THE REALITY OF REVOLUTION
New Republic, February 14, 2011
In both the euphoria and the apprehension that have accompanied the popular uprisings in the Arab Middle East…there has been an avalanche of the usual cyber-utopian techno-babble about the emancipatory potential of the Bluetooth devices and Twitter feeds for which authoritarian tyrannies are said to be no match. The political simple-mindedness of this may not always be at the level of a Tim Connors, the California venture capitalist…who began a blog post on the subject with the following sentence: “10 folks in a small apartment in Egypt used social media and cell phones to start a revolution, and 17 days later the president of many decades is out of power.” But it is not all that far from it either.
Throughout its extensive coverage of the events in Tahrir Square, CNN devoted an enormous amount of time to what was appearing on blogs or being tweeted, and to the Mubarak regime’s decision…to shut down access to the internet and cell phones.… And, as President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton went back and forth about what position to take on whether Mubarak should stay or go, the one subject about which they seemed in no doubt…was that he should turn the internet and the mobile phones back on.…
Were information technology not the Golden Calf of our age, no sensible person could possibly believe that the North African revolution took place thanks to social media. As Evgeny Morozov points out in his fine new book, The Net Delusion, this is the same sort of utopian credulousness that led Marx to write that the communications revolution of the railways under the Raj would lead Indians to give up the caste system. This is not to say that social networks don’t matter; they matter a lot. But they do not incarnate freedom, do not bring about some final, heaven-like stage of human history. Indeed, if there was a proximate cause, on the order of Connors’ “10 folks in a small apartment using social networks,” to the Tunisian uprising, it was that least virtual of political acts—the decision of Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor in the central Tunisian city of Sidi Bouzid who burned himself to death in protest over the police seizing his [produce] cart…and more generally, over police brutality and grinding unemployment, poverty, and lack of opportunity. That was the action that provoked the first anti-government demonstrations in Tunisia and soon spawned other self-immolations from Egypt to Mauritania.
But self-immolations do not fit into the cyber-utopian narrative. Like suicide bombings, they are simply too far removed from almost all of us who come from the West. In contrast, tweets and Facebook and the rest of life in cyberspace are essential to the way we now live (if we don’t join in, we’re curmudgeons, contrarians, etc.—the Silicon Valley equivalent, I suppose, of the old Marxist condemnation of those who were “on the wrong side of history”). So, in rooting for the tweeters in Tahrir Square, we are actually rooting for ourselves.
But what’s wrong with that, you may ask, if what we are supporting in Tunis or in Cairo, and hoping for in Algiers and Tripoli and Sana and Nouakchoutt, are the best of our ideals both personally and as societies—our belief in individual freedom and in representative democracy? To which the answer is: nothing, so long, that is, as we do not confuse our situation with theirs. My fear, though, is that this is precisely what we are doing.
Democracy, freedom of expression, individual rights, and the rule of law are all wonderful things.… But these democratic dreams are likely to benefit only a small minority of the population, even if, in a country as populous as Egypt, that is still a great many people in absolute numbers.… It will be a fine thing if, as has been promised in both Algeria and Egypt, the army makes good on its promises to end decades-old states of emergency. But will these changes from the top down, from which the upper middle classes—the Bluetooth, tweeting classes, to be blunt—stand to benefit almost immediately, do anything to improve the lot of the Mohamed Bouazizis of the world? Will they find it easier to find a job, feed their families, in short, to live with dignity? On that, surely, the verdict is very much still out.
Certainly, poor Tunisians don’t seem very confident. In the weeks since the fall of the Ben Ali dictatorship…thousands upon thousands of Tunisians have set out in boats trying to reach Europe and a better life.… [However], the young men on these often far too unseaworthy boats are not chronicling their trip on their mobile phone cameras, or tweeting about them, or notifying their friends on their Facebook pages that they have decided to throw the dice and try to make it to Europe. And there are far more of these people in the Arab Middle East today than the kind of young democracy activists that we have quite rightly been extolling in the West during these past several extraordinary weeks.…
In Yeats’ great poem “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death,” the airman flying for the Royal Flying Corps over the trenches muses on why he ever volunteered to fight for Britain. Thinking of his countrymen in his own village back home, the airman acknowledges that:
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
If, when you read this, it is past dark in Europe and North Africa, remember those boats heading north, crammed with the twenty-first century’s equivalent of Kiltartan’s poor, and ask yourself whether what they see is what we see. At the very least, Caveat celebrator.
(David Rieff is a contributing editor for The New Republic.)
THE REAL EGYPTIAN REVOLUTION
WILL NOT BE BROUGHT TO YOU BY CNN
Daniel Greenfield Blog, February 16, 2011
There are two Egyptian revolutions. The one marketed for Western consumption by Egyptian bloggers and the American media—and the real revolution. The rape of [CBS Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent] Lara Logan brought that second revolution out of the shadows for the first time. This was certainly not the first sexual assault arising out of the Jan. 25 protests. It won’t be the last either. The Western educated Egyptians promoting the protests have always managed to sell the press on the story that all the violence, from the looting of the Egyptian museum, the attacks on reporters, the prison breaks and the mass rapes and robberies were all the work of pro-Mubarak forces. But when Logan was attacked, she was among a crowd celebrating the fall of Mubarak. These were the very people that she and her colleagues had come to Egypt to support.
The actual Jan. 25 revolution was wildly different from the one depicted in news reports. Behind the veil of English speaking Twitter feeds by young activists, is an angry and bigoted population.… Few of the gullible Western supporters who follow the revolution by Twitter, understand just how much the ordinary Egyptian taking part in the protests hates them. Behind all the English language signs produced for the foreign press and the articulate bloggers cultivated by the U.S and EU governments, is [a] mob who believes that Mubarak was a puppet of the CIA and the Mossad. And who believe the same thing about all the earnest CNN and CBS correspondents who came to be photographed against the background of a revolution.…
The cries of “Yahood, Yahood” or “Jew, Jew” reportedly shouted at CBS’s Logan while she was being sexually assaulted, reflect two things. Yahood is a common insult in the Middle East. American soldiers in Iraq are referred to as Yahood or Jews. (Some have drawn geopolitical inferences from this, but you only need to turn on South Park to see ‘Jew’ used as an insult in our own hemisphere.) The difference is that in the Muslim world, ‘Yahood’ is far more ubiquitous, and often accompanied by conspiracy theories and violent threats. The negative depiction of Jews is rooted in the Koran, making it ubiquitous through the Muslim world.
The other aspect of it however is the prevalence of conspiracy theories throughout the Arab Muslim world. In Egypt, Nazi propaganda merged with traditional Islamic beliefs to give rise to Islamofascist organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood. While Mein Kampf and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are given little credibility in civilized nations—they are still highly popular in the Muslim world. Conspiracy theories are the best refuge of failed societies.…
The real Egyptian revolution was mob violence against the targets of their conspiracy theories, rather than a movement toward democracy. Assaults on Western reporters are not an aberration, but the norm. As often as CNN cheers on the revolution, the average Egyptian will still call them Yahood and CIA. Because the average Egyptian is fueled by hate for outside forces, rather than a striving for progress and reform.
Egyptian activists are apologizing to Lara Logan on Twitter, and assuring everyone that this does not represent Egypt. But there are far more Egyptians who harass women, than use Twitter to promote democracy.… Sexual violence is a routine part of Egyptian mob scenes. In 2006, a crowd celebrating Eid Al-Fitr began assaulting every woman in sight. In 2009 alone, the UK foreign office reported handling nearly 30 cases of sexual assault against British nationals… According to a 2008 study, 68 percent of Egyptian women complained of being harassed on a daily basis, while 98 percent of foreign women did.
[As such], when a group of jubilant enthusiasts of democracy found themselves near a Western female reporter without police supervision, what followed was absolutely horrible [but also] terribly inevitable. It is what 98 percent of foreign women in Egypt risk encountering every day.…
LARA LOGAN AND MEDIA RULES
Caroline B. Glick
Jerusalem Post, February 18, 2011
Among the least analyzed aspects of the Egyptian revolution has been the significance of the widespread violence against the foreign media covering the demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. The Western media have been unanimous in their sympathetic coverage of the demonstrators in Egypt. Why would the demonstrators want to brutalize them? And why have Western media outlets been so reticent in discussing the significance of their own reporters’ brutalization at the hands of the Egyptian demonstrators?
To date the most egregious attack on a foreign journalist in Cairo’s Tahrir Square took place last Friday, when CBS’s senior foreign correspondent Lara Logan was sexually assaulted and brutally beaten by a mob of Egyptian men. Her own network, CBS, took several days to even report the story, and when it did, it left out important information. The fact that Logan was brutalized for 20 to 30 minutes and that her attackers screamed out “Jew, Jew, Jew” as they ravaged her was absent from the CBS report and from most other follow-on reports in the U.S. media.…
So far the only culprit the U.S. media have managed to find for the sexual assault perpetrated against Lara Logan…has been a radical leftist reporter named Nir Rosen. On Tuesday, Rosen wrote defamatory attacks against Logan on his Twitter account. He mocked her suffering and bemoaned the fame the attack would win her. Rosen’s statements on Twitter set off a feeding frenzy of reporters and commentators who raced to condemn him. New York University’s Center for Law and Security, where Rosen served as a fellow, hastened to demand his resignation.
The onslaught against Rosen for his anti-Logan statements is extremely revealing about the nature of the international media. Rosen’s writings reveal him as an anti-Semite and an anti-American. Rosen has written prolifically about his hope to see Israel destroyed. His war reporting from Afghanistan and Iraq unfailingly takes the side of America’s enemies. He was an embedded reporter with the Taliban and is an outspoken champion of Hezbollah, Hamas and the Taliban.
Rosen’s hateful politics have brought him book contracts, prestigious fellowships, interviews on influential television shows and even a request to give testimony before the U.S. Senate. His work has been published in elite magazines and newspapers. No one batted a lash when he called for Israel to be destroyed or supported the Taliban.… But for attacking Logan, he was excommunicated from polite society.…
In the hopes of rehabilitating himself, Rosen gave a groveling interview to CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Wednesday night in which he called himself “a jerk.” But it is too late. He broke the rules.
The story of the media at Tahrir Square exposes those rules for all to see. The bravery of the journalists on the scene, the media’s determination to ignore Islamic misogyny, and their expulsion of Rosen from polite society all tell us that what drives the international media is not a quest for truth. It is a quest to advance the ideology of identity politics.
Identity politics revolve around the narrative of victimization. For adherents to identity politics…the status of victimhood is not determined by facts, but by membership in an identity group.… In light of this, a person’s membership in specific victim groups is far more important than his behavior. And there is a clear pecking order of victimhood in identity politics. Anti-American Third World national, religious and ethnic groups are at the top of the victim food chain. They out-victim everyone else. After them come the Western victims: Racial minorities, women, homosexuals, children and animals. Israelis, Jews, Americans, white males and rich people are the predetermined perpetrators.…
In cases when victim groups are attacked by victim groups—for instance when Iraqis were attacked by Saddam, or Palestinians are attacked by the PA, the media tend to ignore the story. When members of Western victim groups are attacked by Third World victims, the story can be reported, but with as little mention of the identity of the victim-perpetrators as possible. So it was with coverage of Logan and the rest of the foreign reporters assaulted in Egypt. They were attacked by invisible attackers with no identities, no barbaric values, no moral responsibility, and no criminal culpability. CBS went so far as to blur the faces of the men who surrounded Logan in the moments before she was attacked.
When we understand the rules of reportage as dictated by adherents to identity politics, we understand why Rosen was excommunicated when he mocked Logan and not when he called for Israel’s destruction, condemned the commemoration of the September 11 attacks, or sided with the Taliban and the Iraqi insurgents killing Americans. In those cases, he followed the rules—preferring the cause of “victims” over the lives of “perpetrators.” But when he mocked Logan, he crossed the line. He treated Logan as a perpetrator because he thought of her as an insufficiently anti-American reporter. He didn’t realize that when she was brutalized, she had slid into the victim category.…
Lara Logan and the other hundred reporters attacked in Tahrir Square are real victims, not because of who they are, but because of what happened to them. The Egyptians who attacked them are real criminals, not because of who they are, but because of what they did. But until reporters are willing to admit this—that is, until they dump their ideological attachment to identity politics in favor of the truth—news consumers worldwide will continue to receive news reports that obfuscate more than they tell us about the world we live in.
THE AL JAZEERA EFFECT
Foreign Policy, February 8, 2011
“Long live Al Jazeera!” chanted Egyptian protesters in Tahrir Square on Feb. 6. Many Arabs—not least the staff at Al Jazeera—have said for years that the Arab satellite network would help bring about a popular revolution in the Middle East. Now, after 15 years of broadcasting, it appears the prediction has come true. There is little question that the network played a key role in the revolution that began as a ripple in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, and ended up a wave that threatens to wash away Egypt’s long-standing regime.…
Al Jazeera’s powerful images of angry crowds and bloody morgues undercut the Egyptian regime’s self-serving arguments and stood in sharp contrast to the state-run TV channels, which promoted such a dishonest version of events that some of their journalists resigned in disgust. At least one popular TV talk-show presenter, Mahmoud Saad, was later seen being carried on the shoulders of triumphant demonstrators in Tahrir Square. While Al Jazeera was showing hundreds of thousands of people calling for the end of the regime, Egyptian TV showed humdrum scenes of traffic quietly passing by; when Al Jazeera reported hundreds of people queuing for bread and petrol, Egyptian TV showed happy shoppers with full fridges using footage filmed at an unknown time in the past.
During the uprising in Cairo, the Egyptian government systematically targeted Al Jazeera in an attempt to impede the network’s gathering and broadcasting of news. On Jan. 27 Al Jazeera Mubasher, the network’s livechannel, was dropped by the government-run satellite transmission company, Nilesat. On Jan. 30, outgoing Egyptian Information Minister Anas al-Fiqi ordered the offices of all Al Jazeera bureaus in Egypt to be shut down and the accreditation of all network journalists to be revoked. At the height of the protests, Nilesat broke its contractual agreement with the network and stopped transmitting the signal of Al Jazeera’s Arabic channel—which meant viewers outside Egypt could only follow the channel on satellites not controlled by the Egyptian authorities. To the rescue came at least 10 other Arabic-language TV stations, which stepped in and offered to carry Al Jazeera’s content.…
[On Jan. 31], six Al Jazeera English journalists were briefly detained and then released, their camera equipment confiscated by the Egyptian military. On Feb. 3, two unnamed Al Jazeera English journalists were attacked by Mubarak supporters; three more were detained. On Feb. 4, Al Jazeera’s Cairo office was stormed and vandalized by pro-Mubarak supporters. Equipment was set on fire and the Cairo bureau chief and an Al Jazeera correspondent were arrested. Two days later, the Egyptian military detained another correspondent, Ayman Mohyeldin; he was released after nine hours in custody. The Al Jazeera website has also been under relentless cyberattack since the onset of the uprising.…
After the first few days of the uprising, the Egyptian state media began running an insidious propaganda campaign in an apparent effort to terrorize ordinary Egyptians into staying at home and off the streets. Channel 1 on Egypt state TV issued vague yet alarming warnings about armed thugs trying to infiltrate the protests and later broadcast live phone-ins in which members of the public complained about looting and disorder.… Egyptian state media also issued warnings of international journalists with a “hidden agenda” and accused Al Jazeera of “inciting the people.” One supposed “foreign agent” was shown on Egyptian state TV with face obscured, claiming that she had been trained by “Americans and Israelis” in Qatar, where Al Jazeera is based.
But the lid on Pandora’s box has been prized open.… Given Al Jazeera’s enormous influence on the Arab street and its…message that Arab dictatorships are, in fact, mortal, it is no wonder dictators and despots across the region have been left feeling rather rattled.… But whether the Al Jazeera effect will continue to ripple across the Middle East or the heavy hand of state pressure will attempt to shut Pandora’s box again—however temporarily—is yet too close to call.
You are cordially invited to a film screening to be held at the Beth Zion Congregation on Sunday, February 20, 2011 at 8:00 PM. The documentary “Iranium” gives the viewing public a better understanding of the threat posed by a nuclear Iran. The Honourable Irwin Cotler MP will be the guest speaker. Prof. Cotler’s knowledge of the repressive Iranian regime is vast and his work on international human rights issues is tremendous.
A true social action program, there will be a petition available for signing, which will ask the Federal government to redouble its efforts to hold the Iranian leadership accountable for state-sanctioned domestic repression and human rights abuses. Prof. Cotler has promised to personally bring this petition to the House of Commons.
Please call the Beth Zion office at 514-489-8411 #24 to reserve your place.