Basalt forum forges plea to give peace a chance in Iraq | AspenTimes.com
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Basalt forum forges plea to give peace a chance in Iraq

More than 100 people representing several views attended a forum on Iraq in Basalt last night, but almost all of them agreed on one thing – give peace a chance.

The neutral forum was organized to give people an outlet to express their thoughts in a nonconfrontational setting, listen to other perspectives and possibly gain insights. Participants, who came from Aspen to Carbondale, said it accomplished that goal.

In one small group dominated by peace proponents, Basalt resident Frank McSwain drew interest but not ridicule when he declared his support for President Bush. McSwain made it clear that he wasn’t for war but that he felt it vital to support “our commander in chief.”

He said he believes that the United State’s position on Iraq is a “power play” designed to force Saddam Hussein out of his dictatorship.

“I hope like hell that it doesn’t happen,” McSwain said about war. “And I think President Bush hopes like hell it doesn’t happen.”

That jolted other participants in the small group, some of whom expressed views that Bush was a warmonger.

Rabbi Mendel Mintz of Aspen openly expressed his support for a “regime change” through whatever means were necessary. Mintz said he doesn’t see Iraq as a threat to the United States but Saddam must be removed because of his oppression of his people.

The 100-plus audience broke into 11 small groups featuring different perspectives of the Iraqi debate. One group featured Ibrahim Kazerooni, an official with the Islamic Center in Denver who fled Iraq in 1974. Another featured Sue Gray, a Carbondale woman who visited Iraq on a peace mission earlier this year.

A representative of each group later summarized the findings of their groups’ discussion for the larger group.

Nicky Leigh said listening to the perspective of McSwain and Mintz didn’t cause her to waver from her strong pro-peace position. But it opened her mind, nevertheless. She said she now realizes that it’s not enough to oppose wars. A person must find alternative ways to help people who are oppressed.

“I’ve got to go home and reconcile this,” she said.

Dick Kelley of Carbondale said he remained steadfastly opposed to war, regardless of the circumstances in Iraq. Kelley said he didn’t understand how anyone could support war when the long-term implications were unclear among a volatile mix of Sunni and Shiite Muslims and Kurds living in Iraq.

The forum attracted a diverse mix of senior citizens, high school students and a greater representation of Latinos than is typical at community events. Lili, a Latina whose last name was unavailable, said she attended because she wants to find ways to prevent war.

About eight local high school students attended. Danny Delany, a 15-year-old sophomore at Basalt High, said he wanted to learn more about the Iraqi situation. He said he tended to support peace but felt that Saddam should be removed from power.

John Sternig, 17, a junior at Basalt, helped lead a small-group discussion on the possibility of a draft. He said the group was a diverse mix of young men getting close to draft age and veterans who fought in World War II and Vietnam. He said they shared their perspectives on war and the level of responsibility to fight for your country.

The forum’s end brought pledges of continued gatherings to share knowledge and perspectives. Gray is presenting a slide show of her Iraq trip tonight at 7 at the Methodist Church in Basalt. She welcomed people who don’t support her peace position and who will ask “the hard questions.”

Methodist minister Marie Gasau said she wants to bring Kazerooni back for a public presentation so he can share his experience as an Iraqi native and a Muslim.

Blue Lake resident Peter Delany suggested that a one-hour prayer meeting be held in Basalt at a different church each week. Several religious leaders helped organize the forum. His idea was applauded, and an e-mail list of those interested was circulated.

One of those religious leaders, Mary Kate Schroeder, a priest at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Basalt, seemed to best summarize the feeling at the forum.

Nearly everyone hopes for peace, she said. “Where we differ is where the path to [peace] goes.”

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com]


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