Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Yet Again: How are they any different than us?

I still have a serious issue with a lot of the coverage from Iraq: for whatever reason, the media and many others feel this need to "exoticize" Iraq as if it is such a "furrin" land. It's gotten to the point where, whenever I hear on the radio people talking about how "different" Iraq is, I'm actually agreeing with Edward Said (actually, FWIW -- I feel the same way about Said as I feel about the neo-cons: they are correct about the "problem" -- respectively "Orientalism" and "real-politic", but they are too often part of that problem rather than the solution even as they claim we who oppose them are "Orientalists" or "realists").

If we do want to be effective peace-keepers in Iraq, we really have to start understanding them. And part of understanding them is certainly knowing the ethno-religious landscape in Iraq and knowing how Iraqi mores differ from our own and being culturally sensative. But part of understanding them is actually to understand that people are people and even if Iraqis have some different mores than ours, etc., they really are not that different than us.

You hear reports of soldiers being surprised that Iraqis don't much like their homes being invaded by armed men and women? And people saying "well, we have to understand this aspect of Iraqi culture"? Come-on people! How would 'Murkins respond to such a thing? Perhaps if a few people planning the war at least thought to ask "how would we respond in a similar situation?" and thought of the Golden Rule, we wouldn't have been so broad-sided by the insurgency in Iraq and the quasi-civil war there. So where is our Mrs. Blackett to ask the Mr. Blackett's controlling our foreign policy "how are they any different than us?"?

The newsmedia could and should help perform that role. But instead they do everything to exoticize the Iraqis. My favorite bugaboo here is the translation of Jaish Al-Mahdi: why does the media translate "Jaish" (which translation I am not qualified to evaluate, but I would think "army" or "militia" is fair enough) but not "Mahdi"? While Mahdi per se does not have an exact translation into English, the concept of the Mahdi in Shi'ite Islam is equivalent enough to the concept of the Messiah in Judaism and Christianity, (and I guess "annointed one", Moshiach, isn't actually too different from "guided one", Mahdi ... of course, I am refering specifically to what de facto is the case with Twelver Shi'ite Islam: IIRC, other Muslim groups await a second coming of Jesus at which time he'll supposedly be the Messiah whereas the Mahdi would be Jesus' "guide" ... is the Mahdi then someone along the lines of John the Baptist in Christian thought or Elija? I dunno ...), that they should either leave the whole term un-translated or translate the organization as the "Army of the Messiah".

To leave Mahdi un-translated is to say that these people are fighting for a cause that has no similarity in our culture and implies that we can never understand these furriners in Iraq. However, if our nation were occupied, you could bet there would be a large militia opposing said occupation called "the Army of the Messiah". And if we act as if we cannot understand these people, we don't know them and hence cannot keep the peace and root out our enemies there (c.f. Sun-tzu). But if we allow ourselves to realize how much "they" are like us, then we'll have a fighting chance.

However, so long as empathy is seen as something for weaklings and defeato-crats, we have no chance of actually accomplishing something to prevent terror. But I guess those who care more about their bruised egos (how come nobody in the MSM called the "we have to strike back at a country in the ME in order to show our strength and recover to the blow we received on 9/11" argument in favor of invading Iraq on it's toddler level mentality? ya know if a liberal made such a "self-esteem"-based argument, everyone would be howling about how silly it was ...) than actually keeping us safe (and live in the middle of our country and hence are relatively safe themselves -- they are chickenhawks, nu?), well ... don't really care, do they? But at the least the media should call them on it rather than venerating them, c.f. Emerson and Thoureau, as the real Americans.

Alberich wrote:

If we do want to be effective peace-keepers in Iraq, we really have to start understanding them.

Wow. I am stunned. What a detached from reality thing to write. We are not going "to be effective peace-keepers in Iraq" at this point no matter what we do or start understanding.
I guess I should have written -- "if we wanted to be". I've been listening to too much NPR I reckon (where you hear people saying things like "it seems in order to succeed in Iraq at this point we'll have to do X", where X is something that was obvious that it should have been done at the very beginning and now would be too little too late).
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?