The one thing we're all going to have to watch out for is the danger of getting lost in apathy towards the events playing themselves out in the Middle East. I watched 1984 a couple of years back to bring myself up to speed on that old idea of totalitarianism and what really alarmed me was how much it still had relevance for contemporary events.
Mind you, I tried to read Brave New World a few weeks back and put it down out of frustration. Huxley is a bit too pretentious for my liking these days, all that 'free sex' seemed dated and trite, and his style bordered on condescending. It just goes to show, scoring 50% in School Cert. English doesn't mean you won't go on to write a Ph.D.
Thanks be to Bill Gates, hallowed be His name, He who gave us the sacred 'Spelling and Grammar' button.
I was doing the usual browse of opinion pieces this morning looking for a victim and read a column by Tony Parkinson of The Age. There's only one word for this kind of style, and that's rabid. Perhaps like another Parkinson I could name Tony is suffering the effects of age on his memory, because this reads nothing like what I've seen going on in Iraq.
Now, I'm sure everybody is sick and tired of being reminded that the real problem with Iraq is that the leaders of the Coalition lied to their constituents to justify a war they had already decided to wage. But lets haul out that hoary old chestnut one more time.
Back in 2002 it was not a question of the need to remove a ruthless dictator, it was about an impending threat. It was not about the beautiful blossoming of freedom across the world, in a casade of Muslim women skipping through the medina, hand in hand, their raven locks flying free, free in the breeze and their faces shining to the desert sun. "Let freedom reign", what a cheesy schmuck.
Iraq is all about the fact that the hawks used a series of pretences to invade a country, and are now using an entirely different set of pretences to justify it, while passing off the old pretences as 'intelligence failures'. Once again, lets not mince words. We were lied to.
In his attempt to demonise the insurgency, and indirectly any "lefties" who use the resistance to the Coalition as an indication of US folly, Parkinson selectively portrays information about how many innocents have been killed ('hundreds', but ignores the body count from the invasion itself), and deliberately avoids the real point about the executions of hostages, that they're wearing orange overalls, just like the victims in Abu Ghraib and Cuba.
And, he uses the phrase 'Islamic fascism'. I first heard this about three years ago from a right-winger I went to school with, and it's interesting that the term is starting to work its way into neo-conservative parlance. A more emotionally loaded term I can't imagine. The attempt to link 'fascism' with what is actually 'fundamentalism' is no so much misrepresentative as underhand. The US is a world centre of fundamentalism, where women obeying their husbands, discipline, and punishment are just fine if its good Christian values that underpin them.
One thing I've learnt from experience is that you can't reason with blokes like Parkinson. If you try to point this type of stuff out they'll simply label you as a sympathiser or apologist. Moreover, if you maybe point out that the executions started after 'those photos' were publicised they'll scream that it's no justification for 'butchery'. Like I say. Rabid.
So lets look at the bigger picture, which is where any reasonable person has to go, and where you can usually avoid neo-cons. Lets talk books (not bombs). Ok, this is misleading, because I think I might have read 1984, but can't remember it. I do remember the movie though.
If you haven't seen it, it's a frightening piss-take of totalitarianism, such as Soviet Russia. What really hits home is the way that people are told what to think, what to wear, the landscape is buggered, life is shit, etc etc. The lesson we get to take away is that freedom, free speech and buying stuff is 'good', while oppression, too much government, towing the line and no stuff to buy is 'bad'.
No one can really argue with that. Sure, maybe after the fall of the Soviets ordinary people in Russia might have been stating that they'd rather have a decent meal that be 'free', but hey, I'm sure things have come right since the bleak days of 1992. So now, apparently, Russians live in a world of democracy where you can be free, do what ever you want, go where you want, ra ra ra. And presumably if you have a pay packet that allows you to be, so do we.
But I'm beginning to question this. With freedom of information and the ability of ordinary people to publicise their ideas, in combination with governments, non-governmental organisations, corporations and new publicity methods like the internet there is a HUGE volume of 'stuff' on any particular topic. It is becoming more and more the case that being informed on anything at all is a major undertaking. I know in my own case that there is simply so much stuff I have to read that it is almost overwhelming.
So there's a new danger I reckon, and one that's more insipid than blanket totalitarianism. My concern is the exploitation of 'the people' through too much information (I've got a suspicion that this is Chomsky speaking, but I'm not sure. Readers, please enlighten me). What happened around the invasion of Iraq is that massive amounts of information were published every day, everywhere, and we were bombarded with 'news' about how, why and who was going to cop it.
Now, I don't mean to patronise the man in the street, but if I'm busy trying to make ends meet, handle a family, have a social life, and follow a team, how the hell am I going to achieve a balanced viewpoint on an issue as big as international relations? The truth is that people don't. Instead, people believe what they're told by the doyens of the media or academia. That little bit of trust that goes a long way.
The danger I'm talking about is that too much information is almost as bad as no information at all, because if it stills boils down to trusting what we're being fed, then we the public can still be exploited by corrupt leadership.
And I think that in Iraq we were, and still are.
Now, this leads me to question why people like Parkinson are so dedicated to seeing Iraq invaded and becoming a democracy? Shares in Halliburton? A deep conviction in the belief that liberal democracy is the zenith of human governance? Fundamentalist Christian crusading? Who knows.
All that is certain is that people like Parkinson represent a particular kind of 'culture warrior' who see Western values and norms as the most appropriate for everybody. And I meant everybody in the whole world. So when he's having a little rant and stereotyping Muslims as being willing to self-sacrifice, he conveniently overlooks common English concepts like 'martyr' and 'going to Heaven', that are pretty deeply ingrained in Christian societies. As if getting yourself nailed to a cross in the name of religion is 'normal'.
Inside liberal democracies these culture warriors rail against the decline of Christian morality, the influence of foreign ideas and make grandiose claims about the slide into anarchy if we allow minorities the right to be different. To my mind these people are really, really dangerous, and are the real source of world-wide opposition to liberal democracies.
This is in no way meant to be an apology for fanatics like the Taliban. These blokes still are butchers (the war in Afghanistan is far, far fromover). But, ignoring American gulags while going into a lather about Islam in the same way Cold War Warriors used to fly into hysteria about 'commies' is helping no-one. The public has to trust the media and political figures. Rabid commentary and posing Iraq as a battleground in the clash of civilisations is unbelievably irresponsible.