Should We Stay or Should We Go?

FCLC Hosts Forum on Iraq


Published: October 11, 2007

FCLC—The Fordham Center on Religion and Culture dared to ask the question on everyone’s mind: when it comes to Iraq, should we stay or go? “Exit of No Exit?”, a forum held on Sept. 18 in Pope Auditorium, addressed the moral issues regarding American policy in Iraq. The standing-room only event was a follow-up to a 2005 discussion on the same topic hosted by the Center on Religion and Culture.

The forum, co-sponsored by the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies of the University of Notre Dame, was also broadcasted via satellite to the Indiana campus of the University of Notre Dame. It boasted academics from across the country, such as Jean Bethke Elshtain, Gerard Powers, Sohail Hashmi, Michael Walzer and Trudi Rubin.

The Rev. Michael Tueth, S.J., professor of communication and media studies at Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC), said the forum had “a great turnout.”

“The events sponsored by the Center for Religion and Culture have been consistently provocative and timely in their discussion of major issues facing anyone concerned with the moral dimensions of our public life these days,” Tueth said.

“Three of [the panelists: Elshtain, Powers and Hashmi] had participated in an earlier conference on the subject,” Margaret Steinfels, co-director of the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture, said. “Jean Bethke Elshtain and Gerard Powers have worked and written on this subject extensively. Sohail Hashmi…is [an] expert in Islamic ethics and political science and we were keen to include that perspective.” Walzer is a political philosopher and Rubin is a foreign affairs columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Each of the panelists had differing views on actions the U.S. should take. Hashmi argued that withdrawing the troops from Iraq “may provide the catalyst” for change in Iraq. Throughout the discussion, he expressed his belief that “it is the obligation of Muslims to keep their house in order.”

Rubin, who moderated the event, has spent a great deal of time in the Middle East “and knows the Iraqi situation well,” Steinfels said. Rubin said, “Iraqis are so conflicted…people want [the] Americans to perform; [Americans] haven’t performed, so they want us to leave.”

Powers discussed a similar idea. “If we respect the self-determination rights of Iraqis, if we are asked to leave, then we should leave.” Elshtain mentioned that the American government must be wary of the “moral consequences for foreign policies in the future if we pull out” too soon. She said she fears if there is a large-scale military withdrawal from Iraq, regional “ethnic cleansing” will “explode.”

Walzer said that Americans have a “collective responsibility” to contribute to reconstruction efforts in Iraq. He continued, saying “no human being is off the hook when mass murder is occurring…there are so many things for which we should be doing penance.”

Several Fordham students attended the event, in addition to the public. “I think the forum was amazing,” Siew Kwok, FCLC ’09, said. “Setting up experts in a panel discussion is especially good for a topic that has no answer. Even though I did not come away with any decisive answers to the topic, it educated me on the topic and showed me viewpoints from all angles.”

“This event helped me realize that [the situation in Iraq] is an even bigger and complicated mess than I previously knew,” Anthony Giacona, FCLC ’08, said. “I also realized that we have independence and democracy in this country because we fought for it, not because another culture [or] government forced it on us. The important thing is that I was alerted to the humanitarian crisis that is Iraq right now and that the people there deserve to live in peace.”

Tueth said the forum also had an impact on his opinions on the issue. “My opinions about the current situation in Iraq got a healthy dose of realism from this discussion. I was a bit surprised that three out of the four speakers argued on behalf of remaining in Iraq and withdrawing only gradually.” Tueth continued, “In general, they all seemed to agree that our invasion was a terribly bad idea. However, now that we are there, different moral considerations arise, and they are not easily solved.”

The Center on Religion and Culture hopes this will be the last forum on this topic. At the end of the event, Dr. Peter Steinfels, co-director of the center, concluded, “we hope and pray we won’t be having another panel like this two years from now.”