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Hamza says ‘Talk to an Iraqi’

Published: October 23, 2009
Section: News

24 year old Iraqi journalist and photographer Haider Hamza spoke about his experiences living through the Iraq War at a lecture Tuesday evening in Goldfarb library.

Hamza lectured and presented a slideshow of photographs to students, professors, and adults in the Rappaporte Treasure Hall. The event was sponsored by the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism in celebration of the institute’s fifth anniversary.

Hamza, who requested that his lecture be entirely off the record due to security concerns, has had his photos appear numerous times in several international publications.

Hamza decided to travel to the United States as part of a Fulbright scholarship in 2007 in order to better understand American civilians’ feelings about the war in Iraq. He has since spoken about the war in 35 states. Working for various major news networks, including Reuters and ABC News, Hamza covered the 40 live trial sessions of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the country’s elections.

Wherever he travels in the United States, Hamza takes with him a sign that reads “Talk to an Iraqi,” and his story and journey were shown on Showtime’s “This American Life,” as well as on NPR.

“Journalism unfortunately is a job where you’re really only as good as your last story,” Hamza said in an interview with The Hoot, immediately following his presentation. “In Iraq, everyday is a breaking story. Then you realize there’s always going to be another story,” he explained.

Hamza spoke openly about his experience covering the war at such a young age and answered several questions from the audience, while he revealed graphic photographs containing mutilated bodies, nudity, and bloodshed.

Becky Sniderman ‘10 was impressed with the power of Hamza’s photographs.

“It made me realize that a picture is extremely powerful. It makes you feel very connected to the people that are featured in the photos,” she said.

Hamza said while it was difficult to witness such suffering without helping those he photographed, he needed to maintain his identity as a journalist.

“When you are in such a big crisis, and you realize that whatever you do, you aren’t going to save enough people, then you’ve got to say I’m a journalist, I’m not an activist, I’m not a UN relief worker,” he said in the interview.

Through his explanation of the difficulties faced when photographing atrocities, Hamza conveyed how taking a photo allows him to feel that he is actively doing something about what is occurring.

“Everyday you feel angry. I feel angry more than the average person because I’m exposed to more than the average person is,” Hamza said.

“You feel you want to do something. But then you go back and every time you snap a shot some part of that anger goes away, because you feel you’ve done something.”

The event was brought to Brandeis, after Professor Gordon Fellman (SOC), a sociology professor at Brandeis for 40 years, suggested that the Social Just Leadership Series invite Hamza to speak at their opening event for the current school year.

“His intention was good – to be objective and give honest information, as opposed to a biased ulterior motive that I often see in reporting,” said an American soldier present at the talk who asked to remain anonymous.

He elaborated saying,“That makes a big difference to me as a soldier, because he’s [Hazma] talking about sensitive things. As a viewer, as the consumer, that’s what I value in reporting and journalism.”