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War journalist shares insight through his camera lens

November 13, 2015

As part of ASAP’s Human Experience lecture series, war journalist Haider Hamza shared his experiences growing up under Saddam Hussein’s rule and living through four wars, including the Iraq/Iran war, the Gulf War and the U.S. Invasion of Iraq, in a talk titled, “From Personal Conflict to Global Resolution.”

Hamza was selected by the ASAP Executive Board last spring to come to campus this fall. As explained by the Assistant Director of Campus Events Jim Fry, “The whole point of the series is to provide the campus community with the opportunity to hear about the lived experiences of those living with us in society. The Board chose Hamza because he exemplified what was thought of when we think about what this series is about, sharing lived experiences. Haider has had a life full of much heartbreak and turmoil, but a life that is worth sharing for others to gain perspective about the world and what is going on in it, especially with a topic that has been a huge part of our lives for so many years.”

Hamza shared his experiences through photographs that he and his colleagues captured during wartime and used these as the foundation for his lecture to help answer the question, “How did we get here?”

While Hamza’s life has been surrounded by war, having been arrested, injured and kidnapped all while losing multiple family members, he began by explaining how war has not desensitized him. “I know war very, very well, and I know conflict very, very well,” said Hamza. “I hate war just as someone who understands war can hate it.”

Through graphic images of war, death and brutality, Hamza explained that the Western world does not grasp the terrors that exist in everyday life in the Middle East. Hamza argued that many Americans do not understand the issues in the Middle East because they have never experienced war to the scale that individuals in the Middle East have seen while even while doing something as simple as crossing the street. “Hamza’s lecture was extremely insightful into a world we in the West truly know nothing about,” said Scottish international student Matthew Davidson. “It is a situation that one cannot imagine. In a world where the ‘War on Terror’ has become a massive part of our lives, it is crucial that individuals know what is actually going on. The media shield a lot of what we see and make it difficult for students to listen to these uncomfortable lectures.”

Hamza gave several examples of children he photographed who, after the deaths of family members, joined Islamic State forces. He explained that although Americans may find it radical for children to put their lives on the line to fight, in order to understand this thought process, individuals would have needed to experience every step, conversation and action in other’s lives to judge their actions.

He argues that people in the U.S. do not understand how and why ISIS came into existence, and that it did not happen for no reason. In contrast, Hamza saw it slowly unfold. “ISIS was a natural response to what has happened,” said Hamza while showing images of where he was imprisoned, explaining that these prisons generated terrorists as they rotted in prison that would not meet the legal requirement of an animal shelter for years without education. “All it takes is one person in jail with extremist ideas. It’s hard to start a new life when the only choice is to join insurgent groups.”

“Haider Hamza provided a thoroughly honest, informative, unbiased and thought-provoking account of his experiences in Iraq,” said Matt Robinson, an international student from Ireland present at the lecture. “His humble and sincere speaking style, in combination with at times brutal and shocking photographs, communicated to the audience that war is in no way romantic or desirable; rather, it desensitizes, dehumanizes and breeds resentment and extremism. He argues that Islamic State (formerly ISIS) is a symptom, rather than a cause, of a number of historic problems in the region, namely poverty, government oppression, police and military brutality and foreign invasion.”

Today, Hamza challenges people across the world to think more critically of war. He travels throughout the U.S., Middle East and North Africa sharing his story in an effort to raise awareness among young people about the long term effects of war, the universality of humanity and reconciliation.

Julianna Graf
Editor in Chief

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