Mar 17, 2008

Two versions of mirage

MoD accused of propaganda in Iraq worksheets for schools

Polly Curtis, education editor Friday March 14, 2008 Guardian,,2265284,00.html

The Ministry of Defence has been accused of supplying "misleading propaganda" to schools and attempting to recruit pupils into the army. The children's secretary, Ed Balls, has written to officials in the MoD asking them to investigate teachers' claims that their worksheets for 16- to 18-year-olds provide a one-sided view on the war in Iraq.

The National Union of Teachers said the MoD was "unethically" targeting recruitment materials at schools in disadvantaged areas. Steve Sinnott, the union's general secretary, said: "It is propaganda, it does not present a balanced position.

"When you are dealing with something as controversial as Iraq and different events which led up to the invasion, teachers are under an enormous duty to present material which is balanced."

One worksheet supplied by the MoD and designed by a private marketing company, Kids Connections, describes the UK force's efforts in Iraq as mainly targeted at "helping the Iraqis to rebuild their country after the conflict and years of neglect". It describes the work the armed forces have done in security and reconstruction, and notes the 2005 democratic elections. But union officials said it failed to mention the US-led invasion, Iraqi civilian deaths and the fact that no weapons of mass destruction were ever found.

The NUT will debate the issue at its annual conference in Manchester next week. Teachers are regularly sent model lesson plans, worksheets and other teaching materials by government departments, charities and private companies, but these are required by law to give a balanced political view. A report by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust in January highlighted websites set up by the MoD targeted at 12- to 17-year-olds, but noted that some recruitment tactics targeted children as young as seven. "Children are introduced to the potential benefits of a forces career, but not to its risks," the report said.

The union wrote to Balls in October expressing concern over the materials. Balls in turn promised to take the issue up with MoD officials.

A motion to be discussed at the NUT conference would, if passed, commit the union to "actively opposing military recruitment activities in schools across England and Wales". The Educational Institute of Scotland has already opposed military recruitment in Scotland.

The MoD said in a statement: "The ... programme is a set of web-based resources whose use is completely voluntary. We have consulted widely with teachers and students during the development of these products and feedback from schools has been extremely encouraging. They are designed to support teachers in delivering a whole range of subjects across the national curriculum and its equivalents in Scotland and Wales. We are happy to engage with the NUT to discuss further." © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008
Monday-Wednesday, March 17-19, 2008


When I saw the first photos of Baghdad being bombed during the "shock and awe" phase of the illegal 2003 attack against Iraq, I was saddened. For millennia, the city had endured wars, occupations, plundering, natural disasters, and liberations. This time, however, it was different. I knew Baghdad would be changed in a despicable way that would take decades of recovery to become the city it once was.

Baghdad is the city where commerce was developed for humankind thousands of years ago. It offered a monetary system long before other cultures. Science flourished in the Baghdad of 5,000 years ago. For instance, archaeologists have discovered star charts from that era showing Jupiter with four moons. No human being has eyesight keen enough to see one of Jupiter’s moons without a telescope. The scientists of the day invented the telescope, only to see it re-invented by Galileo more than four thousand years later.

Archaeologists have also uncovered the use of electricity in Baghdad 5,000 years ago. The objects generated electricity to use in plating gold coins. The Chinese at this time also used crude forms of electricity. So much for Benjamin Franklin.
Arts and sports flourished in ancient Baghdad. In fact, the oldest artifact depicting wrestling was discovered at Kayafaje, near Baghdad, by a team of archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania in 1938. Archaeologists have concluded that the cast bronze figurine was created by the Sumerian culture of the time and has been judged to be over 5,000 years old. Many people think that ancient Greece developed wrestling, but this finding shows it was popular in Iraq thousands of years prior to the Greek’s participation in the sport.

During the Dark Ages of Europe, when all scientific thought was eliminated for centuries, Baghdad continued to excel in science and engineering. When the Dark Ages finally broke and Europe once again began to exercise science, it looked to Baghdad.

Kingdoms, authoritarian regimes and republics have come and gone in Baghdad, but it still was the jewel of Arab cities. Iran bombed Baghdad during the eight-year Iran-Iraq War, yet Baghdad bounced back. In 1991, the city was under constant bombardment by U.S. forces and the infrastructure was destroyed, all to be repaired within weeks of the cessation of hostilities. A 13-year-embargo caused the degradation of many buildings and facilities in Baghdad from 1990-2003, yet it still was the jewel of Arab cities. Despite the sanctions, tourists went to Baghdad and the city hosted international business exhibitions. It was a little ragged around the edges, yet it was still Baghdad.

Thousands of years of prestige came to a halt in April 2003. When American troops entered Baghdad, they went into a city that had been mercilessly bombed and attacked. However, it was the introduction of the troops that degraded and changed the city forever.

Within weeks, concrete barriers were erected to protect the invaders. Today, they are all over Baghdad and make the Berlin Wall pale in comparison. These walls separate families, neighborhoods, businesses and friends. U.S. military vehicles abound. Checkpoints that Iraqi citizens have to encounter for hours at a time are common.

Never, under any Iraqi leadership, had Baghdad suffered the ongoing violence that occurs daily in the city. Kidnapping is now a major industry. The kidnappers have set standard prices for their wares: a couple of hundred dollars for a kidnapped person from a poor family to a few thousand dollars for one from a middle or upper class family. Kidnapping was unheard of under the previous regimes in Baghdad.

The city is laden with holes and rubble from military confrontations. The Iraqi resistance can claim responsibility for a small amount of damage, but the overwhelming majority of destruction comes from U.S. forces who use modern, large weapons in a disproportionate manner in fighting the freedom fighters. American officials as well as their stooge Iraqi appointees can not leave their highly-walled compounds for fear of death. Not one would last minutes on the streets of Baghdad. They live in another world.

I can’t imagine a western city, such as London or Paris or New York having to live under such conditions after years of notoriety as leading cultural metropolises. I can’t imagine an enemy with so little regard to culture to allow that to happen. Even in Nazi-occupied Paris of World War II nothing occurred to match the demise of Baghdad. German soldiers and Parisian inhabitants co-existed, albeit not on friendly terms. The Germans did not think of leveling the city or cordoning it off into segregated areas. It may have been occupied by an outside force, but it was still Paris.

Baghdad today is a basket case. I have spoken to or written to various Baghdad residents, past and present, to get their assessment. Some are unrepentant Ba’athists; some opposed the Saddam Hussein regime; and some were neutral, going on with life and considering whatever government in power to be the ruling entity.

They all agreed on one aspect, however: the loss of the city of Baghdad. They all agreed that this was different. They all agreed that Baghdad’s psyche, not just buildings and utilities, was ruined this time. There was a morose feeling with all that was never apparent before. Kids are being killed in crossfire. Civilians are being killed by trigger-happy U.S. soldiers. Nobody is safe and the public is now showing a degree of numbness to the situation. Many people now walk in dangerous areas without thinking about danger. They assume that if they get killed, so be it. They have no say in the matter.
There is little to be happy about today in Baghdad. Citizens are used to having little or no electricity. They are used to learning a neighbor’s family member(s) have been killed by U.S. fire while walking on the street or sitting on a rooftop. They are used to the squalor that was never a part of Baghdad. They are used to the ever-growing problem of hard drug use in Baghdad. They are used to the massive concrete barriers in their city. They do not accept these things, but they are used to them because they can do nothing to stop the rot.

It is sad to see that there is one occurrence that brings happiness and joy to Baghdad residents: the killing or maiming of American troops. Decent human beings have been turned into bloodthirsty creatures who dance with glee over burning U.S. bodies and vehicles. These are the same people who, before March 2003, would have been aghast at their current actions. These are formerly law-abiding and hard-working citizens. Today, they are people mostly without jobs and totally without hope. An attack on U.S. forces is all they have to look forward to in life. When you see the delighted looks on their faces, one would not be remiss in thinking that Iraq had just won the World Cup. Or an Iraqi had just won a Nobel Peace Prize. Or an Iraqi had just found a cure for cancer. These public showings of happiness are not indications of any positive event to which human beings pay homage. They are for the destruction of other human beings.

Baghdad cries today. It has been defeated. It was destroyed by the real forces of evil in this world — bigotry, xenophobia, ethnocentrism, greed and deceit — not those entities whom the U.S. president has designated as evil. Bush throws around the word "evil" with ease and frequency, but he is the number one practitioner of evil in the world. No one else comes close.

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