Wednesday, May 7, 2008

'Cultural Clashes'?--solution Said

Two interesting pieces on the American experience in Iraq

The LA Times on "cultural clashes" in Iraq.

        I found it yet another amazing instance of how stupidity is such an integral part of every layer of human interaction. Leaving aside the criminal negligence of Blackwater Corp and the pathetic attempts by the US. authorities to buy off the victims and their near and dear, what is infinitely annoying is the "o-so-matter-of fact" and "know-it-all" tone adopted by the newspaper in reporting the issue. Take a look at this:
"But traditional Arab society values honor and decorum above all. If a man kills or badly injures someone in an accident, both families convene a tribal summit. The perpetrator admits responsibility, commiserates with the victim, pays medical expenses and other compensation, all over glasses of tea in a tribal tent."

        And this is not a quote but a comment by the authors of this piece. This comment and the rest of the article completely recreate the old, oft-repeated stereotype of the strange, exotic, obscure Arab who just cannot understand plain common sense/logic/reason blinded as he is by a weird set of irrational webs comprising archaic, irrelevant concepts. Of course, it is to be noted that "plain common sense" in this case would be accepting some money and keeping quiet when your loved ones have been killed for no reason whatsoever. And the LA Times is supposedly liberal. So be careful the next time you are asked to proclaim your political affiliation on a social networking site.

A 'response' was posted here.
"If Orientalism had been widely read among the military and foreign affairs folks, perhaps the attitudes of some highly influential people would not have been quite so smug. Perhaps they would have entertained a few more doubts. Perhaps the thought of torturing their fellow human beings might have made them a bit queasy."

        A fascinating read, if only for the elevated level of wishful thinking. I mean, unlike "if everyone had money nobody would be poor" and "if men truly respected women there would be no harassment", the author speculates about how reading Orientalism would have made a bit of a difference in Iraq. The major fact being ignored is that while "Ideas have consequences", an idea itself does not stand in isolation. The circumstances under which an idea comes to prominence also ensure that it gains prominence among certain groups at certain times. Speculating beyond those boundaries makes for entertaining reading but..

HT: Matthew Yglesias

No comments: