20 January 2016 **** Also published on ZNet, 23 January 2016 **** Front Page
By Bruno Jäntti
It is during exceptional and eventful times when the limited capacity of our political and media discourse to deal with current affairs reveals itself in all of its beauty. The news discourse on Middle Eastern politics is a case in point.
Every now and then, I skim through a few dozen of the most respected English language media outlets that claim to be covering the Middle East with the specific intention of trying to look at the totality of the reporting as a complete novice in the subject matter. As someone who doesn't know what or where the Middle East is but wants to learn about the region and its politics.
The conclusion always seems to be even more grim than my daily experience of doing that very same thing as part of my actual work. There is no way to sugar-coat it: a great deal of these publications are incapable of producing reporting on the Middle East that has insightful value.
This is the status quo of news coverage on the Middle East. The going gets tougher whenever there's a new development. Say, a non-state actor that redraws state borders, massacres thousands of people, attracts thousands of fighters from multiple continents, and declares an expansionist political entity.
The rise of the Islamic State serves as a textbook example of how most Western media outlets are having a hard time providing meaningful accounts of what is taking place. Perhaps more importantly, they are not posing meaningful questions to begin with.
Currently, there's a lot of fuss about “international cooperation” and “working with our allies” in order to dismantle the Islamic State.
That putting an end to the Islamic State requires cooperation between states is a no-brainer. But even if the Islamic State vanished overnight, the landscape of Middle Eastern states is, from the point of view of democratic and human rights principles, nothing short of disastrous.
As was obvious from the outset, the state-controlled media in Middle Eastern countries has indeed seized this precious opportunity, shifting as much attention as possible to the Islamic State. That is, conveniently away from the more unpleasant topics such as structural inequality, racism, misogyny, authoritarianism and theocracy of their own state apparatuses.
This was predictable and we will see more of that in the coming months. That being said, for those who would favor democratic process to absolute monarchies and overt foreign influence, there is immense danger in singing the praises of practices and phrases such as "international cooperation" or "working with our allies". And we hear such formulations constantly from the US-led coalition, Syrian regime, Russia, Iran, Turkey and many others.
Due to the undeveloped and self-serving nature of our mainstream public debate, one of the many unpleasant side effects of the rise of the IS has been that now it is just all too easy to be collectively horrified at the horrible IS while downplaying or exacerbating the much deeper problems inbuilt in the current state structures in the Middle East. People in the Middle East and elsewhere who care about democratic structures and human rights principles need to be able to deal with IS and all other Salafi-Jihadi networks. Those very same people, however, also need to be able to start openly and forcefully addressing the problems with the existing, established state actors of the region and begin to plan ways to drastically decrease the clout of both the domestic Middle Eastern elites and the undemocratic influence of external powers.
For Washington, Brussels and Moscow, "international cooperation" is a fancy way of saying "let us continue to arm and strengthen our totalitarian allies and further our own geopolitical interests at the expense of the general public of the Middle East".
Jimmy Carter, someone who boasts a reputation among many liberals of championing human rights in his foreign policy, stated the following in 1978 about the bigger picture in the Middle East.
“I think it is very good for nations to turn to us for their security needs instead of having to turn to the Soviet Union, as they have in the past. -- You have to remember that Saudi Arabia has never had any active aggression against Israel. Saudi Arabia is our ally and friend. Egypt is our ally and our friend. Israel is our ally and friend.”
Carter made the statement in 1978. It's now 38 years later. In terms of Western self-perception, not a whole lot has changed. American so called liberals and so called conservatives, as well as the European Union, continue to fully collaborate with the absolute monarchies of the Persian Gulf and Israeli settler-colonialism in Israel-Palestine.
The emergence of the Islamic State has bought the newspeak of Western foreign policy more time. What has been true for decades still remains as true as ever: our debate on the Middle East is nowhere near the point where we are capable of posing meaningful questions on Western role in the region.
The archive: Bruno Jäntti, Middle East, Ramzy Baroud, Noam Chomsky, Patrick Cockburn, Robert Fisk, Moshé Machover
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