THE VAULT

Empathy for the Masses
January 1, 2006 by Julius Serpentine

There is nothing more fearsome in this world than a journalist with a backbone. When a journalist with any level of fortitude actually does his job, it is necessary to raise him above the masses and display him as a beacon of light, perhaps feature him on a popular television news magazine.

Immersed, Journalistic Dynamo, Farris Hassan, 16Farris Hassan, 16 (pictured left), is one of these individuals. He entered the war zone in Iraq, without the knowledge of his parents, so that he could help the people. Armed with a prep school class in immersive journalism and a notebook, Hassan meticulously documented his few days in Baghdad. Slantmouth was able to obtain exclusive excerpts from his notebook.

Page 47
“I have finally arrived in Baghdad.”

“I have traveled thousands of miles so that I may fight injustice and experience the distress of my fellow man struggling in Iraq. I want to lend my soft, supple hands to rebuild this country with justice and democracy at its foundation.”

“Though I have no actual skills, like my father who is a doctor, or pretty much anyone else who has come to Iraq to help, I am confident I can make up for it with empathy and sheer enthusiasm.”

Page 49
“I feel guilty drinking purified bottled water. I feel guilty that I do not have to live in fear of contracting near-fatal diseases every time I turn on the faucet. I want the same hardships ordinary Iraqis face every day. I will ask the next Iraqi I see for their finest tap water, though I now realize I do not speak their language.”

“This is a contingency I did not plan for.”

Page 55
“As I journeyed through the streets of Baghdad searching for food I saw an elderly gentleman slowly walking by. He looked rather pale and thin. I suspect that he was sick. My father is a doctor and, while I have not visited him much at work, I have scoured through many of his medical journals. They are filled with pictures of sick and diseased people. Therefore, I have faith in my ability to judge if he was ill or not. I am certain I have seen a picture that matched his symptoms.“

“Many of the poor residents of Baghdad, like the old man, do not have access to basic medicines. Does this valiant spirit’s need for liberty mean that he cannot cure his devastating aliments? Is this the price Iraqis must pay for desiring democracy? “

“If I were one of the many students at my prep school who takes Prozac, I would deprive myself of it. The ensuing depression would be its own reward because I would be able to better empathize with the Iraqi people.”

Page 56
“I stopped at a food stand and attempted to get a menu. I flipped through my book of Arab phrases that I purchased from Amazon.com. Perhaps it was my Nike sneakers, or the fact that I was holding up the line, but people were looking at me strangely. As I looked over at one man, he licked his lips. I think he was about to eat a falafel.

“Regardless, it is the first time I have feared for my life while in Baghdad. I have no idea which of the customers were terrorists striving for death and which were champions of democracy. I have not seen any pictures in Dad’s medical journals that would help me see the difference.”

'News' Pundit, Bill O'ReillyPage 57
“I just reread the essay I sent to my prep school before I arrived in Iraq. I can’t believe I wrote, ‘There are thousands of people there that desperately want my head’. The major news outlets have a tendency to take things out of context. If Bill O’Reilly gets his hands on this I could have a scandal on my hands.”

Page 65
“My stomach is in incredible pain. Is this the pain of being an Iraqi fighting for freedom and democracy? I would like to think so, but I suspect that it may have been the water I drank earlier. I was not able to converse with any Iraqis, out of fear that they would kidnap me and cut off my head, but I saw an open pipe on the street. It was rather rusty but I put my mouth to it anyway. I was and still am desperate to feel the pain of the Iraqi people.”

“I have spent a majority of the last few hours in the bathroom. This is not the outcome I was hoping for, but I suppose it should have been expected.”

Page 69
“I have spent the last day and a half in my hotel room. I want to interact with the people of this great nation but I am afraid they may decapitate me. To maintain some level of interaction I look out my window from time to time. I occasionally even make eye contact with a genuine Iraqi.”

“I wish that the only Iraqi people in my hotel were not the staff. My hotel seems to only have other Americans staying in it and, since I cannot realistically get very far from my bathroom, they are my only human interaction.”

“While I enjoy their company, I did not come this far to empathize with the every day hardships of Americans.”

Page 73
“The constant fear and trips to the bathroom have become too much for me to bear. I do not know how the Iraqi people suffer through this. I have never been more miserable as the time I have spent in this hotel room. I am near my breaking point and now I think I understand what it truly is to be an Iraqi.”

“Also, I think the maid is trying to kidnap me…”

Page 78
“I went to the AP press offices. It was the only place I could think to go where no one wanted to videotape my head being detached from my neck. They seemed shocked that I was able to get inside of Baghdad or that I would even want to be here. Do they not understand my need to make a difference?”

“I offered to work with them but they declined. I was disappointed. Fortunately, they had really good French fries.

“While I was still there, the people at the AP called the military to inform them of my presence as well as my mission to spread liberty and democracy. I had to heavily insist that they tell them my mission, but hopefully this will signal a new opportunity for me to help the people of Iraq with the assistance of the fine men and women of the United States military. I am only one man, yet with the support of the military, I can mitigate the suffering of so many ordinary Iraqis.”

Page 80
“The military did end up coming to aid me, but apparently there was some kind of miscommunication. They have taken me into custody and are shipping me back to Fort Lauderdale. Do these people not understand what is going on? I am here to help and I absolutely cannot go back without helping some more Iraqis, aside from the maid who I tipped well so that she would not kidnap me.”

“It looks like I will be leaving, my mission unfulfilled. I vow that I will return. On my departure I will deprive myself of the medicine that would calm my upset stomach to better empathize with the Iraqi people, even with the prospect of an eighteen-hour flight ahead of me. I want to live my days so that my nights are not full of regrets.”

Slantmouth salutes you, Emissary of Justice. May you never do anything you will one day regret.

~Julius Serpentine