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Through Whose Eyes Do You See?

Kushan Surana

Pride and self-righteousness are a vicious combination. If you turn back the pages of time, the most horrific and brutal crimes have been committed and understood by their perpetrators as justified in the name of racial or national pride. Sections of populations, considered inferior or unworthy, have been obliterated, villages pillaged, women raped, children slaughtered by people as human as you and me. It would be easy to think of the perpetrators of these crimes as “Satan’s children.” It would help us find shelter in our own morality. But pride of race, pride of religion and -- even worse -- national pride tend to bring out the worst in people, often making them forget basic human values. All the evidence regarding the rationality of man is quickly eroded. It is then the responsibility of the media to act as couriers of the truth, and not propaganda machines, to ensure that the public gets accurate information no matter how hard that information might be to swallow.

I have watched this war in Iraq unfold with great interest through various media sources from Germany, India and the United States; countries with whose primary languages I find myself familiar. The reason for my unabashed curiosity is that without international support, this war has begun in isolation with the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia as the sole allied participants. In this scenario, I foresee this war being a turning point in world politics. With every passing day that this war is eked out, I am convinced that civilization’s future is inextricably tied with not the outcome of the war, for the outcome of the war is certain, but with its repercussions -- namely, the restructuring of Iraq and American involvement in the Middle East. As the U.S. Marines move into a country which borders political hotbeds such as Iran, Turkey, Syria and Jordan, I wonder about the future of this region where day by day, Americans are seen as the enemy, the “bullies” who are intent on changing an entire civilization’s way of life.

As I read through the newspapers from these countries, there are times when I wonder if I am reading about the same war. The way I see it, there are two wars being fought. “This” war is about the undying chivalry of U.S Marines who go out of their way to save Iraqi lives; “this” war is about the treachery and the hopelessness of the Iraqi soldiers who impersonate as Iraqi civilians to ambush the brave U.S. troops; “this” war has America’s military might showcased with videos taken from fighter jets destroying key Iraqi structures; “this” war seems like a videogame, entertaining to watch and marvel at while the drama unfolds.

And then there is “that” war. “That” war is about the cruelty and apathy of American troops who destroy neighborhoods without concern for human life; “that” war is about the Iraqi fighter who is fighting until his last breath to defend his country; “that” war shows heart rending pictures of children and women bleeding from shrapnel wounds from U.S. bombs; “that” war seems like a horror film, making your blood curl with horror watching the flesh oozing out of the shrapnel wounds.

I read about these two wars and am often confused and severely disappointed. I can understand how social and political views diverge significantly within countries and this contradiction is bound to show up in some form or another in the newspapers of the country as well. Actually, I quite understand a certain lack of objectivity in newspapers because the mere arrangement of stories by the editor reflects bias. However, I do take exception when an established viewpoint is thrust upon the population for political and national reasons, a practice I observe commonly in newspapers today. I was under the impression that the role of the press is to inform and educate without deliberate bias or prejudice. I thought that the press is separate from any partnerships with the government or any sort of institution. I believed that the press was the “fourth estate.” I guess I was wrong. The onus then falls on the population to ensure that it receives information from a variety of sources to ensure the veracity of the articles printed.

Personally, I was, and still am, ambivalent about this war. A part of me genuinely believes that the end result will lead to the emancipation of the oppressed Iraqi people from a brutal regime; that this conflict will invariably lead to American involvement in the Middle East which will, I hope, bring peace to a region scarred by years of conflict and discord; that this conflict is a first step in building a world with democracy as the guiding light. There are those who scoff at such idealistic notions, regarding them as absurd. There are times when I find myself in this group. The economic burden of restructuring Iraq could be so tremendous that the U.S. economy will reel under its burden. The restructuring of Iraq will also have devastating political ramifications. We could see an enormous backlash from other fascist organizations whose hatred for the U.S. could only be exacerbated with this war and who would not hesitate to repeat attacks such as those of September 11th. And there is also the question of whether countries like Iraq can achieve democracy at all with the immense power struggles occurring within the country between various religious groups. Afghanistan is a prime example of such a difficulty, where the central government finds itself powerless against regional groups who control certain parts of the country. These two dichotomous viewpoints have haunted me these past few days and have suppressed my formation of an opinion on this war. For now, I just try to read as much as I can to help form an opinion. This has become increasingly hard when such varied and distinct images of this war are being portrayed.

I wasn’t sure that I could hold your attention for a few hundred words while I attempted to discuss an issue which, although it fills the front pages of all the major newspapers (however biased or subjective is presentation might be), has scarcely been discussed within the MIT community after the initial “walk-out”. The way I see it, this war is seen by many across the Arab world as not just against one nation, but an entire civilization, an entire religion, an entire way of life. Its consequences might be felt for generations to come. Surely, this war affects us, no matter how fortified and secure our lives might seem for the present.

Kushan Surana is a member of the Class of 2004.