Friday, January 27, 2006

Hamas win - Only ignorant Americans are surprised

Shock! Horror! Hamas has taken over the Palestinian Parliament and no one was expecting it!

Yeah, right. Maybe the Bush administration wasn't expecting it. These, of course, are the same guys who according to Jerry Bremer didn't expect an insurgency in Iraq, either.

Here is the view of the Hamas election win from a Syrian who now lives in Silver Springs, Md.:
"Hamas’ electoral victory, although billed as a “surprise” or a “shock” by many newspapers, did not really come as a major surprise to most observers of Palestinian politics. In fact, the whole reason why Abu Mazin seemed to have entertained postponing the elections for a while was directly related to his firm conviction that holding the elections at this point in time will result in a surrounding victory by Hamas.

Still, we have to realize that Hamas’s victory does not come as mandate for holy war against Israel. Rather, the holy war that the majority of the Palestinians want is one against corruption and inefficient rule and for improving the quality of life and the living standards of the average Palestinian.

As such, should Hamas attempts to use this victory to increase its hostile activities against Israel, it will in fact be shooting itself in the foot, though this is indeed the kind of course that many Hamas leaders seem disposed to advocate at this stage, especially those currently living outside the territories (who do have quite a few backers inside as well)."

The apparent "shock" with which the American news community has taken the result seems to me to be a super simplistic propaganda technique designed to inflame American opinion against the Palestanians and their backers, Muslims in general.

No, I am not proposing that this is a plot being advanced by a propaganda coup of some kind. It is worse. This is a systemic failure of American ratings-driven so-called news to even comprehend the events they are attempting to report.

Americans don't speak foreign languages - and in the media this includes Spanish. TV news has to bring in ad revenue just like entertainment, and whichever item attracts more ad revenue wins. Winning means you get more resources to present your product to the public with.

Foreign "news" only brings in ad revenue when it is extreme and shocking, so the cost of keeping foreign bureaus where specialists actually understand thjose cultures and what is really going on does not pay. It doesn't attract enough eyeballs to cause resource to be given to expand it.

For similar reasons, newspapers themselves carry less total non-entertainment news, and the rules of news start with providing the local news first. The further way an event is from the potential reader, the less likely it is to be offered to that reader. Something arcane from a foreign culture, worse, something in a foreign language, quickly drops off the radar. It doesn't get published.

The result is a massive number of distant news events that are available to jingoists and politicians who personally gain by frightening people. Such people can easily "explain" the events they publicize in simplistic, frightening soundbites.

While the jingoists can use foreign events to advance their causes, the general news media no longer support the experts who understand the real, complex social events that caused those events. There are no opponents to the ideology-driven jingoists who can provide the news media with contrasting, nuanced, and more realistic understanding of what is really going on. That is, they don't give us a view of the Islamic Middle East that doesn't depend (as in this case) on stereotypes of crazy suicidal myscogynistic camel-riders in turbins who hate us because of our freedoms.
This is less a plot by the "masters of the media" than it is a case of people who are using the systemic weaknesses of the mass media to benefit their own causes. This is actually worse than an easy-to-comprehend plot by some cartoon hidden-masters-of-the-media. Guys like that coult easily be identified, caught and exposed. The reality is a series of rats who exploit weaknesses in the existing mass media and its rather poor fit with the culture it supposedly informs.

Take some time to investigate the causes of the Hamas wins in the Palestinian Parliament. Find out (as a small part of your investigation) how the Israelis have been using Hamas to weaken Araffat's al Fatah. Look at how the American right-wing has been using the Muslim threat against the Israelis to inflame American public opinion. [And don't entirely buy that, either!]

How is this effecting Amerian national politics? Consider how would Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld interact.

Assume that Dick Cheney has a limited understanding of the complexity that is going on in international relations, and Bush doesn't. Bush, as the dynastic heir to the Presidency, is the mouthpiece for soundbites. Unfortunately, he is also making his decisions based on that simplistic sound-bite view. Cheney can suggest that his decisions may be wrong, but only does so if it meets his needs. Then step over to look at Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld is fascinated by the organization and use of the military, and Cheney's manipulations help him to do what he wants done. As long as Cheney supports him, Rumsfeld will stay in the immensley powerful position of Secretary of Defense.

Bush gets what he wants because his needs are purely psychological. He winds up being considered as the superior being that his mere abilities do not allow him to be in reality. Instead of continually failing in everything he does, his position permits him to believe he is out-doing his father. [Since it isn't working well, he no longer communicates with his father. That would present his world-view to the very criticism he fears so much]

All three get what they each personally want by selling the oversimplification of international relations to the Americans who are otherwise poorly served by the systemic inability of American news media to accurately portray international relations to the American public.

The problem with the media is that in effectthey are presenting a cartoon model and expecting surgeons to make the decisions required to perform surgery on a real person. Cartoons don't present enough information with which to do that.

The blogosphere may help us to add the complexity that makes international relations possible. So go read SOJ, Amarji and perhaps Haaretz. And don't stop there. Keep looking for other non-American sources of information. We are much too restricted here in the real information that is available.

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