Here is the final paper I wrote for my Media, Terrorism and Insurgency
In Monty Python's 1979 movie "The Life of Brian" a group of Arab insurgents are huddled around a table covered with maps to conspire against the Roman empire. Their leader poses the following questions to the mutinous crowd: "All right but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system and public health what have the Romans ever done for us?"
(Life of Brian 1979).
Embedded in this question is a list of innovations that make up the concept of progress in modern western civilization. It is hard to understand why the insurgents depicted in the film would fight in the first place since the Roman's had gifted them with the cornerstones of modernity. To translate the question to a contemporary issue we could ask: “Why are Iraqi insurgents blowing themselves up in large numbers when the arrival of the US heralds a promise of modernity and progress?”
They reject the invasion because they are trying to bring the western advances while forcing western values onto another culture simultaneously. Our western idea of progress infused with a pervasive neocolonial arrogance, as well as the pursuit of covert, dishonest motives have led us in the west to fight a war against what we perceive as the other. Our idea of progress that has benefited the few has produced a widening gap in wealth distribution, the oppression of minorities, a loss of diversity and culture, and a destabilization of entire regions. These imperial behaviors of exporting democracy, western culture, and institutionalizing exploitation have threatened other nations' identities. The result: terrorism and insurgency.
Within the democratic framework, we have developed a clear definition of measuring progress. We did not take into account that other nations around the world have their own history, cultural values, and identity that are in conflicting and contradicting to some of the western values that are embedded in a democratic system in the form of western values. Societies around the world have different values and indicators of progress and other contextual factors that define their value systems. This makes it preposterous for us to impose democratic principles with force.
The paradigm that has evolved from the Roman doctrine of society has aggregated over the centuries into a western identity. As the democratic model was built on that identity, the most powerful nations have prospered, developed, and fully industrialized. Marveling at our own creation, we subsequently thought to export this western system to other countries through peace building missions as well as military operations. In the post World War II context and the emergence of the UN that embodied these “universal” values, we have thought to impose our "superior system" on what we perceive as weaker and less developed entities (the other).
Universalizing western norms threatens the other civilizations identities and their right for coexistence (Huntington 1996). As the institutions monitoring human rights have been based on international law that is derived from Western values, it has created a world police order the control of western powers such as the United Nations Security council. Adhering to the the new religion of modernity, it has created the belief in us that having a flush toilet, a 24-hour drive through, and a flat screen television are desirable features of progressive life and that the absence of them is a state of primitivism. Our business leaders have enforced a religion of consumerism on us that turned citizens into passive members of society and has taken us away from democratic values.
One of the cornerstones of our democratic society is to pursue an individualistic lifestyle. Other societies see this individualism as a selfish pursuit of self interest and prefer a community based structure, knowing that one's actions have an effect on everyone in the community. The core mechanisms of our democratic model allow us to reach a state of unlimited and unregulated self actualization. While both approaches have their merits, swaying too much in one direction causes an imbalance to the system. However, due to the nature of man, these freedoms are abused in nearly every institution. We have created a system that is build on competition for power and the desire for an insatiable materialism, leading to a loss of morality. Since our democratic system has been build by the white man, it is a patriarchal system. Being on top equals unlimited power and influence. Corruption is the side effect that has gotten hold of the seats of power. While corruption in developing countries is overt and trickles down to the bottom, corruption in the western world is affecting the highest institutions. Politicians and business man are hiding their true motivations behind numerous layers of decency, a behavior that could turn anyone into a cynic. The exposition of Bernie Madoff during the financial crisis as the scapegoat for the greed of many was turned into an isolated event by the media. In a recent interview, Madoff revealed that many key players among the investment banks knew about his activities but turned a blind eye on it as long as the money flowed (Shapiro 2011). While most would expect bankers to be corrupt, many people put their hope into their politicians to work in their interest. Are they working in our interest or only for their own? During the initial invasion of Iraq, news surfaced that Haliburton received a contract for over 2 billion Dollars in Iraq (Al Jazeera 2003). What a coincidence that Dick Cheney who was the vice president at the time had been the CEO of Haliburton until the moment he took office in 2000. It appears that many high officials in institutions are equally corrupt and prefer to work for their self interest and the interest of multinational companies. Since we trust that system of democracy to give us freedom, why are we not challenging these abuses of power?
It is because a number of people from our “democratic” society actually believe that their voices have no power to influence what is happening; they have resigned themselves to doing nothing (Anderson 2003). How can it be that in a system in which the constitution places the power in the hands of the people, only a small number choose to exercise this power? By not challenging what our respective governments are doing we are an accomplice in the crimes they commit. In the age of democracy injustice is committed in our name through the institutions we have set up. We call ourselves innocent but forget that our ideals of progress have made us enemies who despise us. This willful ignorance has been created by a government that tells us that we are free and that we have power which makes the masses believe that there is nothing to fight.
Post Colonial Arrogance
The institutionalization of injustice has been based on a post-colonial arrogance that led us to dominate the resources of other countries and violate human rights, all under the guise of bringing progress and wealth to poor countries. Our understanding of the other has made us impose our assumptions and prejudices on foreign nations. While there are some institutions and individuals that do have a positive impact in peace building missions around the world promoting the core principles of democracy, institutions such as the US army aggravate conflict in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq, by having no cultural sensitivity. For many years, the US army has used the book “The Arab Mind” as a teaching manual for MP's to learn about the Arab world before deployment. The book is an outdated anthropological account of offensive racist stereotypes, describing arabs as generally lazy, sex crazy, and violent (Whitaker 2004). The book gives a good foundation for the democratization mission by painting a picture of uncivilized, immoral people that are waiting to be liberated from their condition.
It is an arrogant assumption of our leaders and military that the people in other countries are waiting to be liberated. Thus we think that we are welcome in places such as Afghanistan as we liberated the country from the Taliban. An Afghani politician, Joya Malai asserts the opposite: President Obama would be wise to look into an exit strategy for Afghanistan, rather than following a policy of escalation that will only create more terrorists and more hatred of the United States, while bringing only more misery and devastation to my country.
The citizens of Australia, Germany, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Canada and all the other countries with troops on the ground have an important role to play. Right now, it must be said, their soldiers are seen by Afghans as no different from American troops – as an occupying force, not as liberators or peace-makers of any kind
The media becomes a partner in crime by helping officials package a war as a just war. We are told that a war on terror is being fought in Afghanistan without being told the ulterior interest that our governments have in invading and occupying other countries in the first place. Governments package ideals of progress using vocabulary such as the liberation and empowerment of people to legitimize the forceful military dominance of another country. Behind this face of noble motives, human rights violations occur. These are the nations sitting on the security council who are supposed to provide us with security. They ignore their own laws without any consequence, only yielding to international law when it is convenient to their agenda. The Bush regime invaded Iraq in 2003 without the permission of the UN security counsel and without any consequences. When appearing in front of the UN the following year, former US president Bush reiterated how the US army was providing stability in Iraq and demanded that “security” be redefined so that we can spread democracy freely and unregulated to other “suffering nations” ( Weisman 2004 ). While Bush talked of stability and improvement, the reality on the ground was much different. As MP's desperately looked for weapons of mass destruction and terrorists, the average Iraqi felt the heaviness of the occupation. While nearly every human right outlined in the UN declaration of human rights (UN 1948) was violated by occupational forces, prisoners rights were also being violated breaking the laws outlined in the Geneva conventions. The people of Iraq felt the humiliation of their masters as they saw their country disintegrate in front of their eyes, which lead ordinary Iraqi's to organize and resists occupation (Fontan 2009).
Injustice is not only institutionalized in the name of democracy in conflict zones but also in international trade. The dynamo of Western economy is free trade resting upon our free market economic model. The idea is that markets emerge and regulate themselves according to demand. However, in this free trade it became quickly apparent that nations with more financial power could dictate the discourse of trade. The high subsidies for corn in the US make it possible to export corn to developing countries at low cost. This surplus in production drove the prices in the world marketplace down to an all time low to the point where farmers in developing countries could not compete anymore and were driven into ruin. Massive waves of suicide across India were a side effect of this phenomena. Farmers were working on the edge and barely cutting even. This meant that a failed crop would rob them of their liquidity which made them see no other option than suicide (Sengupta 2006). In a global economy where the powerful dictate the price and the demand, the crumbs of unfair trade agreements are being thrown to developing countries who accept these terms out of desperation. As a clear label is being cast on developing nations of being “third world” a euphemism for backwardness we have created a new identity called “the other”.
War against the Other
Conflict results from seeing foreign systems as “the other”. It is a war of a neo-colonial master that through occupation and oppression is demanding a homogamy of culture, provoking a natural opposition in response. Mainstream media is becoming entangled in a war of information. Powerful lobbies have institutionalized media PR that run information through clever frames. The acts of terror are described on a regular basis without giving much context, which is often misreported due to the incapacities of parachute reporters. Countering these forces is the New Media that offer minorities and insurgents unprecedented ways of broadcasting themselves.
One measure of progress in a democratic society is the extent to which minorities are included in the government. Consequently, part of the process of liberation in Iraq was to free the minorities that had been suppressed under Saddam Hussein's regime and to empower the minorities to participate in the political process. In a society that is based on tribal culture, the attempt to force-feed a democracy was bound to fail. Years after US occupation, minorities are worse off the ever and are migrating due to continuing violence (Myers 2010). While in the west we are mostly familiar with the images of Iraqi's welcoming US soldiers such as during the toppling of the statue of Saddham Hussein, in reality the MP's experienced dissent against the occupation from the very beginning of and were prompted by ordinary Iraqi's to leave (Parenti 2004). However, this dissent that soldiers and Iraqi's felt from the very beginning of the Iraq war never reached us through the wire.
The governments are masters in using and manipulating media to drown and to distort the voices of the other and of its own people voicing dissent. This media manipulation is a war of information. A hyper reality is created depending on the frame of the different media outlets.
In the war in Iraq, the US military embedded journalist into the army to control the information, while Al Jazeera reported independently, showing the human cost of war. Donald Rumsfeld subsequently titled Al Jazeera the mouthpiece of Osama Bin Laden. Despite showing the human cost of war, Al Jazeera was also pointing out the inaccuracies of information issued by the US army during and after the initial invasion, while still giving a platform for US officials to voice their opinions.
Manipulation of information was not only performed by the government but also on an individual level. High fligh journalists would be parachuted into Iraq and would use fixers to gather information. This information would then be used by the journalist as if he had seen the events described himself/ herself. No credit is given to the fixer while the western journalist earns all the glory. Therefore, little of the information that journalists feed us actually comes from primary sources (Palmer, Fontan 2007).
Governments are now not only using the media to spread their propaganda but go directly to the people. In Israel, the government handed pamphlets to all Israeli passengers last year that would instruct them on how to represent Israel to the people outside in an attempt to build a ground level PR army (Browner 2010). Because of popular support the Israeli government can continue its propaganda operation. The dynamics change when popular support fades away.
As one regime after another is being toppled by people power in Africa, we can observe how this political contest game is changing. The deviant gate is not as small anymore. Social media are opening new gateways to enter the stage without the consent of mainstream media or the establishment. However, whether social media can become an agenda setter remains to be seen. Due to economic disparities, large portions of minorities around the world have no access yet to new media and are still struggling with basic needs.
We assess progress in our nations by looking at economic power. The widening gap in wealth distribution can be observed within nations but also on a global level. The gap between developing countries and developed countries is becoming bigger, as well as the gap between individuals within developing countries according the the United Nations University (Porter 2006). This shows that the idea of equality, which is a key principle in a democratic society, remains influential. The economically stronger nations tend to get more of a platform in mainstream media while other nations have no voice at all. Through vicious attacks, terrorists get their voice heard and become the Robbin Hoods of their communities by addressing some these inequalities.
When terrorist groups and despots make it into the mainstream media or present themselves in New Media, the focus of politicians and the mainstream media is on dehumanizing them to look for the “otherness” to rob them of their credibility. This is done to distract from the underlying principles that make the terrorist act in the first place. Terrorist are framed as being poor, psychopathic fanatics when in reality they are often ordinary people coming from all social classes. They are not random acts of terror but rather motivated by a cause that is not based on religion but rather on a threat to the Arab identity. While it is true that the messages of Osama Bin Laden have a tone of religious fundamentalism and racism, some points he made actually are a valid critique of the US government. He points out how the US has stood by silently while Israel has demeaned the Palestinian people for decades, aided corrupt regimes around the world that attack the Muslim people, and is responsible for the death of thousands of innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan (Lawrence 2005). Again it is the response to humiliation and oppression that catapulted Bin Laden to the status of a living hero in parts of the Arab world.
Nearly two decades before Bin Laden, the Hizbullah appealed to its people in a similar message of solidarity pointing out the social injustices committed by Israel and the US (Norton 1987). Through these messages, terrorist organizations were able to gain popular support among large groups of people and could justify violence as a form of retribution due to the vivid memory of suffering in Lebanon. While terrorists are using the hypocrisy of our leaders to strengthen their messages, politicians use terrorists to push their political agendas. Few have found a voice on the world stage that are actually challenging our practice of democracy. In his maiden speech at the United Nations in 2009, Gaddafi accused the UN of having failed to resolve more than 60 wars that have erupted after its founding. In a long rant he pointed out many valid contradictions in the United Nations charter (Pilkington 2009). Isn't it ironic that dictators and terrorists from the global south are some of the few voices of conscience that are finding their way into mainstream media, critiquing and monitoring the seats of power? Why are we avoiding to critique and monitor our own systems of power more harshly? While we are occupied with exposing the other for their human rights violations, our “developed states” commit crimes rivaling those of the worst dictators.
The previous pages have discussed the western paradigm of measuring progress, demonstrated some of the forms of post colonial arrogance and looked at the physical and informational warfare that western nations are waging against “the other”.
Hiding behind layers of decency Western powers have become authoritarian samaritans that try to tell others what is good for them while committing countless crimes against humanity.
In the process of democratization people should have the right to accept or deny elements of western civilization. The point of a democracy is that people are empowered to control the system instead of being controlled by the system. While the development of western society and democratic values has brought unprecedented freedom and prosperity to some nations, it doesn't mean that we can assume that the exact same formula will work for countries that have a different history and culture. We also need to acknowledge that nations are occupied and forced to adapt to democracy due to ulterior motives such as insuring its stability in order that economic interests may be pursued. Therefore, media should play a role to critically monitor and investigate the motives of a nation to invade and democratize another. It can be argued that in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan there was never any plan to install a true democracy, which had an inverse effect of destabilizing those countries. To resist occupation is a natural response by a nation that never asked to be liberated. Instead of being liberated people want to liberate themselves.
There is little doubt that any country would welcome the advances of sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system and public health if it would be given without imposing western values at the same time. We need to stop being the missionaries of modernity and stop force our concept of progress on others. Maybe it would be a good idea to democratize our western society, to regain power over our system before we try to impose a flawed structure onto other nations. After we have reformed our own system maybe we can provide a different type of assistance to other nations that is based on mutual respect so that our development paradigm of bringing progress does not diminish but increases the dignity of other sovereign states. References
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