My friend Stephen, the musician (among many other skills and attributes including a PhD) touring Kuwait, Syria, and Lebanon, was astonished to find how far and quickly his letter to America had permeated the Internet. After appearing here on Blogcritics.org last week, it was disseminated far and wide (especially by Glenn Reynolds and James Taranto, but please also see the pings at the bottom of the post), striking a viral chord. Whether your view is right, left, top or bottom, it seems clear to many that the media emphasizes negative news over positive, sensational “events” over prosaic process, noisy dischord over quiet accord.
Stephen writes again today:
- Thanks, Eric 🙂 I have a slightly better connection now. I’m up to 9600 baud…and sharing the modem between three machines.
I’m amazed to see that my writing about Iraq/Syria/Kuwait has turned up all over the net since I left. It’s amazing how a point of view that presents an alternative to the mainstream can get such coverage. In fact, my Dad wrote me from Vancouver saying he had woken up to find my views on Iraq presented in one of his daily e-mails from a news agency, about two days after I wrote it– it was news to him, too. Gives me faith in the internet…
The piece of the story that I did not mention, and that (I hope) is not too OT, is how the mainstream Arab media have also gotten the story wrong. Again, there are plenty of Iraqis who will tell you about their utter disgust with Al-Jazeera and Manar– yet we are constantly told by our own CNN, NYT, etc., that somehow these agencies are the voice of the people, the “Arab Street.”
The point is, all this talk about the “Arab Street” (how do I get there again? Turn left at “Africa Street”?) is a useless generalization, reinforced by a bunch of journalists sitting around the Al-Rashid and Palestine Hotel bars, while they wait for their drivers to pick them up in air-conditioned SUVs for a day trip out to Fallujah or Ramadi. Is there a “White Street,” an “Asian Street”? It’s a ludicrous and vaguely racist concept to begin with.
I have spoken to loads of Iraqis, Syrians, Kuwaitis etc. and what I have seen is the definitive breakdown of “Arab Unity” as a generation of academics (the ones who taught me at least) knew it. As I mentioned in the last e-mail, the graffiti on the walls of Baghdad University is not “US Go Home”– it’s actually….”Palestinians Go Home. The Free Ride Is Over”!!! There is a sea change going on, right now, and CNN will be the last place to learn about it.
Remember that story early in the war about the Iraqis attacking an Al-Jazeera van and destroying it and wounding its crew? CNN barely covered it, but the Iraqis I have spoken to recently said they are sick and tired of the “old” Arab media (which strangely enough includes Al-Jazeera to them) reporting only the negatives and ignoring the progress they’ve made and the fact that for many, things are better…they see this as other Arabs trying to stir up trouble in “their” country. And they resent it.
They want Al-Jazeera and Manar out of there, and they want to get on rebuilding their country themselves, thank you very much. They don’t need those guys making it worse by running erroneous and unretracted stories like the one a few weeks back about US soldiers raping Iraqi girls– and thereby bringing even more violence. They want a new country. And, despite Amahnpour et al’s statements, while broadcasting the “news”, that “Iraqis want the US out of there NOW!” the only scientific polls done in Iraq so far have shown that the vast majority DO NOT want the US to leave any time soon. They know the bloodbath that will ensue– but they also know the good that can possibly follow the hard task of rebuilding.
Yes, they have every right to complain about things being better under Saddam, because right now that’s true. Things were better in Germany under Hitler until about 1948-49, and people were taking potshots at US soldiers in Japan and Germany well past a year after the “end of hostilities.”
But the vast majority of the country– IMO and the opinions of those I’ve spoken to– has calmed down dramatically and is now going about the unglamorous task of Fixing It All. People here are going to Basra and trying to start up small businesses. One guy I was supposed to meet last week had already returned to Baghdad to start up his business and be with his family…
Again, feel free to share 🙂 Just one view, of course, but I’m surprised how much the last one resonated around the net.