A routine celebration of San Francisco State University's anti-American radical culture took place on Tuesday evening, April 12, 2005, when the university invited self-styled journalist Dahr Jamail to give a talk entitled, “The War Is Far From Over.” Flyers advertising the event promised that Jamail would reveal the “real truth” of the damage and destruction caused by U.S. forces in Iraq.
Jamail is a BBC correspondent and a regular contributor to publications such as The Nation, Islam Online and The Socialist Worker. He identifies himself as “one of the only independent, unembedded journalists in the country,” to distinguish himself from the “U.S. corporate media.” Be that as it may, Jamail is not remotely nonpartisan, impartial, objective or even credible.
Jamail recently returned from Iraq, where he spent 5 months -- or 6 or 8, depending on which source you read. Since his return, he has toured Belgium, Canada, Turkey and the U.S., advising people about mayhem and misery inflicted by the U.S. military. He travels the country, presenting his pessimistic and distorted picture of Iraq to various church, university and civic organizations. In the past two months, Jamail has made 14 appearances in the San Francisco Bay Area, including all the major universities, sponsored by Speak Out! an organization that promotes “progressive voices on campuses and communities,” and encourages “critical and imaginative thinking about domestic and international issues.”
Here at SF State, we know exactly what that means: “progressive” means “far left” and “critical and imaginative thinking” means indulging in “an emotional frenzy of hatred for the United States.” The university discourages forums involving fact-based rational discourse that allows people to arrive at their own conclusions. Anti-war protests are a prominent and frequent ritual on our campus. Since Jamail is the first (and will most certainly be the last) Iraq war correspondent to be invited to speak by the university, we were fairly certain that Jamail’s presentation would be an expression of his furious opposition to the war in Iraq.
The university honored Jamail with special guest status by scheduling his presentation in Jack Adams Hall, a 350-seat auditorium that is normally booked a year in advance and almost impossible for student groups to obtain. The omnipresent “revolutionary socialists” were there, handing out literature. At SF State, fees for campus speakers are paid for by mandatory student activity fees, yet the university’s choice of speakers invariably caters to the ultra-left fringe of the student population. Ultimately, the university has discretion for accepting and financing the speakers who come to speaking engagements.
Jamail delivered a 45-minute rant that was extreme, even compared to what we’re used to. There was not even a pretense of objectivity, moderation or balance of viewpoints. It was more like an emotional flash-bang, leaving the audience too stunned to offer any critique of his presentation.
Jamail’s lengthy and sensationalized narrative of events he witnessed – or claimed to have witnessed – in Fallujah made it sound as though the time he spent there was a nonstop series of massacres, slaughter and dead children. This was accompanied by a slide show of gruesome and horrifying images. His stories, though disgusting, were not supported by any evidence. They weren’t even supported by his own photographs. He showed dozens of photos of corpses that he identified as victims of “Marine snipers,” “napalm,” and “chemical weapons.” He claimed that most of the Iraqis killed by U.S. soldiers were women and children, whose “dead and rotten bodies” have been left rotting in the streets to be eaten by dogs.
He characterized every action by U.S. forces as unjustified and uncalled-for. He denounced U.S. soldiers for bombing civilian households (without mentioning that they were safe houses for terrorists), for attacking ambulances (without explaining that they were filled with weapons and explosives), and for seizing Fallujah General Hospital (without mentioning that at the time it was occupied by opposition forces).
Needless to say, he had nothing at all to say about the atrocities and oppression inflicted on Iraqis, first by Saddam Hussein and later by out by Ba’athist and foreign terrorists, nor did he make any reference to the numerous hidden prison cells, execution chambers, and weapons caches that have been discovered by U.S. military personnel.
By this time, we decided that Jamail had set a new standard for inflammatory hyperbole, even for SF State, but then he went on to thoroughly demonize American employees of private companies, whom he referred to as “mercenaries,” accusing them of “raping and pillaging” sometimes “alongside the U.S. military.” The atmosphere there was as if the kidnapping and murder of these workers was justified because they were “mercenaries.” In contrast, he referred to the terrorists as simply “the resistance.”
A visit to Jamail’s website (www.dahrjamailiraq.com) reveals that he sounds just as demented in print as he does in person. In an interview with Newtopia Magazine, he describes his background -- born and raised in Texas, B.A. in speech communications, some graduate work in English Literature. He was called to activist journalism first during the “stealing of the presidency in 2000 by the Bush regime,” followed by the “corporate media sell job” of the “illegal invasion and occupation” of Iraq.
Most of the interview is a savage indictment of the U.S. military, similar to what we heard at SF State. The war in Iraq is a “colossal failure.” U.S. soldiers are guilty of “countless war crimes,” which include killing, detaining, torturing and humiliating innocent civilians. He insists that this is all done deliberately and even claims that soldiers have told him they actually enjoyed the killing. His narrative is full of the same lurid imagery he uses onstage: “[B]ullet-ridden mosques with blood-stained carpets inside” where unarmed worshippers have been “slaughtered by soldiers,” entire neighborhoods in Fallujah that have been “bombed into rubble” and houses where “entire families have been incinerated and blown to pieces.”
Jamail’s website includes a photo gallery that is an expanded version of the slide show we saw. The “Casualties of Polling,” includes few of photos of men in hospital beds who represent the “hundreds of Iraqis” wounded during the polling of January 30. Sections entitled, “The Face of War” and “The Tsunami of Iraq” are a series photos of dead bodies in varying stages of decay at the Baghdad morgue. “Collective Punishment in Al-Dora,” shows pictures of trees and walls damaged by U.S. forces. “Living in Garbage,” shows pictures of families who have reportedly been forced to take up residence in Baghdad’s garbage dump. And so on.
Jamail’s views are extreme, even compared to the anti-war protestors on our campus. Unfortunately, however, he is typical of campus speakers nowadays, who are chosen based on two qualifications: radicalism and outrageousness, subsidized by students and taxpayers. If Californians want to reform higher education, an overhaul of campus speaker programs would be a great place to start.
Robert Journey and Derek Wray are majoring in criminal justice at San Francisco State University. They are members of the SFSU College Republicans. www.gatorgop.com.