Monday, February 27, 2006[posted by jaed at 2:15 PM]
The cold breath of the silence
Douglas Murray writes in the London Times:
...The silencing happens bit by bit. A student paper in Britain that ran the Danish cartoons got pulped. A London magazine withdrew the cartoons from its website after the British police informed the editor they could not protect him, his staff, or his offices from attack.A few days ago, this silence breathed past me, just for a moment. I was considering a project involving the history of Islamic thought in light of the life and times of Muhammed; some of my prospective research topics are likely to lead to uncomplimentary conclusions. And I had a strange thought in the midst of this: I asked myself, would I be in danger if I wrote about such-and-such a topic? Would there be death threats? Could I get it published by normal channels in the first place, or would the publisher fear bombing or threats? If I published on the web, would the web host demur on grounds of safety?
It was a foreign sensation and very strange. I cannot remember ever before wondering whether it might be unsafe - physically unsafe - to write certain things about history. Unsafe politically, perhaps, or bad for the reputation, but the prospect of death? Absurd. I had never thought such a thing before. Yet here I was, thinking it now. The cold breath of the silence wafted past me and I shuddered at it.
For an American, this fear is almost purely hypothetical. There have been very few violent jihadist attacks here, although one of the most spectacular and deadly occurred in the US, and none against individuals. In Europe, however, it's a different story. Theo van Gogh, Pym Fortuyn, Salman Rushdie all those years ago... these stand as scarecrows warning European thinkers away from certain topics.
Those scholars who analyzes Islam in Europe today in anything less than the most obsequious terms are taking a serious risk. I am not, at least not yet. The silence hasn't touched us here; as yet, it's only a brief cold sensation, a momentary thought, a slight drift away from what might be dangerous and into safer waters.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006[posted by jaed at 9:23 AM]
Mirror-imaging, the press, the public, and Bush
The Big Guy had a post yesterday on the Dubai ports deal, with a series of updates from various military types attesting to UAE cooperation and help in the war, along with some speculation that any "quid pro quo" which helped put this deal through might have to do with the current Big Headache, Iran. Glenn notes at the end, "You'd think the White House would have been ready with stuff like this, wouldn't you?"
The same thing occurred to me, and I wonder whether there's not a kind of mirror-imaging going on in the White House. (Mirror imaging is a sort of failure of imagination that's a common pitfall for intelligence analysts: the analyst assumes that everyone has the same information and works on the same values he does, and his interpretations and predictions may be way off if the people he's analyzing are nothing like him. He's analyzing how he himself would react in that situation, instead of how the actual people will act.)
I'm assuming that whoever made this decision, and analyzed its impact on the public, is well aware of UAE assistance and goodwill. If we had a press worth the name, the public also would be generally aware of these things, but we don't and it's not. Did whoever made these decisions forget that, and assume that the public had the same sort of information as was current in the White House - and therefore would see the benefits of this deal without them having to be explained?
I've seen hints of this syndrome in regard to Bush's foreign-policy thrust, and in regard to the reasons for invading Iraq. Specifically, no one who's familiar with the sequence and timing of Bush's major foreign-policy addresses of 2002 and 2003 would think that "WMDs" were the only or main reason, but most people never heard about those speeches, and those they did hear about (the 2003 State of the Union, primarily) have been systematically reminded of the WMD references over the years. The result is that the public is badly-enough informed on the subject that most people seem to think WMDs were the only or the main reason, notwithstanding the historical record. Why has the White House publicity machine not been harder-hitting on this subject? My uninformed guess is that it's because they know what Bush was saying during that critical year, the text is readily available on the web to anyone who wants to read it, and they don't quite appreciate how badly the public has been misled since then. So they don't see the need.
People who get their news from primary sources and expert commenters should never underestimate how scanty is the information possessed by people whose only source of news is CNN, the big 4 news shows, their local paper, and Time or Newsweek.