Steps Toward Peace:

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While a war is being waged in the Middle East, two fundamentally opposed religious groups on the U campus have managed to accomplish what Jews and Muslims have been struggling to attain globally for decades: peace.

The Jewish Students Association (JSA) and the Muslim Students Association (MSA) have coexisted peacefully on campus for some time now, despite sincere differences in their views regarding both the war in Iraq and national rights in the Middle East.

Ossama Elshamy, the vice president of MSA and a sophomore at the U, says that while his organization takes no official stance regarding President Bush’s war in Iraq, there is little disagreement regarding anti-war sentiments within his congregation.

“Almost everyone in MSA is opposed to the war in Iraq,” Elshamy said. “We don’t disagree that Saddam [Hussein] is a terrible dictator and should be removed, but the war currently being waged is unjust.”

The reasons for Elshamy’s view are many he says, and are both of a political and personal nature.

“The United Nations does not support Bush, and I agree with them,” Elshamy said. “I don’t think that the war in Iraq will garnish the support of the Iraqi people. I am also concerned with the loss of innocent Iraqi lives…any loss of life is tragic.”

Abdul-Qayum Mohmand, a graduate student in political science, agrees with Elshamy and offers further insight into the overwhelming Muslim anti-war sentiment.

“War will not win us the support of the Iraqi people,” Mohmand said. “By dropping bombs, we are killing innocent people, which creates further animosity against the United States. In the short run we may find some people in Iraq who will support this war…but this doesn’t mean they will be our long-term allies.”

Mohmand says, with Hussein’s removal from office, a successful replacement government may be hard to find.

“If we install a puppet regime, as we did in Afghanistan, we must support this regime with a strong military presence. If we don’t, the regime will be toppled within a few weeks of our withdrawal,” he said.

While there is little debate regarding the necessity of ousting Hussein and his dictatorial regime, Elshamy and his organization feel that Hussein’s international threat might be overestimated.

“The majority of missiles that Saddam has are very short range and not really that dangerous,” Elshamy said.

Elshamy’s views regarding Hussein’s short-range missiles are not reassuring to members of the JSA, a group whose views differ markedly from those of MSA.

“Saddam has been, and still is, a threat to Israeli security,” said Moshe Perkins, an advisor for JSA.

While JSA maintains a non-political agenda, several of its leaders express profound views regarding the U.S. involvement in Middle Eastern politics and the war in Iraq.

Rita Sharshiner, the vice president of JSA and U sophomore in exercise and sports science, supports the war in Iraq, but merely by default.

“I was against the war before it started,” Sharshiner said. “But, now that we’ve begun attacks, we must continue the war…we made a promise to the Iraqi people, and we need to fulfill that promise.”

Paul Weissburg, secretary for JSA, supports the United States’ war on Iraq, but says the future government in Iraq ought to recognize Israel.

“I support the introduction of democracy into Iraq, and whatever government is created, they need to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist,” Weissburg said.

Perkins is pro-war, too, but says the politics of this particular conflict are hard to wholeheartedly support.

“Personally, I’m not totally sure about this war,” Perkins said. “I think [President] Bush allowed himself to get trapped in a position where war was the only option…I would’ve liked to see a greater attempt at diplomacy before we began dropping bombs.”

Regardless of their individual views, Perkins says the Torah instructs all Jews very specifically regarding war.

“Judaism has very clear views on war,” Perkins said. “There are certain wars that Jews are obligated, by God, to fight…and while the Torah does not teach unbiased aggression, it does teach its people to defend themselves.”

Although JSA and MSA hold significantly different views regarding both politics and religion, both groups maintain mutual respect and admiration for each other.

“There is definitely some mutual respect between [JSA and MSA],” Elshamy says. “Islam teaches that, even if someone has a different viewpoint than you, that is no reason to treat him with disrespect.”

Sharshiner echoes similar sentiments.

“There is an open dialogue between [JSA and MSA], and that is essential,” Sharshiner said. “The views of our organizations will not solve any of the Middle East’s big problems, but we can still take that first step and exist in peace at the U.”

Above all else, both JSA and MSA members are pleased with the abiding and accepting nature which is central to the U, and only Weissburg has complaints regarding the misrepresentation of Jewish views in the media.

“The U is a very accepting place,” Weissburg said. “But I feel The Daily Utah Chronicle has been slightly biased toward the Muslim view, and sometimes we, as Jewish students, are not aptly represented,” But, he said JSA has never experienced any anti-Semitism on campus.

“I think the U is the most diverse and accepting campus in Utah,” Sharshiner said.

Both JSA and MSA hold open tables for discussion and the presentation of information downstairs in the Union lobby and can be reached at their respective Web addresses.

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