Sunday, May 23, 2004

A response to my Jordanian "friend's" comments on sending "The Women" to Iraq

Earlier today, "July _1960" an apparent Arab Nationalist from Jordan (at least according to his/her internet domain and selection of an alias) posted comments to this blog in which he/she suggested that the war on Iraq was "all lies" costing needless lives and implied that Saddam was better than Bush, challenging me to a response.

The Jordanian was responding to my article "Send 'The Women' to Iraq" (here) in which I relayed public comments by US military officers that they were most afraid of single, liberal, educated 30-something American "females" arriving in Iraq who "meant well" but were, they felt, naive.

Judging from the comments, I think the Jordanian may have misinterpreted the site. This is by no means a pro-Bush or pro-Iraq War blog. Nevertheless, his comment warrant a response.

These American "females" were no doubt a threat to the Pentagon (in a humorous sort of way) because they had a conscience and would no doubt object to some of the war crimes committed there --- probably the last people on Earth the Pentagon would want snooping around Iraq. They would probably have the idea that holding rock concerts in Iraq, say war opponents Sheryl Crow or the Dixie Chicks (photos and links to websites above), might more effectively establish democracy there than dropping bombs.

No doubt others in the Arab world would consider them a threat as well. The autocratic religious demagogues that currently hold much of the power in the part of the world no doubt consider them a dangerous influence. In short, everyone is afraid of these American liberal "females", and it's too bad the security situation has gotten so out of hand we can send this alternate viewpoint over there to help out with the NGO and humanitarian effort. This was the point, both humorous and serious, that I was trying to make.

But I'd like to respond to the comments. First of all, I believe there are some cultural differences between the Arab world and intellectual in the West. I understand that Middle Eastern culture is a very old culture and, like many cultures, tends to be very concerned with the past. They are deeply concerned about remedying past perceiving injustices to restore their "honor." They have a cultural passion for history as well, especially regarding Islam and past Islamic and Arab greatness.

The West considers itself pragmatic. We believe in progress. We know we cannot change the past, and so tend focus only on the present and the future. We are only concerned about the past inasmuch as it teaches us how to improve the future. (Of course, we do understand the importance of justice in building a prosperous future, and so we are concerned about past crimes that have not been brought to justice).

The West has had its own share of suffering. We've had two world wars in which there were many displaced refugees. These were not limited to any particular ethnic group, although some ethnic groups suffered much more than others. Many families in the United States have had relatives who were refugees that lost everything in these wars. Although occasionally there is a cry for justice, it is muted. Why? Because, in the meantime these families focused on the future. Most of these families eventually regained their former prosperity through pragmatism. As they had little or no power over the past (or any ability to correct these massive injustices) they let God worry about the past. They worked hard to build a future for themselves, which is something they had control over.

I, in large, share these views. So, while I am concerned with the sense in the Middle East that there are injustices and crimes that are not being addressed, I am much more concerned with future of Middle East than the past.

I would, however, like to learn the truth of what happened there so that justice can be achieved and so that history does not repeat itself.

This is why I believe a free press is so important. It is a fundamental tool of democracy, as it helps citizens make the right decisions about events. Disinformation is the tool of demagogues (see earlier article here) --- small cliques that benefit at the expense of the rest of which there are many in the Middle East.

My own experience in interacting with Middle Easterners is that there is a huge amount of state-sponsored propaganda. Even Middle Easterners with PhDs from elite Western universities and husbands working in the West were apparently seduced by their state controlled media upon returning home into accepting bizarre conspiracy theories. Eight weeks after September 11, they believed, incredibly, that the 911 hijackers were all Israelis. (See my article here on need for U.S. to combat this complete misinformation). There was massive evidence in the world media at point that the 911 hijackers were mainly Saudis whose names were known, and I struggled to relate this.

There are growing concerns with media censorship in the West, especially the United States. Television and radio stations in the United States are regulated by the Bush-controlled FCC, and many TV and radio stations owners seem reluctant to incur the wrath of the Administration out of apparent fear of arbitrary of FCC decisions.

The statistics bear this out:

This is also a concern for print media, as our most prominent newspapers make most of their money off TV and radio stations that they also own. However, as shown in the graphic above, print media was far more accurate (and far more critical of the Administration) than TV and radio.

I feel strongly that good information is vital to allowing democracy to function and allowing the future to be built. (See article here).

Some privilege cliques in society unfortunately prefer disenfranchise and propaganda as tools to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else. This is clearly a huge problem in the Middle East, but also a growing problem here at home.

This is my answer to the overseas poster. I don't know if Bush is better than Saddam. (Six months ago, prior to the war crimes in the prison abuse scandal surfacing, I would have thought Bush better.) I don't why people died in the Iraq war, or whether it was "all lies" or was "justified." (Even former President Clinton believed that Saddam might have WMDs and constituted a threat, so arguments continue to be made either way).

I do know that it is vitally important that a free press here and overseas air the truth, so that we, at least in the free world, can make correct decisions and build a sunnier future for everyone.

I thank the poster for participating in this process.