Fayetteville, N.C. — An Iraqi student touring the U.S. to meet Americans for a cable-television show got some positive feedback Thursday outside the Cumberland County Library.
Haider Hamza, 23, lived through the 2003 invasion of Iraq with his family in the Babylon province south of Baghdad. He came to the U.S. in September to attend college in New York City as a Fulbright Scholar.
Hamza said the only Americans he had encountered were soldiers in Iraq and some New Yorkers, most of whom were anti-war. So, he decided to travel around the country to talk to people about the Iraq War.
“The only perspective that was actually missing was the U.S. civilian perspective, what the U.S. civilians think of this,” he said. "I didn't want people on the West Coast and East Coast telling me what they think and feel. I wanted to see for myself."
Fayetteville was his first stop, and a camera crew from Showtime's "This American Life" filmed Hamza's encounters with people as he sat at a booth outside the library under the sign "Talk To An Iraqi" while wearing a traditional black-and-white Iraqi scarf.
He said he doesn't want to be confrontational or speak about whether the war is right or wrong. He said he just wants to have some candid conversations with Americans.
“I know our lives as Iraqis are literally changed forever because of what is happening. It’s all our lives are about, basically,” he said.
Eleven-year-old Tori Allen said he had been waiting for three years to apologize to an Iraqi citizen.
"We shouldn't have walked in there like that. We should have asked them what they wanted to do. Iraq wasn't the one who attacked us," said Tori, who said he plans to run for president in 2032.
Hamza said people in New York told him pro-war sentiments would be strong in the South and Midwest.
"I didn't know to what extent that was true. I know when things go wrong, nobody wants to be a part of it anymore," he said. “Just because you’re not for the war doesn’t mean that you don’t support the troops. I know people don’t understand that.”
But Elizabeth D'Herde, a teacher from Erwin, drove 40 miles just to speak with Hamza and let him know that not everyone in the South is for the war and that Americans are misunderstood overseas.
"We're caring people," D'Herde said. "We're not the terrorists we're sometimes portrayed as."
Hamza, who said he's a fan of country singer Faith Hill, sweet tea and barbecue, said he plans to head next to Charleston, S.C., and Savannah, Ga. He said he hopes to visit Atlanta and other Southern cities before traveling across the Midwest.
Next year, he plans to return to Iraq, where he wants to live and work, perhaps as a journalist.