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What you hear is what you know

"We must dare to think 'unthinkable' thoughts. We must learn to explore all the options and possibilities that confront us in a complex and rapidly changing world. We must learn to welcome and not to fear the voices of dissent. When things become unthinkable, thinking stops and action becomes mindless." – William Fulbright

July 3, 2008
by Rob Lafferty

Information is to the mind as food is to the body. A healthy mind requires a diversity of information in order to maintain a proper balance.

Trying to learn the realities of life in Iraq and Afghanistan by following American news reporting is a little like trying to live on a diet of rice and beans; you can fill yourself to the stuffing point day after day, but you'll be missing out on a lot of key nutrients that only exist in other foods.

You won't get fed a full spectrum of information by news organizations that start their reporting with an assumption of American superiority. You won't get fed much truth by elected officials, either, who speak from the assumption that the American military can solve the problems in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Thanks to the elitist policies of Curious George Bush and Dastardly Dick Cheney, you can't trust any statements made by administration officials who claim "progress" is being made in the battlegrounds of the Middle East.

You can't trust what you hear from either presidential candidate, despite their reputations for being more honest than most politicians. Both men are in a position where every word they speak is analyzed beyond all sensibility, so they tend to speak with great caution. Bitter truth is usually left out of the recipe of any cautious statement, even when its presence in necessary for people to receive the full flavor of reality.

The nutrients for your mind that are missing from American news sources are available, however, through the voices of the people who live and work and walk in the streets of Baghdad and Fallujah, in Kabul and Khandahar.

According to Peter Beaumont of the Guardian UK, Neamat Arghand is one of those voices. Arghand is a former mujahideen who fought against the Russian occupation but left Afghanistan after being threatened by the Taliban. He now spends half his life in London and the other half in Kandahar, where he manages a youth organization.

Beaumont writes of a call Arghand received last month from one of his youth members working as an opium harvester in a nearby rural district. The young man does this work because the southern provinces of Afghanistan have tripled their opium production during the past three years and now it's the only work available to him.

"He says where he is the Taliban run everything,' said Arghand. "He says they have police and courts and government. Everything. Even prosecutors."

"It is dangerous in Kandahar, even for me," Arghand adds. "You cannot differentiate who the enemy is. You don't know if a policeman you are dealing with is Taliban. If I go out and come back, it is a bonus because the killing is so indiscriminate. The father of one of my colleagues was killed at a mosque. Another lost all of his sons."

There are plenty of honest voices talking as loudly as they can about the real world in the cities of Iraq, too.

Dahr Jamail is one of those voices. An independent American journalist, he's spent about half his time during the past five years traveling in Iraq and reporting news by using his own network of Iraqi associates and translators. Jamail has a unique perspective on the information that has flowed out from Iraq and into the American media. In a recent essay he includes the following observations:

"With few exceptions, the media has, from the very beginning, dehumanized Iraqis and Arab culture, and done well to instill fear, ignorance and loathing into American homes regarding the situation in the Middle East."

"Iraqis are an advanced culture, civilization, and the area is the historic location of where and how the West obtained much of its math and science. I mentioned earlier of how establishment media plays a critical role in dehumanizing Iraqis, of showing them as the "other" and less than you or I.”

“That type of propaganda then becomes useful for an administration which envisions a long-term presence in Iraq. It serves to portray Iraqis as a people unable to take care of themselves, or worse, unwilling – all of which is nonsense."

"From the beginning the U.S. has been playing the game of divide and rule. That type of thinking is not new for Empires. Throughout history this type of mindset, and that type of propaganda, has been used by empires as they invade countries, plunder their resources and commit acts of savagery upon other people."

Those are harsh words, indeed, yet they come from an American who knows first-hand the reality of US-occupied Iraq from the Iraqi citizen's point of view.

Five years ago the American invasion dismantled Iraqi politics and society. From that moment until this day, our politicians and pundits insist that it is our duty to restore the stability that we destabilized. Last March John McCain said, "If we were to walk away from the Iraqi people, our leaving would consign them to horrendous violence, ethnic cleansing and possibly genocide."

Like many other Americans, McCain ignores the majority of Iraqi voices who insist that the U.S. military occupation remains the most destabilizing force in the country. They want us to leave right away, according to two Iraqi representatives who were invited by a Quaker group to come Washington in June and testify before Congress.

"The anarchy and chaos in Iraq is linked to the presence of the occupation forces, not to U.S. withdrawal from Iraq," said Nadim al-Jaberi, a professor and elected official of the Shiite Fadhila Party. "They say if the foreign troops withdraw, Al Qaeda will take over and there will be anarchy and chaos. I give you a historical fact: Al Qaeda never had any presence in Iraq before the occupation. It came under cover of the calls for liberation. So whenever the foreign forces withdraw from Iraq, these reasons cannot be used as a justification for violence."

"But keeping occupying forces in Iraq," Jaberi added, "is a very good tool for the recruitment of extremist forces in Iraq."

Sheikh Khalaf Al-Ulayyan, who serves on the Sunni National Dialogue Council in Anbar Province, voiced his opinion in more direct language. "The U.S. got rid of one person. It put in hundreds of persons that are worse than Saddam Hussein. Unfortunately, now Iran is going into Iraq, and this is under the umbrella of the United States."

They presented to Congress a letter signed by 31 Iraqi leaders, included Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, as being representative of Iraqi public opinion.

"The majority of Iraqi representatives strongly reject any military-security, economic, commercial, agricultural, investment or political agreement with the United States that is not linked to clear mechanisms that obligate the occupying military forces to fully withdraw from Iraq, in accordance with a declared timetable and without leaving behind any military bases, soldiers or hired fighters," the letter stated.

"I don't think that any person who loves his country would accept foreign occupiers to stay there for any reason," Ulayyan said.

"The conflict between Sunni and Shiite is unexpected, and not with deep roots in Iraqi society," Jaberi added. "It grew under the occupation and will go away when the U.S. goes away. There are some political leaders who play this card out of their own interest, and who tried to inflame sectarian conflict after the explosions in Samarra. Tempers rose, but then they calmed down. What matters now is the popular base, which protests against sectarianism. Most Iraqis do not like to be presented as Sunni or Shiite."

And finally, there's a different kind of voice to consider. It's the voice of those who question the total cost of the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. It's the voice behind the hard truth of one simple number: 3.5 billion. In dollars. Every week.

That voice needs to echo in everyone's ears, repeating "$3.5 billion per week" until we finally decide to put a stop to it. Forever.