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The recent terrorist shooting in South Carolina have brought the issue of racism back to the top of the heap in the mainstream media. I’m sure there will be deep introspective think pieces in all of the major dailies and magazines. Then, like any story the media deigns “having being milked enough”, the racist terrorist attack will be quietly shunted to the side while the next tragedy is cued up for consumption.
Consumption of news these days seems to be the problem though. We are expected to keep track of the world, hell even personalize our ‘news experience’, but that is not what being an educated, engaged member of society is all about. The 5th Estate is (should) there to monitor the centres of power in society and report their activities for the citizens of democratic countries can engage with and evaluate said activities. With so much of media today being focused on infotainment rather than critical analysis of important events how the the average citizen get the information she needs?
There are a couple of threads to pull apart with the questions being raised. Firstly, the idea that personalized news is good idea for democratic societies, secondly the role of infotainment media and lastly the effect of the professional media colluding with the centers of power in society. All three of these aspects work against the creation of active, informed democratic participation in society.
“Society” is the watchword here – the ludicrous amount of personalization options presented to us in North America society gives us choice – and we all know (or should know by now the neo-liberal taint associated with that concept) that the choice presented to us is really a form of atomization that keeps our fingers firmly off the pulse of society and rather, firmly on our own as we sail alone through society.
What comes to mind is an captioned black and white image (pro-tip:if you want to every reuse something save it the first time you see it) of people on a train all
reading the paper. The witty caption was something like this – smartphones and technology have changed society darn much… You can see the obvious parallel being made; every buried in a newspaper vs. everyone buried in their smart phones. On the surface this is correct but I remember pausing then thinking that something wasn’t quite right.
That “something” was that reading the daily newspaper was a still a shared experience in society. You could talk to someone about an article, even a complete stranger, and it was likely that they would have read the same article and then you could start a conversation about it. How neat is is that? Today though, that is a much taller order as many people have tailored their consumption of news to their tastes and sphere of interests making finding a common ground with people that much more difficult. Talking to people about important issues is what community is about, especially when they have different views on what is the correct course of action. Hashing things out, being charitable, accepting an well reasoned argument are all part of living in a democratic society.
Democracy is not a streamlined affair, nor should it be, because our personal freedom and ethical concerns are at stake. When governments act unilaterally and secretly it doesn’t matter what personal choices you make, it is the society around you that is going to shit and your choosy-choices and personal experiences will also be circling the drain since you are part of said society(see Canadian bill C-51, NAFTA, Trans-Pacific-Partnership). So having a reliable, accessible, common base of public knowledge is important to democratic society.
Democratic society has given us many media choices but, coupled with the capitalist infrastructure that actually runs the show our media sources have conglomerated and become ensconced within the power structures of society. See Fox and Faux News for the most shining example of the marriage between news and corporate propaganda. The focus of much of our news media today is to sell advertising, while educating/informing the public on crucial issues facing society is quite far down the list. I shudder when I see how much of the professional media now resembles Entertainment Tonight rather than the venerable Front Page Challenge (The Fifth Estate, Marketplace, et cetera). It now takes a great deal of time just to filter out the dross to get to the important news that people should know about their society and even then one must take into account the bias and elite influence present within ‘serious news’. The importance of public broadcasters cannot be overstated here – public institutions such as the CBC, NPR, and BBC are more free from the elite consensus and can more accurately report on the issues without the elite’s point of view being considered the default (This is a relative judgment – see Media Lens for an annotated listing of how awesomely independent Auntie Beebs is becoming).
Public broadcasting, with all of its problems aside, is one avenue to escape ‘the preferred message’ being broadcast to society by the corporate media with their vested interests of the status-quo. This isn’t a wild conspiracy theory – the way the world currently works benefits a certain class of people and it is their best interests to maintain the current system because it keeps them at the top of the heap. No mystery present. This system also provides the answers to why certain problems keep cropping up again and again within society – inequality, institutionalized racism and sexism for example. There structures within society serve their purpose; the ‘right people’ profit from their existence and thus are maintained. Just look at the perspectives surrounding mass murders:
The evidence, but then put through the media filters and the very different result…
The NYT’s nails it, for once, and lays down a view into the systemic racism that permeates North American society. This is the story that needs constant repetition. Yet, watch how soon the white racial violence dissipates into the ether. This is not a fluke, not a statistical aberration, this is policy. And thus, because of the collusion of much of the media with the current centres of power, the problems that face our society are not adequately dealt with nor are they given the proper amount of time or analysis that would help the people of the nation understand these problems and what can be done about them.
For those in power though it wise to note that only so much tamping down of these systemic problems can be done. Eventually, these issues take a life of their own and people will take radical action to resolve these seemingly ‘intractable’ problems and not in the way that the nestled elite likes.
We tell ourselves the stories we need to hear. This is excerpt details American involvement in Afghanistan, but from a non-embedded reporters point of view and analysis.
“The central thesis of the American failure in Afghanistan — the one you’ll hear from politicians and pundits and even scholars — was succinctly propounded by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage: “The war in Iraq drained resources from Afghanistan before things were under control.” In this view, the American invasion of Iraq became a crucial distraction from stabilization efforts in Afghanistan, and in the resulting security vacuum the Taliban reasserted themselves.
At its core, the argument rests upon a key premise: that jihadi terrorism could be defeated through the military occupation of a country. That formulation seemed natural enough to many of us in the wake of 9/11. But travel through the southern Afghan countryside, and you will hear quite a different interpretation of what happened. It comes in snippets and flashes, in the stories people tell and their memories of the time, and it points to a contradiction buried deep in the war’s basic premise.
You can find this contradiction embodied in a sprawling jumble of dust-blown hangars, barracks, and Burger Kings, a facility of barbed wire, gunmen, and internment cages: Kandahar Airfield, or KAF, as it came to be called, the nerve center for American operations in southern Afghanistan, home to elite units like the Navy SEALs and the Green Berets. A military base in a country like Afghanistan is also a web of relationships, a hub for the local economy, and a key player in the political ecosystem. Unravel how this base came to be, and you’ll begin to understand how war returned to the fields of Maiwand.
In December 2001, an American Special Operations Forces unit pulled into an old Soviet airbase on the outskirts of Kandahar city. They were accompanied by a team of Afghan militiamen and their commander, a gregarious, grizzly bear of a man named Gul Agha Sherzai. An anti-Taliban warlord, Sherzai had shot to notoriety in the 1990s following the death of his illustrious father, Hajji Latif, a onetime bandit turned mujahed known as “the Lion of Kandahar.” (Upon assuming his father’s mantle, Gul Agha had rechristened himself Sherzai, Son of the Lion. His first name, incidentally, roughly translates as “Respected Mr. Flower.”) With American backing, Sherzai seized the airfield, then in ruins, and subsequently installed himself in the local governor’s mansion — a move that incensed many, Hamid Karzai among them. Nonetheless, Sherzai brought a certain flair to the office, quickly catching notice for his fist-pounding speeches, tearful soliloquies, and outbursts of uncontrollable laughter, sometimes all in a single conversation.
Sherzai may not have had much experience in government, except a brief tenure as Kandahar’s “governor” during the anarchic mid-1990s, but he knew a good business opportunity when he saw one. The airbase where the Americans were encamped was derelict and weedy, strewn with smashed furniture and seeded with land mines from the Soviet era. Early on, one of Sherzai’s lieutenants met Master Sergeant Perry Toomer, a U.S. officer in charge of logistics and contracting. “I started talking to him,” Toomer said, “and found out that they had a knowledge of how to get this place started.” After touring the facilities, the Americans placed their first order: $325 in cash for a pair of Honda water pumps.
It would mark the beginning of a long and fruitful partnership. With Sherzai’s services, the cracked and cratered airstrip blossomed into a massive, sprawling military base, home to one of the world’s busiest airports. Kandahar Airfield would grow into a key hub in Washington’s global war on terror, housing top-secret black-ops command rooms and large wire-mesh cages for terror suspects en route to the American prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
For Sherzai, KAF would be only the beginning. In a few swift strokes, he made the desert bloom with American installations — and turned an extravagant profit in the process. He swiped land and rented it to U.S. forces to the tune of millions of dollars. Amid the ensuing construction boom, he seized gravel quarries, charging as much as $100 a load for what would normally have been an $8-a-load job. He furnished American troops with fuel for their trucks and workers for their projects, raking in commissions while functioning as an informal temp agency for his tribesmen.
With this windfall, he diversified into gasoline and water distribution, real estate, taxi services, mining, and, most lucrative of all, opium. No longer a mere governor, he was now one of the most powerful men in Afghanistan. Every morning, lines of supplicants would curl out of the governor’s mansion.
As his web of patronage grew, he began providing the Americans with hired guns, usually from his own Barakzai tribe — making him, in essence, a private security contractor, an Afghan Blackwater. And like the employees of that notorious American firm, Sherzai’s gunmen lived largely outside the jurisdiction of any government. Even as Washington pumped in funds to create a national Afghan army and police, the U.S. military subsidized Sherzai’s mercenaries, who owed their loyalty to the governor and the special forces alone. Some of his units could even be seen garbed in U.S. uniforms, driving heavily armed flatbed trucks through the streets of Kandahar.
How to Fight the War on Terror Without an Adversary
Of course, even in the new Afghanistan there was no such thing as a free lunch. In return for privileged access to American dollars, Sherzai delivered the one thing U.S. forces felt they needed most: intelligence. His men became the Americans’ eyes and ears in their drive to eradicate the Taliban and al-Qaeda from Kandahar.
Yet here lay the contradiction. Following the Taliban’s collapse, al-Qaeda had fled the country, resettling in the tribal regions of Pakistan and in Iran. By April 2002, the group could no longer be found in Kandahar — or anywhere else in Afghanistan. The Taliban, meanwhile, had ceased to exist, its members having retired to their homes and surrendered their weapons. Save for a few lone wolf attacks, U.S. forces in Kandahar in 2002 faced no resistance at all. The terrorists had all decamped or abandoned the cause, yet U.S. special forces were on Afghan soil with a clear political mandate: defeat terrorism.
How do you fight a war without an adversary? Enter Gul Agha Sherzai — and men like him around the country. Eager to survive and prosper, he and his commanders followed the logic of the American presence to its obvious conclusion. They would create enemies where there were none, exploiting the perverse incentive mechanism that the Americans — without even realizing it — had put in place.
Sherzai’s enemies became America’s enemies, his battles its battles. His personal feuds and jealousies were repackaged as “counterterrorism,” his business interests as Washington’s. And where rivalries did not do the trick, the prospect of further profits did. (One American leaflet dropped by plane in the area read: “Get Wealth and Power Beyond Your Dreams. Help Anti-Taliban Forces Rid Afghanistan of Murderers and Terrorists.”)
-Excerpted from No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes by Anand Gopal, published by Metropolitan Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company, LLC.
Copyright 2015 Anand Gopal
A historical digest of where Venezuela has been and perhaps where it is going.
Murder, by the numbers.
“Matters were moving toward a climax. Reliant on bulletins from the Predator crew, the captain commanding the raiding party on the ground had interpreted the news that the convoy was now heading away from the Americans on the ground as confirmation not only that the enemy was “maneuvering” but that it contained an HVI (high-value individual), always a priority target for U.S. forces in this war. He gave the order to strike. The helicopters would take the first shot. The helicopter crews, who had come on the scene late, were simply informed that there had been positive identification of three weapons, at a minimum, along with twenty-one MAMs, and that they were “clear to engage.” No one had told them about adolescents, still less children. Two continents and an ocean away, the Predator crew in Nevada made their own final preparations for action.
Pilot: Alright, so the plan is, man, uh, we’re going to watch this thing go down and when they Winchester [run out of ammunition] we can play cleanup.
Sensor: Initial plan: without seeing how they break up, follow the largest group.
Pilot: Yeah, sounds good. When it all comes down, if everybody is running in their separate direction, I don’t care if you just follow one guy, you know like whatever you decide to do, I’m with you on it . . . as long as you keep somebody that we can shoot in the field of view I’m happy.
The crew was now making final preparations for the attack, arming the missile and going through the final checklist. The sensor operator reminded his intelligence colleague to focus on the business at hand.
Sensor: Hey, MC.
Mission intelligence controller: Yes?
Sensor: Remember, Kill Chain!
MIC: Will do.
The first missile from the lead helicopter scored a direct hit on the pickup, instantly killing eleven passengers. The two following SUVs jerked to a halt, and the passengers began frantically to scramble out. The second missile hit the rearmost vehicle, but in the engine block, which absorbed enough of the blast to allow some of the passengers to escape. Four died immediately. The third missile missed the middle SUV, barely, with the blast blowing out the rear window as passengers bailed out. As a matter of routine, the attackers pursued these squirters, their word for people fleeing a strike, with 2.75” rockets, though all of these missed.
Then someone noticed something strange. The people who had escaped were not running.
Sensor: That’s weird.
Pilot: Can’t tell what the fuck they’re doing.
Safety observer: Are they wearing burqas?
Sensor: That’s what it looks like.
Pilot: They were all PIDed as males. No females in the group.
Sensor: That guy looks like he’s wearing jewelry and stuff like a girl, but he ain’t . . . if he’s a girl, he’s a big one.
Despite the sensor operator’s hopeful theory, these were not Taliban in drag but women who had scrambled out and were waving their brightly colored scarves at the circling helicopters, which eventually ceased fire. Twenty-three people had been killed, including two boys, Daoud, three years old, and Murtaza, four. Eight men, one woman, and three children aged between five and fourteen were wounded, many of them severely.
Mission intelligence coordinator: Screener said there weren’t any women earlier.
Sensor: What are those? They were in the middle vehicle.
Mission intelligence coordinator: Women and children.
The conversation in the Nevada trailer was losing its previously jaunty tone, as MAMs became mothers, and adolescents turned back into children.
Pilot: It looks like, uh, one of those in the, uh, bright garb may be carrying a child as well.
Sensor: Younger than an adolescent to me.
Safety observer: Well . . .
Safety observer: No way to tell, man.
Sensor: No way to tell from here.
Soon afterward the Predator turned and flew away ahead of bad weather that was moving in from the west.
Even as the wreckage burned and shell-shocked survivors stumbled about, news was beginning to spread. Local villagers were soon on the scene, and within an hour Taliban radios were broadcasting word that “forty to fifty civilians” had been killed by an American air strike. By early afternoon, the reports had reached the Palace, the crenellated nineteenth-century fortress in the middle of Kabul that housed President Hamid Karzai. Meanwhile, U.S. military communications were proving rather less efficient.
The sudden, silent, flash of the first missile that incinerated the pickup and passengers on their screens caught most of the spectators in Afghanistan and the United States entirely by surprise. The intricate network of observation, control, and communication linking the myriad headquarters and intelligence centers stretching between Nevada and Kabul had somehow failed to alert participants—other than the crews actually pulling or preparing to pull the triggers—that events had reached their natural conclusion, and people were about to die. Then, even when it was almost immediately clear that things had not gone according to plan, the news moved at glacial speed through the U.S. command system. Messages rumbled back and forth between different headquarters regarding BOG (boots on the ground), meaning sending someone to have a close-up look at the scene for BDA (battle damage assessment).
Eventually helicopters were sent to bring the raiding party itself to the site where the dead bodies, or at least those that were intact, had been laid out by villagers who had flocked to the scene. The captain, according to a brother officer, was in a state of panic, searching fruitlessly for a weapon, anything, that would justify this as a legitimate target. “He wasn’t finding anything. I think it overwhelmed him.” Special Operations Task Force headquarters meanwhile told him “not to second-guess yourself; we’ll figure it out later.”
The captain was not the only officer to panic. Despite the services of a multibillion-dollar system of intelligence and communication, it took twelve hours for news that the U.S. had killed twenty-three civilians to make its way up the chain. Despite confirmation from the helicopter crews, the Predator team, and the troops that arrived on the scene, successive layers of Special Operations commanders refused to report CIVCAS (civilian casualties). Bizarrely, the technology was less efficient than the Taliban’s. With the inflated volume of traffic, emails were taking four and a half hours to move through the classified system from Kandahar to Kabul.
Only when surgeons at a Dutch military hospital talked to their U.S. counterparts about the wounded civilians that had just been admitted was the truth officially disclosed, but by that time, anyone in Afghanistan with a radio already knew. At the time, Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. and allied commander, was laboring to garner support among Afghans by restricting airstrikes in an effort to reduce civilian casualties. He was not pleased to hear the belated reports from Uruzgan, and raced over to President Karzai’s palace to tender his apologies. “I express my deepest, heartfelt condolences to the victims and their families. We all share in their grief,” he declared on Afghan television two days later. “I have made it clear to our forces that we are here to protect the Afghan people. I pledge to strengthen our efforts to regain your trust to build a brighter future for all Afghans.”
Families of the dead ultimately received $5,000 each, plus one goat.”
The BBC gives a little more background –
” Islamic State has become synonymous with viciousness – beheadings, crucifixions, stonings, massacres, burying victims alive and religious and ethnic cleansing.
While such savagery might seem senseless to the vast majority of civilised human beings, for IS it is a rational choice. It is a conscious decision to terrorise enemies and impress and co-opt new recruits.”
How does one deal with the grotesquery and horror that is going on in Syria/Iraq? The ISIL show executions are delivered to social media with frightful regularity. Mass executions, beheadings, and now people being burnt alive – where does this end?
This sort of behaviour is a lose/lose scenario for everyone involved. The banality of such cruelty will not go unpunished, but in doing so the seeds for the next ISIL will be sown.
Can we be satisfied with calling this cruel face of religious extremism therefore justifying dealing with ISIL with extreme prejudice? I mean, why the hell not? How can we *not* rally against people who burn people alive and stone people, and behead people, and…
The ISIL problem is just too damn big.
Focusing just one one aspect of the ISIL be it the religious, or the political or the economics of the situation just isn’t enough. Yet tackling all aspects of those questions is a dissertation level job at least and that simply won’t do either. I went for a walk on this one and came back with this:
We, in the world, need a powerful international body to settle disputes and mitigate the internecine conflicts that crop up the world over. The irrelevance the United Nations of today is a major factor that contributes to the hepped-up, uni-polar gunboat diplomacy that has become the new normal in this age of American Exceptionalism.
Rules are just words on a page if the most powerful nation on earth refuses to follow them. The International Court of Justice, the UN, hell even the Geneva Conventions are supposed to be venerated and respected world institutions that would allow nations to mediate their disputes before they have to shed innocent blood to resolve their disputes. The fact that they are not respected by the US essentially neuters these institutions/ideas and sets the stage for the slow-brew of anarchy we are currently experiencing.
We’re doing the unilateral thing for awhile now, and we should reflect to see what it has brought us. Security? Peace? Justice? I’d have to say no on all three counts.
We do not have security we have a security state – a state of affairs (in Canada at least) that borders on making certain thoughts illegal and therefore punishable by law. The US is much farther down the Orwellian rabbit hole with the unaccountable NSA and Homeland Security merrily shredding the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
We do not have peace, we have, and will continue to have, a series of escalating conflicts over the remainder of the world’s resources whether it be oil, water or living space. People with big sticks will make the rules in their favour, this will make the majority that are disenfranchised rebel against the system – the bullies will clamp down with terror and death – the disenfranchised will die, and their resolve will double and rebellion will continue – repression will increase… We have no peace, we have a hegemonic cycle that provides a cheap gilded imitation of peace, but in reality is just a mask for imperial ambitions and avarice.
Justice? Justice across the world right now is a labyrinthine maze of deciept. The nations that have had strong traditions of law and justice are being corrupted by powerful interests that see Law as unjust impediment on the act of making money. Nations that should be setting the gold standard for legal accountability and ethical practice instead wallow in the ruins of a once tenable system. The robber-barons, the arch capitalists – they set the rules now, warping justice to fit their perverted aspirations to the detriment of the common people. We have the glitzy version of justice, just enough to hide the venal rot it is composed of.
This unipolar hell that is our legacy at the moment needs to be dismantled, because the only thing that replaces empire – is another empire. Let me assure you that we do not want to be on the business end of another empires stick. We might see the benefit of a strong international body when we no longer have the capacity to project power and our future is in the hands of others.
Some beliefs are so dangerous that it may be ethical to kill people for believing them. – Sam Harris.
This is a dangerous quote from Mr.Harris because it muddles the line between action and intent. How can there be any sort of dialogue when one faction can be singled out for death for nothing that they have done, but their beliefs.
Consider how easy it would be for opponents of US policy to follow this same doctrine – would they too be taking ethical action?
Harris, in this context, is not adding clarity to the complex problem of the interaction of secular and religious ideals.