GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

July 28, 2006

Darkest Just before the Dawn?

Filed under: GA — ericgans @ 12:31 am

The MacNeil-Lehrer newshour, which I’ve watched over the years as a reasonably fair-minded program, has an interesting way of covering the recent Israel-Hezbollah conflict. They begin with one of those British reporters who must learn their craft in a mortuary–every sentence ends with a fall–showing us the latest results of Israeli destruction; bombed-out buildings, piles of rubble (today one was topped with a dusty child’s toy), interviews with homeless victims… The strongly conveyed implication is that Israel is indiscriminately bombing “innocent people” for no reason except revenge or general frustration. Then we have our Israel segment, much shorter, with perhaps a bit of destruction, but more likely some footage of soldiers preparing for battle, sitting on a tank, maybe evacuating their wounded. In short, the tough military against the helpless civilians.

Well, journalism today is victimary to the core; if it bleeds (and there’s a reporter around to blame it on the US, Israel, or Mother Nature), it leads. But I was a bit taken aback by the following segment, which involved a group of specialists in the Arab media, but no one remotely connected to Israel, discussing the grave problem that, in contrast with the enlightened Middle East, the USA is getting a one-sided account of the fighting–the Israeli side. It appears that “the media” have bettter contacts in Israel than with Hezbollah and are misleading their viewers into thinking that this is just a John Wayner between the good guys and the bad guys; “nuance” is being lost. Ah, those Israeli lobbyists… And it’s nice to know that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is helping to restore the balance by its “nuanced” reporting of Israeli devastation.

On reflection, I found this little cloud was not without backlighting. If the media elite are suddenly so concerned about nuance, could it be for fear that segments of the population may be slipping away from the victimary perspective? That maybe even Democratic politicians are recalling that FDR, HST, and JFK were not pacifiists?

Let’s not speak of antisemitism. The point of this reporting is to show us that all “war is hell,” but that if one comes down to cases, the winning side is perforce more warlike and therefore more hellish than the losers. This way of thinking has been instilled in the European psyche since the early postwar era; Marguerite Duras/Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima mon amour is a beautiful demonstration that the Japanese and the Germans were the real victims of WWII–because they lost. Thinking like this bears no costs when one is protected by “deterrence” that makes the hellishness of war logically inconceivable. But it wouldn’t have worked with Hitler and it’s not going to work with Ahmadinejad. Sometimes you just have to want to win, to be “more hellish” than the other guy because you’re the one with the white hat. Let’s hope that the Hamas-Hezbollah wakeup call is enough to remind us of this.

-eric gans


  1. It’s been pointed out that Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as Al-Queda, are not trying to defeat us or Israel in the traditional sense, at least not in the short term. They’re not that stupid. Their strategy is public relations, to be portrayed as both heros and victims. In this way they can gain advantages at the negotiation table, or simply concessions and recognition. THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS is the classic cinematic example of terrorist strategy (I have no idea how historically accurate it is). In any case, doesn’t our strategy against the terrorists have to take these issues into account somehow?

    Comment by Q — July 28, 2006 @ 8:59 am

  2. Of course that’s true, but isn’t “public relations” just another term for “white guilt”? They are heroes for punishing us, nothing more, and they are victims to the extent that anyone we fight against are by definition victims. What is remarkable here is the way the definition of hero and victim has been “minimalized” here, defined completely in terms of the guilty “white” center: nothing, absolutely nothing, these groups do could earn them such designations aside from their sheer otherness to us. Gans has distinguished the “classical” national liberation strategy of terrorism from this new apocalyptic one, which, even in your own description here is far more open-ended and therefore far more difficult (if at all possible) to satisfy than driving out the colonizer (I don’t mean to suggest that you are proposing trying to satisfy them–just that the very notion that they are aiming at “concessions or recognition” implies such a calculation, somewhere down the road). So the implications for strategy would be to fight them uncompromisingly in such a way as to “mark” the center (white guilt being the guilt of the unmarked to the marked), while keeping the center/margin relation intact, i.e., acknowledging the necessity of a center, to be defended simply by whoever is capable of defending it rather than by some natural occupant.

    Comment by adam — July 28, 2006 @ 10:14 am

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