Eagle and serpent

explorations and philosophy: in the world, of the world

Tag: landofthefree

On ‘pretext’

Going through some word definitions and contexts of their use brought me to ‘pretext‘. Nicely contextualised to the speeches of Cato the Elder, I somehow got reminded of our present media war-drum beating against Iran.

It’s been a while since I watched this, but the past rhetorical build-up against Iraq is very similar to the ongoing one. Now, watching the video, who exactly is a threat to whom?

One thing is for sure, however. War-mongering Americans have read their history well.

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The innocence of organised professionals

The newly-leaked video showing the unprovoked killing of twelve people in Baghdad reminded me of an old theme. Namely, that of individuals, organisations and the responsibility of action.

I remember Henry Rollins (in one of his spoken word shows) justifying his visits to the ‘boys overseas’ with something like: “…there’s nothing wrong with the military itself–they’re just doing what they’re told…the leaders are the real criminals…”

Now, as this seems to be very easy to agree with, initially, I happened to travel to Viet Nam only few months later.

And lo! A photograph of grinning marines holding the heads of decapitated Vietnamese villagers reminded me of Henry’s words, “nothing wrong with the military…” Sure. I couln’t help but think of the role of the organisation and its culture while they were ‘helping’ the Vietnamese. This was especially evident after seeing the text behind the photo, scribbled by a soldier having witnessed the atrocity, lamenting “what this f*@#ing army does to the minds of normal boys”.

Similarly, in the recent video provided by Wikileaks, the soldiers comment their work with a charming phrase, only to chuckle about running over a body with a tank just a while later:

“Oh, yeah, look at those dead bastards.”…”Nice.”

A similar argument to Henry’s is heard quite often, only the context changes: concentration camp guards (they were following orders), informers (they were worried about the nation’s survival during the cold war), Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo torture cases perhaps serving as the relevant recent examples. Although my personal experience of military is very limited (I have not participated in any of the ‘humanitarian military interventions’), I still think I have some insight of the functioning of such ‘firms’. During my year in the compulsory national service, I most probably experienced the most sexist, racist, nationalistic and (surprise, surprise) militaristic organisation in this country. What else should one expect from an institution run by half-wits and built on the foundation of mythico-eternal enmity?

Now, as the so-called Western democracies take great pains in demonising the Taleban and whichever movement comes between them and their strategic interests, isn’t it interesting that sexist slavery still exist in our very own societies? And, as a corollary, is it a surprise that organisations like these, having gone ‘abroad’ on pretexts lingering criminal insanity, also carry on the gravest injustices, defined by their very own propaganda?

This post neither solves the problem of agency and structure in social theory (and I’m not even sure if it is the right question), nor the role of culture and individual will in organisational behaviour. What it hopefully does, is it shows that what we do we end up doing. In other words, killers look for something to kill. Their best intentions and articulated mission statements only serve as rationalisations for the atrocities that have to be retrospectively justified.

Nah, I don’t think so…

When the old regime handed the power over to the new one (in America), some analysts anticipated European countries losing the ‘W-argument’ of shirking away from the unified Western coalition. That is, the old, trans-Atlantic way of doing things would re-appear and flourish.

Now that the Norwegian groupies have awarded a peace prize for intensifying violence in a futile attempt to influence future foreign (military, of course) policy, some effects can already be identified. Verily, Europe is following the lead, namely the spotless reputation of Mr. Obama. His presence and hype serve as a perfect pretext for avoiding uncomfortable agreements!

More from Klein here.

War is peace

…for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples…

What the f*@#?!

Not that I ever had any belief in these committees steering public opinion. But admittedly, this was a surprise! It’s not even necessary to talk about deepening the conflict in Afghanistan, recent whining about the ‘tight schedule’ of closing Guantánamo, or the deadlock in Iraq. Nowadays even warmongers are crowned with ‘peace’ prizes!

Guess the old Norwegian owls had to give their share to the hype. From now on, their credibility is zero!

The cowboy’s burden

First reflections after seeing Clint Eastwood’s newest—Gran Torino—were quite confused. The immediate reaction was that the film is Eastwood’s will—summation of the things he’s famous of, spiced up with some criticisms.

Initially, his main character seems like a rather good depiction of a ghettoised, white, racist veteran. After a while, though, this picture starts to show some signs of overemphasis—sometimes he’s just too much himself.

Apologetic and obvious to start with, the movie proceeds to its non-surprising end. The critical viewer is also tempted to see white man’s heroism as a form of neo-colonialism. It’s after all him that saves the aborigines—from themselves.

And yes—the winner gets a car.

Big macs and death

There’s a sticky habit among my American friends to recommend some places to visit or even live in across the ocean.

Obviously, they don’t feel that either the media or the general atmosphere here in Europe does them the justice they should. Much of their ‘justice’…

This is, of course, heart-breaking. My friends the Statesmen think (or at least used to) that the main criticism is pointed towards their former regime. Now, suddenly and magically, with the new regime, things are somehow much better. They fail to see two things: first, it’s no argument to say—“not all Americans are like that”—of course not. It’s just too sad that the rest of the world gets what it gets. Second, this is not the issue—the critique goes against their whole way of living and co-existing with the world.

I fully, truly and honestly acknowledge the possibility that I would find NY, DC, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle as vibrant, dynamic, eye-opening, interesting, cultivated, welcoming and open-minded cities. There is no doubt about that. Moreover, I don’t think that I would necessarily have miserable time in the ‘fly-over-land’ (as one of the guys from the coast so nicely put). Quite the contrary, there should be great landscapes filled with outdoor and hunting possibilities.

But as long as the country treats her visitors as criminals, imprisons and tortures people fighting for their own countries in their own countries, proudly and openly funds apartheid governments and fills all the backyards of the world with sh*t, corpses and consumerist ideology, I’m not particularly eager to go.

Proselytise the traveller

There is one thing that I’ve come across in some Muslim countries I’ve visited. It’s the eagerness of some locals to convert me to Islam.

First one took place in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, when the warden gave me a handful of leaflets telling how wonderful the faith was. I had been staring at the beautiful murals, obviously long enough to trigger his mission. In Eastern Turkey, the approach was not that respectful. A bearded man challenged me and my friend of us “Not respecting Mohammad, why?” Answering that kind of question is quite hard: “Umm…we don’t disrespect, he’s just not part of the doctrine…” invoked just another set of questions and suspicions.

In Iran, everyone minded their own business in terms of religion.

In Sahara, however, it happened again. In the shared taxi from Tan Tan to Laayoune, my neighbour (young and multi-lingual guy) suddenly popped out the question: “Why are you not a Muslim?” “Well, I was not brought to be one, and haven’t felt the need to convert” was my initial reply. This was not satisfactory. Interestingly, he used the exactly same argument than the man in Van (East Turkey): “Why hold on to a faith that is obviously wrong? Islam is correct, so you should convert to it.”

Needless to say, a philosophical argument questioning the foundations of his claim didn’t yield much. Raising the issue of having read the Qur’an and still not believing didn’t help either… Oh well.

It’s just interesting. There must be something in the religious mind that makes them spread the ‘good’ word. It happens also in the better families. It’s a gift, not an attempt to proselytise!

Anglo media and Gaza

Attending a seminar about Israeli apartheid at SOAS last week was truly intriguing. The last session (the only one I had the opportunity to attend) was about Western media and how it reported the most recent Gaza aggression.

As many of us suspected, US corporate media has no journalistic mission. Hence, is it possible to speak of money ‘creeping in’ anymore? As pointed out, commercial media corporations have audiences, agendas and sets of powerful stakeholders. This means that money (among other things), is an issue. In skilful hands, it can be effectively used to manage public opinion, which was done in the case of Gaza, early this year. Among other things, casus belli was fabricated-“it was them again, we have to respond…”

On one hand, one of the two forces at play, media is being unified in the face of the global economic downturn-media houses cannot afford to have reporters, translators and related experts in-house, reports (and reporters) are bought, um, outsourced. On the other hand, independent media is growing rapidly, and sites that observe and publish stories written by independent reporters around the world are becoming sources that collect material without the money-bias (other biases, surely). This is the way up-to-date, non-IDF sourced news were reported and spread during the last conflict.

In the discussion, a couple of interesting points of the film Waltz with Bashir emerged. Beyond the straightforward ‘sympathy for the killers’, animals (dogs and horses) were shown as the creatures suffering from the war, rather than Palestinian civilians. This is how UK and US media work, they present Israeli civilians and soldiers as feeling individuals, whereas Arabs earn the label of a crowd-‘militants’, ‘fanatics’, you name it. This rhetorical strategy is similar to the one used in Viet Nam by the force-feeder of ‘democracy’; the United States of America. This is just another example of attaching otherness to one’s enemies. But this is of course, nothing new.

Assimilation to the occupier’s society and the adoption of Western values fed to the Palestinians as the panacea to peace and prosperity was no news. The same consumerist message is delivered over and over again to the inattentive Western public. But the glorification of collaborators was new. I can understand the ‘will to power’ and using media to achieve this and all kinds of other objectives. But there is nothing more perverse than saying to the subjugated that their continued existence requires self-immolation-the ultimate humiliation!

New messiah

When navigating the last 20 metres to the gym takes about five minutes, things are just not right. Having to wade through an open-mouthed, dead-silent mass of cult followers with your training bag is an annoying experience. And yes, it was Tuesday, about five o’clock GMT – you know what was on that time. The news of the day…

Fine, I don’t have a problem with people eagerly watching every step of the Rolling Stones or saying their prayers to any of the dead gods. But when my dearly paid gym experience is obstructed by “God bless America” a multitude of times, not to speak of the religious, nationalistic and moralistic messages openly and less so embedded in the liturgy, my patience grew thin.

Luckily I arrived towards the end of the worshipping, so in the end of my session I could lift my weights listening to that normal, shitty techno…

Rhetoric and the back office

Just days before Obama’s inauguration, it will be interesting to see what will be the first *official* declaration of the new US regime to the Middle East thing.

Have the – hmm – of Tel Aviv finally reached ‘their objectives’ – a nice round number of 1000 (or more) casualties? Or will the magic number be ten bombarded schools maintained by the UN?

A thought-provoking piece of analysis can be found here.

Could there actually be an aesthetic, mathematical criterion involved, what do you think? And by the way, it must have been a coincidence that the ‘IDF’ was training for the offensive months ahead, along with the Israeli missile strikes in November (when the ceasefire was on)… Oh well, strongest wins.

I would guess one thing, though. The Obama team has given Tel Aviv time to kill until the beginning of their term. First, the burden of reaction is on Bush et al. Second, there’s a golden opportunity for Barack to play the hero. “Can we live in a peaceful ME – YWC…” Or something like that.