Iraq activist laments ‘consent to violence’ fostered by media

Benjamin Joffe-Walt, an anti-war activist who participated in the Human Shields protest in Iraq before the U.S.-led war began, spoke to about 40 people at Riverside Church Monday night. Rather than talk extensively about the Human Shields action, in which activists from around the world placed themselves in areas vital to civilian life in order to deter military strikes against the Iraqi people, Joffe-Walt used his experience in Iraq — and as an activist in general — to present a “teach-in” style program encompassing topics ranging from Iraq’s recent history to the media’s role in the U.S.-led war and its aftermath to where the peace movement stands now.

Joffe-Walt spent the first half of the program providing background for why many Iraqis are hostile toward the U.S. despite their liberation from Saddam Hussein.

“I think Iraqi civilians have quite legitimate reasons to be mad at us,” said Joffe-Walt, citing the first Gulf War and the subsequent sanctions against Iraq. Destruction during the 1991 war of 70 percent of water purification and sewage treatment plants, followed by years of sanctions hampering repair, left the country’s “ability to provide water treatment either destroyed or non-functional,” he said.

“The average Iraqi child suffers from 12-14 cases of severe diarrhea from the water every year,” he said. As a result, more than a half-million children died during the 1990s from dehydration — compared with six during the 1980s, according to Joffe-Walt.

While in Iraq in February, Joffe-Walt spent time in Baghdad’s pediatric teaching hospital and learned that both cancer rates and birth defects in children have gone up several hundred percent since the first Gulf War. Both figures are attributed among Iraqi civilians to the U.S. military’s use of depleted uranium in weapons, Joffe-Walt said. In addition, he said years of sanctions have turned Iraqi hospitals from the best-equipped and most modern in the Middle East to “pathetic.”

Joffe-Walt passed around Iraqi money to help illustrate the collapse of the Iraqi economy after the first Gulf War. As people in the crowd examined 250-dinar notes, Joffe-Walt asked how much people thought that note was worth prior to 1991. Guesses ranged from $1 to $250.

“Two-hundred-and-fifty dinars in 1991 was worth about $750,” Joffe-Walt said, calling the collapse of the dinar “the largest devaluation of currency” in history. Today, the note is worth about 12 cents.

“You don’t have to be an economist to realize how that might affect you and your family,” he said. Joffe-Walt said his point was not to defend Saddam Hussein or to judge whether the war was justified or not, but to provide context for the Iraqi people’s ambivalence.

During the second part of the program, Joffe-Walt talked about the role of the U.S. media in what he calls the “production of consent to violence.”

“The role the media plays is to produce fear, to define what endangers us,” he said, adding that the U.S. is “the only country in the world in which more than 10 percent of the citizens believe Iraq had anything to do with Sept. 11.” Joffe-Walt said the “biggest tragedy” of our media is that it doesn’t present or discuss the “costs of war.”

“How many people in this room have a vague idea of how many people were killed in the last Gulf War?” he asked. Two people raised their hands. “We attacked this country once before, killed more than 100,000 people, and we have no idea.” Joffe-Walt gave as a “homework assignment” the tasks of trying to find anything in the media about Iraqi deaths, and to look for examples of “privatization” in the stories about Iraq.

“I don’t think we went to war to liberate Iraq,” he said. “I think we went to war to privatize Iraq.” Joffe-Walt offered hope for the peace movement in light of the “defeat and powerlessness” many activists felt after the U.S. went to war despite enormous global opposition.

“Movements happen over time,” he said.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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