Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Ramzy Baroud on manufactured realities

A recent piece by Ramzy Baroud, "Media Language and War: Manufacturing Convenient Realities," tackles a subject that many people would not associate with "manufactured realities": the recent bombing of an outdoor pet market by two female human bombs. Baroud laments the lack of "thorough analysis," but seems merely to be demanding the superimposition on the story of the Nancy Pelosi narrative of a failed surge:
[...] Any thorough analysis of the story would have to examine several related factors. First, it would need to juxtapose the high death toll with US and Iraqi governments’ reports of 'calm' in the Baghdad area. The claim of a ‘return to normalcy’ in the Iraqi capital has been propagated for months, as a way of validating US President’s Bush’s military 'surge'. Even if we buy into the questionable statistics aimed at hyping the positive outcome of the surge – questionable because they are only promoted by US and Iraqi military sources, with vested interests in downplaying the seriousness of the 'insurgency' – the violence seems to have shifted from the capital into northern areas, especially Mosul.

Instead of admitting failure in halting the violence which has plagued Iraq since the US occupation of 2003, US and Iraqi authorities resort to a continued and violent language to confuse and distract from the real issues.

This is how Alissa J. Rubin began her article for the New York Times (January 31): "The unsettled situation in northern Iraq continued Wednesday as Iraqi troops massed in Mosul to fight Sunni Arab extremists". This is a brilliant way to divert attention of the story from the failure of the surge to manipulate other values, and lumping these values to create a completely fallacious association: "Sunni Arab extremists." [...]
But what of the bombings themselves?
[...] What do the bombings tell us about the security situation in Baghdad, the success or failure of the ‘surge’ or the war which is driving people to suicide in its most brutal manifestations?

Apparently, it tells us nothing.

But Lt. Col. Steve Stover, spokesman for the Multi-National Division-Baghdad has an explanation that seems, at least from the point view of CNN much more relevant than the seemingly unimportant questions above. "By targeting innocent Iraqis, they (those who dispatched the 'mentally disabled' women suicide bombers) show their true demonic character." Thus, CNN headline: "'Demonic' militants sent women to bomb markets in Iraq." In Western media language, Arab women are perpetually oppressed victims, and they must maintain that role for the story to read right. Thus, the women bombers cannot be viewed themselves as extremists, but as victims in the hands of extremists.

Within hours the buzz words on online news were 'mentally disabled' and 'demonic'.

But what does 'demonic' mean exactly? What real issues does it address? And why should such an irrelevant outburst define the deadliest bombing in Baghdad in months?

Focusing on such extraneous associations - mindless, mad, demonic women, possessed and acting on the behest of bearded and cunning al-Qaeda ‘Arab Sunni, extremists’ – does much more than simply distract from the many military and policy failures in Iraq. It helps create a parallel universe to that of the real world, thus presenting a substitute image that shapes and reshapes the perceptions and imaginations of faraway news consumers.
The "real" world is a very non-demonic place, evidently:
The 'real world' - whether that of Iraq, Palestine, Burma, Kenya or any other - is a world that, although seemingly chaotic, is very much rational. It is predicated on the values of cause and affect. What may seem 'demonic' and 'mad' to a non-media person should not appear the same to a journalist. The latter’s responsibility is to narrate, contextualize and deconstruct with an independent and critical eye, not merely reiterate what has been told to him by 'official sources'. [...]
On a certain level it is hard to argue with Baroud's insistence about the failure to contain violence--the surge certainly failed to prevent the transformation of mentally disabled women into human bombs--but all that contextualization and deconstruction seems to lead to the most hackneyed of narratives--remotely detonated human bombs as people "driven to suicide" by the war. By the war? Aren't bombings part of the war? The people who dispatched those women are also interested in narratives. Their narrative ends with murderers entering paradise, the worldwide triumph of radical Islam, and sometimes we are also reminded that the terrorists' narrative involves depravities that most people don't even dare to imagine. So somebody--but not CNN--did create a "parallel universe."

The act of turning those women into bombs to slaughter people like animals (and actually along with animals) bursts, with demonic vitality, out of all the hackneyed Leftist narratives about terrorism--resistance to occupation, economic despair, whatever--rendering them crumpled and fraudulent husks. Why is Baroud so desperately fighting to drag the screen back in front of the obvious? He and the terrorists, I suspect, have a shared commitment to certain manufactured realities.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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