Nine years after US forces dropped the first bombs on Baghdad and began their occupation, students from UCSB and the University of Iraq, Baghdad have attempted a historic joint venture: a live-video student dialogue.
The event, titled A Dialogue for Peace (DFP), was created by non-profit media company Global Access Media along with UCSB students and faculty in order to allow students, faculty, and community members the chance to observe and converse with one another through an independent media channel. On Sunday March 4 in UCSB’s Multicultural Center, two years after its first successful broadcast, DFP attempted to once again humanize the complex issues of racism, intolerance, violence and war following the US occupation of Iraq.
“A Dialogue for Peace is a bold and historic attempt at peace and, in my opinion, the most positive event in the history of Iraqi-American relations,” stated Dr. Hashim Ahmed, Dean of the Mass Media College at the University of Iraq, Baghdad in a press release earlier last week.
Mark Manning, one of Global Access Media’s co-founders and filmmakers, hosted the event along with UCSB student and president of the DFP student group Christy Needels. After a quick viewing of his film, The Road to Falluhjah, in which audience members viewed the destruction and poor living conditions Iraqis dealt with in the wake of US bombings, Manning drew attention to the format of the evening’s dialogue by stating that pretty much anything goes, so long as it is in the format of question and answer.
“Whatever you got in your heart, know to put it in the form of a question, and the only real rule is listen to the answer,” Manning explained. “If something angers you and you want to express it, do it with respect.”
Needels also described how surprised students on both sides were when hearing viewpoints ignored by media outlets.
“When we did this event two years ago, we engaged in this real dialogue which none of us had done before,” Needels said. “I was pretty amazed at how willing they were to talk to us.”
Due to the 11 hour time difference, students went live with Baghdad around 11:00 p.m. However, technical difficulties ensued for almost an hour due to faulty internet connections which kept dropping calls made on both sides through a Polycom video-broadcasting system. Finally, after midnight, true contact was established, and students wasted no time talking to each other about a wide range of topics.
One of the first topics discusses was how Iraqi women felt about the way they had to dress in society. One female Iraqi student stated that although some women felt obliged to wear a veil or hijab, others felt that it added to their beauty. The same student also explained that women in Iraq were freer now than ever before and could wear more stylish clothes if they so desired. One UCSB student in response said because he saw so many female Iraqi students participating in the DFP event, he felt hopeful for the improving democratic conditions for women in Iraq.
Discussion of student exchange programs and the status of economic conditions in Baghdad also ensued, and the event ended on a promising note that students from both universities could continue their dialogue via an online forum soon to be created.