Readers weigh in on the demise of Iraq's intellectual class. Plus: Has the U.S. government failed the Lost Boys of Sudan?

By Salon Staff
August 28, 2005 2:17AM (UTC)
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[Read "The Death of Al Mutanabbi Street," by Phillip Roberston.]

How wonderful to hear from Phillip Robertson again -- and how tragic is his subject matter. His voice joins the voice of [blogger] Riverbend and others who are in Iraq now -- telling the true story of the chaos we have unleashed. In America, the only question about Iraq is, "Should we stay or go?"


Bluntly put, what most people of all political persuasions don't realize is how badly we have fucked things up for exactly those people in Iraq who constitute the middle class -- and who are Iraq's best hope for a peaceful and prosperous future. The incompetent and self-centered Bush administration has helped Islamic fundamentalists gain power while Iraq's most capable and intelligent citizens cower in fear.

If we do not figure out a way to help correct these blunders, a peaceful and prosperous Iraq will never emerge. I fear that America is incurring a karmic deficit even bigger than our budgetary one, and there will quite literally be hell to pay.

-- Brad Basler


Phillip Robertson's piece on Al Mutanabbi Street is excellent. He lets real people, and events, speak for themselves and makes no judgment.

It's heartbreaking to read of Iraqis who are afraid even to meet in a cafe, men who would, under other circumstances, be writing and reading the Iraqi equivalent of Salon. Robertson makes it clear how difficult things were under Saddam, and how difficult they are now, and shows that, although Saddam was clearly a tyrant, we have bungled the war to such an extent that men who survived his prisons may yet be gunned down in the street for selling ice.

-- David Petersen


[Read "Lost in America," by Leigh Flayton.]

The woes of the Lost Boys are not unknown to me. For over a year now I have been dating a lost boy in Kansas City. I met him in biology class, where he needed help with missed assignments. He had arrived late that semester after spending the summer on a fishing boat in Alaska. He never drinks or smokes. He generally gets good grades and is a leader in his community.


I have often wondered if he suffers some sort of mental illness as a result of his trauma. I also wonder if, no matter how responsible or logical he is, he might be incapable of having a real connection with another human, especially a woman. In Kenya, the younger boys constantly looked to him for help. He honestly is not comfortable receiving help, or asking for it.

He is 25 years old and considers himself independent and self-reliant. But it has taken him five years to get an associate of arts because he often has to quit school to work. He too has been the victim of hit-and-run car accidents, theft, and generally being misled by lawyers and even all-out scam artists. I wish there was a way to help him, and all of the Lost Boys, for that matter. I think it is irresponsible and shortsighted to bring refugees to this country promising them the land of opportunity, but not giving them adequate help and support -- especially when really this is a land of high crime rates, violence, endless paperwork, and all kinds of other problems large and small. It is hard enough to put up with the complexities and bureaucracy of the USA when one is born here.

Perhaps the cultural differences are just too strong, or perhaps there just isn't enough money to go around for this cause. But in my opinion, if the U.S. government cannot, or will not, help provide a significantly better life for refugees, then they shouldn't bring them here at all. A cruddy apartment full of used furniture and no money or knowledge of how to get along is no golden opportunity.


-- Lydia Hatfield

Americans like life-affirming stories. Heck, I like life-affirming stories. Who doesn't like to hear about people triumphing over terrible adversity and overcoming an awful past? It sounds to me as if our appetite for the positive human interest story has trumped common sense, however, to the disservice of the Lost Boys.

No one would expect Nazi or Bosnian holocaust survivors, Rwandan refugees, or any children who'd come of age in war, to be anything but "struggling," in one way or another: struggling with nightmares, struggling with feelings, struggling to survive. That is not to say that they couldn't also be great successes and shining examples of resiliency, but let's get serious here: If any of us heard of a friend or relative who'd lived through what these Lost Boys endured, we'd expect that no matter how fine they seemed, they weren't 100 percent fine. What human being wouldn't be changed by years of, as it says in the article, "life-or-death experiences," including losing family and seeing the most horrendous violence and destruction all around?


I really hope articles like this one alert more people to the many un-addressed needs that still affect this population of mostly young -- and, yes, heroic -- people.

-- Lisa Maris-Shaab

Leigh Flayton did cite some exceptions to the general phenomenon she describes in her article about the difficulties many of the Lost Boys have had in adjusting to life in their new country, but I want to direct your attention and hers to another -- that of my friend, Lost Boy Salva Dut.

Salva is notable for having founded a small but growing NGO called Water for Sudan. Its very direct goal is to drill water pumps in Sudan. They have already succeeded in digging and installing five pumps this year.


-- Andrew MacDowell

[Read "Intelligent Donation?" by Farhad Manjoo.]

While it may be true that the Gates Foundation's support for the Discovery Institute is limited to the Cascadia Project, it nonetheless creates a problem for the foundation. The Discovery's work on so-called intelligent design is as much about methodology as it is about metaphysics. Acceptance of the principles of "intelligent design" requires rejection of the scientific method. Cascadia is subordinate to the Discovery Institute. Does the Discovery Institute suborn violation of sound study methodology by Cascadia? Does the Gates Foundation really want to support a group that is run by people who believe that complicated natural reality can be accomplished only by supernatural intervention?

Personally, if I had money to give to support the reality-based study of anything, I'd want to know that the results were based on sound scientific principle, without the need to invoke divine, oops, I mean intelligent intervention.


On the other hand, it would be very convenient if one could count on an intelligent actor with superpowers to step in when physics won't allow for a solution. I've always wanted a flying antimatter-powered car that could go a gazillion miles an hour.

-- Daniel Madison

Here are my thoughts. Rather than expunging tens of millions of dollars to argue, print, reprint, and reargue the same topic over and over, why don't we just drop it?

When our students can't pass basic literacy exams, and have problems grappling with fractions, why are we spending so much time on biology, and teaching theories of the origin of man? Yes, I am a Darwin supporter. But I don't think that this is what needs to be taught in schools. For me, I think that one class on the basic theories on intelligent design, Darwin, and God should be enough. Move on to other things like basic anatomy, the scientific kingdoms, etc. Stop wasting weeks explaining the origins of theories and who came up with them.


We should be directing money into the pockets of the greatest teachers, bumping up our core curriculum, and working to build the most intelligent society. Only by doing this can we ensure a strong society, fluent in science, technology, math, and the arts. When a society is well-educated, our leaders will be well-educated, and our country as a whole will bloom into a glorious place, with science leading the way.

This is my stance -- ditch the teaching of theory all together. Mention it briefly, and stick to the basics.

-- Matthew Blank

Salon Staff

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