Guest contribution by Farah Erzouki
Imagine the sounds of fireworks, exploding in the sky loudly and uncontrollably. The first one goes off and you jump, startled and caught off guard. You quickly realize that it’s just the start of the show and shrug your fear off, looking up and admiring the colors and designs of the lights illuminating the sky. Take a step back and imagine those sounds in a different context. Imagine yourself amidst a round of explosions surrounding you or caught between a violent crossfire.
These situations are very real. We may hear about them from time to time (rarely in mainstream media) but they exist, every single day. It’s almost inconceivable to imagine myself in a place where I’d fear for my life on a daily basis, where I could come back from school one day to a razed home or worse, a missing, injured or even dead family member. I am thankful to live a life void of such experiences.
Celebrations for the 4th of July took place across the United States last night, and with the recent legalization of fireworks in my state, Michigan, the sky was lit up to say the least. I was startled at first, but I soon became accustomed to the frequent popping that sounded undeniably similar to a round of gunfire.
“Sounds like Iraq tonight” was a tweet I came across that forced me to take a deeper look into the Twittersphere. I was taken aback by the ignorance of this tweet and was eager to see how prevalent it was. A simple search of “Iraq” led me to discover hundreds upon hundreds of tweets that made my stomach sick. Countless people across the country were comparing tonight’s fireworks to Iraq. Some seemed legitimately concerned and others were interested in making a good joke.
The problem here is that most of these Twitter users are completely unaware of the implications their comparisons and jokes have on the collective American perspective on the war and bloodshed in Iraq. These tweets do nothing but reinforce the dehumanization and desensitization of the innocent Iraqi people who have lost their lives before, during and after the 2003 U.S-led invasion.
Comparing sounds of fireworks exploding in the sky to the actual sounds of war in Iraq or even Syria and Afghanistan belittles the suffering and death of millions. A few store-bought fireworks meant to entertain and aid in celebration cannot in any way compare to the daily fear in which the Iraqi people live; legitimate and true fear that they may return from school or work one day without a home or that their family members may be killed in a car bombing or a random shooting. The list continues.
My purpose is not to be a killjoy. But there is something very wrong if belittling the death and destruction of innocent people and entire nations in such a way is so commonplace. The vast desensitization to death in such countries speaks volumes of the way that their people are dehumanized. Their lives are seen as less significant by using such comparisons, which serve only to further justify the astounding amount of bloodshed over the years.
My only hope is that showing others the dangers of these insensitive comments will bring to light just how marginalized these innocent people are, those both living and no longer with us. A collective shift in thinking is crucial not only to establish a post-racist society, but also to take a step back and understand the humanity behind these war-torn countries. They are people too.
Farah Erzouki is an Iraqi-American student currently studying at the University of Michigan. She is an active member of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE), the organization on her school’s campus dedicated to advocating for the rights and self-determination of the Palestinian people.