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January 17, 2005, 7:15 P.M.

Donít Drink The Kool-Aid: An interesting article on the CNN website today got me thinking about an issue that has been in the back of my mind for a while. Todayís article was about an announcement by journalist Seymour Hersch that the White House was developing a plan for attacks on Iranian nuclear and chemical facilities and that there was an active intelligence effort in place to investigate those industries in Iran. Hersch, you will recall, was the guy who broke the Abu Ghraib torture scandal.

The administration, particularly its neocon core, has apparently decided that the next step in their so called war on terror is Iran. One particular statement, an uncomfortable reference to the 1978 Jonestown cult mass suicides, by Hersch sent chills down my spine, he said: ďif you donít drink the Kool-Aid, you canít go to meetings.Ē The neocon hawks, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld and Bush simply donít want anyone around (like, say, Colin Powell) who is not willing to swallow their plan without question. Donít confuse them with the facts or, heaven forbid, with an opposing point of view.

What is worse about the current Mideast policy is that there is only a thin veil disguising the US actions in the Middle East as anything less than a modern day crusade. Rutgers University professor Jackson Lears, writing in the New York Times last year (The New York Times, ďHow the War became a CrusadeĒ[3-11-03]) , suggests that the reason why Bush 43 is so oblivious to the unanticipated consequences in the war in Iraq is because of his denial of the possibility of chance. At a prayer breakfast in 2003 in Washington D.C. Bush told the faithful that they can be confident in the ways of Providence, even when they are far from our understanding.Ē Bush and his supporters believe that he was elected president by the will of God. Apparently when you have God on your side, you donít have to worry about the consequences of your actions, even if you are the President of the United States.

This theory seems to be gaining traction on our college campuses. A December 28, 2004 CNN.com article reported on three incoming University of North Carolina students who sued the school because they were required to read a book about the Quran. They said it offended their Christian beliefs. How do they know if they refused to read the book? Besides, if they really are that fervent in their beliefs, why should they be so threatened? What seems to be at work here is an effort to stop the free flow of ideas that should be encouraged on college campuses. I can well imagine the response if I told some of my college professors that I did not intend to read an assigned book because it would attack my own entrenched belief system.

When you look at this issue on a broader stage, however, it is apparent that the refusal to open oneís mind to opposing points of view, if only to validate your own, is a sanctioned tenant of conservative Christianity. It is also obvious that this approach makes its proponents no different than the Muslim fundamentalists they so desperately despise.

On college campuses, the issue seems to turn traditional clashes over academic freedom on their head. According to conservatives, the movement, and it is a movement, is intended to overcome the liberal bias perceived on college campuses. If you ask me, there should be no bias if there is a free discourse. Refusing to read books because you donít think you will like what they have to say, or worse banning them altogether, does nothing to eliminate bias. It simply shifts it to someone elseís favor. There were conservative, liberal, communist, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Polish and African, and all kinds of other students, in many of my classes at Rutgers. Muslims and Jews read the Bible in some of those classes just as students who considered themselves Christians read the Torah and the Quran. No one left the experience scarred, and most left with a better understanding of themselves and their place in a world that is a whole lot more diverse than the one that Bush and the boys see. The idea behind college is to open your mind, not to close it.

I donít see that the issue on college campuses is any more about academic freedom than the invasion of Iraq (or the threatened invasion of Iran) is about nuclear weapons. Itís all about wanting to live in a homogeneous word that reflects our own views. Rather than try to understand why people of other nations hate us, some of us are willing to use our might, and our sonsí and daughtersí, to eliminate them. Rather than understand why people think differently than us, there are those amongst us who will try to shut out all discordant voices. This sounds like a revolution, and I didnít sign up for it.

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Copyright 2005 Edward Philpot

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