Monday, October 24, 2005

The Face of Tribalism — in the Middle East and in Europe

A Sunni grandmother watched the first day of Saddam Hussein's trial on television and scoffed that he should be charged at all. "I felt sorry," she told The Washington Post, "I almost cried. Every country in the world has terrorism. All the presidents in this region torture their people. Why, of all the countries, do they come after us?"

That is the face of tribalism -- pride in one's own trumps every other consideration -- most definitely including morality, compassion and a love of justice. Saddam is a Sunni Arab who committed the most brutal crimes against the Shiite majority and the Kurdish minority in Iraq. Estimates of the number he murdered range from 300,000 to over 1 million if those who died in his aggressive wars against Iran and Kuwait are included.

But in the tribal world of the Middle East, being a mass murderer, torturer, liar and supporter of terrorists does not guarantee a bad reputation. It depends whom you ask.

As his trial opened (and then abruptly adjourned for 40 days), Sunni Arabs expressed disquiet. "Saddam doesn't deserve all this," Ahmad Muhammad, a Mosul taxi driver complained to The New York Times. …

Read the rest of Mona Charen's article. Meanwhile, Robert Tracinski (who has noticed the same NYT article) points out that
The trial of Saddam Hussein is going to have a big impact across the Arab world, an impact assessed in two items … from Washington Post blogger (or quasi-blogger, since he's part of the dreaded MSM) Jefferson Morley. The story in the Lebanon Daily Star …which links Saddam's trial with the Hariri investigation in Syria, is definitely worth reading.

What is amusing is the "unease" Saddam's trial creates among all of the supporters of Arab tyranny--as it should, if the example of holding leaders accountable for their actions catches on. Meanwhile, the New York Times covers the trial with its usual impartiality by trolling Baghdad for Saddam's few remaining fans

There are two lessons here — one in each article — and, unfortunately, they both apply to France.

First of all, "the unease Saddam's trial creates among all of the supporters of Arab tyranny" — this also applies outside of the Arab world, of course. For the past month, France's MSM has been covering the Saddam trial with also its usual impartiality. The country has been replete with scorn for the kangaroo court, admiration for the "high and mighty" dictator (and his "rendez-vous with destiny"), indulgence for terrorist sympathizers, complete and terminal dismissal of the constitution, and, yes, the hunt for Saddam fans (notice how the first testimony against Saddam is actually a back-handed slap at Americans).

Oh, and here is the lesson regarding the Iraq war that Le Nouvel Observateur's Claude Perdriel would have the students of Paris's Journalism Training Centre learn: "the American press was intoxicated by a disinformation operation without precedent". (Still don't understand what the Oil-for-Food scandal tells you about the "peace camp's" choices during the crisis, do you, Monsieur Perdriel, or the failure of the French press in covering that beyond the usual token articles?)

All of this is linked to the second lesson : tribalism.

Information is never neutral. Positive news about the "other" tribe must always be placed into doubt. Negative news about one's own tribe must always be given a positive spin.

And those who don't ascribe to that positive spin — whether fellow tribe members or foreigners (certain webmasters come to mind) — must undergo pressure, be castigated, be submitted to ridicule, and threatened with banishment unless they relent.

It is taken for granted that opinions are a communal trait, not an individual one: e.g., if an American even wants to put some facts about Bush into perspective, laconic smiles appear, along with words such as: C'est normal qu'il pense comme ça, il est américain. That, even if the American voted against Bush! This is not the type of atmosphere that invites debate or encourages open discussion. Unless the surrounding pressure, or the individual's personal inclination, forces him to agree with the pervading viewpoint, he is assaulted with ridicule, with anger, with spite and finally invited (in less subtle language) to leave the country.

Nationality doesn't matter. Remember only what happened to French war-supporter Pascal Bruckner:

I learned what it is to get insulted in the street, threats on the telephone. My North African friends told me, "You have brain damage", those of the Esprit review dropped me. … I felt very alone.
In a Canal + TV show, the democratization in Eastern Europe is given a bad name simply because it allegedly happened under the helm of Washington.

"Imposing demoracy"; "the American brand"; "A real marketing of the revolution with its codes, its colors, its slogans"; "a green revolution, the dollar revolution"; and finally a word from the filmmaker (described as seeing with "a citizen-like, a humane, a sensitive look"): "all those we met were so persuaded of being on the right side of history [suggesting that they obviously were not so] that they let us film them with no problems" (suggesting, in turn, that the filmmakers were far from forthcoming about their partisan intentions). The humane and sensitive citizen Manon Loizeau (who spent seven years in Russia) goes on:

At first, I thought I was making a movie about an American plot … But today, I wonder. Why is Europe absent? To what degree will the Americans succeed in imposing their ideology of democracy?
Guillaume Fraissard's article ends with the sentence, "Manon Loizeau hopes to be able to soon return to those countries in order to verify, with hindsight, if the promised democracy was really achieved." In other words, unless a lucid paternalistic French(wo)man verifies it, la démocratie ain't worth m•rde.

Now do you see why the French are impressed by thuggish dictators? Now do you see why they think of all of America's allies, democrats or otherwise, as poodles and lapdogs? Now do you see why they thought Iraq was better off under Saddam Hussein? Now do you understand their country's policies?

While Canal + is preparing a second airing of its show on the Saddam "trial you will not see" (already in October 2004 the powers-that-be were preparing the citizenry for the perfidy of the trial), Guillaume Fraissard and Daniel Psenny inform us that a decision to clamp down on its investigation programs

occurred a couple of weeks after the broadcast of a report with exclusive video on French soldiers shooting on the crowd in front of the Hôtel Ivoire in Abijan on November 6, 2004. A shooting that resulted in several deaths. The scenes broadcast on Canal + irritated France's defence ministry who, after the shooting, affirmed that the soldiers had fired in "self-defense".
To quote Mona Charen again:
That is the face of tribalism -- pride in one's own trumps every other consideration -- most definitely including morality, compassion and a love of justice.
And I would add, it trumps even the desire to be informed and to have one's fellow countrymen be informed.

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