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Kuntz: Dignity can end the war

BY KATIE KUNTZ | SEPTEMBER 21, 2012 6:30 AM

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The White House late on Thursday announced the attacks on the American Embassy in Benghazi — which took four American and 10 Libyan lives — was an act of terror.

Riots and protests occurred throughout the Muslim world — including Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Libya, and Afghanistan. American news outlets focused their cameras on protesters’ “Death to America” signs as well as the burning of Obama effigies and other American iconic symbols.

Americans reacted to the incidents with further disregard for Libyans and many others in the Middle East and South Asia, often believing that essentially, the protesters were being stupid and immature reacting so violently to a lame movie. The film made on American soil depicted the Prophet Muhammad negatively in an effort to humiliate Muslims.

But I don’t think the riots are just about this movie. There are deeper issues in Middle Eastern conflicts that we as a nation need to consider to find ways to balance American safety with international dignity.

Here in Iowa City, students have numerous opportunities to consider these issues. Not only are study-abroad opportunities in the Middle East expanding, there is also a mosque in town, and currently, the Coralville Public Library is hosting an exhibit called Windows and Mirrors.

The art display illustrates the ravages of war in Afghanistan over the last 11 years and attempts to show Americans how our actions influence the endless cycle of violence. I was very moved by it.

Furthermore, the Middle East Studies Department has increased from having zero classes that exclusively covered the region prior to 2001 to having 175 students enrolled in courses last semester.

Vicki Hesli, a Middle Eastern political-science professor, says many of our perceptions are driven by media myths.

“If someone only watches the local news in Iowa, [he or she will] only pick up the worst things,” Hesli said. “What we’re seeing implies that the Middle-East is full of unemployed young people who hate America.”

She noted that people in the Middle East do want democracy but see U.S. policy as undermining the very principles upon which our country was built. As a recent study from the Pew Research Center states: “The United States is not seen as promoting democracy in the Middle East.”

Kathy Kelly, an American peace activist who helped found Voices for Creative Nonviolence and assisted with the Coralville exhibit, has traveled to Afghanistan eight times in the last two years.

She has visited many parts of the Middle East since 1991 in an effort to give voice to people suffering because of Arab war conflicts.  She believes that the riots arise from the emotions brought on from living in these war-torn environments.

“Here’s one example of what causes frustration: Eight women were killed [Sunday] in Afghanistan, and those women were just collecting wood, and now they’re dead,” Kelly said. “Why did the United States military decide that those women should not live?”

Kelly expressed frustration that Monday’s front page of the New York Times included an article about the attacks on NATO aircraft in Afghanistan but only briefly mentioned the air strike that killed the eight Afghan women.

“There’s nothing to even awaken curiosity,” Kelly said. “[Afghans] realize that people in the United States barely know about these incidents — they are always threatened, and their cries are not heard. It gets to the point where people say, ‘Well, you’ll hear this’ ” — in reference to the riots.

The tragedy of war is realized by innocent deaths, but war is often accepted for the sake of a greater good. However, war has not proven beneficial in this region.

UI students and all Americans need to push our government to seek peaceful, pro-democratic solutions. It is crucial that we build a culture of respect and dignity and stop fighting wars that only harvest hate.


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