On the same day Vice President Dick Cheney urged a military strike against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, students in a Moorpark College classroom were discussing philosopher William James’ “The Moral Equivalent of War.”

The students, enrolled in a new four-week Philosophy of Nonviolence course, joined in guest lecturer John Birmingham’s discussion, which compared James’ essay to what it means to be a patriot.

“War is romantic because it conjures up ideals of honor and value,” Birmingham said. “Even in academics, those who are less inclined to be militaristic will list being involved in World War II on their resumes.”

The course is the only one of its kind in the Ventura County Community College District. Both Ventura and Oxnard colleges have a number of philosophy classes, including ethics, logic, introduction to philosophy and some focusing on Western and Eastern religions.

Students meet Tuesdays and Thursdays for a couple of hours to discuss the works and thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi, existentialist Albert Camus, naturalist Henry David Thoreau, Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh and philosopher William James.

Moorpark College professors are brought in as guest speakers to lead discussions on topics relating to those works, while philosophy professor Janice Daurio oversees the program.

The class was the brainchild of 20-year-old Gazal Humkar, a Muslim from Simi Valley who has been very active in the college’s Muslim Students Association and Philosophy Club.

She got the idea after leafing through an old college catalog, which contained a similar course.

“It needed to be taught and I persuaded Dr. (Janice) Daurio to teach the class,” Humkar said. “My hope is that I will look at different aspects and try to lead a life in which I promote human understanding and tolerance and that everyone in the class does the same.”

An instructor at the college since 1994, Daurio said the timing of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks combined with an increasingly violent society give proof that the nonviolence class is a must at Moorpark.

“We live in a violent society. People are not only violent in obvious ways but in subtle ways, too. There’s a lack of civility and manners … of common courtesy, disrespectful to people,” Daurio said.

Only by community building, such as volunteerism and club participation, can society begin to turn itself around, she said.

The course includes A Celebration of Life event from 10 a.m. to noon Sept. 11 in the college’s Performing Arts Center. The two-hour event will feature speakers; a geography presentation; a dramatic presentation of “Profiles in Grief,” taken from the New York Times series; and a lecture by Leah Wells, founder of Peace Education in Nuclear Age.

On Sept. 10, Maha Hamoui, founder of the Islamic Education Foundation, will give a talk from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center.

For more information, call 378-1400.