LectureHop: How I Learned to Start Worrying and Contextualize the Bell
Written by Bwog Staff
Bwog Lecture Hop Editor Pierce Stanley sends a dispatch with notes on last night’s teach-in about the Iraqi refugee crisis and his new understanding of this week’s series of Iraq War protests.
The distinct sound of a bell has been ringing in my head for the last three days, and it’s starting to affect my all too precious sleep cycle. Every time I have tried to sleep this week, I have not been able to help but hear the intermittent chime of the bell commemorating the victims of the Iraq War ringing endlessly in my head. Fortunately for the Iraq War protesters who have been demonstrating against five years of American involvement in Iraq by ringing a bell for every casualty in the American occupation of that nation, they seem to be succeeding in raising awareness to their cause with such an unconventional method.
So, still reeling from all of the ringing this week, I decided to head over to Hamilton last night for a teach-in hosted by the Iraq War protest group. The teach-in—which was hosted in conjunction with the Burma 88 Coalition—demonstrated in a more real way the severity of the humanitarian crisis that exists in Iraq five years after the war began. Last night’s small and rather impromptu event about Iraqi refugees provided a look beyond what the United States has to say about the nature of conflict in Iraq and a brief glimpse into the situation of a number of those forced to flee their homes and country because of the threat of sectarian violence.
Last night’s teach-in brought to Columbia Lori Grinker, a photojournalist who has worked with the Iraq Policy Forum, has been featured on PBS for her documentary work about Iraqi refugees, and is a frequent contributor to the Mediastorm project. Also present was Haider Hamza, a young Iraqi journalist who has worked extensively inside Iraq and is currently on a Fulbright Scholarship in the United States.
Both Grinker and Hamza showed those in attendance a bit of their work over the last few years. Grinker chose to show a documentary about Iraqi refugees that she has met during her extensive stay in Amman, Jordan. She explained that the images that she showed in her film are just snapshots of the countless refugees that she has encountered, all facing the similar challenges of finding affordable housing outside of Iraq, establishing their identities elsewhere, and reuniting with family members. Hamza, on the other hand, chose to show a montage of photographs that he has collected over the last three years in his travels around Iraq as a freelance and embedded journalist. His images vividly depicted the brutal challenges that many ordinary Iraqis face in their country everyday, such as not being able to go outside between the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 am, the constant threat of death squads and persecution by rival tribes and clans, and the psychological impact that war has wrought on children.
Hamza spoke about his hopes and fears for the future of his native Iraq and showed frustration when asked about his journalistic experience in Iraq, noting that many of his pictures and his pieces were not released because of strict restrictions imposed by military liaisons. He noted that journalism in Iraq today is a double edged sword. On one hand, journalists have more access to the front-lines than ever before, yet at the same time much of the information is filtered by military regulations. Hamza suggested that it is through personal blogs and photo-sharing websites that much of the information of what is actually happening on the ground in Iraq actually gets out.
As that little bell keeps ringing throughout campus this week, I am quite certain that I better understand the goal of the Iraq War protesters. Amidst all of the flag-washing, name-reading, and bell-striking they are simply trying to establish a commitment to being conscientious about the more nuanced consequences of the Iraq War. Last night’s teach-in about Iraqi refugees helped me realize this, and perhaps Hamza’s and Grinker’s photographs will help me put some real faces to the countless names of the dead being read throughout this week.