Lecture a discourse on Iraq, Iran politics

On Oct. 15, a panel discussion on the current political situation in Iraq was held in the Union Ballroom and followed by the annual Roemer lecture, given by acclaimed scholar Juan Cole.

Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan, president of the Global Americana Institute and has served as a commentator for NPR and PBS, among his other accomplishments.

His lecture, titled "Iraq, Iran, and the Shiite Crescent: Myth or Reality" drew nearly full capacity and focused on the history of Sunni and Shiite Muslims in Iran and Iraq, as well as the role that democratization has played in helping to make Iran more influential in the Middle East.

He traced the history of Islamic thought and revolution from Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr through Ayatollah Khomeini and up to the modern day dependant relationship Iraq has with Iran, which allows Iran's theocratic ideals to influence Iraqi politics and society.

Preceding his lecture, the panel for the political discourse included Cole as well as founder of the Center for Transitional and Post-Conflict Governance at the International Foundation for Election Systems Jeff Fischer and Geneseo's own professors Bill Gohlman, Edward Drachman and Jeremy Grace.

Fischer gave a presentation entitled "Governate Elections in Iraq," which focused on the course that elections in Iraq have taken since 2005. He left attendees questioning whether or not democracy could flourish there in years to come.

According to Fischer, the U.S. is seeing an increase in voter turnout and a vast showing of participation in the form of "7,655 candidates for less than 1,000 seats." He described recent election legislation, such as the Provincial Elections Act, which he said, "requires elections to take place by Jan. 31 of next year," and defined the numerous interests and electorate demographics involved in Iraqi democracy.

Cole's presentation, "Obstacles to Democracy in the Middle East," examined the possibility of and pretexts for the failure of democracy in Iraq and its region of the world.

He began by giving his definition of democracy and continued by listing the obstacles the political ideology faces, including, according to Cole, "Colonial heritage of cultural division between old and new middle classes," Iraq's lack of wealth, the weakness of Iraq's business class, and "countries that have a single high-priced commodity [oil] have a greater chance of falling to violence."

"I'm presenting the difficulties," Cole concluded. "I'm not saying that they can't be overcome … I'm giving them a 5 percent chance."

"If people are dying, I should know why," said sophomore Joseph Mifsud, who attended the discussion.

Sophomore Kyle Rodrigues had a more specific purpose in mind when he sat down for Cole's lecture. "We want to learn about an important issue our nation, our world, faces," he said. "We feel it's not portrayed accurately in the media."