|Davidson and Iraqi Students Share Frustrations Via Videoconference
May 11, 2007
Contact: Bill Giduz • 704-894-2244 • firstname.lastname@example.org
NBC Nightly News correspondent Bob Faw '66 reported on the Davidson videoconference for that nationwide network show. Click here for a link to his report.
Safe and sound in America, Davidson students heard anger, cries for help, and confusion over the best way forward from peers in Baghdad on Thursday morning, May 10.
A satellite link produced by James Zogby, president and founder of the Arab American Institute, facilitated a ninety-minute videoconference exchange between Iraqi and Davidson students about U.S. involvement in Iraq. Zogby had produced two similar events on campus in 2003 while serving as the James K. Batten Visiting Professor of Public Policy.
The Iraqi participants gathered in the relative safety of Baghdad’s Intercontinental Hotel. One Iraqi student said he lives every day fearfully, noting that a suicide murderer killed seventy students on the University of Baghdad campus recently.
The videoconference began at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time so that Iraqi students could get home before darkness fell in Baghdad. As one said, “We feel depressed, that there is no hope. We cannot say thank you to the U.S., because you haven’t done anything but bring death and destruction.”
That stark contrast with life in Davidson made an impression on students who arose early to consider something other than their imminent exams. “Even the most weary among us were fixated on the discussion,” said Ashish George ‘07. “The sobering effect remained with me, and I found it difficult for the rest of the day to turn my thoughts to other matters.”
|James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, moderated the discussion between Davidson and Baghdad students.|
Zogby, moderator of the discussion, asked the Iraqis if they had personally lost friends or family members to violence. Almost every one of the twenty students raised their hands. A similar number of hands were raised when Zogby asked if they had less than full electrical and water service to their homes. Just one Iraqi hand went up when Zogby asked if they were better off now than four years ago. One man said, “I would like to thank the American troops for getting rid of Saddam, but the situation is getting worse and worse. Americans have broken down the Iraqi army, and allowed terrorists to cross the border. Don’t talk to us about sacrifices. We pay with our souls.”
The Iraqis all spoke English well, and appeared to be graduate students in language, medicine, law, English, and communications.
Despite their condemnation of the U.S., most Iraqis were ambivalent over whether the U.S. should remain or leave. Emily Presley ’07 recalled, “The most poignant moment for me was hearing the Iraqi woman who said ‘Don’t leave us, but leave us as soon as possible.’”
Another Iraqi man said, “I do not like being occupied by U.S. forces. But I still have some hope that the U.S. troops can adjust for some mistakes and that some good can come of it. I want the U.S. to support the Iraq army. Give them equipment.”
An Iraqi woman added, “I must also ask for support for my elected government. Our government is like a child. It needs financial support, international support, and conferences. However the Arab countries are not helping. We’re getting less and less support from the Americans. And the European Union isn’t doing anything.”
|Sean Brooks '04, an opponent of the war during the 2003 videoconferences, discussed his lack of trust in the current administration to fulfill U.S. responsibilities in Iraq.|
Sean Brooks ’04, one of at least three participants at this event who also attended the 2003 teleconferences, made clear that many Americans share that confusion. “Those of us against the war are really at a lost as to what to support,” he said. “We have no trust in the current administration, but there seems to be no clear way to withdraw our troops and make it safer for the Iraqi people.”
Ellie Trefzger ’07, who will be commissioned into the U.S. Army on Commencement weekend, said she was troubled by what she heard. “It was hard to hear some of it. Some of them said the U.S. soldiers are doing no good. As a future Army leader, it’s difficult to hear from people in the land we’re trying to stabilize that they don’t want you. None of them seemed to have any confidence in their government.”
Trefzger said it was enlightening to hear from Iraqi students that the gulf between Sunni and Shiia is not as profound as the media leads her to believe. Iraqi students said the violence is perpetrated by powerful leaders of the two sects, but that they personally maintain friendships with ordinary citizens of all denominations.
Zogby concluded the discussion by asking for a show of hands among Davidson students if they supported the U.S. remaining in Iraq. Having heard the pleas of Iraqi students, and feeling a responsibility to help extricate them from their situation, almost every hand was raised.
But the question left unanswered was, exactly what does it mean to "stay?”
|As the videoconference concluded, most students raised their hands to indicate their support for the U.S. to remain in Iraq.|
Zogby concluded, “This group of students seemed to be just as ambivalent as all of us. They didn’t really know what they wanted the U.S. to do. We’ve unleashed a situation there that’s caused trauma on all fronts.”
Zogby will use an hour-long edited version of the exchange as the May 18 edition of the weekly “Viewpoint” talk show that he hosts for Abu Dhabi Television. It will air in North America at 5 p.m. EDT on ADTV and LinkTV satellite channels.
For the past three decades, Zogby has been involved in a full range of Arab American issues. In addition to founding the AAI in 1985, he co-founded and served as the executive director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. Considered to be one of the nation's leading experts on opinion in the Arab world, he was recently called to testify Congress on Middle East opinion of the U.S.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,700 students. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently ranked in the top ten liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News and World Report magazine.
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