When four anti-war protesters were killed at Kent State University in 1970, the event elevated the tension in a country divided by war. Today, over thirty years later, these same issues polarize our country. Kent, Ohio, located in one of the most important battleground states in this election, can once again be seen as a kind of microscope, under which the country can evaluate its values and views. This September, with the help of MTV and Chat the Planet", a group of students at Kent State were able to participate in a one-of-a-kind dialogue with youth from Iraq.
Baghdad 2-Way, is an uncensored face-to-face discussion between two groups of youth from very different cultures. Hosted by MTV News Gideon Yago, Baghdad 2-Way, has been airing as a part of MTVs Choose or Lose campaign. The discussion covers various topics from parents to nightclubs to Americas Foreign Policy – but much of the dialogue if focused on the war and the impact it has had on both groups lives. Below is an excerpt from the transcript of the show.
Gideon Yaddo (U.S.) : [to the Iraqis] A lot of people in our audience in America may ask: "Over 1,000 American soldiers have died, and we spent more then $150 billion. Hasn't it done anything?"
Yvonne (I): Right now we have freedom. We are [working] on democracy, but democracy isn't just an outfit you come and put on. We have traditions, we have ethics, we have beliefs. So we have to build it ourselves. Of course we need the help of [other] people. We need your help. You are here to help us with your ideas, your opinion. Your voice, your elections will affect our elections because right now we are kind of related to each other. Right now America and Iraq are very much related. All that we are looking for is your help first as American people. People of America have always been known as kind people, honest people, and always wanting to help. This is why we are here today. We are trying to give you a picture of what is going on. We are trying to give you a picture of how you can help us [overcome] this horrible thing. I know soldiers are being killed day after day, but this is not in our hands. We're like you. Do you have anything to do with the government? We do not have anything to do with the extremism
Ahmed (I): All that has been done by the American government and all that has been done by the entire world is not offering the solution right now. The occupation, or the American liberation, of Iraq has still not offered the solution yet. We're still under Saddam's regime. It's not so different than before. We might have some kind of freedom, but actually we've got so many things that can limit us, and we don't have that much real freedom or real practice of democracy.
Mutez (I): For me I think that America has made some mistakes in Iraq. The first one is they dissolved the army. That's the major fault that America has done here in Iraq. And we're seeing consequences. Fifty percent of the people who are not getting jobs have been in the army. Most of [those who] have been in the army don't have the money [they used to]. They have been offered money by extremist to do things, [and] this is the problem right now.
Numan (I) : Before the war, we couldn't speak. We couldn't give our ideas out. After the war, we can speak, we can say our ideas. The problem is that nobody is listening to us.
Ramiz (I): The Iraqi people do not blame you personally about the war, 'cause we know that you had [nothing to do with it]. We can't judge one person when we share this world [with the entire] population.
Sadiq (I) : Iraqi people aren't about to blame American people.
Yvonne (I): We really know that you want to help us, therefore we want to help ourselves too.
Numan (I): The freedom we were given after the war is not the real freedom that we're looking for. We can't say our opinions about the government the government is the same, it has its branches everywhere; they can trace you and put you in jail for no reason. You can't say your ideas about religion because there is extremism. There is always extremism when there's instability. If the conditions were stable enough, all people would be moderate in their opinions.
Erin C. (U.S.) : Because of your obvious cultural differences from ours, do you think an American form of democracy will work in your country?
Ahmed (I): I think American Democracy is a model, it's an example. It's not the ideal one. It's not the best. We've learned from the history of the world that every society has to create its own democracy. We can't just buy a democracy and implement it here. You can't just plug in American democracy and let it work.
Yvonne (I): It's not an outfit.
Gideon (U.S.): We hear so much about how bad things are right now in Iraq. What can we do to fix that? What can we do to improve your lives and bring about the democracy that both you and us here in America want to see?
Ahmed (I) : I think the American people or the American government itself can help Iraqis. [They can help through] cultural exchange, developing a curriculum for the colleges and offering a scholarship so the Iraqi people can have some opportunities to renew their ideas to build something new that can be the solution for the Iraqi society here.
Gideon (U.S.)[to the Americans]: Whether or not you oppose the war now, how many of you supported the war in Iraq initially because of 9-11?
[Three of the Americans raise their hands.]
Yvonne (I): Can we ask why did you support the war in Iraq?
Tony (U.S.): I supported the war in Iraq because I knew what Saddam Hussein was like. I knew that he was a murderer and I knew that we could never have peace in Iraq or in the Middle East without removing him from power. He was such a destabilizing force, such a terrible person and such a terrible tyrant that he was doing damage to the region and we had to remove him.
Teddy (U.S.): I have to say that I did not support the war. I feel that the war could have been handled a different way. I think that diplomacy was the answer, because innocent people are dying in your country and it's not because of any of you, it's because of what we thought, an assumption [about weapons of mass destruction].
Gideon (U.S.) [to the Iraqis]: Are you guys shocked or surprised by what you heard from those who supported the war here in America?
Sura (I): No, I am not shocked by this. But I have [a similar] question for [you]. If an exterior force considers [President] Bush a criminal and it wants to occupy America or to have the same war there in America, how would you act against this?
Tony (U.S.): That's a fair question, but you have to understand that President Bush isn't lining up people and shooting them. President Bush is not murdering his own people. We knew that Saddam Hussein was doing these things, and we knew that peace could not exist in the Middle East with someone like that in power. I'm very sorry for all the troubles you have had since the American occupation began.
Sura (I) : Pardon, but it's an exterior force not only for this reason, for any other reason that it chose that it has to do this war against America for any reason that it sees that it's true for this force. Will you accept the war and the occupation or not?
Tony (U.S.): I would accept the war and the occupation if my ruler, who had just been deposed, was a murderous tyrant as yours was. You have to understand that when we went to war we thought there was this understanding, that the Iraqi people hated Saddam and they wanted him out of power just as much as we did. We thought that the Iraqi and the American people would be of the same mind both wanting to remove Saddam Hussein.
Amy (U.S.): I completely agree and I feel sorry for the Iraqi people because I understand that Saddam Hussein is not the Iraqi people.
Sura (I): But this is the same thing for the American people against Bush. There are people who are supporting him and there are people against his system.
Gideon (U.S.): What did Iraq have to do with 9-11?
Erin C. (U.S.): We went over to Afghanistan and didn't find Osama, so we had to go after something else to get the limelight off of the fact that we weren't being successful in Afghanistan.
Seth (U.S.): I don't like it when Americans give the reason why we went into Iraq. [If we're saying that Iraqis] were involved with terrorist attacks on America, what's stopping us from saying that Saudi Arabia or China or North Korea is next? Where does it stop with our government? That's something that we have the opportunity to decide when we vote.
Gideon (U.S.): Guys in Iraq, how do you respond to some of the things that you hear?
Numan (I) : Iraq had nothing to do with September 11th. As soon as Saddam became a dictator, he was hated by the Iraqi people. He murdered his own people, but war is the last thing that we need in Iraq.
Ahmed (I): Do you think that the Americans are a huge rescue squad?
Amy (U.S.): I have absolute faith in our government, and I feel that they made decision based on the information they had, and they made a decision that was based on your rights and our rights and for the freedom of our country and the freedom of your country. They had everyone's best interests at heart, I truly believe that. I believe in my heart that we are freeing and we are a rescue team, or however you would say it.
Ahmed (I) : Saddam's regime was ended by military intervention, and the only objective reason for military intervention is to free and liberate the people of Iraq. It's not for terrorism, it's not for anything else. There were no weapons of mass destruction here in Iraq, there are only mass graves. There are only mass people striving in and living in fear. The problem was brought by the American technique after the military intervention. They have made some errors that we're living now and paying the cost of.
Gideon (U.S.) [to the Iraqis]: Would you guys be shocked to know that almost half of America thinks that Saddam directly had something to do with September 11th?
Yvonne (I): I want to answer this, but I'm not defending Saddam. He's a dictator, and we all hate him, we hate him because he has destroyed our country, he has destroyed our people, but I don't think Saddam Hussein would have any kind of relationship with September 11th. September 11th was a disastrous act. Many people were killed. Three thousand people died for doing nothing, in my opinion. I'm not happy when I heard this, when I saw what happened on TV. Those two buildings just collapsed down. This hurt my feelings because there are innocent people living there. I could have been there. I could have been there as an Iraqi, as an American, as an innocent person, but I think Osama Bin Laden is the main issue. Terrorism, if you talk about terrorism, it's not about Iraq. We're having terrorism in our country coming from other countries, coming from the neighbors, and this is what we're facing. The problem is that people are saying we are terrorists. We're not. The Iraqi people are tired from wars. We're having terrorism coming from the neighbors, and we know from where they are coming, and we cannot just stop them because they are just getting in and mixing all the papers and making our picture in front of everyone look so bad, and this is the thing that I just don't want, to have this picture in front of everyone. I want to walk as a Muslim. I can tell you that there's no such sensitivity between Muslim and Christian. My mom is Christian, my dad is Muslim, and I'm living There are so many people around here from different religions, but that doesn't mean we're all terrorists. We're all Iraqis, but we're not terrorists. So I think September 11th has nothing to do with Iraq. It was only a reason to invade Iraq, This is my point.
Sura (I): American people who died on September 11th are innocent people who are the victims like the Iraqi people who are dying everyday here. They are the same. They are the victims of the American government policy.
Gideon (U.S.): Let me ask you guys in Baghdad, do you guys think that the world is a safer place now that Saddam Hussein is out of power?
Yvonne (I): I cannot compare what happened before to now. I mean, Saddam was a dictator and now we're going through another kind of situation. Right, Ahmed?
Ahmed (I): There is a big mistake. If you are about to compare what is happening now to what was in Saddam's regime, then you can't see things right. Now you are suffering from security [issues], but in Saddam's regime you were secure, but now you are happy with a kind of freedom, while in Saddam's regime you didn't have freedom. It's not about comparing, it's about what to do [next]. The Americans have occupied Iraq in order to secure America, not to liberate Iraqis. What they have made as a consequence is that Iraq has been a battlefield for terrorism. It's a battlefield for fighting terrorism all over the world, and Iraqi people are the victims of this war.
Sadiq (I): The most important thing for me is that there is no more Saddam Hussein. You've chopped him out, but your government has to complete its job. Prove that you're right. Prove it to us, prove it to the world. We want a liberated country, free country, democratic country. We don't have any hard feelings for you or to anyone in the world, we just want to live in peace.
Gideon (U.S): How long do you think it is going to be before America can offer that kind of proof? And before there will be peace in Iraq?
Mutez (I): I don't think America will do this thing. Right now it's only about Iraqis. I think the coming government will be a crucial situation where they must do what [needs to be] done concerning democracy, concerning freedom and concerning stability and security.
Sura (I): America can do nothing now because no one trusts it anymore.
Numan (I): I'll tell you how long the situation will remain as that until the American coalition forces are removed from Iraq, until Americans go out from Iraq. While they are here there is terrorism.
Gideon (U.S.): September 11th and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have changed the way that Americans pay attention to Islam and Muslims worldwide. How important is religion to your day-to-day life in Iraq?
Ahmed (I): Well, before determining how important religion is in our life we have to make a clear point that religion has nothing to do with terrorism, and then we will discuss religion and what it has to do with our life.
Yvonne (I): Terrorism has no religion, has no place, has no home. Terrorism takes the name of anything to justify what it's doing. I mean, when I'm a terrorist I'd say, "I'm this, I'm a Christian, I'm a Muslim," so that I would justify my act, and the problem is that this has been focused on Islam.
Seth (U.S.): I come from a Christian background, I'm Roman Catholic, and we're told, as Americans and by the media, that terrorists are religious extremists. So I just wanted to point out that major difference between how you think or how I'm told to think by the media or, you know, that's my image of terrorism.
Yvonne (I): I think what's going on is that they pretend. I think what's going on is they are extremist of that religion but it's got nothing to do with the [actual] religion. They just modify religion.
Mutez (I): Religion doesn't give any motive for killing people. That's the point.