Revolution#109, November 18, 2007

Taking the Iran Quiz to the Campuses:

“YOU have been systematically lied to and kept in the dark”

The following correspondence is from Allen Lang, Student Organizer, World Can’t Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime:

“While I don’t think war on Iran is inevitable, there are many real signs that show it’s a growing danger and a real possibility. A U.S. attack on Iran would have catastrophic consequences not just for the people of Iran, but possibly for a large part of the Middle East.” I jotted down those notes this past summer at a presentation given by Larry Everest at workshop called “Iraq, Iran and the Need for Resistance,” for the national World Can’t Wait Mission of a Generation Conference. Later that week we screened Normon Solomon’s documentary War Made Easy. The film’s examination of the role of the media in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq exposes the repetitive lies, distortions, and nauseating displays of patriotic bravado that dominated television screens across America NON-STOP. The film reminded me of how intensely the population was systematically lied to before the invasion, but also underscored how important it is when a large section of the population knows they are being lied to by their leaders and resist with that understanding.

After discussing the problem that many people in the U.S. don’t even know some basic facts that should inform their opinion on a possible war with Iran—and that there has been a very limited amount of resistance aimed at preventing a strike on Iran, or even people discussing it—World Can’t Wait developed a quiz on Iran and the Middle East. We debuted the quiz this summer at the Coachella Music Fest and since than have taken it out to campuses, concerts, e-lists, classrooms, workplaces, cafeterias, and anywhere else people gather.

Cutting Through the “USA=Good Guys” Assumption

On one level the quiz is a genuine attempt to test what people understand about an area of the world that their government is planning to bomb. But the questions were also consciously designed, yes designed, to cut through the faulty assumptions and popular consensus of “USA=Good Guys”—”Iran=Evil, Bad Guys” by forcing the quiz taker to think, participate, find out the truth, and see how their understanding matches up to it.

Important Initial Experience

World Can’t Wait has gained some important, initial experience with taking out the quiz that needs to be built on and taken to a whole different level throughout society. The first thing many of us noticed is that the international students we polled consistently did far better than students from the U.S. As some of us were building opposition to the October 22-26 “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week”* among students in college dorms, we used the quiz at every opportunity, whether it was during a commercial break in the TV lounge or a room full of guys playing video games.

Very few people breeze through the quiz. Most students take a significant amount of time to read through the questions and think about the answers. Part of doing it in a group setting is to get a conversation going after everyone is finished and you tally up the results. On one occasion in a school cafeteria, a group of students told us that they didn’t know what each of them thought about a war with Iran and they had never discussed it together until taking the quiz.

Midway through the quiz many people ask, “Is this supposed to make me feel stupid?” When we went door-to-door in the dorms, some students took a shot at the first two questions and decided to hand it back because they “don’t know anything of this.” The purpose of the quiz is not to make people feel stupid, but to sharply point out: YOU have been systematically lied to and kept in the dark about the most important issues of the day. What does it say that a majority of students at American universities are not getting these questions right, particularly question number 2: What country in the Middle East agreed to be monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and opened up its country to IAEA inspectors? People did best on question 4 (What country(ies) has/have ever used nuclear weapons on civilian populations?), but there is still just a staggering amount of students who do not know that the U.S. is the only country to have dropped atomic bombs on civilian populations. If this government can lie to you about this¼what else are they lying to you about?

Some universities like Columbia and NYU did relatively well, with most people getting at least the second and fourth question correct. However, that was not the majority of the cases. Here are a few samples with the (#) indicating the question number, followed by the percentage of correct answers:

U of Michigan (1) 12% (2) 24% (3) 28% (4) 48%
John Jay in New York (1) 26% (2) 31% (3) 39%  (4) 28%
Texas Southern (1) 11% (2) 17% (3) 57% (4) 81%

While the quizzes have not yet been taken out in a thoroughly systematic and scientific way, the results point to a major problem throughout the country and one that needs to be transformed in order to prevent a war or strike on Iran. Seriously, for a generation who has more access to information than any other previous generation due to the unprecedented growth of technology, we really don’t get bombarded by the media when it comes to the things that matter. The simple fact that people are better able to talk about American Idol contestants than a possible war that will shape the future of the planet is reason in itself to be outraged.

After people finish the quiz, two questions need to be posed and discussed: (1) Do you think it is okay to not know this information as your government is preparing to go to war with Iran? (2) Now that you know…what you going to do to STOP IT? And for people who get most of the questions correct (and we have run into quite a few people who do get them correct): if you know this, why haven’t you done anything to stop it? Why have you remained complicit as the U.S. builds up its military forces around Iran?

How Can We Actually Stop the Bush Regime from Attacking Iran?

The quiz itself can’t, but the millions of people it could potentially reach CAN. On November 16, World Can’t Wait is uniting with anti-war/progressive forces to mobilize a mass outpouring of people in the streets for a “No War on Iran Orange Friday,” which will be the same day of the Iraq Moratorium protests. The Iran Quiz needs to be a key component in reaching out to and mobilizing the large number of students who are deeply opposed to U.S. war in the Middle East and want to do something about it. The quiz needs to be used at every classroom we speak in, every meeting we attend, every dorm we visit, every concert we table at, and everywhere people are resisting as we spread the color orange and call people into the streets for November 16.

Right now there are millions of people saying there is nothing they can do because there are not millions of people doing anything. This must end now. Anyone who has seriously looked at the potential presidential candidates and has a shred of honesty knows that there is no viable option among them that will do any fundamental good on anything, whether it’s the war or torture or spying. No one has included preventing a war with Iran on the platform—in fact it has been the complete opposite. It cannot be said enough that Obama, Edwards, and Clinton refuse to take the nuclear option off the table when it comes to how to deal with Iran.

You can do something. Right Now. There will be no real fundamental change until the people stop looking up to the powers-that-be and start manifesting their power in the streets. How can you go along with business-as-usual when your government is threatening another country with nukes? Think about how the rest of the world will look at us if we don’t stop a U.S. war on Iran¼but also stop to think about how they will look at us if they do see a people who have been paralyzed find their senses and take powerful action to stop this. As President Bush backs up threats of war on Iran with a massive build-up of the U.S. military along the Iranian border and Democratic leaders like Clinton and Obama scramble to outbid each other in who can perpetrate war crimes in the Middle East more effectively—a determined movement of people breaking with the paralyzing conventions of official politics can dramatically re-shift the entire equation and alter the disastrous course the current administration is taking society.

Allen Lang

Student Organizer, World Can’t Wait – Drive Out the Bush Regime

* “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week” was a week on college campuses spearheaded by right-wing battering ram David Horowitz to put a chill on dissent and whip up a social base of students to support the “war on terror.”

Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.

What Humanity Needs
From Ike to Mao and Beyond