Monday, April 14, 2003

Julian Sanchez provides us with a useful reminder of old-line left notions of "false consciousness":

These are most familiar if you've debated with one of the few genuine Marxists not yet being protected in some endangered species habitat somewhere, and generally purport to explain how it is that person X really only believes/argues Y because of some hidden cause -- social conditioning, or economic self-interest.

Tom Friedman provides a helpful example:

There are still two other walls holding back the explosion of freedom in the Arab East -- much harder walls -- that will also have to fall.

The first is the wall in the Arab mind. I hit my head against that wall two weeks ago in Cairo, while discussing the war with Egyptian opposition journalists in Feshawi's teahouse, the writing hangout of Naguib Mahfouz. These journalists could see nothing good coming from the U.S. "occupation" of Iraq, which they insisted was being done only to put Arabs down, strengthen Israel and extract oil.

Such encounters made clear to me that America was not just at war with Saddam, but with Saddamism: an entrenched Arab mind-set, born of years of colonialism and humiliation, that insists that upholding Arab dignity and nationalism by defying the West is more important than freedom, democracy and modernization.

It couldn't possibly be that the Arabs have taken a clear-eyed look at American policies, honestly observed a consistent tilt towards Israel, and support for corrupt and undemocratic regimes such as those now in power in Egypt and Saudi Arabia; that they have then taken a good, clear-eyed look at our current escapade as well, and see no reason yet to believe it is anything different. They must be expecting "freedom, democracy, and modernization" to come to Iraq, just like Friedman does -- and if they think the invasion is a bad idea, well then, they just don't want democracy to flower. Either that, or something just struck them blind. Hence "Saddamism" -- a locution that grants Saddam a kind of eminence he could only wish for when he was in power. Because if otherwise rational people seem to see the world differently than Tom Friedman does, there must be a boogeyman.

If you're curious, Friedman goes from that "first" wall, straight to the discussion of the "third wall -- the wall of cement, fear and barbed wire being erected between Israelis and Palestinians." The second wall, which he mentioned first, is the sand berm around Um Qasr, which joins the lofty company of the other "walls holding back the explosion of freedom in the Arab East" because Friedman is once again trying to use irrelevant bits of local color to add artistic verisimilitude to his bald and unconvincing narratives. And while I'm on the subject, "walls holding back the explosion of freedom in the Arab East" is an ineptly turned phrase at the best of times, doubly so after explosions of other kinds in the streets and byways of Iraq. But the gravitas of Friedman's reputation transcends such comparative trivia as logic and good English. Does anyone even pretend to edit this guy's stuff?


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