Roundtable: Duke DNA, Iran Options, Muslim Sorority Topics: the U.S. military weighs options on Iran; DNA from members of the Duke lacrosse team accused of sexual assault don't match samples from their accuser; and the first Muslim sorority tries to find a place in America. Guests: history professor Mary Frances Berry; Jeff Obafemi Carr, host of the radio show Freestyle; and Roland Martin, executive editor of The Chicago Defender.

Roundtable: Duke DNA, Iran Options, Muslim Sorority

Roundtable: Duke DNA, Iran Options, Muslim Sorority

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Topics: the U.S. military weighs options on Iran; DNA from members of the Duke lacrosse team accused of sexual assault don't match samples from their accuser; and the first Muslim sorority tries to find a place in America. Guests: history professor Mary Frances Berry; Jeff Obafemi Carr, host of the radio show Freestyle; and Roland Martin, executive editor of The Chicago Defender.


This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

On today's roundtable: DNA results are in for Duke lacrosse team members under a cloud of suspicion for an alleged sexual assault. And will the U.S. take military action against Iran?

Joining us today from our headquarters in Washington, D.C., Mary Frances Berry, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania. Also in the nation's capital is Tara Setmayer, Republican strategist. And Jeff Obafemi Carr is host of the radio show Freestyle. He's at Spotland Productions in Nashville, Tennessee.

Welcome, and let's start with this Duke issue. Jeff, not every sexual assault leaves DNA evidence, but these men, a few dozen of them, were tested, and now, there are no matches. What does this do to the whole incident?

Mr. JEFF OBAFEMI CARR (Radio Host, Freestyle): Well, it casts--it does cast a shadow on it. We could say a couple of things here. One, we all know that there's no DNA match. This is tough because of the doubt that's cast on the young woman's argument that she was choked, raped and sodomized. Secondly, something--I don't know what it was, but something did happen at this party. We're not quite sure what it is, but it's been obvious from the start that the lacrosse team was sticking by a well-designed and extremely well executed code of silence. That is, save that sadistic e-mail that came out--that was sent by one of the team members, claiming that he wanted to hire more strippers, but instead of having them get naked, he would cut and skin the Bs.

Now, I don't know what the next step could or should be. I shudder to think that a young woman could actually have been sexually assaulted in any way whatsoever and some person or persons could get away with it.

CHIDEYA: Tara, some people are already starting to raise comparisons to Tawana Brawley and to the question of whether or not this young woman was lying. How do we begin--you know, those of us who have no firsthand knowledge of this--begin to assess a case like this?

Ms. TARA SETMAYER (Republican Strategist): Well, this is unfortunate from all aspects, whether she was actually raped or wasn't; because the long-term implications of it being--the racial implications, what's going on in Durham, N.C. as far as there is--it's an interesting dynamic down there between Duke University and the lower income areas of Duke--I mean, of Durham. It's brought up--it's stirred up a whole lot of emotions, both racially and from a socioeconomic perspective that, I think, is really unfortunate.

The irony of this is that April is actually Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and we just discussed this last week on a program about what this does for victims who are legitimately raped and how difficult it is to come forward because of the sexual history, because of what happens. Victims get raped--raked through the coals, and in a situation like this, with this victim, unfortunately, her character and her past behaviors were brought up. She had been in trouble with the law before. She actually served jail time, and that started to dig into her credibility early on. And when you're dealing with a situation like Duke, where you have individuals with money who have access to great defense lawyers, they were chipping away at the credibility of this victim from the very beginning; and it really undermines the legitimate sexual assault cases that take place on campuses all the time. So, I think this is an unfortunate incident.

CHIDEYA: Professor Berry, I remember in your book, The Pig Farmer's Daughter, you talk about some of the constructions of sexuality and race, historically. Is there any historical perspective we should be looking at?

Professor MARY FRANCES BERRY (Professor, History, University of Pennsylvania): Oh, I think so. The question is whether the alleged victim is just another example of a black woman who's engaged in certain kind of sexual behavior, and what was she doing there as a stripper, and is she a respectable person just because of who she is. But I think--and also, the idea that men can take advantage of black women and get away with it, which was a historical phenomenon, which is true still today, more often than not.

But I wanted to point out also, Farai, that we don't know if Duke is being a good citizen in Durham, but the question is raised because of this. Also, we don't know yet that--whether the prosecutor will, in fact, bring charges or not. What we heard was what the defense lawyers said. The defense lawyers said that, therefore, nothing happened because of the DNA. We don't know what the prosecutor will say, and we have all these questions about--what was her physical condition? And what did the physician say? So, before we absolutely conclude that she is Tawana Brawley, we should keep in mind that context.

But even if it turns out that the story is not true, the behavior of the guys in that group, what kind of culture is existing there in Durham? And what is the Duke University tolerating among its students? These are still important questions to raise.

Mr. CARR: Yeah, I don't think that...

CHIDEYA: Professor Berry--oh, sorry, Jeff. Go ahead.

Mr. CARR: No, I was just going to say that I don't--in this issue, I don't know if there's safety protocols for strippers who find themselves in these situations or not.

Mr. CARR: But I know that there is something about the culture here, because when you talk about victimizing the victim or taking the victim and making them into the perpetrator by discussing their sexual history, their profession, etc., it often strikes me strange that men can get drunk, hire strippers, send sadistic e-mails, and we never talk about, not only their sexual history, but their history of violence. These--with people--especially in some of the upper echelons of athletics, there are a lot of instances where men beat up their girlfriends, and they commit acts of violence on women. And rape and sexual assault is not really--it bothers me that people say it's a sex crime. It's really an act of aggression and violence, and that's what I think needs to be put on the table.

Prof. BERRY: And it's also true, Jeff, that in this case, we do have--it has already surfaced that some of these guys were already arrested for bad behavior prior to this time. And that's what I meant by, what is Duke tolerating on its campus, among its students, and what kind of behavior that would lead to a situation where these questions have to be raised.

Ms. SETMAYER: Well, it's also my understanding that Duke University has been backed into a corner at this point. Whether they claim--they claim that they were already opening an investigation into the behavior of the lacrosse team before this incident. However, that's--the timing is questionable, but they have, in fact--in Duke's defense, they have put together a committee to investigate this behavior. And they're saying that the criminal acts that were alleged in this case were not the--are not the only focus. That there were other incidents that they're focusing on, which is why they continued with the canceling of the rest of the season and thinks like that. So...

Prof. BERRY: Well, which is why, Tara--what I'm saying is that Duke has tolerated, apparently...

Ms. SETMAYER: Up to this point. Sure, no, I agree.

Prof. BERRY: Up 'til this point, until we get all this publicity. Then, of course, you establish a committee.

Ms. SETMAYER: (Unintelligible) Absolutely.

Prof. BERRY: If I was the president, I'd set up a committee too.

CHIDEYA: Well, let me just move to another campus issue on a completely different campus tip. There is a Muslim-oriented sorority, Gamma Gamma Chi, which is trying to spark interest with informational meetings across the country. I'm just curious what all of you think. At this point, you know, sports teams are one venue where, at certain points, there have been questions about conduct and behavior and university oversight. Fraternities and sororities can be another one of those, kind of, part of the structure, kind of not, issues.

And I guess, Jeff, I'll just start with you. This is not an operating sorority yet. It has a charter, but it doesn't have any members. How do you think campuses across the country are going to greet an all-Muslim sorority?

Mr. CARR: Well, I don't think that they're going to have a big problem. I think that sororities, particularly as they relate to--and I'll say with us, with black, so-called, Greek organizations, they relate to people needing to find a place, to modify Charles Gordone, where someplace can--someplace where they can be somebody.

And I think this has a parallel with our organizations because in black, so-called, Greekdom, they weren't founded as exclusive organizations. That goes from fraternities and sororities to the AME church and beyond. Black people started groups only because they either weren't allowed into other organizations, or the organizations, through practice or policy, didn't make us feel welcome.

I think it's the same issue here. Muslims are looking for some place to be somebody, and they're looking for a fraternity and sorority life that gives the sisterly bond without giving the kind of Girls Gone Wild, drunken kind of atmosphere that many of these organizations have evolved into.

CHIDEYA: Yeah, and Tara, in fact, they will have no alcohol and no casual mixing between men and women. So that, for a lot of young coeds, that sounds to them like the exact opposite of a sorority.

Ms. SETMAYER: Yeah. Well, unfortunately, the whole fraternity/sorority culture has turned into that. It wasn't always so centered on that type of drunken, promiscuous behavior that we often associate with sororities and fraternities. And I think, given where Greek organizations have come from--I mean, they're--I did not pledge, but I have many friends who are involved in black sororities who do great, wonderful work. They focus on community activism and the bond of sisterhood and history, it's great networking.

But there's also a certain aspect of the pledging process that I think goes against what would be considered Muslim principles. So, I don't know whether there is a place for a religious-focused sorority-you know, based on religion. You don't see Christian sororities, really. I don't know. I think it's a good idea. I understand where they're coming from, but I think--and I wish them all the best. But is--I don't know necessarily if a sorority is really what they need outside of the Muslim student associations and things like that, where some students claim that they already get all of those--that bond, and the community-service oriented things that they do. They already have that with their other student organizations. Not necessarily under the guise of the sorority.

CHIDEYA: Well, Professor Berry, it strikes me that there are plenty of fraternities and sororities at Christian colleges, some of which are very much about the religion, religious instruction, some of which happen to be under a Christian charter. And I wonder if these Muslim sororities will approach Christian schools, which may have many non-Christian students.

Prof. BERRY: Oh, if we have that, then we'll have conflict.

CHIDEYA: That's no stranger to the campus.

Prof. BERRY: Which all makes something--will always make something good for us to talk about here.

If they do that, and they may very well do that--but I think in this--and also, just the mere fact that they are forming sororities, may lead to more Christian sororities. Tara was saying that there were Christian sororities, but there may be more. The idea, if people start dividing themselves based on religion, then while the Muslim sorority, the people who're promoting this think this is a great idea for sisterhood and for them, it may stimulate people of having Christian sorority.

It also may stimulate, I think, some attacks on them for doing it-identifying themselves as a Muslim sorority.

CHIDEYA: Go ahead, Jeff.

Mr. CARR: I would agree with Professor Berry, because I've visited several campuses, and when I go to some of the more conservative Christian campuses, they do have a fraternity and sorority system that's not claiming to be a fraternity or sorority system; but they are organizations that are set around religion, that are separated by sex--by gender. So, these organizations do exist on a lot of the Christian campuses, and there could be conflict.

And the conflict goes hand-in-hand with, you know, the whole conundrum is the conflict going hand-in-hand with the community service. I remember being in college and going out and painting an elderly lady's house with a bunch of the members of the fraternity, and then being, twelve hours later, in the midst of a melee between two warring factions of so-called black Greeks, and saying to myself, wow, is this what we've come to? Everybody's drunk and fighting because they have on different colors, and we just got through painting an elderly person's house.

So, these kinds of conflicts jump up when you kind of have to find a group to separate yourself in. And if you can find the positive without bringing in the negative, then I think you have a good balance.

CHIDEYA: I almost hate to turn to this topic because it's too big for the four and a half minutes we have left: the Bush administration and possible strikes, including nuclear strikes, against Iraq-lots and lots in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post.

I guess the question I'll ask, because we don't have much time, is where are we headed in terms of visibility of this issue? With Iraq being so prominent, nuclear strikes against Iran? You know, are they getting enough airtime?

Prof. BERRY: Well, I think that the issue is very simple at this point and can be discussed quickly. The Bush administration--the president says that this is just talk and that there's no intention to do this.

Our problem is, because of everything else that has happened, we can't believe the administration. If we believed them then we could just stop talking about the issue and go home and that would be the end of it. So, we still have to worry that it might happen and that it might complicate the situation in Iraq, it might complicate our relationships around the world, that it may incur a greater loss of life. And the experts say, from what we read, that even if we did have a nuclear strike against the Iran and some of their sites, this might not deter them from having a nuclear weapon.

So we have to worry because we can't trust. If we could trust, then we could simply say, it's just a story that Seymour Hersh is making up. And Hersh also has a good reputation and many of his stories have turned out to be totally true. That's the scary part of it.

CHIDEYA: Tara, let me ask you this. If the administration decides to pursue action against Iran, will it ask Congress for permission or will it go ahead unilaterally, do you think?

Ms. SETMAYER: Well, I think at this point, a unilateral decision would be political suicide, I think, for any member of Congress.

But, this is a very complicated situation. The simple answer to this is that Iran is a rogue state that poses a threat to the entire world, not only the United States, if they obtain a nuclear weapon. And the United States needs to, at all costs, make sure that does not happen.

If that means a military action, eventually a military action, then that's what the United States needs to do. And I think what Sy Hersh's piece has done is just raised the issue to a higher level of visibility. But it's already, it's almost stating the obvious.

Of course, the Defense Department is going to draw up military action contingency plans, given the different types of scenarios. And, I mean, for anyone to say that, well, we're not looking at any military options is just not true. I think that there's...

Prof. BERRY: That's what the president said.

Ms. SETMAYER: Yes, but the president...

Prof. BERRY: That's what President Bush said, and I'll quote him if you don't believe he said it.

Ms. SETMAYER: Yes but the President was--no, it's not...

Professor BERRY: He said they're not looking at military options.

Ms. SETMAYER: What they're saying is that they're not--the way that the Sy Hersh piece is presented it makes it seem as though we are drawing down troops from Iraq and preparing to invade Iran next month, or six months from now. That is not the case. I'm sure what they're referring to is what's called a deterrent strategy, which means that a scenario was given where what happens if the United States is attacked or if nuclear weapons are detonated on our soil, what would be our military response.

CHIDEYA: But Tara, I have to say...

Ms. SETMAYER: There are a lot of different scenarios, when it comes down to the military, that are always going on. Yes, we are sending in--are we sending in Special Forces and operatives to get targeting information? I'm sure that that is going on.

CHIDEYA: Tara I have to jump in to give...

Ms. SETMAYER: But we can't give away everything that we're going militarily either.

CHIDEYA: I have to jump in to give Jeff a final word. But, I do have to say, and it's not talked about as if Iran strikes us, it's being talked about as preemptive war.

Jeff, on that last note?

Mr. CARR: Yeah, I'll say real quick that the threat of an Iran strike is another broken record, wobbling on the Victrola of the Bush administration, and most of the country is disoriented by the distorted sounds that are emanating from the White House speakers.

You can call it coercive diplomacy if you want, but the administration's policy of preemptive strikes is setting a bad precedent for world politics. Tehran is accusing the United States of psychological terrorism. President Bush has called Iran, insert the giggle here-the greatest threat to the United States, I don't think it's a good idea to start branching out across the world to see what other countries the U.S. can put under the boot of Western supremacy. It's not a good time, and it's not...

CHIDEYA: All right, we are out of time. We are completely out of time.

That's Jeff Obafemi Carr, host of the radio show Freestyle. Mary Frances Berry, Professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania. And Republican strategist, Tara Setmayer. We will pick this up again soon.

Prof. BERRY: Thank you.

Mr. CARR: Love, you guys.

Ms. SETMAYER: Thanks.

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