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Religous Studies Professor Michael Dyson speaks at a panel discussion held last night entitled "Race, Gender and War: The MLK Legacy." [Phil Leff/The Daily Pennsylvanian]

Every year, Martin Luther King Jr. Day provides the University community with an opportunity to reflect on King's life and civil rights issues of the past and present. But now, as the country stands on the verge of a possible war with Iraq, some feel that the holiday -- and some of King's lesser known ideas -- are especially significant. "There are lots of messages in Dr. King's life," said History Professor Walter Licht last night as he mediated the forum, "The Other Side of MLK." At the event -- which was in part sponsored by the Penn Faculty and Staff Against War on Iraq -- students and faculty members came together for an in-depth discussion of King's life and philosophy. It was the first in a series commemorating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. "King was a critical patriot," Religious Studies and African American Studies Professor Michael Dyson said. "He loved his country enough to tell it the truth." Licht led Dyson and his fellow panelists History Professor Mary Berry and Nursing Dean Afaf Meleis in a discussion of the need for the United States to establish a consistent code of intervention under President George W. Bush, and to avoid entering into an "ostensible war with Iraq," as Dyson called it. If the U.S. were to intervene in foreign lands where civil rights are threatened, Berry said, it would be involved in perpetual intervention. The panelists also discussed the effects of war on women and what King's reaction would have been. "If [King] were here today to speak, he would probably be talking about injustices to women," Meleis stated. "Wars are devastating to women." Berry also noted the sexual abuse that women in war-torn countries experience, and the U.S.'s more stringent policy of late, which restricts women refugees from entering the U.S. "Women's rights have been abrogated without any way to go in front of court," Meleis said. "They are kept in their situations because they have no place to go." She noted that war increases women's vulnerability and jeopardizes their human rights. As a result of the U.S.'s efforts to impose its values on nations such as Afghanistan, "a sense of 'we' and 'them' has been created," Meleis continued. Although the Bush administration claims that it attempts to "rescue" women from colonialism, Meleis said, essentially the U.S. is colonizing the countries whose women it is trying to save. The panelists identified another problem with U.S. foreign policy. "While being for peace is important, what really is needed is the redeeming of the American soul," Berry said. "We are in a situation where every one of us is a hypocrite. We pretend we don't see... oil and Saddam Hussein. We don't talk about the civil liberties crisis in our own country." Licht also asked panelists to comment on how war affects ethnic minorities. "Wars have been equal-opportunity employers," he suggested. "Is it possible that African Americans can gain from Sept. 11?" Dyson explained that some feel minorities can secure their places in society by ganging up on new minorities during times like these. For instance, he noted, since the events of Sept. 11, racial profiling has increasingly been directed toward people of Middle Eastern descent and less toward blacks. "I was a nigger the day before, but now I can get a cab," Dyson said, commenting on how different racial prejudices shift depending on current events. "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," Dyson continued, quoting King. Dyson argued that minorities' involvement in the war is "involuntary volunteerism." Minorities volunteer to fight because they feel they have no place in society, he said. However, he continued, there should be opportunities for minorities to live out their vocations within society. "I keep waiting for someone to explain to me why in the absence of attack or the threat of attack... the United States has the right to tell every other country what they should do," Berry said. Licht agreed, saying that the U.S. reverts "back to this mode of a high moral sense where we are good and the rest of the world is evil or indifferent to evil." Dyson also spoke about King's belief that God is on the side of righteousness. King "tried to join that side," he said. The panelists weren't the only ones who enjoyed looking at King through a new perspective. "I'm really happy that the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. has been re-evaluated, not to under-emphasize the value of his civil rights work, but that he was involved in so many other issues," fifth-year Wharton and Engineering student Jesse Tendler said. King "was actively involved in a coordinated effort, trying to unite peace movements, a civil rights movement... a poor people's movement." "It's really important to link your opposition to the war to a broader vision," School of Education graduate student Tina Collins said.

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