Friday, May 27, 2005

Toilets and Holy Wars

Read this front page article from the NY Times. I cannot be the only one to find this particular quote from a one-star general ridiculous: “I'd like you to know that we have found no credible evidence that a member of the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo Bay ever flushed a Koran down a toilet.” A few points on this mess:

Headlines in papers around the country trumpeted the news that there have been documented occurrences of Koran desecration at Guantanamo Bay. Nevermind that these occurrences were very rare or that half of these cases were unintentional. What’s more is that the detainee who started the entire “Koran in the toilet” uproar claimed in the new interview that he “was not a witness to any Koran abuse.” (emphasis added).

Despite these new reports, there are massive protests scheduled for today throughout Pakistan. (Look for folks upset about a wet book to be burning flags and stabbing Bush mannequins.)

Is this all the fault of Newsweek? To a small degree, yes: no one is denying their sheer and utter incompetence. However, the failure on the part of the Bush Administration is the larger issue here. It has become too easy for extremist clerics and leaders to rally the masses to their side based on flimsy allegations and hearsay. When waving a copy of a third rate U.S. newsmagazine can start murderous riots, we know the message machine is broken badly. The administration needs to find a way to communicate directly with the Muslim world – possibly in Arabic? – as the current method of denying all wrongdoing and pointing the finger at the liberal media is clearly not working with the masses. What is most frustrating is that the overall aims of the administration in the region are wholly positive -- yet we cannot convince these people of it. We are making it way too easy for the Muslim Chiracs and Arab Schroeders (those who gain power and popularity briefly by preaching anti-Americanism) to influence events. An interesting and related post can be found on Democracy Arsenal.


Anonymous liza said...

its weird, but i think i can actually hear your voices through the computer.

11:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, I think that you would get some strange looks in Germany and France for calling them "Muslim Chiracs and Arab Schroeders (those who gain power and popularity briefly by preaching anti-Americanism)". Not only do I think that is inappropriate, it is just wrong.

Schroeder did not come to power by preaching anti-Americanism, and a statement such as that only goes to show how influenced you are by the American mainstream media. Schroeder was an incumbent when unemployment in Germany raged. People believed that the Social Democrats would be able to solve the problems of the economy without a drastic cutback in the welfare state (Chirac is much the same story). While Schroeder was no friend of the U.S. and the war, and he used it to his advantage, there was no difference between his position of "No War" and that of CDU/CSU candidate Edmund Stoiber.

You seem to leave out the fact that the media (not liberal media) do very often fan the fires of dissent and publish inflammatory pieces. The Bush administration has done a poor job of communicating with the Arab world, but how can this be an example of the failure. How can the administration disprove a negative?

Riyadh Comm Director: "Just another one of our daily notices to the people of Saudi Arabia today that we are 36 days without one descration of the Koran. Thank you. Just in case you hear some story from a prisoner and the media picks up on it."

That would be difficult to pull off. Much of the Muslim worled does not trust the United States because of many years of neglect and abuse--not reports from Newsweek. The adminstration, while doing a poor job, has an uphill battle and, much like Nixon, inherited a pretty shitty situation.

Why not say "However, the failure on the part of the AMERICAN GOVERNMENT is the larger issue here." We have never communicated well with other cultures. We get involved based on short-term national interest, and we don't think long-term. Guatemala, Domincan Repbulic, Chile, Nicaragua, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and the list goes on.

The government must find a way to communicate with non-Americans--that is the key. As Kissinger will tell you, perception is more important than reality, and we have to fix their perception. But this is not a problem created by Bush and his actions--only exacerbated.

And I'm spent.

12:08 PM  
Anonymous kerner said...

First, I agree with anonymous; if there is one thing Schroeder and Chirac are not, its "[politicians]who gain power and popularity briefly by preaching anti-Americanism" Both men were, of course, long served politicians well before the Iraq war. And its not like either was playing to some populist fringe here. This war was and is deeply unpopular across the political spectrum in France and Germany.

Second, Newsweek isn't a "a third rate U.S. newsmagazine." You may not like Newsweek, but I am pretty sure it has one of the largest circulations of any magazine of its type. i dont think the liberal media debate (which I think you were referencing) is at all relevant here. Considering a mini-series based on the protocols of elders of zion was a big hit in the middle east recently, Newsweek seems like a pretty credible source of information.

Third, I think its ridiculous to chalk up arab mistrust to our failure to get the message out. I don't really know what we are or are not doing, but even if we were doing an impecable job, I can't think of any reason why the arab world would take our claims of good intentions seriosuly. We don't exactly have a good track record over their. And even if we did (and we don't), a lot of these folks just dont like the idea of non-muslim interference in the muslim world and it doesn't really matter what our intentions are or how well we sell them.

1:19 PM  

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