By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online.
By SUSAN McMAHON
LOWELL Holding signs like "Stop Aggression" and "Peace Not War," the protesters gathered at the steps of the Lydon Library beneath the damp air, praying for peace and asking the government not to send their sons and daughters to war.
On the other side of campus, students, faculty and outside experts later faced off on both sides of the Iraq issue, debating the merits of going to war vs. the need to stay at peace.
Both events, held yesterday afternoon, were sponsored by the UMass Lowell Muslim Student Association and envisioned as a way to bridge the gap between Muslims and non-Muslims on campus.
"They heard both sides," Umar Sheikh, president of the Muslim Student Association at UMass Lowell, said afterward. "So now they can decide what is really going on."
The event began with an anti-war rally on the university's north campus and ended with the debate on the south campus.
About 40 students and faculty turned out for each event, with passionate opinions on each side of the debate.
The rally drew both curious onlookers and anti-war supporters. They prayed for peace and for the safety of military personnel. And they encouraged each other to continue to make their voices heard.
"They want us to give up. They want us to say we can't make a difference," said Charley Richardson, director of the university's labor extension program and a plaintiff in a lawsuit aimed to prevent an attack on Iraq without a congressional declaration of war. "At the point they want us to stop is the point we have to redouble our efforts."
For senior Rachael Kenney, attending the rally was a way to take action.
"You sit there stewing about the war and then you don't do anything," she said. "This is something to actually do."
Later that afternoon, Richardson and Anwar Kazmi, president of the Massachusetts Muslim-American Alliance, debated UMass Lowell students Dan Kelly and Andy Anderson, president and vice-president of the Students for International Stability.
Kelly and Anderson argued that Saddam Hussein had a chance to disarm, but the time had come for United Nations resolution 1441 to be enforced.
"I believe war should be nothing but a last resort," Kelly said. "That is precisely the condition we are in right now."
But Kazmi argued that attacking preemptively would set a dangerous precedent in U.S. foreign policy, and a dangerous example for the rest of the world.
"What is to prevent other countries from doing exactly the same thing? What if India decides to do that to Pakistan?" he said. "This is the Pandora's box we are about to open."
Students asked questions, sometimes going on the offensive, claiming that the war was one for oil and control of it. They questioned the validity of a preemptive strike.
Kelly and Anderson said such an action was necessary.
"If you don't do something now, it will be too late," Anderson said. "Do you want to be looking at an Iraqi nuke or Iraqi chemical weapons coming your way?"
The group touched upon the other issues that spring up in the face of war: the inevitable death of civilians versus the suffering they face now under Saddam's regime; the arrogance of a "go it alone" mentality versus the Bush administration's decision to seek approval from the United Nations.
Kazmi, who is originally from Pakistan and still has close ties to the region, acknowledges the situation is a difficult one. But the best way to resolve it is through peaceful means, he said.
"For me, it's like a child with two parents. This is a no-win situation. We will suffer both ways," he said.
Susan McMahon's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .