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Shifting Sands: Lessons from Iraq, Afghanistan and 12 Years of War

Abbas El-Zein, Antony Lowenstein, David Finkel speak with chair, Jacqui Park. Photo: Greg Saunders

Abbas El-Zein, Antony Lowenstein, David Finkel speak with chair, Jacqui Park. Photo: Greg Saunders

Ever since the fall of the Twin Towers on September 11 2001, the world has experienced the upheaval that comes with war.

With the recent spate of bombings in Iraq as a result of the Islamic State (I.S.I.S) movement, it seemed only fitting that authors at the Byron Bay Writer’s Festival, Abbas El-Zein, David Finkel and Antony Loewenstein, stop and reflect on the past twelve years of war.

Finkel who released his novel Thank You for Your Service at the end of last year, started the session by saying he felt it was a heart-breaking moment when I.S.I.S started attacking in Iraqi civilians.

“For me, the lessons of the past 12 years of war gave way to anger,” said Finkel. “The ‘War on Terror’ was being fought on a number of levels, in Washington, on the policy front and on the money front too.”

As Finkel went on, he described specifically September 4 2007. This was the day George W Bush landed in Australia, got off the plane and after being asked by the deputy prime minister how he was doing replied, ‘we’re kickin’ ass’. However, back in Iraq this was simply another day when another brilliantly placed roadside bomb went off and severely impacted five soldiers.

“We have fought so many wars that it has left us feeling lousy,” said Finkel.

Loewenstein, who recently released his book Profits of Doom, reminded the audience about the strong presence of private contractors in Iraq under President George W Bush. Loewenstein also shared about how information in the Iraq war was often misleading or skewed.

“It led to a situation where soldiers from both Australian and American forces would go on night raids after being told that Mohammad in Village X was a terrorist,” said Loewenstein. “I personally have a lot of sympathy for those affect by occupation whether it’s the Iraqis or Afghans.”

El-Zein who latest book is The Secret Maker of the World, surprised the audience after sharing figures relating to the total amount countries like Saudi Arabia are giving away to the US in weapons deals.

“There is a lot of money from countries like Saudi Arabia going to the US to create lots of Defence Jobs,” said El Zein. “They are doing this when they are a region, heavily malnourished and poor.”

In responding to a challenge from Finkel, Lowenstein made the sensational claim that it was vital the West lose the war in Iraq and Afghanistan as it was the only way an empire could learn from its past mistakes.

Moving on to the role of the media, Loewenstein found it hard to believe the journalists who spent eight days embedded with military units.

“After eight days embedded you don’t know anything, it actually takes quite a bit to come to terms with the landscape,” said Loewenstein.

Elaborating further on this, Finkel recalled the reaction of the Washington Post when the Iraq war broke out in 2003.

“They sent out 24 reporters and photographers to cover the invasion, half were embedded while the others were spread out around the city,” explained Finkel. “Each day, the Post would take submissions from every one of those 24 vantage points and put together an update on the war story, this was a great model.”

An interesting point raised by the trio was the lack of a well-known perspective of the other side.

El-Zein made the point that the job of a journalist is not to judge, it is to understand so it is crucial that we get the best information possible to allow readers to make their own informed decisions.

In what was obviously a difficult session for many in the room, El-Zein, Loewenstein and Finkel explored the challenges of the past twelve years of war in an intellectually informative way.

Brendan Pearce is a Media and Politics student at Southern Cross University.




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