Things I saw today (Daily Show, Iraq, empathy)

April 21st, 2007 by amy

Jon Stewart did a fascinating interview with Ali Allawi, former minister in the current Iraqi government and author of The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace the other night.

One part that particularly struck me was the interaction at the end of the show where Stewart asked Allawi, in light of the Virginia Tech shootings, how Iraqis, who face this kind of killing on a daily basis, grieve. It was a moving interaction and a useful method for generating kind of global empathy that I find very moving and would only wish to see more of.

From a transcript of the show:

Stewart: One more thing, on a more personal note, and I don’t even know if it’s appropriate to broach it, but we in this country, we’ve just had a very tragic situation occur at one of our universities, and it really has taken the country aback, and there’s a real grieving process that we’re going through — and going through it by mourning by learning about the victims and learning about it and showing our support, you know, I hesitate to say, How does your country handle what is that kind of carnage on a daily basis? Is there a way to grieve? Is there a numbness that sets in? How is that?

Allawi: I think the scale of violence in Iraq is really inconceivable in your terms. I mean, we have on a daily basis what you had the other day at Virginia Tech, massacres of that scale, practically on a daily basis, and it’s very hard to grieve. Most of the ways that people do treat this is just to leave the country. We now have a very large external refugee problem, nearly 2 million Iraqis have left the country, and an internal refugee problem, also about 2 million people displaced. But the scale of violence and its continuity is such that it really numbs you. In my case, for example, I had six people I had appointed in various positions in the government, including my office manager, we had a suicide bomber walk into my contingent of guards. So, it’s really quite a serious psychological problem that is going to be one of the legacies of this terrible crisis.

Stewart: Yeah, and I truly cannot fathom it and I just recall, there’s been so much information as I was becoming sort of wrapped up in our grief, and then I saw the headline today of literally 150 people killed, and I think it just sends an awful dagger through your heart. I can’t imagine how you feel, but we love the fact that you come here and you write such a powerful story, and good luck

While Stewart’s reaction was sorrowful and empathetic, in a recent post where he points out that that there are two Virginia Tech style attacks in Iraq every day, Juan Cole seems to speak with a sense of outrage about the loss of life suffered every day in Iraq and a call for us to try to understand.

We Americans can so easily, with a shudder, imagine the college student trying to barricade himself behind a door against the armed madman without. But can we put ourselves in the place of Iraqi students?

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