Eyes Wide Open Exhibit & CAIR Vice-Chair Interview-Columbus, Ohio
Eyes Wide Open, The Human Cost of the War in Iraq exhibit (also available and previously posted at zombietime.com) was set up on the lawn of the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio, June 12-14, 2006. The anti-war, non-violent action group American Friends Service Committee brought the event to Columbus. Local churches hosted the event, particularly the Episcopal Peace Fellowship. The following is my photo experience over the three days. I did a video interview with Dr. Ahmad Al-Akhras, Vice-Chair of CAIR National (Council on American-Islamic Relations), which proved very interesting, as well as interviews with some of the organizers, and some protesters.
Dr. Ahmad Al-Akhras, Vice-Chair of CAIR National spoke at the Eyes Wide Open event. I caught up with him to ask a few questions. Here's a videotaped report of what he had to say, in five parts.
In Part 1, Dr. Al-Akhras outlines his message which is bring the troops home. He states that we are sending our women and children to die for an illegal war.
In Part 2, Dr. Al-Akhras says the U.S. lied about WMDs, and the U.S. is causing the deaths in Iraq, not the terrorists. He believes Iraq is "none of our business" and it's a "mad war." And he has a question for all of you.
Interview with CAIR representative Dr. Ahmad Al-Akhras, Part 2.
During Part 3, Dr. Al-Akhras states that it is not true that Muslims are killing other Muslims in Iraq, and, at first, states that 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed, until that number is challenged by me.
Interview with CAIR representative Dr. Ahmad Al-Akhras, Part 3.
The Part 4 segment of the interview with Dr. Al-Akhras includes an explanation of Sharia Law. I asked him if he wanted Sharia Law, but he wouldn't answer that. He explained that Sharia is the preservation of the sanctity of life and the preservation of honor. Dr. Al-Akhras also makes an appeal to the viewers:
Interview with CAIR representative Dr. Ahmad Al-Akhras, Part 4.
In the final segment of the interview with Dr. Al-Akhras, he states that we must be ashamed and we should apologize about what we are doing, and he asks me if I'm happy. Check it out.
Interview with CAIR representative Dr. Ahmad Al-Akhras, Part 5.
The table display are the actual boots of the fallen soldiers donated by the soldiers' families. There are only 17 sets of actual boots in the entire display. I was told that the other boots are from surplus stores.
Cindy Sheehan's son's boots. I wonder if he would want his boots displayed for this purpose.
The display was deliberately set up (I was told this by an organizer) to place the shoes depicting dead Iraqis between the two groups of soldiers' boots. Since the comment was made that all civilian deaths are a result of the Coalition's presence, this seemed to reinforce that sentiment.
This photo shows the shoes representing the Iraqi civilians killed. These are not shoes from Iraq, but organizers say, were donated by 9/11 families (www.peacefultomorrows.org).
This type of tag was attached to all the soldiers' boots, which became a story in itself. See later photos and read as the story unfolds.
Here is Code Pink making a political statement any way they can, even on the boots of a fallen hero. They don't want any more "stolen elections".
This guy is from worldcantwait.org. The red and white sign is English followed by Spanish "Stop the War" followed by the Arabic symbol for peace.
Conflicting reporting here. Event organizers claim 100,000.
This soldier died for a cause he believed in according to the attached statement. Wonder if he wants his name on a pair of surplus store army boots at an anti-war exhibit.
I was particularly struck by these boots and the soldiers they represent. Notice that all of them died for a cause they believed in, and I wonder if they would want their names to be in this anti-war exhibit. Take a look at the Marine..."No regrets. Never forget. Freedom isn't free."
I asked several event organizers/volunteers about the Johns Hopkins study referenced in the marquee in the above photo. None of them have ever read it or knew anything about it. I googled it and found it at TheLancet.com. It was done by John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. However the study has many flaws including too small of a sampling in Iraq and potential recall bias as the study relied solely on interviews with Iraqi household members (Richard Horton comments among others in the comments section of the article.) Further the study itself blames the Iraqi deaths on coalition forces (no surprise here) and does not differentiate between coalition and deaths caused by terrorists. One of the event organizers, Deb, pointed out to me that the study was done in 2004 and surely the civilian death toll is much higher. I asked her why they chose to use the Johns Hopkins study when iraqbodycount.net/database has a current figure as of June 9, 2006 of between 38,000 and 43,000. She had no answer since she hadn't even read the Hopkins report.
Also, as I looked at the tags on the boots, I noticed that the name on the tag did not match the family name of the soldier. The impression is that the family joins AFSC (American Friends Service Committee) in mourning the soldier. But that doesn't appear to be the case. Once again I asked organizers/volunteers who signed those tags. Well, they weren't absolutely sure (and couldn't find anyone who was sure), but they were pretty certain that the tags were signed by officials of AFSC. I thought the tags were very misleading.
Scroll down to what happened the next day concerning those tags.
A volunteer reading the names of the fallen soldiers. This went on during most of the three days.
These boots stood out because the family requested that the name of their loved one be removed, yet the organizers attached photos of the anonymous soldier to the boots.
The outside of the panels depict happy smiling Iraqis, and when you walk inside the backside of the panels depict tragedy and destruction with names and ages of Iraqi civilian casualties listed underneath the pictures. There is, however, no information about the pictures nor do they tell us if what happened in these horrible scenes was due to terrorists' actions or Coalition forces. I asked. No one knew the answer. No one thought it was important to distinguish between terrorists and Coalition forces.
Here's a hypothetical that was on giant panel displays at the exhibition "What would it be like if the United States were Iraq?" Read and scroll. Especially the last panel that states "Several months ago, municipal elections were cancelled and the new president quietly installed friends as governors." Then for the big finale, read the "Inspired by." None other than Juan Cole.
Notice anything different about these boots? There is no longer an AFSC tag attached. Scroll down to find out why.
It seems my inquiry about whose signature is on the "I join with the American Friends Service Committee" tag raised some eyebrows. Turns out the tags were for a fundraiser and if you donated money, you got to tag a fallen soldier's boots. The tags were ordered removed the last day of the event. This guy and those in the next couple of pics are removing the tags. I asked an event planner why the tags were officially being removed. She said "because they're confusing." More like confusing and shameful. The tags weren't the only source of confusion. I heard a lot of people wanting to know about the families parting with the boots of their loved ones or asking how they were able to get the shoes of the Iraqi civilians, not realizing that the boots and shoes were only "representations."
After being at the event for parts of three days, I will say this. The organizers are totally sincere and believe in what they're doing. The display is very moving. BUT they didn't seem the least bit concerned or to care about getting the facts right, or what role the terrorists play in all this. No one I spoke to even read the John Hopkins study and when I pointed out the flaws and seemingly over inflated numbers, no one cared. No one seemed to care if the suffering Iraqis in the panel pictures were suffering because of terrorists or Coalition forces. In their minds, all casualties are due to the presence of Coalition forces. Terrorists get a pass. One Muslim woman even called the soldiers' boots "boots of aggression" and she would not "celebrate them." I asked many of the event staff what is the answer then. They said "non-violent action." I asked, "How is that accomplished?" They said, "Don't know." And, unfortunately, that seems to be where their thinking on it ends.