Keeping the Rabble in Line

Banging on about representation: The would be media lens

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Iraq: Bringing the troops home - The phony debate

"Hey, we're the good guys...if we leave now, they'll be carnage. We simply must stay and get the job done"

Firstly, what exactly is this "job" that needs to be done? Who's doing it? What are they doing it for? And for Whom?

A quick read of any national newspaper, a listen to the radio, or a glance at the TV News -- quickly leads one to encounter only silence with regards to the above questions. Well, perhaps only the most banal of these questions is being asked, and even then, with the answer already assumed. Of course, the job, at least "officially" is the spread of democracy [via napalm, white phosphorous, the flattening of Fallujah, and the killing of perhaps over 98,000 Iraqi's]..."Our Brave Boys" [TradeMark The Sun Newspaper] are the ones doing this job, bravely putting themselves in the line of enemy fire. They're doing it to ensure our security, to spread democracy to the Middle East...and finally, they're doing it for the Iraqi's. Of course much of this is utter rubbish, or at least deserves debating fully. However, the debate that is allowable in the politico/media discourse makes certain assumptions, namely:

That the invaders are acting on behalf of the invaded population;
That "these people" need our help, that "we" are there to save them;
That western power and the agents of that power have only benign, worthy intentions;

These assumptions are the 'only show in town'. So a cast list of "critical attack dogs" bravely surveying and seeking out the truth, appear on our screens and in our newspapers. By means of showboat interruptive interviewing and "hard hitting" commentary, these guardians of the fourth estate monitor the powerful for us. All the time ensuring that we are not lied to. However, the most basic assumptions have already been made. The lines have been drawn: Ok -- this is the territory, these are the issues, any deviation from these lines of enquiry and you'll be silenced, usually absented. To quote Chomsky:

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum - even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there's free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate”

So the "frank and full exchange of views" has a pantomime quality. In fact, it's absolutely a necessary part of the media game. Of late, there have been a plethora of these debate shows and articles.
John Snow on Channel Four News last Wednesday chaired a debate between the ridiculous "pro" and "anti" Iraq conflict commentators. BBC Panorama had a "One Hour Special" two weeks ago structured around the same issues...with the usual cast list. Of course, the anti war opinion [the Lib Dem position] did not dispute the "given" of benign intention, only that this intention was badly planned and executed. Similarly Peter Preston in last Monday's Guardian seemed to suggest, not surprisingly, that one of the real problems with Bush is his over reliance on Dick Cheney. We can presume that "liberal" Preston is not a big fan of Bush, but he does seem to hint that Cheney's pushing him in a more rightward direction, and at the same time, holding him back from a more progressive orientation. Whilst it may be true that Cheney is a zealous "crusader", the implication from Preston is the "creeping chaos" of the current administration can be curbed apres Cheney. I realise this is very loosely linked, but I highlight it here to demonstrate a number of strategies. A) It alludes to the "more innocent" bad planning and execution as opposed to imperialist intention; B) The tactic of blaming one person -- or at the most a "cabal" of neo Cons -- rather than seeing it as a systemic and essential ideology of the political ruling elite. If it's only one or two "bad apples" then these can be dealt with, whilst not examining the entire system with all its attendant corruptions.

Furthermore, via Lenin's Tomb again...Ann Clwyd in discussion with the most famous "attack dog" -- Paxo here is in fantastic form. Her racist assumption[s] regarding the "Iraqi" psyche going unchallenged [of course]. Clwyd makes the most basic [racist] essentialist assumption that "we" [whomever this "we" are] can teach the simple savage "other" some semblance of a value system that they A) previously did not have...and B) that they were/are incapable of possessing by dint of their "psyche". The fact that this passes without critical comment is instructive, and demonstrates the uninterrogative, lazy assumptions and fictional frame that surrounds political debate.

The very idea of imperialism is the great unspoken of our culture. It's un-named and absent, whilst the benign "spreading of democracy" becomes the norm. A cursory glance at many US/UK military adventures would lead one to conclude that imperialist ambition, geo-political strategising, acquisition of energy supplies may at least be a motivating factor. However, that this is absent from the discourse is instructive, revealing and dishonest. To even enter the debate on this territory is to be contained and constrained in and by a conservative ideological discourse. So, a re-framing is required. How this is done, i am not sure [suggestions on a postcard...e-mail...comment?]