The Responsibility of Students

UChicago students should rigorously question authority instead of taking U.S. propaganda as fact.

By Atman Mehta, Contributor

It is the responsibility of students to question everything, and thereby uncover the truth and expose lies. This is especially true for students at UChicago, a school proud of its intellectual culture. However, assessing political statements made by students, it’s rather obvious that they have obediently accepted American propaganda instead of questioning it. Prime examples are two recent pieces from The Gate: one about the Yemen war by Noa Levin, editor of The Gate’s World section and another by Jake Biderman about Israel’s “image problem.”

Levin’s article is essentially a regurgitation of American propaganda; she writes that the U.S. has involved itself in Yemen despite the “immoral actions surrounding the war.” Following this phraseology, it’s a logical impossibility for the war itself to be immoral, which effectively restricts the spectrum of possible commentary.   

She writes in a section titled “Fear of Iran Inspires International Response” that one of the war’s motivations was combating Iran’s proxy war in the region, informing us of the “dire territorial threat” posed by Iran to Saudi Arabia as a justification for the latter’s involvement. This is blatantly untrue. In early 2015, even the U.S.’s State Department spokesperson Bernadette Meehan announced, “It remains our assessment that Iran doesn’t exert command or control over the Houthis in Yemen”; analysts of the region such as Helen Lackner concur. This information is available even on the Wikipedia page on the subject—an important characteristic of any propaganda is the willful neglect of spectacularly available information.

The true motives of Saudi Arabia, namely a desire to exploit Yemen for its shipping routes and fuel sources, are ignored in the article. As the Middle East Monitor reports, Saudi Arabia has begun building an oil pipeline through the Al-Mahrah district in Yemen. Moreover, UAE, backed by American SEALs, has captured the ports of Mukalla and Shihr in the fuel-rich Hadhramaut governorate, and tightened their grip over other strategic islands such as Socotra. Yemen is being brought back to its appropriate position as a vassal state, while America’s complicity in this remains ignored.

Levin cavalierly writes that both sides are responsible for war crimes, and “imprecise weapons” have caused civilian casualties. She doesn’t mention that, as per U.N. figures, the coalition is responsible for over 60 percent of the civilian casualties, a rather conservative estimate since it only accounts for those affected in combat, not those who suffer due to the inhuman conditions engendered by the war.

Furthermore, although agricultural land comprises only 2.8 percent of Yemen’s total land area, agricultural areas have been indiscriminately targeted by the coalition to stop food production and distribution. Moreover, especially since 2016, the coalition’s targets have dramatically shifted towards civilian and economic areas. The “imprecise weapons” Levin faults have been highly precise at destroying any semblance of rural and civilian life. 

The war in Yemen, and America’s complicity, are infinitely more pernicious than the article admits. This doesn’t imply that Levin intentionally excluded information; the point is that the notion that American intentions could be ignoble is impossible for many at UChicago to even consider, an example of a totalitarian political culture on campus. 

Another example of subservient political attitudes on campus is Biderman’s recent article regarding Israel’s “image problem.” He recounts that Israel has been condemned by the U.N. Human Rights Council more than all other countries combined, which leads him to the fantastic conclusion that Israel’s “public image is subpar.” The article states that Israel has prioritized the safety of its citizens over its international reputation by implementing “firm actions for (in its view) its own security.” To prove that such actions are for its security is unnecessary—that Israel can “view” them as such is sufficient. Biderman continues: In the context of the 2014 conflict in Gaza and in the face of a “media strategy” against the Netanyahu government, Israel diverted its focus to “preventing further damage.” 

What he refuses to tell us is that the 2014 conflict in Gaza was launched by Israel on the false pretext that Hamas abducted three Israeli teenagers, as later confirmed by an Israeli spokesperson. Due to a conflict predicated on such fabrications, close to 1,500 civilians in Gaza were killed, 28 percent of Gazan residents had to flee their homes, and Israeli aggression damaged 17 hospitals and 58 primary health centers.

Biderman correctly writes critically of Hamas’s charter calling for the obliteration of Israel, stating that the criticism of Israel is the “deliberate delegitimization of the Jewish state.” But expectedly, he pays no attention to the actions of those who not only call for but actively participate in the destruction of a state. A close aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Dov Weissglass revealed in 2004 that the peace process had to be frozen to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. In 2014, Benjamin Netanyahu repeated that Israel couldn’t relinquish any control west of the River Jordan. To anyone literate in the politics of the region, as I’m sure Biderman is, this signifies the impossibility of any Palestinian state.

He further writes that Israel will continue with its “security-oriented” policies at the cost of its reputation. What he leaves out, is that during the 2014 conflict, Hamas had agreed to unify with the Fatah party, accept the 1967 borders and concede to all Western demands: nonviolence, adherence to past agreements, and the recognition of Israel. The escalation of violence in Gaza was a direct result of the U.S. and Israel’s refusal to implement the Palestinian reconciliation agreement. If Israel was truly serious about its security, it would’ve pursued the path of peace on various occasions, of which 2014 is but one example.

To be clear, it’s not at all the case that Levin or Biderman fail to criticize U.S. or Israeli policies. However, their criticisms of these governments fall within extremely narrow grounds, which isn’t serious criticism at all. U.S. foreign policies are criticized because they don’t work, they’re “too expensive” or mere “foreign policy miscalculations.” Biderman criticizes Israel’s inability to convince the media of its great, “security-oriented” ideals. The semblance of criticism is a necessary element of any successful propagandist system to disguise deference as iconoclasm, thereby limiting the spectrum of acceptable reproach.    

I don’t intend any personal attack on The Gate or its writers; I’ve written for it a few times myself. My point is that as one of the most prominent political magazines, The Gate adequately demonstrates the obsequious political attitude on campus. As students at a supposedly intellectual university, it is our responsibility to relentlessly challenge institutionalized power instead of submitting to it, especially since unlike many in the world, we don’t have a gun to our heads. As William S. Burroughs wrote, “There are no innocent bystanders”; we can either protest the crimes of the powerful by exposing their lies, or acquiescently allow atrocities to continue in Yemen, Palestine, and the inevitable Yemens and Palestines to come.

Atman Mehta is a second-year in the College.