By RITA WANG, political columnist
Founded in 2003, ISIS, which is also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, is a splinter cell of Al-Qaeda. It stretches from Syria to Iraq and is known for killing dozens of people at a time through crucifixion and public execution. It rules by Sharia law and generates resources through extortion and robbery. And, it is committing genocide and ruining ethnic diversity by targeting Assyrians and Kurds. Yet, even with all the “bad” and destructive actions they take, I am frustrated at the prospect of the United States going to war again, because it seems to me that war has never benefitted anyone involved. The War on Terror was not successful, and ending it was one of the major campaign promises of our current president. The current turn of events seems very familiar to those who witnessed and clearly remember most of the last decade—preparation for a war abroad with unclear prospects. For us, it is the way the prospects unfold that will surely affect the course of our lives.
War is not the answer. When America entered Iraq, the mission wasn’t focused and didn’t deal with the problem. Time was wasted, and I’m not sure if this time will be different.
As members of a generation that grew up after the 9/11 terror attacks, the Middle-East carries an incredibly different connotation for us than it did for our parents and grandparents. My earliest memory is of 9/11: I was almost five when the tragedy happened, and I remember getting picked up by my parents from preschool early, even before lunch time. That’s odd, I had thought; my parents are always late. My mom was pregnant and working in the Financial District at the time. She didn’t go to work that morning because she had a mammogram scheduled, and thus narrowly missed the chaos. I remember it very clearly, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who shared this experience. Most JP students’ experiences with foreign policy in the Middle East start with 9/11 and the PATRIOT Act. The War on Terror has been the background music to our entire lives, and it is almost terrifying how easily we’ve come to accept it.
We are incredibly sensitive to small changes in tradition. Last year, JP students were outraged when the expected “9/11 moment of silence” did not occur, including me. I remember students posting Facebook essays of their sentiments, and each of those essays generated hundreds of likes. And, through the combined efforts of students and teachers, we managed to bring the precious moment of silence back. Somehow, we feel for the tragedies caused by terrorism differently. That is why when high school students discuss ISIS, as I have seen in history classes, students are generally outraged or have an overall negative opinion. “I don’t really know that much about ISIS, but they killed American journalists, and we have to fight that!”
The War on Terror and the aftermath of 9/11 have somehow become as commonplace to us as smartphones and Parent Portal. But, our memory of the Middle East only starts with 9/11. If we travel back in time, a myriad of events emerge that make the turmoil in the Middle East seem a bit clearer. In the 1950s, foreign policy was centered around relations between the United States and the former Soviet Union, and Iraq was not of much interest until oil was discovered. However, the 1960s led to much political instability in the region, starting with the bloody fall of the Iraqi monarchy in 1958. Around the 1980s, the United States was alarmed by Saddam Hussein’s genocide of the Kurds and his subsequent invasion of Kuwait and decided to intervene in what was known as the Gulf War, adopting a policy of containment that was later criticized by Osama bin Laden. And the rest is history, which as they say, tends to repeat itself as we get involved with Iraq again.
As the United States gears up for Iraq and Obama assures us that “this time will be different,” it is necessary to ignore our gut feelings of patriotism and vengeance and analyze the issue. The tragedy of 9/11 is not the starting point of the issues surrounding the War on Terror, but the less-informed think that it is. This is paramount because all of us will be of voting age soon. As a generation that will soon add a voice to this discussion, we should not let jingoism cloud our judgment.