LectureHop: How I Learned to Start Worrying and Contextualize the Bell

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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.

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  1. JaX  

    I think it's great they are doing this, but when it affects other people negatively, that's where protesting gets bad. That bell permeates every classroom, residence hall, and conference room through open windows across the university. It is difficult to study, focus and go to sleep.

    There are better ways to commemorate those dead in Iraq.

    • Nope  

      it's the best way to commemorate those dead in Iraq. This is not that disruptive at all, mostly just when you walk by, but it stays in your head much longer. It's subtle, and powerful. The same as the weirdly absent effects of this war at home. Here the war is a strange, never overbearing, undertone to our daily lives, often forgotten. This is raising that undertone to make it just a little more uncomfortable, and make us all more aware.

      Way to guy bellringers and name readers.

    • Anonymous  

      Actually, I thought the total opposite. The ring is almost pleasant; it sounds like a blacksmith is working on campus, which reminds me of Joe Gargery.

  2. AsSalam  

    If you were a student in Baghdad, you would be disturbed not by the cling of a bell, but by the thunder of rockets, mortar shells and grisly bombing attacks. Those sounds would bring not only disturbance an irritation, but a gnawing fear that someone you knew had just perished in agonizing fashion. You would not be able to walk outside your front door without worrying you might be next.

    I'm sorry for the inconvenience, but your nonchalance is worse than an inconvenience for the thousands of Iraqis who might die at any moment. For them, your silence is a death sentence.

    They can ring that bell in my dorm for all I care, if there is the slightest chance an Iraqi child would be saved. Don't like the bell? Join the protests, and end the war.

    • Do you really think  

      that people who are annoyed by the bell are nonchalant about the war and all of the deaths that have occurred?

      This is not a place where people need to be convinced that the war is a hugely negative thing. People don't need to be reminded, we already know what has happened.

      Something like this has little to no impact into inspiring actual action. Instead of reading names, focus on something that IS action, like writing letters to congress or something productive.

      And #5, that makes no sense. Joining a bunch of inconsequential protests does NOT equal ending the war.

      • Better safe  

        ...than sorry

        While you're that we cannot assume everyone annoyed by the bell is nonchalant about the war, the question remains: Why not?

        We don't live in a war economy; there are no rationed goods; there is no war mindset. If one extreme of political awareness of war were American society during World War II, we certainly exist as a potential for the other end of the spectrum.

        So in terms of a cost-benefit analysis?

        Cost: People are aware of the war hear a tiny bell ringing and experience little to no change. (Unless you want to argue that that little bell will drive a frustrated student, previously aware of the casualties costs, to intentionally wipe those from his or her memory.

        Those students who are not constantly conscious of the war will intentionally choose to remain ignorant and detached from the war.
        (In that case, they shirk the obligations as members of a political community. Take a stance (and not necessarily within the dichotomy of "for" or "against" the war) or move to another country.

        Benefit: Those students who are not constantly conscious of the war will ultimately become more aware.

  3. !!!  

    silly, everyone knows that American lives>Iraqi lives

  4. Silly  

    "Don't like the bell? Join the protests, and end the war."

  5. Bullshit

    Yet another wonderful example of a superficial protest in a protected environment to preach to the choir. Guess what? Ringing a bell isn't going to change shit. Not one damn thing. Just like how adding different texts to the core curriculum won't end racism. You are fools one and all. If you want to do something meaningful with your time how about you start to organize protests at the offices of congressional representatives? Flood their phone lines with calls. Just please do not exemplify the classic CU student causehead.

    • Calm down.  

      The immediate purpose of the event is not to end the war. Unless the architects of the war are bears, no one thinks that a bell is going to directly result's in the war's end.

      It's an issue of increasing political engagement. Of course, the demonstration's organizers do not hope that that new-found engagement causes a large number of students to actively support the war, but regardless, if you approve the mission, you should be *constantly* aware of the sacrifices being made.

      If you're referring to the hungerstrike, try again. The method used there was qualitatively different. Apples and oranges, buddy.

  6. Token Republican

    Is that asshole still banging a pot on the sundial? That crap was annoying the hell out of my class in Hamilton yesterday.

  7. ................

    I wonder if they are also ringing bells for the scores of Iraqis killed by terrorists. Will they still come ringing bells for the victims of terrorism in Iraq if their favorite politician gets elected and, following campaign promises, ends U.S. military involvement?

    • actually  

      the bells are honoring all those who have died as a result of the war, which includes a number of those who have died from "suicide car bombs" and the like. if you come and read names, or at least listen to the names reading, you would see this.

      and no, we will not be reading anymore after this week. the point was 5 years of occupation, we can devote at least 5 days to talking about the war and not allowing it to just continue in complete silence. the least we can do is honor those who have died.

      • Well

        then what a callow and superficial token of your "honor". I'm going to go jump up and down on the sundial for every child in Africa that died of malnutrition! That will surly solve the problem! And you know the best part? I won't have to go to Africa to do my part. It's really win win for myself and those students who will support my protest, just inconsequential for those that actually need help. The thing is that these people know this does nothing; they continue simply because its not about Iraq and stopping the violence there, its about a few kids patting themselves on the back and doing just enough to make them able to shrug off the whole situation as if to say "hey I did what I could and whatever came of it all was out of my hands."

        • Anonymous  

          Yeah, I like your way better. We'll just keep our head down and not feel bad that we're not actively working to solve the problem.

          • Dear jackass

            I never said anyone should do nothing. On the contrary, I think they should do something PRAGMATIC and EFFECTIVE. Ringing a bell does nothing. The most anyone can claim it does is "raise awareness" as though anyone on this campus is unaware of the current state of affairs in the world, especially the extremely controversial war that the host nation to this university is involved and which plays a major role in the upcoming presidential elections. There are people in the middle of the Congo who are familiar with the particulars of Operation Iraqi Freedom. These people are making no difference whatsoever. This is an act of self-righteous masturbation.

  8. Pavlov  

    What the protest is really doing is conditioning us to think about the war whenever we hear the sound of a bell. Not a bad idea, I should say.

  9. Anonymous  

    This protest is probably awesome and useful for people who suck at math and can't figure out that 4,000 is a fucking huge number without a loud noise telling them so. For the rest of us, pretty much all of whom probably oppose the war, it just seems self-serving.

    That's not to say that the people with "I don't care" signs are right. They are their own type of asshole and are misrepresenting most of us who don't like this.

    (And, honestly, only American soldiers? I guess you could also say, "each ring is for 250 Iraqis," but that just seems to me to point out how goofy symbolic protest is in general.)

    • Correction  

      They are reading the 88,000 names they have of people killed in Iraq, Iraqi or American soldiers. Once they reach the end of the casualties of one day, they ring the bell a corresponding number of times.

  10. This guy  

    Well written article, Pierce. Too bad you won't hear that because it's so controversial (though it really shouldn't be).

    And God bless anyone who takes time out of their day to express opposition to our involvement in this war, in any peaceful form. Whether you speak through protest, political involvement, writing/blogging, or a demonstration like this one, you deserve respect and a thank you.

    • Also

      saying that people deserve respect merely due to their showing up at the sundial to ring a bell in an environment where they know they are guaranteed to be safe from any repercussions for their actions.

  11. underpants gnome  

    step 1: ring bell
    step 2:
    step 3: end iraq war

  12. Non-nonchalant  

    Might I suggest that preaching to the choir has value?

    One of the most shameful things of the past five years is that tens of millions of Americans oppose this war in their minds, but not in their hearts.

    Remember MLK's letter from the Birmingham jail. He reserved the most scorn not for segregationists, but for the aloof white moderates that supported his cause, yet pledged "patience", "pragmatism", and other forms of emotional disengagement.

    This event is designed to rally support for the antiwar movement in places it SHOULD be strong--but is not. Whoever fears that such action is not enough, had better make sure they push the organizers to take the next step.

  13. there  

    wouldn't be no refugee crisis if there ain't no refugees to start with, know what i'm sayin'?
    N i support them who's sayin' they's should be masturbatin' on the sundial. Hoooo-wheee, I sure'd love to see them protestators beatin' their balls 'stead o' their bells.

  14. CU grad-milvet

    Did anyone consult with MilVets, the US Military Veterans of Columbia University, about this?


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