Black and White Artwork

Culture Clash

By Daniel Peacock '14

Intercultural Communication

In this analytical paper Daniel exhibits not only his strong writing skills, but also keen insight into intercultural communication.

-Linda Laine

The United States of America invaded Iraq on March 23rd, 2003 under the assumption that Sadam Hussien possessed weapons of mass destruction. The war in Iraq ended on August 31st, 2010; however, the war has had a profound cultural effect on the people of Iraq. I attended Haider Hamza’s presentation “Embracing the Enemy” on Thursday, March 24th, in van Emmerik Studio. The presentation was about Iraq native Haider Hamza’s experience as a journalist during the Iraq War and his personal struggle to cope with the war while living in the U.S., the country that invaded Iraq. Haider used photos and stories to show the interactions between U.S. soldiers and Iraqi citizens. Haider talked about the many different intercultural issues that led to conflict between U.S. soldiers and Iraqi citizens throughout his presentation. He also examined the causes of conflict between different cultural groups in Iraq. The main intercultural communication issues that were highlighted by Haider’s presentation include the primary and secondary dimensions of diversity, communication style, and conflict resolution style.

The primary and secondary dimensions of diversity have a profound effect amongst the people in Iraq. Primary dimensions of diversity are pre-determined traits that cannot be changed, whereas secondary dimensions of diversity are chosen traits and affiliations and can be changed. The primary dimension of diversity that Haider identified to cause the most internal conflict was racial identity. Martin and Nakayama (2010) define racial identity as, “identifying with a particular racial group” (p. 184). In Iraq having a lighter skin complexion means an individual is more likely to face extreme prejudices and racism. Prejudice is “an attitude (usually negative) toward a cultural group based on little or no evidence” (Martin and Nakayama, p. 207). Haider experienced the terrifying effects of racial prejudice while attempting to smuggle his cousin out of Iraq. His cousin was of Turkish decent and had a lighter complexion than most Iraqis, which became a problem during the war because insurgents and other extremist groups viewed people with lighter skin complexion as deceitful and un-Iraqi. A majority of Iraq’s citizens shared this prejudice because sharing the prejudice protected them from the insurgents and extremists. This is the utilitarian function of prejudice, which means a group of people holds a certain prejudice because it leads to rewards, which in this case was safety (Martin and Nakayama, p.207).

Along with primary dimensions of diversity playing a vital role in the daily life of Iraqis, secondary dimensions of diversity are also very important. For instance, Haider mentioned the importance of religious affiliation amongst Iraqis. “Religious identity is the sense of belong to a religious group” (Martin and Nakayama, p.192). An overwhelming majority of the Iraqi population is Islamic, while most of the U.S. soldiers are Christians. Haider witnessed the lack of sensitivity U.S. soldiers gave to Islamic practices while carrying out military protocol. For instance, Muslim women are often veiled according to the Muslim notion of gender identity and the guidelines of female modesty within that identity (Martin and Nakayama, p.180). However, when U.S. soldiers carried out search and arrest operations they would often strip the veils off of Muslim women during searches in the open instead of in private. Contact between U.S. soldiers and Muslim women also violated the Muslim notion of proxemics, which is the use of space (Martin and Nakayama, p.274). In Muslim societies, unmarried men and women rarely stand close together, touch each other, or even maintain eye contact (Martin and Nakayama, p.274). Ignorance and a lack of cultural understanding led many neutral Iraqis to support the insurgents and anti-American forces. The primary and secondary dimensions of diversity were a catalyst to conflict; however, miscommunication between Iraqis and U.S. soldiers also led to conflict.

Communication between Iraqis and U.S. soldiers also varied considerably and caused great confusion according to Haider. U.S. soldiers and Iraqis used a different communication style, which is the way language is spoken and how non-verbal communication is transacted (Martin and Nakayama, p. 228). For instance, Arabic, the dominant language of Iraq, uses an elaborate style of speaking. This means that the Arabic speakers use expressive language, metaphors, and long rich statements to communicate (Martin and Nakayama, p.229). When U.S. troops would offer warning or commands to Iraqi citizens, they would not be taken seriously because of the short and unelaborate style of the message. Simple misunderstandings in communication like this through interpreters led to arrests, crossfire, and death.

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“Cacophony” by Elizabeth sanders

Non-verbal communication was also misinterpreted by both sides. The U.S. soldiers set a strict curfew with harsh repercussions for Iraqi citizens; however, it was broken routinely much to the amazement of U.S. soldiers. One of the reasons Haider believed it was broken was the different concept of time, or chronemics, which is defined as “the concept of time and the rules that govern its use” (Martin and Nakayama, p. 278). In the United States we have a monochronic sense of time, or view time as linear and treat it like a commodity (Martin and Nakayama p.278). Haider stressed that in Iraq there is not as much importance placed on time, making it a polychronic culture or a culture that sees time as circular and more holistic (Martin and Nakayama p.278). The U.S. soldiers expected the Iraqis to follow the strict time guidelines they set in the curfew; however, because Iraq is a polychronic culture, the curfew was broken frequently. The different perception of time and other miscommunications led to conflicts, and the way in which conflict was resolved also led to more miscommunication.

The ways in which Iraqis and Americans deal with conflict is very different. Conflict occurs between U.S. soldiers and Iraqis citizens for many different reasons including miscommunication, military protocol, and suspicious activity. The most common conflict resolution style US soldiers used was the dominating style. The dominating style of conflict is “a conflict management strategy whereby an individual achieves his or her goal at the expense of other’s needs” (Martin and Nakayama, p. 438). For instance, U.S. troops would frequently get into arguments due to miscommunication and end up verbally abusing the person they were arguing with in public. The dominating style emphasizes loud and forceful verbalization like this, although it may be counterproductive to conflict resolution (Martin and Nakayama, p.438). This infuriated local Iraqis because their use of paralinguistics, which is the use of vocal behaviors including voice qualities and vocalization, were much more subtle and refrained during conflict compared to that of U.S. soldiers (Martin and Nakayama, p.277). While conflict is inevitable in situations like this, Haider believed that if the U.S. soldiers were more sensitive to the importance of cultural differences, less conflict would have arisen in the future. The integrating style could of have been employed in these situations. The integrating style is defined as “a conflict management strategy characterized by the open and direct exchange of information in an attempt to reach a solution acceptable to both parties” (Martin and Nakayama, p.438). According to Martin and Nakayama (2010), this style reflects high concern for both the self and the opposite party in an attempt to save face for both parties (p. 438).

The conflicts that arose from the war in Iraq and the ways in which they were solved can all be traced back to intercultural communication issues. Communicating with people who have different primary and secondary dimensions of diversity can prove to be difficult. Miscommunication occurs frequently when foreigners are unfamiliar with the native communication style. The conflict that emerges from these types of intercultural differences and misunderstandings may also prove to be difficult to solve due to different styles of conflict resolution. The war in Iraq serves as an important example of the importance of intercultural communication.

Works Cited

Martin, J.N., & Nakayama, T.K. (2010). Intercultural Communication in Contexts. New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.