NYT’s lazy, content-free reporting on Algeria

Today’s New York Times carried an article reported from the Algerian capital, Algiers, by staff reporter Aida Alami. What a waste of a reporting opportunity! This was the first time an NYT correspondent had been writing from inside this important North African country for a long time. Previous NYT pieces about Algeria were one on March 1 on some serious antifracking protests in the south, reported by Carlotta Gall from who knows where (no dateline given, and no sourcing for what she wrote, either); and an AP story from last December 20 about Algeria feeling the effects of the oil price collapse… So clearly, for Ms. Alami to get into Algeria was a major opportunity for some good, well-informed, on-the-ground reporting.

She flubbed it.

Her article is headlined “In Algeria, Entrepreneurs Hope Falling Oil Prices Will Spur Innovation”. It consists almost entirely of interviews with two Algerian guys aged 30 and 38 who founded a PR company in the capital, Algiers, and recently (last February) organized a conference on “innovation” and “success”, under the rubric “Fikra” (Thought). The other named source is someone described as a senior analyst at the political-risk research firm Eurasia; but his location is not disclosed, so it’s likely that Alami spoke to him outside Algeria.

Does Ms. Alami provide us with any flavor of what life is like in today’s Algiers? None at all! As it happens, I was in the country for most of this past week, and in Algiers itself for most of that period. I could tell you about the bustling downtown pedestrian zones, the busy port operations, the stifling traffic jams, the tens of thousands of students at the capital city’s three massive universities, the construction zones (often completely Chinese-staffed and -run) all around the city, the bookstores and restaurants, the well-cleaned streets often with beautiful streetside plantings, etc etc. You get no sense of the city or the lives of its people whatsoever from Ms. Alami’s thin and ill-reported piece.

But the piece is far worse than actually ill-reported. It is massively misreported, including in the following ways:

(1) Ms. Alami writes:

Since [the] French colonial era ended in the early 1960s after a bloody war, Algeria has been relatively closed to the world culturally, politically and economically.

This is absolute nonsense– and is belied by the little bios she provides for the two entrepreneurs she talked to. Of one, she says he “travels between Nice, in France, where he has another company” (though she doesn’t name the other place where he travels between, I assume it’s Algiers.) Of the other, she says he was educated at King’s College, London…

One of the the things I did in Algeria this past week was attend an international conference of librarians, who came to the east-Algerian city of Constantine from many parts of the world. Now, it is true that a handful of foreign participants in our conference– as Ms. Alami also reported of February’s Fikra conference– did not get their visas in time to attend. But organizers of my conference said that at least one participant had been refused permission to come to Algeria by her employer, a major research institute in France… Go figure.

Culturally, Algeria has produced numerous fine writers renowned throughout (mainly) the French-speaking world; a unique, indigenous form of hip-hop-fusion music called rai that resounds throughout the whole Mediterranean, and further afield; and numerous world-class soccer players…

The Algerian economy is, as Ms. Alami notes, fueled in a major way by exports of hydrocarbons. This is not at all a country that is “closed to the world economically”!

Plus, the way she writes that sentence makes it seem as if, under French colonial rule, everyone in the country had full and wonderful access to the world outside. Totally not true. French colonial rule, like colonial rule everywhere in the world, involved the maintenance of heavy restrictions on the ability of the indigenous people to maintain relations with the rest of the world– or even, under France’s notorious system of “quadrillage“, with compatriots in other districts.

Now, it is true that the rulers of the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria have had no incentive or desire to embrace integration with the neoliberal, US-led wing of the world economy. But that doesn’t mean it is isolated from the rest of it, at all. (And actually, I believe a lot of Algeria’s natural-gas exports are shipped to the U.S.; plus, a lot of U.S. firms are involved in various hydrocarbon exploration and extraction operations throughout the country– including Halliburton, which was doing the highly contested fracking there.)

(2) Since Ms. Alami’s visit to Algeria is/was such a rarity in the NYT’s reporting, she also definitely owes it to readers to try to describe the country’s tough geostrategic and geopolitical position more fully.

She writes:

The political system has been dominated since independence by one party, the National Liberation Front, while the economy has been choked by cronyism, insider dealing and anticompetitive regulations.

Algeria had its version of the Arab Spring in the 1980s amid another collapse in oil prices. In 1991, the army canceled elections after an initial round was won by Islamists, sparking a decade of civil war and terrorism that killed tens of thousands. Then, military leaders imposed a state of emergency that was lifted only in 2011.

What she does not write is that Algeria, population nearly 40 million, has two deeply troubled neighbors with whom it shares very long, hard-to-police borders. These are Libya and Mali. (A map should have been provided, to show this.) Given the proliferation of terrifyingly well-armed, extreme-Islamist militias in both those countries, today’s Algeria is in a very tough position indeed.

Add to that the fact that the country’s ageing, military-backed President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, is apparently in a very vulnerable (and not clearly known) health situation with no clear mechanism in sight for organizing a succession… and the country’s politics actually seem much, much more important than the issue Ms. Alami chose to write about: whether two young-ish Algerian entrepreneurs are able to make a go of their PR company or not.

Back in early 2011, Algeria was just one of the many African Union countries that argued strongly against NATO’s use of any force against Libya. In the days leading up to the highly ill-advised NATO bombing of Libya, an African Union mission was actually in Libya, trying desperately to mediate a ceasefire between Col. Qadhafi and the Libyan opposition forces. But France, Britain, and their friends in the Obama White House were determined to go ahead with their bombing of Qadhafi’s forces, which they carried out under the (oh-so-mendaciously misapplied) excuse of a “humanitarian” intervention… And we have all seen what has become of Libya since then.

So nobody in the “west” listened to the anti-war arguments being made by the African Union governments, back in 2011. Today, now that Algeria is de facto and in practice a strong bulwark against any further spread of Al Qaeda and its affiliates in the region, people in the “west” should certainly be eager to learn a lot more about the country’s situation. This, they won’t do by reading silly, inconsequential, and unthinkingly orientialist reporting like that of Ms. Alami.

Algiers bookstore  Algiers Bay

Jodi does Jerusalem (NYT Sept 17, 2014)

The NYT’s Jodi Rudoren was writing about East Jerusalem on Sept. 17th. There was some interesting and useful information buried down deep in the article. In particular, she described the Israelis’ use of “skunk water” against civilian areas in E. Jerusalem for her readers and included snippets from a couple of interesting interviews with community leaders from E. Jerusalem’s seriously embattled– and extremely vulnerable– Palestinian community.

But the value of the piece was very badly marred by the whole frame she gave it, particularly in its top half. Here are the details:

 LocationMs. Rudoren writesHC comments
1Headline and framing"Unrest by Palestinians Surges in a Jerusalem Neighborhood"OK, the headline is chosen by the editors, not the reporter. Still, it reflects the general framing of the piece which is focused on the "unrest", rather than its causes.
2Para 4 (the casualty count), pt. 1" Some 727 people have been arrested, 260 of them under 18, for throwing rocks and other actions in near-daily demonstrations that were met with increased force."727 "people", nationality unidentified, have been arrested for "throwing rocks and other actions" (also unidentified.) I suspect that many of these "other actions" were nonviolent ones. Also, of course, many people are arrested on the basis of no infraction of the law. But no, Jodi R just goes with the police claims that, if someone was arrested, then he or she must have been doing something wrong. Tarek Abu Khdeir, anyone? Also of note: during the 1st Intifada, the Israeli hasbarists made a point of always describing the geological fragments as "rocks" rather than "stones". Why does she follow this?
3Para 4 (the casualty count), pt. 2"More than 100 police officers have been injured and 15-year-old Mohamed Sinokrot was killed by what a Palestinian doctor determined in an autopsy was a sponge-covered police bullet that hit his head."Here, we have "more than 100" police officers having been injured-- seriousness of injury not defined-- apparently being placed there to "balance" the 15-year-old Palestinian who was killed by the police. But how about the numbers of Palestinians injured-- why no mention of them? Also, let's hear how seriously these 100 Israeli police were "injured"... Finally, what on earth is a "sponge-covered police bullet"? Tell us, please, *what is the material in the bullet that is covered by the "sponge"*? Frankly, I've never heard of a sponge-covered bullet before. I've heard many times of the "rubber-coated metal bullets" that the Israeli military use, as reported by all the human-rights organizations.
4Para 5 (political explanations begin)"“I see the third intifada started already,” said Jawad Siyam, director of the Wadi Eilweh Information Center, which tracks demonstrations and arrests, using the Arabic shorthand for the waves of violence that plagued Israel in the late 1980s and early 2000s. “We said from the very beginning: It will stop in Gaza but it will continue in East Jerusalem.”"Where to start with this? "Intifada" is not some sinister "Arabic shorthand for... waves of violence". Intifada is the Arabic word for an uprising (or, more literally, a "shaking-off".) The 1st intifada (1987-93) was almost wholly nonviolent from the Palestinian side-- and the 2nd intifada (2000-2002) started off that way. No, Ms. Rudoren, "intifada" is not "shorthand" for anything-- and certainly for "waves of violence."
5Para 6 (more politics)"East Jerusalem is as much a concept as it is a specific location. Palestinians claim it as their future capital. Israel captured it from Jordan, along with the West Bank, in 1967, and later annexed some 27 square miles that include about a dozen hilly Palestinian enclaves, and a similar number of Jewish areas that most of the world regards as illegal settlements."That first sentence is a classic evasion! It is also, quite simply, untrue. East Jerusalem is definitely recognizable as a specific location: It is the whole part of Jerusalem that came under Israel's military occupation in June 1967 and has been under occupation ever since. Of course, Ms. R hates to use the "O" word! Hence, when describing how E.Jerusalem came under Israeli control in 1967, she does not say-- as would be absolutely the case-- that the IDF "occupied" it in the course of the hostilities, but rather that the IDF "captured" it. (American children have a game called "capture the flag" that is energetic and a lot of good fun. I imagine her use of "capture" in this context is intended to convey the same kinds of feelings.)

No word from her, of course, that Israel's unilateral act of Anschluss of an expanded area of E. Jerusalem in 1968 was *completely illegal* under international law. The verbal contortions she uses to describe "hilly Palestinian enclaves" and "Jewish areas that most of the world [but not, apparently Ms. Rudoren or her bosses?] regards as illegal settlements" are amazing and notable...
6Para 7, meet the Jerusalem Palestinians..."More than 300,000 of Jerusalem’s 830,000 residents are Palestinians. They are not citizens, but get social-welfare benefits from Israel and travel fairly freely... "Oh, they are so lucky to "get" social-welfare benefits. (Irony alert.) Nothing about how they also have to pay into the social-welfare funds and pay extremely high Israeli taxes, including the arnona, in return for which the municipal services they receive are derisory.
7Para 7, more about those whiny Palestinians"they have complained for years about shortchanged services, including a severe lack of classrooms and slow garbage pickup."Come on, Jodi Don't just tell us that the whiny Jerusalem Palestinians *complain* about the disproportionately poor level of services they receive in return for their tax payments. Tell us the *facts*, as well documented by numerous Israeli and other organizations about the deeply institutionalized discrimination in terms of classroom size, spending per pupil, per-capita spending on trash services etc that exists as between Jerusalem's Palestinian and Jewish residents...
8Para 9"Yossi Klein Halevi, a skullcap-wearing Jew who lives in the area called French Hill, which overlooks Issawiya, said he noticed a woman in a Muslim head scarf eyeing him nervously during a recent evening walk. Then he realized that he himself tensed up as a car filled with young Palestinian men passed... "First of all, French Hill is not just "an area". It is an illegal settlement-- one of the first to be built in occupied E. Jerusalem. Please tell us this, Ms. Rudoren. Secondly, Yossi Klein Halevi is not just "a skullcap wearing Jew" who happens to live in French Hill. He is one of the numerous Israeli settlers in the occupied territories who was born in the United States and made a deliberate decision to become a settler. And he happens to be a Contributing Editor for The New Republic, a largely neocon American publication. It is the height of laziness for a journo to write about another journo (and another American journo, at that), as though said individual is just a random vox pop...

WaPo’s biased reporting on Gaza, part 3

You have to ask if any of the WaPo reporters now covering the Gaza-Israel conflict remembers how to do basic, objective reporting of a news story. Anyway, the editors who allow such biased reporting to appear, and who insert the often stupid headlines, also have to take much of the blame.

Our main lesson today comes from this piece in today’s paper, bylined by William Booth from Gaza City. The headline is, “After overnight invasion, ‘we now have Israelis in our houses,’ a Gazan says.”

What I want to note, regarding this piece and another that ran beside it, bylined by Booth and two other, from “Jerusalem”, are some of the ways in which the reporting of speech acts can carry a heavy freight of meaning and implication that is quite inappropriate in a news article. Yes, Journalism 101, but it seems Booth and his colleagues need some reminding of this.

A speech act: Someone speaks. How to report it? “She said” or “he said” is nearly always the most straightforward and honest.

Or, you could alter that verb, depending on the way the person made the utterance: “She yelled”, “she whispered”, “she muttered”, “she screeched”… Be careful with these, though because some of them, depending on the context, carry some freight of judgment/implication.

Then, there are speech-reporting verbs that clearly carry the weight of the reporter’s judgment of the speaker. As here, where Booth writes about Hamas politician Musheer Al Masri that, “Masri boasted that Hamas cadres have fired Kornet anti-tank guided missiles… ” Oh! So because the guy is from Hamas, Booth feels it’s quite okay to portray him as some kind of boastful blowhard? Why didn’t he write that “Masri said…”, or possibly “Masri claimed…”? (But “claimed” carries some implication of the writer’s doubt as to the veracity of the claim. “Said” is nearly always better.)

If we’re into describing politicians as “boasting”, how about we use it for many of the extremely blowhard comments made by Netanyahu? But no. The WaPo/CraPo wouldn’t do that, would it?

And in the very next para, we have an even more brazen attempt to use slanted reporting of a speech act to demean a Hamas person . Booth writes,

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, standing in front of Shifa Hospital, where members of the Islamist militant movement gather to brief — and spin — the media, said…

Oh my goodness! He feels the need to remind his readers that every so often it is possible that officials who are “briefing” the media are also trying to “spin” them? When will we see this reminder inserted into reporting of a media briefing from a US or Israeli official? In the WaPo/CraPo, probably never.

The other piece— to which Booth contributed, along with lead byliner Sudarsan Raghavan and rookie local hire Ruth Eglash– is much more consistent in its use of “saids”. Actually, there are a lot of “saids” in it, since the piece is nearly wholly a compilation of media briefings issued by various bodies (primarily, “the Israeli military”, which is kind of weird; shouldn’t they write “the IDF Spokesman”?) Because of its reliance on official briefings– spinnings?– this piece could have been “reported” from just about anywhere, including the couch in my basement.

But as you get lower down in this story, there is one intriguing use of a speech-act-reporting word other than “said”, and a little sentence that baldly carries a “potent” judgment that is completely out of place in a piece of news reporting.

The speech-act-reporting word in question is “acknowledged”, as in “Netanyahu also acknowledged that ‘there is no guarantee of 100 percent success’ in the push to destroy the tunnels.” “Acknowledged” is one of the SARW’s that conveys the writer’s judgment not of the author of the speech act in question but of the truth value of the proposition contained in the speech act. (Other SARW’s that do this include “realized that”, “understood that”, and so on.)

In the context there, the WaPo writers’ use of “acknowledged” conveys that they think that what Netanyahu was saying at that point was true and reasonable. As it happens, I agree with that judgment (but not the possible further implication, that Netanyahu is altogether pretty “reasonable”– unlike that boastful braggart over at Hamas!) But my agreeing with the judgment is not the point. That kind of judgment should not be in a news article. Rather than “acknowledged”, the writers should have used “said”– or, in this context, “added”. Keep it neutral, guys!

But there, at the end of the next paragraph, we have an amazing piece of (pro-Israeli) judgment:

An expansion of the ground offensive, military analysts said, could entail a broadening of the mission to seek and destroy rocket launchers, weapons infrastructure and storage facilities, and perhaps even eliminate key Hamas commanders and officials. Even as Israel has relentlessly bombarded Gaza, Hamas militants have succeeded in firing hundreds of rockets into southern and central Israel, rattling Israelis. As long as the militants possess rockets and tunnels, they remain a potent threat to Israel.

That latter judgment is something they (or I) could write in an op-ed– or, if these news reporters heard a military analyst say it, they could report that. But no. It is presented as, quite simply and baldly, their own judgment. I wonder if they’d claim that, because the first of the three sentences there included an attribution of some technical-military judgments to (completely unidentified) “military analysts”, then that attribution should somehow carry over to the third of the sentences? But I don’t think so, since the second sentence seems to include (gasp!) a tiny shadow of their own reporting.

So wow. A “potent threat to Israel”. That is scary, no? No wonder we Americans should all be expected to line up like zombies and support each and any action the Israeli military might take to defuse that threat…

Um, a bit of neutrality, please, WaPo reporters? If you are going to do some actual reporting on the threat perceptions that people involved in this conflict have (though that is not what you’re doing here), then surely we should have some mention of the threat perceptions of the 1.8 million Palestinians of Gaza, the vast majority of whom are civilians.

I shall not hold my breath.

One last question I have is whether William Booth, now described as “The Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief”, though just a few days ago he was in London, speaks enough Arabic to do his own on-the-ground reporting. If not, then the “native informant” colleague who actually helped him do the reporting should have been given the byline, or at least a co-byline, on the Gaza-datelined piece. In the Jerusalem-datelined piece, no “local informants” are identified either– except Ruth Eglash, who is given a tagline at the bottom of truly grandiose length. So we’re told there that she previously worked as a “senior editor at The Jerusalem Post.” And that is supposed to burnish her journalistic credentials??

The WaPo’s intrepid Ruth Eglash, Part 2

Here she goes again...
WhereWhat she wroteHC analysis
Headline"In Jerusalem neighborhood, an unlikely center of Palestinian grievance"At least, we have the P-word here, not the obfuscating "Arab". But the whole tone & framing of this headline makes a possibly distracting attempt to be some kind of "sociological", as opposed to political analysis. Okay, let's see how it goes...
Byline/dateline"By Ruth Eglash, Sufian Taha, and Griff Witte, July 5 at 6:18 PM/ JERUSALEM--Well, at the foot, we're told that Griff Witte is still "reporting" from London. But no content here is sourced from anywhere close to London. So the WaPo high-ups are evidently still having cub reporter R. Eglash closely supervised by co-bylined Griff, from London. Was it his idea, or hers, to have local informant "Sufian Taha" elevated to the byline from his previous footnote? Maybe my earlier analysis had some effect in this regard?
Lede"Like many residents of the prosperous East Jerusalem neighborhood of ­Shuafat, Waleed Abu Khieder lives a life in two cultures: His neighbors are predominantly Arab, but his boss and customers at a popular West Jerusalem bakery are Jewish./ It’s a dualism that has worked for years. But in recent days, the delicate balance has fallen apart."Eglash and her editors are *still* intent on wilfully mis-spelling this family's name... But notice the classic colonialist-style framing here: that the poor, benighted Palestinians of Jerusalem would have had no economic opportunities were it not for the beneficent Jewish (Israeli) companies that provide them with jobs. No word from Eglash here about Israel's long-running, deliberate suppression of the Palestinians' own indigenous economic opportunities. Instead we're led to think, why, how very "kind" of Israel to give them jobs, eh!
Para 3"Since three Israeli teens were kidnapped and murdered last month, the 51-year-old Palestinian said he has been attacked several times by Israeli extremists wielding pepper spray and eggs."She is saying that this one Palestinian resident of Israeli-occupied E. Jerusalem has been attacked by "Israeli extremists". But maybe she could have inserted a sentence or two here noting (1) how widespread this phenomenon has been over the past few days, and (2) the role that avowals of the need for "revenge" from PM Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders have played in inciting such violence? Or no, maybe better to keep it as one man's story here?
Para 4"Then on Wednesday, his nephew disappeared before dawn. The charred body of 16-year-old Mohammad Abu Khieder was later found in Jerusalem Forest, and Shuafat was instantly transformed from a quiet middle-class community to the newest focal point for decades of Palestinian grievance."She is obstinately still refusing to correct the spelling of the family's name. (Oh well, they're "only" Palestinians, what the heck, Ruth?) Equally interesting, though, is her apparently having bought into the longstanding Zionist idea that if you can only give Palestinians enough economic opportunity, then they'll forget about all their nationalist/political rights and claims. But oh dear, Ruthie, this theory doesn't seem to have worked out too well in Shuafat, eh? Time for a rethink?
Para 5"In many ways, Shuafat is an unlikely venue for protests that many fear could herald a new intifada, or mass uprising, against the Israeli occupation. Unlike the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, where Israelis and Palestinians rarely, if ever, interact, the Palestinian residents of Shuafat have regular contact with Jews living on both sides of the invisible line dividing this city between east and west. Many Palestinian residents go to work across town, in the city’s largely Jewish west, and Hebrew is still widely understood in Shuafat... ""Unlike the West Bank and Gaza"?? What on earth is she saying here? In truth, Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem is not only *part of * the West Bank but actually *the natural capital of the whole region*. Just because Israel unilaterally (and quite illegally) annexed an expanded version of occupied E. Jerusalem in 1968 and declared it "part of Israel", does not mean that the WaPo or anyone else should thinks that E. Jerusalem is in any way "separate from" the rest of the West Bank. Or, gasp, do Eglash, Witte, and the WaPo think that Israel's act of annexation is actually quite okay? ... Then, we have this intriguing reference: "Hebrew is still widely understood in Shuafat" What on earth does that "still" mean? In what previous period was Israel's intentionally reconstructed language, Hebrew, "widely understood" in Shuafat"? It is so unclear what she's trying to say here. In truth, Palestinians in E. Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank probably, on average, have a far stronger grasp of Hebrew, after 47 years of living under the IDF's military jackboot, than Jewish Israelis have of Arabic, which by and large they deride as inferior. (Given the evidence, Ms. Eglash shares this disdain.)
Para 6"On Saturday, protests spread to several predominantly Arab towns in northern Israel — other places where cross-cultural interaction has continued through decades of conflict. The demonstrations included one in Nazareth, the largest majority-Arab city in Israel."Fascinating! Note the abrupt segue from talking about "Palestinians" previously, including in E. Jerusalem, to talking about "Arabs" here. An unwary reader might think we're talking about two different kinds of people, there, no?
Para 7"The outpouring of anger in Arab areas that remain deeply intertwined in the fabric of Israel could be a worrying development for Israeli officials because those places are far more difficult to isolate than Gaza and the West Bank, both of which are effectively walled off. Arabs make up about 20 percent of Israel’s overall population, and they represent about a third of the residents of Jerusalem."If you read this carefully, it's clear that she's saying that (East) Jerusalem is one of the "Arab areas that remain deeply intertwined in the fabric of Israel". The "Arabs", she's telling us, not only make up 20 percent of Israel's population but they also "represent about a third of the residents of Jerusalem". In truth, West Jerusalem, which has been controlled by Israel since 1948, is one of the most thoroughly and completely ethnically cleansed areas of the whole of 1948 Israel. The numerous, lovely, "Arab-style" stone homes that are still found there were all forcibly emptied of their Palestinian builders and residents in the fighting of 1948. So the "Arabs" in what Israel today defines as "Jerusalem" are nearly all non-Israeli Palestinians living in occupied East Jerusalem. Eglash could and should spell this out. These are residents of an occupied Palestinian territory. They are not random Arab "residents" of an area that anyone (apart from, I think, Palau and Micronesia) recognizes to be actually a part of Israel.
Para 11"Palestinians in Shuafat are convinced convinced that Mohammad Abu Khieder was killed in a revenge attack perpetrated by extremist Jews. And they say it’s not the only attack they have faced. "Ah. By now, the people previously described as "Arabs" are being identified as "Palestinians". And finally, we're told that other E. Jerusalem Palestinians have also been subjected to attacks, not just (as in Para 3) Waleed Abu "Khieder".
Para 17"After speaking with Israeli Arab leaders Saturday, Israeli President Shimon Peres called for calm... "Oh come on. Peres has zero constitutional power and (being one of the architects of Israeli nuclear-weapons program and the prime architect of the mega-lethal 1996 Israeli assault on Lebanon), zero credibility as a "peacemaker" with anyone except a few gullible US politicians. Why trot him out here, rather than noting, for example, the failure of the Israeli police to reveal any details at all about the "investigation" they're allegedly undertaking, into Muhammed Abu Khdeir's gruesome killing?
Para 18"... rocket fire from Gazan militants continued unabated Saturday. The Israeli military reported that 20 rockets had been fired Saturday toward Israel and that 135 had been launched since the three Israeli teens were abducted. Israel has responded to many of the attacks with airstrikes."Whoa, here it is again! Those unstoppably "violent" Palestinians in Gaza have been launching rocket attacks against Israel, for no reason except that, you know, they are congenitally "violent"... and there is the worthy IDF merely "responding" to those attacks. Give me a break, Ruthie. Really.
Para 20"'I think what is happening now is that the failure of the peace negotiations has left a vacuum that is unfortunately filled with other kinds of activities,' said Ghassan Khatib, a lecturer at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank. 'Add to this the Israeli occupation, expansion of Israeli settlements and violence against Palestinians by settlers — it all leads to a very frustrated Palestinian society.'"It is good that Eglash gives us this context-rich quote from a respected Palestinian political figure-- even if she and her editors place it extremely low in the piece. But Khatib is not just "a lecturer at Bir Zeit". He is also a former (perhaps current? I forget) "minister" in the PA government. He's a significant political figure, and should be identified as such. Ah, but what would Ruth Eglash and the waPo know or care about such things?
Para 21"Revenge is on the minds of many in once-tranquil Shuafat... "Evidence for this?? Oh, but who needs evidence, when don't we all know that (see above) Palestinians are just, you know, inescapably "violent", with or without cause. QED.

WaPo and its rookie Jerusalem reporter Ruth Eglash, assessed

The waPo's apparently very rookie stringer Ruth Eglash has been doing a terrible job covering the tensions in Israel/Palestine. Let's take a look at her latest offering...
 Eglash/WaPoHC comments
Headline"Clashes in Jerusalem as Arab teen is buried, rocket fire continues"Ok, strictly speaking the headline is not the journo's fault. But here, why is the murdered teen referred to as "Arab" not "Palestinian"-- only space reasons? Also, regarding violence elsewhere why is only the (presumably Palestinian) rocket fire against Israel mentioned but not Israel's many continuing acts of violence against Gaza, Hebron, etc
Byline/dateline By Ruth Eglash and Griff Witte July 4 at 12:14 PM

... but at the bottom we are told: "Witte reported from London. Sufian Taha in Jerusalem, Islam Abdul-Kareem in Gaza City and Daniela Deane in London contributed to this report./ Griff Witte is The Post’s London bureau chief." Very strange. Clearly he or someone else in the WaPo bureaucracy realized Eglash's earlier reporting was weak in the extreme, so he stepped in -- from London-- and did a rewrite major enough for him to get a co-byline, though the dateline is still Jerusalem. But what about "Sufian Taha in Jerusalem, Islam Abdul-Kareem in Gaza City"? They still are relegated to the "native informants" footnote.
Lede"Israeli security forces clashed with Palestinian demonstrators in east Jerusalem on Friday after the burial of an Arab teenager who was killed in a suspected revenge attack following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli students."Here, as in many of RE's earlier pieces, we have intense Palestinian/Arab confusion for an unsuspecting reader...
Para 2"Young Palestinian protesters threw rocks at Israeli police and were met with stun grenades after the body of Mohammed Abu Khieder was borne through the streets and buried in the Shuafat neighborhood of east Jerusalem."Yet again, Ms. Eglash has mis-spelled the young man's name. Do she and her editors have no respect for his family? This is even more bizarre because the caption for the WePo's own photo, shown above, spells/transliterates his family name much more accurately, as "Abu Khadeir"-- and RE's name is on that caption! Why is her/their attitude so ignorant and uncaring?
Paras 6/7"The clash came hours after militants in the Gaza Strip fired four rockets and two mortars into southern Israel and a day after Israel mobilized troops to border areas near Gaza. Israeli officials said the deployments were ordered as a defensive measure after dozens of rockets were fired from Gaza, which is ruled by the Islamist militant group Hamas./ The Israeli military did not immediately retaliate for Friday’s attacks but said that it responded Wednesday and Thursday with airstrikes on 16 Hamas targets in the strip, including rocket-launching sites and weapons warehouses."Here, as so often in the MSM, Israel's acts of violence are all referred to as "responding to" some antecedent act by the Palestinians. But Palestinian acts of violence are never referred to as "responding to" anything-- heaven forbid they should be described as a response to Israel's many acts of far, far more lethal physical violence, or to 47 straight years of foreign military occupation, many decades of national dispossession, uprooting, family separation, mass incarceration, military rule, etc etc... Oh no, in the Western MSM, violence in Palestine/Israel is always portrayed as as originating with the Palestinians, because, you know, well they just *are* violent by nature... (Or something.)
Paras 9/10"The BBC quoted an unnamed Hamas official Friday saying that a new cease-fire could go into effect shortly, but there was no immediate confirmation./An Israeli military spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said the troop mobilization did not signal an intent by Israel... " So right, they have a sub-stringer or native informant or whatever who is identified as being located in Gaza. Why couldn't "Islam Abdul-Kareem in Gaza City" get a quote from Hamas-- heck, why couldn't Ruth Eglash herself pick up the phone from Al-Quds and call a Hamas spokesman in Gaza? I suppose that "no immediate confirmation" could mean they tried to? But evidently not hard enough...
Para 12"Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for Hamas’s armed wing, the Izze­dine al-Qassam Brigades, accused Israel of breaching the cease-fire and said Hamas was prepared to fight if Israel launched a military assault on Gaza.Well, at least they got and used a quote from a spox for the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades (i.e., not the political wing of Hamas.)
Para 15"The cross-border fire and blame came as the family of the slain 16-year-old Khieder were preparing for his funeral... "So ignorant and uncaring! The family name is Abu Khadeir (or Abu Khudair). Here, they not only mangle the Khadeir part, they also quite incorrectly drop the Abu part.
Para 19"... residents of Shuafat — the neighborhood in east Jerusalem where the Arab teen lived and where he was abducted — insisted that Jewish settlers were behind the grisly killing.... "Continuing Palestinian/Arab confusion here-- and no particular space constraints to excuse it. This may well be because Ms. Eglash herself, like many longtime sympathizers of Israel-- or is she actually Israeli?-- is confused about the status of Jerusalem. Israelis like to claim that all of Jerusalem is theirs-- indeed, their government (quite illegally) annexed the occupied Eastern part of the city in 1968. So from a mainstream Israeli point of view, the ethnically Arab residents of occupied East Jerusalem would be judged to have a status sort of like the Palestinian citizens of Israel, whom Israelis love to refer to as "Arab Israelis or Israeli Arabs"-- no P-word for them! Of course, there are many Israelis on the right who reject the use of the P-word completely, including for residents of the rest of the occupied West Bank, and Gaza. But Ms. Eglash and her editors get themselves tied up into knots on this issue. Repeatedly. One handy and respectful rule-of-thumb in such naming dilemmas: Ask the people themselves how they like to be identified!
Para 23"Israel blames Hamas for the killings, and Netanyahu has vowed that it will “pay.” The Sunni Islamist group, which Israel, the United States and the European Union have labeled a terrorist organization, has denied involvement in the deaths of the Israeli teenagers."Not worth mentioning that Netanyahu has not presented a single shred of evidence to back up his accusation, Ms. Eglash?
Para 25"With tempers running at fever pitch, incitement and racism have been rampant on Israeli social media. In response, Israeli police said they were launching an investigation into Israeli calls for revenge against Arabs, Israel Radio reported."Oh my goodness. This was in yesterday's paper, and is being endlessly recycled at the WaPo. In the meantime, many other media including even the NYT have reported that four members of an IDF Nahal Unit have actually already been disciplined because of the inciteful nature of their facebook postings. But Ms. Eglash doesn't want to do any reporting at all of her own on this matter-- surely she could just spend a bit of time on Hebrew-language social media or have one of her many helpers do that-- and do her own reporting on it? Instead of which, she and her editors just cite, in very vague terms, an already vague, days-old report from Israel Radio. Lazy or ignorant-- or trying to cover up the extent of the racist/genocidal incitement in Israeli society these days? You choose...

Pro-Israeli discourse suppressors desperately try to rebuild their Bar-Lev Line!

It is almost amusing to see the lengths to which the pro-Israeli discourse suppressors here in the United States have been going to try to rebuild the long-crumbled “Bar-Lev Line” with which, over decades past, they sought to protect Israel from being the subject of any free, fair, and fact-based discussion.
The ADL–yes, folks, that is supposed to be the Anti Defamation League– recently described me on their website as “an anti-Israel writer, publisher and the former executive director of the Council for the National Interest, an organization that regularly sends delegations of its supporters to meet with Hamas and Hezbollah representatives in the Middle East… ” How’s that again?
Never mind that in a career spanning 38 years, I spent precisely four months working for CNI… or that, on the one CNI trip I helped organize we spent a lot of time with Israelis of a variety of viewpoints, and even made a special visit to the Knesset… Or that in the course of my career I have extensively interviewed Israeli government ministers, military leaders, and analysts (as the folks from the ‘Anti’-Defamation League might know if they ever, er, actually read any of the many books and articles I have written… )
No, instead of doing any research that might involve, you know, actual facts, they just jumped on this rather seedy (but no doubt well-funded) little defamation bandwagon that a bunch of scared “Israel-right-or-wrong” types have been gunning up…
And they recycle an extremely tired (and fallacious) little piece of defamation that appeared somewhere else not long ago, which completely mischaracterized some thing I said at Georgetown University in late January 2009.
Actually, my own contemporaneous (or very near to contemporaneous) account of that incident can be read on this JWN post, that I published on January 25, 2009.
Here is just the beginning of that blog post:

    One notable thing that happened at our panel discussion on Gaza, at Georgetown University Thursday night, was that a young Israeli student directed a question at me asking why I had said that “all Israelis are stupid”– and also asserting that her country had had “no choice” but to launch the war on Gaza.
    I replied that I had never said “all Israelis” are stupid– though I had certainly pointed out the counter-productive nature, from every point of view, of the decision her country’s government had made to launch the most recent war; and I’d pointed out too, with some sadness, that that decision seemed to have received high levels of support from Jewish Israelis.
    But certainly not from all of them– as I had also pointed out in my main presentation.
    What I’d referred to specifically was this extremely insightful (and courageous) article, published on December 31 in the WaPo by a Jewish Israeli social-work lecturer called Julia Chaitin. Chaitin, by the way, lives in southern Israel so has a deep understanding of the concerns and fears of the people who live there…

So now, this accusation that I had “said that all Israelis are stupid” seems to have gotten a second and third life. With zero evidence being presented by those who make this accusation… Because there is none. Because I never said what they claimed I said! But evidently, that young Israeli woman in question (the original mischaracterizer) must have rushed around spreading her version of what happened… and now, with zero evidence at all, the ‘Anti’-Defamation League and others like these folks (PDF) at “Jewish Philly”, or this “stevebronfman”, have just been echo-chambering this nasty smear all around.
They are truly pathetic. People: You don’t control the discourse any more because in the era of the intertubes you can’t control the discourse any more! Deal with it. Palestinians– like Iraqis, Lebanese people, Syrians, Egyptians, Israelis and everyone on God’s earth, today get to speak about truth of their situations without the heavy hand of the Zionist discourse-suppression organizations (‘Camera’, ‘Flame’, ‘Stand With Us’, etc) being able to suffocate us.
You know, for six years after the Israeli military swept into and occupied the whole of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in 1967, the generals (okay, most of them, but not Gen Matti Peled, as his son Miko reminds us in his great upcoming memoir) thought their control of Sinai was assured by the defensive line of forts, ramparts, and fortifications they had thrown up along the Suez Canal… That was the “Bar-Lev Line”… And imagining themselves quite secure behind it they started building (quite illegally, as always) settlements in different spots in the large Sinai Peninsula…
But in October 1973, it took the Egyptian military just a few hours to fatally breach the Bar-Lev Line in a number of places. This, from Wikipedia today:

    Within the first hour of the war, the Egyptian engineering corps tackled the sand barrier. Seventy engineer groups, each one responsible for opening a single passage, worked from wooden boats. With hoses attached to water pumps, they began attacking the sand obstacle. Many breaches occurred within two to three hours of the onset of operations — according to schedule; engineers at several places, however, experienced unexpected problems… The Third Army, in particular, had difficulty in its sector. There, the clay proved resistant to high-water pressure and, consequently, the engineers experienced delays in their breaching. Engineers in the Second Army completed the erection of their bridges and ferries within nine hours, whereas Third Army needed more than sixteen hours…

So maybe the big BDS conference that I’m participating in, in Philadelphia this weekend, won’t be quite as dramatic as the 1973 war… In many respects, the ramparts of the Zionist discourse-suppression machine have all been weakened and breached repeatedly over the past 10-15 years. Thanks to the intertubes…
And here’s a big shoutout to MuzzleWatch, Mondoweiss, Max Blumenthal, and everyone else who’s made a big difference in all of this!
But over there at the ‘Anti’-Defamation League and in those other discourse suppression networks, I guess leaders and staffers have their own (highly inflated) salaries they need to justify, and fundraising appeals they need to crank up… So there they go, desperately trying to heap more sand into the breaches and recreate the Maginot Line Bar Lev Line of their imagined security.
As I said, the sight would almost be amusing… if it did not also involve a prolongation of this illegally lengthy Israeli occupation of Palestine with all the desperate human suffering that involves.

The use of web-based disinformation by the ‘west’

Patrick Cockburn has an extremely important piece at the Independent today, in which he takes to task the major organs of the ‘western’ media– including, crucially, today’s Al-Jazeera– for the extremely uncritical and often openly inflammatory use they make of unsubstantiated or highly exaggerated “news reports” coming out of, in particular, Syria and Iran.
He writes,

    Governments that exclude foreign journalists at times of crisis such as Iran and (until the last week) Syria, create a vacuum of information easily filled by their enemies. These are far better equipped to provide their own version of events than they used to be before the development of mobile phones, satellite television and the internet. State monopolies of information can no longer be maintained. But simply because the opposition to the Syrian and Iranian governments have taken over the news agenda does not mean that what they say is true.
    Early last year I met some Iranian stringers for Western publications in Tehran whose press credentials had been temporarily suspended by the authorities. I said this must be frustrating them, but they replied that even if they could file stories – saying nothing much was happening – they would not be believed by their editors. These had been convinced by exile groups, using blogs and carefully selected YouTube footage, that Tehran was visibly seething with discontent. If the local reporters said that this was a gross exaggeration, their employers would suspect that had been intimidated or bought off by Iranian security.
    … [T]echnical advances have made it more difficult for governments to hide repression. But these developments have also made the work of the propagandist easier. Of course, people who run newspapers and radio and television stations are not fools. They know the dubious nature of much of the information they are conveying. The political elite in Washington and Europe was divided for and against the US invasion of Iraq, making it easier for individual journalists to dissent. But today there is an overwhelming consensus in the foreign media that the rebels are right and existing governments wrong. For institutions such as the BBC, highly unbalanced coverage becomes acceptable.
    Sadly, al-Jazeera, which has done so much to shatter state control of information in the Middle East since it was set up in 1996, has become the uncritical propaganda arm of the Libyan and Syrian rebels.

Then he comes to the nub of why all this is important

    The Syrian opposition needs to give the impression that its insurrection is closer to success than it really is. The Syrian government has failed to crush the protesters, but they, in turn, are a long way from overthrowing it. The exiled leadership wants Western military intervention in its favour as happened in Libya, although conditions are very different.
    The purpose of manipulating the media coverage is to persuade the West and its Arab allies that conditions in Syria are approaching the point when they can repeat their success in Libya. Hence the fog of disinformation pumped out through the internet.

I completely agree with Patrick’s analysis on this point. As I agree, too, with As’ad Abou Khalil’s broad view of events in Syria that, though the government is highly repressive and often criminally stupid, in the ranks of the opposition there are also many very anti-democratic and violence-loving elements and others who are working hard to trigger a western intervention in the country. (Hence my judgment that if you want to follow what’s happening in and toward Syria, Asad’s Angry Arab blog is one of the very best, and best-informed, sources to do that.)
In my view, the Syrian opposition consists of a number of elements, some of them extremely contradictory with each other. There is a genuine, in-country network of activists who seek real democratic reform and who’re working for it using mass nonviolent organizing. But there are also all kinds of opportunistic networks piggybacking on that movement, most of them based in or directed from outside the country… Among them are the openly violence-using people of the Free Syria Army. And though some people in the exile-based Syrian National Council claim that the role of the FSA is merely to “station armed people around mass demonstrations in order to protect the demonstrations”, that has never been a tactic endorsed by any genuine nonviolent mass movement. Indeed it is tactic that’s almost guaranteed to escalate the situation and cause far more casualties among the unarmed than if only nonviolent moral suasion/reproach is brought to bear on the regime’s forces.
We should not kid ourselves by imagining that there is no opportunistic exploitation of the Syrian situation underway, being undertaken by a whole range of anti-Damascus forces– some sectarian (as in the case of Qatar or Saudi Arabia; also, quite possibly, Turkey), and some pro-Zionist, or anyway easily exploited by Syria’s longterm opponents in the Zionist movement in Israel and in the ‘west’.
So how do those many western ‘liberals’ who seem to be so deeply invested in supporting the Syrian ‘revolutionaries’ fit into this scheme? To me, this is another key part of the puzzle, along with the enlistment by the ‘revolutionaries’ of so much of the western media, as documented by Patrick Cockburn.
Okay, I understand that the Syrian government has a really lousy human rights record. I have worked long enough (38 years) in and on the affairs of the mashreq to understand that better than probably 95% of the people in the human rights movement who currently present themselves as “experts” on Syria. But is getting out there to advocate a “Libya-style” overthrow of the regime (i.e. with the aid of outside forces) really a good way to bring rights abuses to an end?
No it is not! Wars and civil conflicts everywhere and always involve a mass-scale assault on the rights of civilian residents of the war-zones, with the most vulnerable residents being the ones whose rights (including the right to life) get abused the worst.
That is everywhere and always the case. No exceptions. That is why I am always really dismayed and upset when I see rights activists who claim to understand what they are talking about taking actions that escalate the tensions toward outright civil conflict and war… Remember that in the case of most rights activists who live in comfortable, secure western countries: These people have never had direct experience of living in a war zone. They are bombarded (by the military-industrial complex) with arguments that modern warfare can be a “precision”, “surgical” business… and most recently, in Libya, we saw the emergence of the keffiyah-ed warrior racing through the sand as a figure of popular heroism and adulation. (Lawrence of Arabia, anyone?).
I have lived in a war zone. I lived in Lebanon from 1974 through 1981. In six of those years the country was plagued by civil war. I lived within Lebanese society, being married to a Lebanese citizen. I was not a “visiting fireman”, as many western journos were– parachuting in to stay a few days or weeks in a relatively comfortable hotel from time to time. Everyone involved in fighting the Lebanese civil war, from all the multiple “sides” that were engaged in it, was convinced of the justice of his (or sometimes her) cause. Each one was fighting what he knew to be a “just” war… But the war and its associated atrocities ground on and on and on.
Another thing the western rights activists too often forget: Mass-scale atrocities– as opposed to a rampage by a lone, psychotic gunman– are nearly always, or always, committed only in the context of an ongoing civil conflict or war. Conflicts provide the heightened degree of threat and the dehumanization of the opponent that are essential ingredients in the organized commission of atrocities. They also, in the past, provided plenty of the “fog of war” in which those acts can be shrouded.
Thus, if you want to avoid the commission of atrocities: avoid war! Do everything you can to explore and enlarge the space for de-escalation and the negotiated resolution of grievances!
It is true that modern communications technology makes the shrouding of atrocities much harder (though not impossible) to achieve. That is, obviously, a very good thing! But this same technology also enables the fighting parties of all sides to do much more than they could previously, to frame and disseminate their own “stories” of what’s happening… Rights activists in other countries need to be very aware that this is not only a possibility– it is actually happening. And in the case of Syria, in particular, these reports are being used to whip up western (and worldwide) support for a ‘western’-led military campaign aimed at bringing forced regime change to Syria.
Colonialists have, throughout history, always tried to cloak their campaigns of military intervention, domination, and control in the lingo of “rights”, “progress”, and liberalism. Even the Belgians and their supporters, when they entered Congo in the late 1800s to initiate an era of control that was marked throughout by mass killings, mass enslavement, and outright genocide that within 23 years took the lives of some ten million persons indigenous to the area… did so in the name of a campaign sold tothe European publics as being one aimed at “liberating” the people of Congo from other (in truth, much less maleficent) Arab slave-traders.
We liberals need to be very careful indeed that we do not have our admirable sentiments of human solidarity abused by today’s architects of ‘western’ colonial invasion, control, and domination.
The situation that Syria’s people are living through today is extremely difficult. There are no easy answers. Both the regime and the opposition have demonstrated their resilience, and neither looks as though it is about to “win” the current contest any time soon. Given the degree of tension that now exists in Syrian society (due to the actions of the regime, of some portions of the opposition, and of several outside actors), it is hard to see how to simply ramp those tensions down and open up the space for the inter-Syrian dialogue and reform process that the people of Syria so desperately need…
But what kind of future do those of us who are westerners or other kinds of non-Syrians want to see for our friends in Syria? A future like that of today’s Libya– or even, heaven forfend, another “result” of western military action: today’s Iraq? Or would we want them to follow a negotiated-transition path like that taken by the people of South Africa, 1990-94… or the negotiated-transition path that the people of Myanmar/Burma now seem to be taking? Few of those western liberals and rights activists who are baying for “no-fly zones” or other forms of foreign military intervention seem to have ever thought about this question, so convinced are they of their own righteousness and the infallibility of their own judgments, however scantily informed these judgments may be in an era of instant You-Tube uploads of videos of, as Patrick Cockburn noted, often extremely sketchy provenance or representativity.

The American MSM and the Arab Spring

This is the very short version of the presentation I made at the Algiers Book Fair Colloquium on Sunday:
1. The elite (editors, commentators, and leading journalists) of the U.S. news media is part of– indeed, an important pillar of– the country’s continuing political elite and plays a singularly important role in defining and framing the political culture of this elite– including, in defining the limits of “acceptable” political discourse. Believe me, I know about this, based on my long decades of working with and in the MSM.
2. Like the rest of the U.S. political elite, the MSM elite has seen a significant increase over recent decades in the degree of its interpenetration and intermingling with the Israeli political elite.
3. Prior to the Arab Spring, the most common meme in the MSM was that Arabs were somehow “incapable” of democracy. The first glorious weeks of the ‘Arab Spring’ pro-democracy movement therefore came as a huge surprise to commentators in the MSM.
4. Their first reaction was one of delight. Both the natural human delight of people anywhere seeing their fellow-humans rise up en masse against autocracy and corruption– but also a kind of ‘self-interested’ delight based on the ideas that:

    (a) the protesters looked and acted ‘just like us’, and therefore could naturally be expected to be pro-American and bring about the kind of pro-American order that emerged after the ‘color revolutions’ of a few years ago in Ukraine and Georgia;
    (b) an initial perception that, because of the absence of any explicitly Islamist slogans and banners, these movements signaled the rise of new– and in the MSM view, more ‘modern’ and ‘realistic’– secular movements in Tunisia and Egypt; and
    (c) an initial perception that the protesters were not concerned at all about Israel and Palestine, and that therefore the ‘Arab masses’ had finally ‘gotten over’ their previous, inexplicable obsession with Palestine.

5. Soon enough, however, it became clear to even the most obtuse of the commentators in the MSM that none of these analyses was borne out by the facts of what was happening on the ground in Tunisia and Egypt. The protesters in both countries soon proved themselves to be:

    (a) extremely harsh in their critiques of the degree to which the U.S. had propped up their previous dictators and were complicit in their misdeeds;
    (b) composed in good part of smart, influential, and well-organized Islamist movements who had considerable experience of working well alongside their more secular compatriots; and
    (c) strongly concerned about the issue of Palestine.

6. At that point, the MSM elite started to express increasing doubts about the Arab Spring. The argument of many thought leaders in the MSM shifted from “Arabs are incapable of democracy” to the possibly even more racist and Islamophobic argument that “Arabs don’t deserve democracy.”
7. But luckily, the MSM don’t monopolize all media in the country any more. There has also been a considerable fragmentation of the media environment over recent decades That has allowed the rise of terrifyingly rightwing, Islamophobic, and hateful new phenomena like Fox News, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, etc. But it has also allowed the rise of significant organs and personalities within the progressive wing of the new media; and the progressive movement within the U.S. has shown a welcome and necessary new openness to including the Palestine Question among its concerns rather than continuing to exclude it, which it did for so long, previously.

9/11, Iraq, and the historical record

The U.S. discourse space is filling up rapidly with “ten years after” pieces related to 9/11. Me, these days I mainly just feel tired, tired. People in the U.S. political elite never listened to those of us who, prior to September 2011, had spent a whole career studying and interacting with the problems of the Middle East and the world, and who warned as loud as we could about the dangers of over-reacting and of taking that oh-so-tempting path toward militarism and U.S. unilateralism.
Actually, it was far worse than that. It’s not just that they did not listen to us. They derided us and our expertise and many well-connected members of the elite went to great lengths to exclude our voices from the national discourse. Many of us suffered great professional harm from those campaigns.
So how do I feel today when I see this piece from WaPo uber-columnist Richard Cohen? In it, Cohen finally comes straight out and calls the situation in Iraq in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion there “a disaster” and notes,

    It was not Saddam Hussein who attacked us, and it was not Saddam Hussein who had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons or a nuclear program. None of these existed — not a mere intelligence mistake, as is now claimed, but a mistake caused by preconceived notions, an insistence on seeing a goblin in every shadow, a nuclear program in the weak glow of a watch face, a lust for the head of Saddam Hussein. Oops, we marched smartly off to the wrong war.

At the end of the column Cohen comes as close to a “mea culpa” as I have seen him get:

    I went home on Sept. 11 with my shoes dusted with the detritus of the World Trade Center. I felt a hate that was entirely new to me. Soon after, the anthrax attacks began, and I was ready for war — against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, for sure, but against Saddam Hussein as well. I was wrong, and for that I blame myself, but I blame us all for going along with it and then rewarding incompetence with another term…

Excuse me, Richard Cohen? ” I blame us all for going along with it…” ??
There were a good few of us who did not “go along with” the whole project to invade Iraq, who questioned the flim-flammy evidence being adduced to justify that invasion from the very beginning. Go back and read the CSM columns I was writing in the months before March 2003. Go and read what I was blogging in February 2003… The record is there.
And now, Richard Cohen, you have the gall to say, “I blame us all”??
What a self-referential, sad, and immature person you are, Richard Cohen, for (a) completely ignoring the contribution made by all those of us who warned against the invasion of Iraq from the get-go, and then (b) trying to dilute the level of the “blame” you allot to yourself by trying to make the claim that, “everyone else did it too.”
Everyone else did not do it.
So now, firstly, you owe us an apology. Secondly, you need to tell us what you will do to rebuild the basis of the national discourse so that that wilfull, ideologically manipulated “manufacturing of consent” that happened in the lead-up to March 2003 never happens again.
This is not all about you, Richard Cohen. It is about steering this country back to a foreign policy that is based on a solid respect for both facts and the principles of international law. And no, we are not there yet, by any means….

Al-Jazeera: Big like Gutenberg??

Nir Rosen* has a great piece on his new blog, detailing some of the ways Al-Jazeera has contributed to the speedy eruption of the current Arab Awakening. It’s all thoughtful and worth reading. The money quote was this: “Jazeera is the new Gamal Abdel Nasr, the nationalist force uniting the region.”
Jim Lobe recalled that George W. Bush had reportedly joked to Tony Blair about bombing Al-Jazeera’s headquarters, and adds:

    consider which has been the greater force for human rights and democracy in the region: George W. Bush and those freedom-loving neo-conservatives who served him, or their nemesis, al-Jazeera.

As for me, I think the ‘Al-Jazeera Effect’ in the Arab world in recent weeks (and years) has been 100 times more important than the “Twitter effect” or the “Facebook effect”. Sure, Twitter and Facebook have helped people to do their organizing using online tools. But the organizing has continued, everywhere, even when the internet is cut off.
News flash! People knew how to do mass organizing even before the internet existed! Who knew!
Also, the organizing that is needed in all these Arab countries– pre-revolution, during the revolution, and after a revolutionary victory– is much more about food, sanitation, logistics, providing medical services as needed, keeping decent accounts, and above all building resilient networks of trust and accountability than it is about sustaining a Twitter account or having a million Facebook “friends”.
The difference Al-Jazeera has made– over a period of years, and most particularly in the past two months– has been to restore for ordinary people throughout the whole Arab world the sense of their shared Arab culture and connectedness, the idea of the possibility of successful mass action, and importance of having border-leaping common human values that cannot be dictated or enforced by any one ruler. (Those last two Al-Jazeera effects can– and indeed, to some extent, have– be felt anywhere, not just in the Arab world.)
That’s why Nir Rosen was right to describe Al-Jaz as the “new Abdel-Nasser”.
I also think the effect of all these “new” media together– but at their heart, Al-Jazeera– may prove to be as revolutionary in world affairs as Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the movable type press, back in the 15th century. That invention had massive effects on the development of culture (and of print capitalism, and of nation states) in Europe, and thereafter in the whole of the world that was captured and colonized by those energetic new European nation-states.
Al-Jazeera’s principal political effect thus far has been, it seems to me, to considerably strengthen the idea of a post-nation-state order, and a post-colonial order, in world affairs.
Yes, of course we are all still, to some extent bounded by our linguistic constraints. But this Al-Jaz effect could soon become even huger. Interesting.

* I know that Nir made some thoughtless and unkind remarks recently, in a late-night Twitter feed, about a female correspondent for CBS News who had been subjected to sexual assault by a mob of unknown affiliation in Cairo. Nir has quite appropriately apologized for those remarks, and I feel confident he won’t be so thoughtless and unkind again. I’ve known him for a few years now– admired his gutsy, anti-war journalism for even longer; and I honestly don’t think that in general he’s someone who demeans or marginalizes women.