I watched with dismay as the “peaceniks” broke off into a huddle after Fred Odisho‘s presentation on “Discourse During Insurgency/Counterinsurgency: The Importance of Achieving Communication Superiority in Gaining the Support of the People.” In the front of the room was another huddle &emdash; all men, most of them big &emdash; talking with this Iraqi military officer. I joined the huddle up front. “You’ve got guts,” I said to Fred, “an army man coming to talk in a nest of peaceniks.” He gave me a wink, “Someone’s got to do it,” he said, “otherwise people only get what CNN gives them.”
I’m not convinced that the academics gathered here only get their news from CNN, but it was obvious to me that here was a split in the conference body. Ruth opened the questioning of Fred, his father Edward (“The Iraqi War: A Typical Example of Cultural and Linguistic Dis-course”), and Russell Zanca (audio report May 17) (“Losing Hearts and Minds in Iraq? Cultural Competence and War”) wondering how it is that people who are otherwise so smart could have made the mistakes detailed in this panel. Tove continued: ” are we as researchers, in some way supporting the occupiers to become “nice occupiers” through training in intercultural communication?”
I took her question seriously. I share her frustration. Every time I hear someone mention Iraqis killed because they didn’t understand English and thus couldn’t follow directions, I am reminded of similar tragic incidents with police and people who are deaf. One can’t “stop” or “raise your hands slowly” if you don’t hear the words. Tove invited me to join the gang for lunch…I hesitated over whom to join because I had already been engaged in banter with the Hawaiians. These were the guys I’d observed in “hypermasculine homoeroticism” with the Iraqis. NO! Not really, but it is a good line, isn’t it? 🙂 (Not my line, alas, hence the quotation marks.) I told Ruth I was going “to infiltrate the enemy.”
The blatant gender division (five-on-five) was disrupted only by (husband) Robert in the peacenik huddle and the comment by a woman in the audience who had noted that the military might explicitly want not to promote intercultural understanding because such capability humanizes the enemy, making them harder to kill. In this regard, she suggested that intercultural training conducted by/for the military is actually quite subversive. Is this as simple as men vs women? I don’t think so, but gender is difficult to dismiss completely. Tove’s morning keynote addressed “Kurds in Turkey and in (Iraqi) Kurdistan &emdash; Comparison of Educational Linguistic Human Rights in Two Situations of Occupation.”
Perhaps it is not surprising that a champion of the Kurds might be drawn into conflict with champions of the Iraqis? The Hawai’ians, meanwhile, made identifications with the Iraqis on terms of literal occupation while recognizing the “legal brief” being constructed by Tove to present a case for the violation of Kurdish linguistic human rights. These political scientists, Kuhio, Keanu, Kalawai’a, and Stephen (I think he’s honorary, and an actual lawyer, of some kind, not above bribery), kept my pen flying as they discussed international law’s definitions of insurgency, occupation, sovereignty, genocide, and human rights.
I had to ask for clarification of Kalawai’s postmodernspeak (“and you’re in Communication?” he scoffed): “It’s a struggle between the real and who gets to decide the referent.” Context: the historical example of American Indians, who were strong enough for some time to physically battle European invaders for control of the state apparatus (the real) being established in order to govern. As long as they could fight, American Indians could contest the referents (ethics, principles, etc) guiding the government. These referents are still ‘up for grabs’ but the terms of the contest are changed and the possibility of influence seems diminished through the inability to engage in war. (I know my new friends are going to rip holes in anything I’ve gotten wrong. Please. Tear freely.)
Did you know that Hawai’i is actually a european-style nation-state? I’m eager to learn more during their presentation tomorrow (and video later this afternoon). Let me return, however, to this dynamic that developed between my friends (whom I’m calling) the peaceniks, and the presenters on the panel concerning Iraq, with whom I also hope to become friends.
Is it a question of scale? The statistics Tove shared of death and dislocation, terror and torture of Kurds in both Turkey (yes, seriously) and in Iraq are shocking. The edge of her despair is evident: “No one knows how many Kurds there are; no one is counting.” She tracked the atrocities from the absurd – banning Pippi Longstocking as a danger to Kurdish children – to the horrific: evidence of a strong and clandestine US role in training Turkish police and paramilitary forces in use of equipment and tactics for oppressing the Kurdish minority.
If the scale of violence is somehow ‘comparable’ (as if these things can be measured and equated) to the devastation in Iraq, is it a question of visibility? Surely ‘the world knows’ about Iraq and few know &emdash; or are willing to move out of kneejerk denial &emdash; about the extent of (what I know from personal experience) Turks call “the Kurdish problem.”
Is it a moral judgment on efficacy? Do those in the military look upon those in peace movements with a preestablished framework of presumed futility? Do those in peace movements look upon those in the military with a preestablished framework of assumed aggression?
Even here anger and fear hook our emotions, shunting us away from paths of dialogue under occupation.