Friday, October 14, 2005

Why an 18-Month-Old Article Is Still Valid Today And What Protests to the Contrary Tell Us About the Protestors

There are three kinds of lies, said Mark Twain: lies, damn lies, and statistics.

I. The Dog That Didn't Bark

After brushing aside a key article (one of great consequence in that it refutes completely the msm's hand-wringing view of the war) due to the fact that it is not recent and that it allegedly stands alone and in spite (or because, rather) of the (very) strong and near-unanimous opinions of Iraqis expressed therein (Il est presque impossible, hormis chez les responsables baasistes déchus, de trouver quelqu'un qui soutienne la position de Paris dans la crise; La politique de la France reste très vivement critiquée par les Irakiens), suggestions arise that instead, a typical msm article written in the usual hand-wringing fashion is an irrefutable indicator of Iraqi opinion, as is a single question-answer in a poll that is… 15 months old.

The strongly-expressed opinions of Iraqis clearly spelled out in excruciating detail are brushed aside; the single questions — to which respondents usually have no more than three (yes, no, no opinion) to five (strongly agree to strongly disagree, less safe to more safe) choices — is supposed to be taken as gospel, ignoring the context (the poll was taken right after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke out).

Ignored also is the fact that poll questions are posed without necessary links between each other. But what may be most interesting are the questions not asked. Ergo:

None of the following questions seem to have been asked: "Was life better before the invasion?" or "Do/did you have more confidence in the Ba'ath party?" Furthermore, "Are you content with the disappearance of the Ba'ath party" (assuming that question had been asked, which it was not) and "Do you approve of the foreigners' presence in Iraq" is not the same as "Do you approve of the presence of the army which brought an end to the reign of a repressive dictator and his fascist régime?"

II. The MSM Seems to Choose Only Anniversaries to Present Viewpoints That Don't Coincide With Its' Heralded Opinions

Some might use this issue to accuse me of extrapolating and putting words in the Iraqis' mouths, but this is not simply an intellectual exercise: if there has been a poll that did not invariably indicate that a majority of Iraqis (usually, an overwhelming one) are better off than they used to be and that they feel more optimistic about their future than they ever had in the past, I have not heard of it.

Indeed, it is precisely because I seek out the Iraqis in their own words why I turn to the article in which, exceptionally, Le Monde decided to have its Baghdad correspondant ask the inhabitants about their views about the war.

Still, we are told that the Iraqis' near-unanimous support of the war is not good enough and we are asked, therefore, have there been any more recent articles allowing the Iraqis to speak their minds.

Well, as a matter of a fact, there have.

Just like Le Monde used the first anniversary of the war to ask Iraqis their opinion, the BBC used the second anniversary of the war to do the same. Here is its report on Iraqis facing new lives.

Although a few voices complained of the security situation, not one voiced regret for the overthrow of the previous regime.

Listen to Saad:

Let me describe our situation before the fall of the previous regime. We were like a sick, weak prisoner under the thumb of a cruel jailer.

Then, suddenly and without warning, the gates of our prison were flung open. We were told: "Come on, you are free!"

… the moment of salvation came. Perhaps I shouldn't use the phrase "moment of salvation", for to do so implies we were expecting such a moment when in truth we were feeling hopeless.

Call it what you will, it happened and it was a magnificent thing.

How can you react to this?

Well, you can say that the report is six months old (instead of 18, in the case of Le Monde), and ask if there are any reports that are more recent than that one?

But hold on a minute. Think about it: what would you be doing, in this case and in that of Le Monde?

In both, you just happen to be putting into doubt information that happen to favor Bush and/or the United States.

In both, you just happen to be refraining from putting into doubt the msm commentators' that the situation in Iraq is "chaos", that it is full of "terror" and "massacres". (In fact, we were treated to a reader linking us to an msm article saying just that.)

And so, I suggest that we should ask ourselves not "Are there more articles of the sort (and what do they indicate)?" but rather, "Why aren't there more articles of the sort (and what does that indicate)?"

Because when you think about it, there isn't no reason there should not be more articles of the type; there is no reason msm reporters couldn't file mass interviews with common Iraqis every six months (instead of every year), every three months, or every three weeks, or every week…

Is there, now?

Except, of course, that the expressions of (relative) satisfaction contradict the overarching judgments of the editors in their Western city offices — you know, the ones using emotionally-charged words of the superlative kind (words like "chaos", "massacres", "terror") ad infinitum and the ones constantly referring to polls — but only when they oppose the war and America (or Bush).

So who has to give? The America- (or Bush-) bashers (including the MSM)? Or the Iraqi people For the America- (or Bush-) bashing msm, the questions seems to be a no-brainer. That is why we see so few msm articles devoted to the opinions of common Iraqi citizens. (That is, unless you happen to be a Pole born in communist Poland and raised on a diet of bad news about America and good news about anybody opposed to Uncle Sam.)

It is a sell-out attitude that spreads to the rest of the population, notably those… putting the information in this article into doubt.

III. The "But" Response on Automatic

Of course, this is missing the true meaning of the article; or, rather, the true meaning of the response I get from people I show the article to.

The people who usually castigate Bush and/or America show no interest in the article. Like the flight attendant, they brush off the evidence immediately. The little interest some show is to dismiss it, castigate it, or otherwise dispose of it (among other ways, by focusing on the date).

And in this respect, they join the company of the web browsers asking for more recent articles, n'est-ce pas?

Do you know when was the first time I heard doubt expressed about this article? It was not 18 months after it appeared. It was not 12 months after it appeared, it was not six months after it appeared, or 12 weeks, or six weeks.

It was when it appeared.

I was then asked, or told, rather, that we shall see how long the Iraqis cling to this opinion.

And when I pointed out that a Baghdad boy born in June 2003 had been given the first name George Bush, what response did I get? I was asked: "oh, is that still his name today?"

Now, choosing the name of one's child and the type of viewpoint expressed by nearly every Iraqi in Rémy Ourdan's article are pretty strong indicators of opinion, and yet the opinions are put into question.

This, of course, is a game that can go on forever. Do the Iraqis feel the same as 18 months ago can become, will they feel the same 18 months from now, and, will they feel the same in the next 18 years.

I think it is safe to assume that the same people's response to the above-mentioned Iraqi is, "Oh well, but how does Saad feel today?" And if we could produce him here now, the response would be, "Well, sure, but how will he feel in six (12) months' / six (12) years' / six (12) decades' time?"

In 2053, when George Bush Abdul Kader Faris Abed El-Hussein is 50 years old, they can ask, will he still be wearing that name.

So what does all this tell us? It tells us nothing about Iraqis' opinions. It tells us nothing about the war in Iraq or the country itself. It tells us only about the doubters.

Any opinion, and any fact, and every opinion, and every fact, must always be placed into doubt when it happens to, or seems to, favor the United States.

When polls castigate America (or Bush), you will notice that nobody asks, well how will the French feel about this 18 months later. (Of course, it is true that there is little chance that they will feel any different, given how used they have become to putting into doubt any positive information from Iraq that puts Uncle Sam in a good light.)

Often, when the positive information seemed irrefutable, I get this laconic comment:

Well, it's such a complicated story, we can't judge now, we will have to wait a few years before we can really know.
Of course, this is falling back on the BUT argument, and it is more evidence of double standards. They did not bring up the complicated-story-impossible-to-judge canard when it came to praising the UN and Villepin and the crowds marching against America in the streets while castigating Bush and the "massacres" and the "chaos" in Iraq.

Needless to say, this is not an isolated case, far from it. Notice how very little was/is made of elections in which pro-war governments win the vote, and how polls, such as the Danish one, where a majority of people support the war are totally ignored (in marked contrast to those in which populations — often whose countries have no ties to the war at all — are opposed to the war). In the same vein, American polls where Bush's numbers are up are commented on laconically, but when the president's rate of approval goes down, this is commented on excitedly as evidence that the American people are coming to their senses. Not unsimilarly. Fox is castigated throughout the year, but when a news report calls the government's response to hurricane Katrina "shameful", every news outlet and every French blogger in America is sure to quote it.

This does not show interest in polls, or even in the news. Worse, this shows an absence of intellectual curiosity and a total lack of willingness for honest inquiry. What this shows is interest in the news only when it seems to favor their viewpoint and validate the (self-serving) opinion that (average or conservative) Americans (and their allies) are dumb, treacherous, and clueless while "we" humanistic souls are wise, tolerant, solidaristic, visionary, and (last but not least) lucide.

Articles in which Iraqi opinions are freely expressed do not reflect that, and so they are suppressed. (At least, until that time when their opinions will match those of the avant-garde left.)