Friday, December 30, 2005


Getting The Story On Iraq

By now you've all heard about the Iraqi-American teen, the son of well-connected parents, who decided to go off by himself to see what Iraq was like nowadays (and nearly got himself killed despite his parents' connections). A group of older kids, college students at Swarthmore, have a better idea. These college students are using Iraqi phone books and the internet (there are programs like Skype that you can use to call via the internet for free) to call Iraqis and ask them about life in Iraq. The results are then broadcast and net-cast over their college radio station, War News Radio. They're not just talking to Iraqis, either: Kurt Vonnegut's been interviewed by them. Here's an excerpt from a recent New Yorker piece on them:

A group of enterprising students at Swarthmore College, in Pennsylvania, has some advice for the politically disaffected: If you find the media's Iraq coverage unsatisfactory, pick up the phone. Don't call the Times, or CNN, or Rupert Murdoch; call Baghdad. There are a couple of Iraqi phone books available on the Internet, and plenty of interesting people willing to share their stories directly, from six thousand miles away, many of them speaking decent English. When your phone bill starts to get out of hand, try downloading Skype, software that allows two people to talk free, from anywhere in the world, using computer microphones and a headset. Amelia Templeton, a senior history major, estimates that she has spoken with twenty-five Iraqis over the past year, and now, as she said the other day, "it's a bad idea to ask me about Iraq unless you plan on listening for a while." One of the Iraqis she spoke with, a painter named Esam Pasha, who is a grandson of the former Prime Minister Nuri al-Said, has even invited her to visit Baghdad. "I was told that if I came he'd pick me up at the airport," she said. "Given what that road is like, how dangerous it is going to and from the airport, that's quite an offer."
I wonder if Riverbend knows about these kids yet?

I think Farris will learn what "grounded for life" really means when he gets home. When most teenagers are doing stupid things like having unprotected sex and binge drinking, this kid goes to a war zone. But then some of the soldiers who delivered him to the embassy are not that much older than Farris.
What hasn't been emphasized enough is that Farris isn't just an ordinary American sixteen-year-old. His parents are wealthy Iraqi exiles with considerable political pull. That's why they were able to keep him alive.

I wanted to use the hubbub over his story to bring the Swarthmore kids to everyone's attention. They've got the same goals as Farris, but they're being much more sensible about it.
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