Thursday, March 6, 2008

A little venting...

I haven't talked about what's going on in Iraq in a long time. So long, in fact, the last time I ever wrote anything about it was just after it started and I was on my "pre-blog" website opinion page. It's actually still there! Anyway, I felt compelled to make a comment after something one of my professors said in class on Wednesday. We were talking about the concept of democracy and whether or not "more democracy" was better and if democracy works. His "good" example of democracy "working," in terms of benefiting the most people, was the election of Harold Washington, the first black mayor of Chicago in 1981. Before that "good" example, his "bad" example of democracy "not working" or benefiting that many people was the current situation in Iraq. He said the "average Iraqi is worse off" than they were under Saddam. It always irritates me when people say that because I know what they're basing that belief off of: media reports of violence and little else. There have actually been few formal studies and polls to ask "the average Iraqi" about their situation now versus before the ouster of Saddam in 2003. One was done in 2004 by ABC News (I included a link to it at the bottom of the page), one year into the operation, and it found that 70% of those surveyed felt they were "better off" than they were under Saddam. Now, of course it must be pointed out this was four years ago and things are certainly different. My main point, however, is not that I'm trying to prove that things are "better" for the average Iraqi, but to show that saying "things are worse" is by no means a definitive statement or free from debate.

The problem with basing the assumption that "things were better" under Saddam is that, to me, it demonstrates a lack of perspective and understanding of the way Iraq functioned prior to the U.S. invasion and also how the media works. How? Well, remember that Iraq was a dictatorship under Saddam. He had control of virtually every government office and operation, which included the media. Do you think that Saddam is going to allow his media to report on his attacks on Kurdish rebels or his executions of rivals or dissenters? I don't think so. That also translated into the rest of the world not being "on top of things" like we currently are with so many media outlets now in Iraq reporting almost instantaneously what is generally going on. In other words, just because we didn't hear about a lot of violence before 2003 doesn't mean it wasn't there. I've read estimates that Saddam killed between 300,000 and 1,000,000 of his own people while he was in power. That hardly says "relative peace" to me. It should also be pointed out that the media generally doesn't work by reporting rank-and-file stories; they work by reporting unusual and sensational stories. My best example is when we hear about a plane crash. Plane crashes are VERY unusual, but if we hear about maybe two within the same month or a few weeks apart, suddenly people start talking about how "unsafe" it is to fly. Look at what happened after September 11th and how that affected people's perceptions of flying. The media focused on the unusual and sesational side of that story (in terms of airline security) or any story like it. They didn't focus on the fact that there are several THOUSAND flights per day in the U.S. and all but the ones that crashed made other words, you have like a 99.9999% chance of getting to your destination safely if you fly. See how the media can falsely alter our perceptions? I see the same things happening with the reports on Iraq. We are hearing about the violence and the sensational side of things, but very little about the day to day stuff. The few times I've read stories about the progress that has been made as reported by people who have been there for some time (troops), they usually are found on the back pages or some Bush-hater labels it "propaganda." Not always, of course, but that seems to be a recurring theme. Basically, I think there's a lot more good happening there than we find out about because it's not "exciting" or "shocking."

Just to be clear: I'm NOT saying things are find and dandy for the average Iraqi, but I am saying we can't really say for sure yet that it's absolutely worse for them than it was under Saddam.

Here's a link to the survey ABC News conducted in 2004 and a link to an editorial that rang true to me:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i think we could have some very stimulating conversations.. too bad you had to move beck to ohio :)