Section: Opinion

Aftermath offers much food for thought

The current exhibition at the Gund Gallery, Aftermath, offers much food for thought for a liberal arts community, especially when considered in combination with documentaries such as Almost Sunrise and The War You Don’t See, which focus on the role of media and morality in wartime. We can easily go beyond the view described in the Feb. 23 op-ed “Aftermath essentializes the Middle East,” which argues the Aftermath exhibition facilitated orientalist stereotypes, by asking a few questions and recalling facts from the recent history.

Much of the instability and destruction in the Middle East was caused by the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. I realize that today’s college students are too young to remember how that war was justified and sold to the American public. It is important for this audience to learn that the war that claimed hundreds of thousands of civilian lives and much destruction in the Middle East did not have any good justification. Unfortunately, it was not questioned sufficiently at the time by Congress, the media, experts, analysts or other democratic elements in the U.S. in the aftermath of 9/11. We must realize that real patriotism does not mean blindly believing everything the government says. Today, most everyone — even Donald Trump — claims to have been against the Iraq War, but the climate was much different in the winter of 2003.

Liberally educated people need to go beyond the surface and ask tough questions without being intimidated by the fear of being labeled unpatriotic. Patriotism is much too often abused all over the world to mask government actions that are against basic principles and ideals of democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of the law. Before the Iraq War, for example, the obvious questions of “Why aren’t we listening to U.N. weapon inspectors?” and “Why don’t we let them finish their jobs?” were not asked by enough people in the U.S. Good citizens — students of a liberal arts college in particular — need to solicit answers from their government or their political science professors. There is no shortage of issues where similar questions and challenges need to be raised by the educated public.

Almost Sunrise reminds us that the victims of the Iraq War are not just the people of the Middle East. Thousands of American soldiers and their families are also among the casualties. Did you know that more than 20 veterans a day — and about 7,500 a year — commit suicide?  Not questioning the reasons to wage a war has far-reaching consequences both at home and abroad.

The War You Don’t See reminds us that “embedded journalists” arranged by the government did not necessarily present an accurate picture of what was happening on the ground. It also reminds us that the common narrative in the mainstream media usually gives a distorted picture of what’s going on with Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one of the major global problems of the modern times. There are, however, real investigative journalists who do their best to show a more objective picture of realities. They are a bit harder to find, but with some effort it is possible to hear the often suppressed or neglected side of the story. We need to question the unconditional support of the U.S. for a state that commits gross human rights violations through a brutal occupation. We need to question the decision to spend so much money on military (do a little research to find out how U.S. military spending compares to the rest of the world) while we have big challenges in education, healthcare and the environment.

Next time you hear “experts” explaining they hate us because they hate our freedoms, be prepared to challenge them based on the evidence from the field research involving thousands of citizens from all around the Muslim world presented in Who Speaks for Islam? by Esposito and Mogahed. While many “experts” mislead the American public, the actual evidence will tell you that it is the U.S. foreign policy, not the real American values, that they dislike. Unfortunately, there is often a sharp conflict between the two.

Going beyond the surface, questioning, critiquing and challenging are among the most fundamental qualities a liberal arts education tries to instill in its participants. Aftermath provides a powerful opportunity for the Kenyon community to engage in this mode of thinking as global citizens. I encourage everyone to visit the exhibit, reflect on it and ask questions.

Noah Aydin is a Professor of Mathematics. Contact him at aydinn@kenyon.edu.

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