus, a progressive "think tank without walls."

If you get a chance to hear any of these speakers, especially Bray or Albert, I highly recommend it!