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Al-Arian leads anti-war protest

Less than 24 hours after President George W. Bush sent a message to thousands at the Sun Dome that the United States would protect freedom at all costs — even if that means a preemptive strike on Iraq — hundreds gathered at MacDill Air Force Base to send the president a message about a possible war:

It’s not worth it.

The rally was led by fiery speaker and controversial USF professor Sami Al-Arian and protected by more than two dozen Tampa police.

“Hey, hey, ho, ho, we won’t fight for Texaco,” Al-Arian shouted into a microphone as about 500 people slowly made their way down Dale Mabry Highway, positioning themselves just outside the base’s main gate.

As the rally commenced, many motorists leaving MacDill honked their horns and used upside-down thumbs and other symbolic finger gestures to show their disapproval of the protesters’ message. In all, about a dozen pro-war activists showed up for the event.

The rally featured more than a dozen speakers who represented various civil rights groups including the NAACP, the American Muslim Alliance and the American Indian Movement.

Chimurenga Waller, president for the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement, said before Americans judge Saddam Hussein for what he might do, they must look at what they have done already.

“If the United States is about to attack Iraq for weapons of mass destruction, you have to remember that the only country to ever use a weapon of mass destruction is the United States,” Waller said.

Waller and others spoke about the idealistic goal of creating a culture of peace and standing up against American colonialism, which they say destroyed the lives of millions of Native Americans and Africans during the past 500 years.

Tampa resident Rose Whiteside, who stood on the side of the road with a sign that read “Raise your standards before you raise your fists,” thinks part of the reason a large portion of the eastern world feels some resentment for the United States is simple: eye-to-eye communication among opposing political leaders is almost non-existent.

“What really strikes me is that President Bush and others in the government have never sat down and talked to Saddam Hussein,” she said.

But for some, there’s nothing to talk about. Many contest that Hussein is a dangerous man who has used chemical weapons on his own people. Should he develop nuclear weapons — something Bush has made clear to the American public is a strong possibility — he could hold the entire Middle East hostage and pose a threat to American soil.

Don Sierra, a disabled veteran who said he fought in three wars, said he knows war isn’t always the solution, but in this case he supports the president.

He said he understands the opposition’s argument that the United States should finish what it started, namely its search for Osama bin Laden and the toppling of al-Qaida terrorism worldwide, but he thinks the venue for the protest is inappropriate.

“I think we need to be supporters for the military. I mean, these soldiers just do what they’re told,” Sierra said. “(The rally’s location) is in piss-poor taste.”

For Ann McGarrity, this was her first protest. She opposes the war because she doesn’t think the cause warrants wasting American lives. She carried a sign that read “Mr. President, bury aggression, not our boys.”

“I would rather ride a bicycle for the rest of my life than have one of our boys killed over oil,” she said.

Al-Arian, the keynote speaker of the protest, spoke for about 15 minutes, warning that a clash of civilizations could be the end product of a preemptive strike in Iraq.

It’s unfortunate, he said, because he thinks since the Sept. 11 attacks, the United States has come a long way. He said Muslims here and abroad have united with Americans with a common goal of ridding the world of terrorism and punishing bin Laden and al-Qaida.

But now, he said, if the United States strikes Iraq and civilians die, that support will dwindle and turn into hate. In Al-Arian’s words, a strike would create a “perpetual conflict between America and the Islamic world.”

He said that Americans must resist the “distorted view of world politics and history” by which both Bush and bin Laden make their decisions.

“We should not surrender to intimidation and fear so that we may feel secure,” he said.

Al-Arian, punning on the national anthem, described the United States as the “land of the fear and the home of the war mongers.” He warned that unjustified action abroad breeds civil injustice at home, but he said it was each citizen’s responsibility to use this opportunity to stand up for American rights.

“To be patriotic is to be able to question; is to be able to stand up for the Bill of Rights and the Constitution at times of uncertainty and insecurity,” he said.