Thursday, May 10, 2007

"Our future is a big question mark"

Today Davidson College hosted a video conference between approximately fifty students at Davidson and about 25 students from the University of Baghdad.
Similar events took place at Davidson in 2003; one conference was held right before the invasion of Iraq and one was held soon afterward. Several Davidson students who attended the first two conversations came today as well.
The event was moderated and hosted by James Zogby of the Arab American Institute. He did an excellent job; it is not easy to deal with satellite lag, take questions, and steer discussion all at once. Satellite lag was perhaps the biggest issue; there were 4 satellite hops (Washington to London to Abu Dhabi to Baghdad).
We convened at 8 A.M. because of security concerns for the Iraqi students. Indeed, they did not even meet on campus, but went instead to a hotel. Several students spoke to the uncertainty of each day and the danger in simply getting to university. Besides having their lives in danger, many students said they did not always have electricity or running water.
As can be easily surmised, the main topics of discussion were the current occupation of U.S. troops in Iraq, the stability and effectiveness of the new government, and continuing civil strife. Most students seemed unhappy with the troops in Iraq, but wanted them to stay and help them fix the problems. They were happy to have Saddam gone and for the election, but mostly they seemed angry at continuing fighting and problems that were not assuaged by the presence of troops. Most seemed unhappy with the current government and thought that it was not effective.

I found this event unsettling. A lot of media outlets I’ve observed seem to say “Yes, there is violence, but in general the Iraqi people are glad we helped deliver them from Saddam.” The impression I got today was much more negative and almost pessimistic. I was delighted to attend, because of my interest in politics, but it was more sobering than I had expected.

Press Release
Article about first conference

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