18 March 2007

Disseminating Atrocities

While reading The Lesser Evil by Michael Ignatieff this morning, I came across an interesting passage.

“Since a state will always be too strong for a cell of individuals to defeat in open battle, it must [be provoked into] defeat[ing] itself. If terrorists can provoke the state into atrocity, this will begin to erode the willingness of a democratic public to continue the fight. Democracies may have the stomach for the occasional atrocity, but over the long term a policy of atrocity is unsustainable.”
I found this passage interesting not because of its obvious truth but for how atrocities, and the perception thereof, are created, expanded and perpetuated by political activists and the media.

A short list of atrocities reported by political activists and the media might include (but certainly not be limited to):
- the Bush administration’s use of WMDs as a pretext to invade Iraq,
- all subsequent “lies” told by the same,
- prisoner mistreatment at Abu Ghriab,
- prisoner mistreatment at Guantanamo,
- civilian death estimates since the invasion of Iraq, and
- friendly-fire incidents during and after the ground offensive in Iraq,

These examples represent a continuous effort to sensationalize news reports and politicize anything that happens on the battlefield and behind it. With little regard to the tactics, politics and training of those the US is fighting against, those who would work against the Bush administration take any opportunity to lay blame at the door of the US. They do so, in my opinion, for personal, popular or political gain and not for the purported reason of “speaking truth to power.”

What these continuous attacks against the US from within may eventually do, though, is persuade the public at large to give up the fight against terrorists. If it is a given that terrorists will always be unable to overthrow a strong, democratic state without aid of circumstance, I have to wonder if, in the long term, domestic propaganda supporting – or at least apologetic of – terrorists and their acts and motives and hyper-critical of most (if not all) US policies which fight terrorists may not prove to be the fulcrum which tips the fight.

Here’s an interesting “what if” scenario: what if, instead of concentrating almost solely on the flaws and imperfections of US policy, the media focused more on deconstructing terrorist propaganda, motivations, strategy and goals? What would they lose by focusing attention on enemies outside of the state instead of those within – real or perceived?

Without opening the can of “media bias” worms, which can be argued endlessly, I would submit that to some extent, the media would give up safety. As has already been seen on several occasions, terrorists have no compunction about killing any Westerner (or Easterner, or Middle Easterner for that matter). Therefore, being severely critical of terrorists on a continual basis may be harmful to one’s health. However, hyper-criticality of a Western government carries almost no personal danger. On the contrary, it is celebrated – and therefore the easier road.

Now, I don’t want to be accused of roundly calling the media cowards. I write this from the safety of my dinner table overlooking a nice park…I have no place to accuse cowardice here. However, I do think that there are correct and incorrect ways to focus dissent and media attention. It would do the US, the West, and all who live within it – politicians, media, academics…everyone – to refocus and re-evaluate. Instead of endlessly dissecting the motives and machinations of our political adversaries, we ought to evaluate those of our external adversaries. And, just as import, we should scrutinize ourselves lest we aid the very forces who cannot bring us down without our help.

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