Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Fighting the Last Propaganda War (And Losing. And not Learning)

Daniel Pipes is a man at odds with the neocons and the White House. One point of disagreement is the issue of democratisation of the greater Middle East.

Another, perhaps even more important one is the war of ideas, which Dr. Pipes tells us we are losing, as we attempt to re-fight the Cold War. The key issue here is that the Cold War model does not apply for a very simple reason:

The people of the Soviet Block did not trust their leaders. Most yearned to be liberated from the social and economic hell of Communism and preferred risky, illegal and rarely available Western information sources, which the authorities would jam, block and punish heavily for. The majority of the population of the Soviet Block were in fact prisoners who wanted out, or welcomed the West to liberate and reform them.

The sad thing is, that the media holding the same priveleged position in the Arab and Muslim world is not Western media but the likes of Al Jazeera and Al Manar...

There is an exception, and that is Iran. In Iran we have a Cold War scenario, and a golden opportunity. Most of the population feels more affinity with us than with the oppressive, authoritarian regime that they are forced to live with.

Lebanon may also be moving in a better direction, but I reserve judgement for now.

Sadly, this does not hold in the rest of the Muslim world, especially the Arab world. This applies not only to the Greater Middle East but also to the Arab diaspora. A different model applies: while most Arabs hate their leaders, they hate the West even more, and see hope, if any only in Islamism, or home-grown conspiracy theories.

While many are familiar with the brilliant, witty, informative and brave pro-Western bloggers of Iraq and Egypt, we can see from recent elections that they represent an enlightened though impotent sliver of the population, while Islamists win big.

Daniel Pipes presents an eloquent summary of the situation, and a rather plausible though challenging solution:

Unlike the Soviet bloc, the Muslim world lacks not access to
reliable information but interest in it. The reasons are many but perhaps the
most salient of them are a
disposition to
believe in conspiracy theories
and an attraction to
totalitarian solutions
. Rather than try to purvey
information to Muslims, State (and its counterparts elsewhere) should instead
assert the case for liberal, secular, and humane values. More than facts, the
Muslim world needs to understand the basics of what makes the West thrive – and
thereby be inspired to emulate it.
I trust that the powers that be are taking heed.
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