All Quiet on the Western Front
On Monday, October 28, an explosion and heavy gunfire were reported outside the US embassy in Yemen. You may have heard about it. It got a brief mention on all the cable news channels with promises of more on this story as it develops including possible casualties. It pierced my leftist information silo through a small paragraph on Gawker mentioning this fact and nothing else. It was, a sobering reminder, indeed, of the dangerous world we live in. A moment of pause, for reflection that for all the criticism we do and outrage we share about the military-industrial complex, they really are working to keep us, Americans, safe. A few hours later, there was more on this story as it developed: the explosions were fireworks from a wedding party. Now this is far from the first time that the US has “mistaken” a wedding party for so-called terrorist activity, as quite a few former citizens of Afghanistan can attest to. Nor is this far from the first time that questionable news reports have been deployed in an effort to keep the populace good and scared. I will admit that were it not for this column, I would have never bothered to follow up on the story. No news outlet. ever reports the boner-killing truth-filled updates as breathlessly as it does the the initial scandalizing lies. This is of course not a bug of the news media, but a feature, and as much as I love Chomsky, it's not just about manufacturing consent, but about the nature of the concept of news itself. When we talk about the evils of imperialism, much is made about the damage it does militarily, economically and politically, but more than that it shapes and limits our fundamental understanding of the world itself. Regions, cultures, borders become defined solely for the purposes of imperial interests. There is no concept of “the West” without an Oriental East to colonize and conquer, and any and all discourse about the West plays off that tradition. Similarly, Afghanistan and Iraq are not in the same region, historically and environmentally. They are completely different cultures with different languages and traditions. However, in order for its War On Terror/Project for a New American Century agenda to make sense, the Bush administration started to push a new regional formulation called the “Greater Middle East.” 9 years later, and the war in Afghanistan is colloquially understood as a war in the Middle East, with all of the wonderful Clash-of-Civilizations elements implied. And once those regions have been defined, our understanding of what goes on in them is also almost entirely shaped by imperial interests. Suppose that the reported explosion was an actual attack. Explosions and bomb attacks happen in Iraq on a regular basis, and yet now that the country is no longer under occupation, they don't constitute “news” to American media. Back in the real world, the operative question is, why would the nation's largest media outlets report on a story using anonymous sources that wasn't even close to being fully developed? Because the US foreign policy apparatus (insert-historical-imperial-power here) gets to set the terms of the discourse for everyone from war-machine sycophants to post-colonial theorists. This is the dilemma that those seeking to resist hegemony or create a just world face. One of the most effective ways to make the powers that be irrelevant is to treat them as such, but in doing so you allow the hegemonist propaganda to continue unmolested. Applied to the non-explosion, if you're a purported anti-imperialist media outlet, do you ignore the story or do you report it with a healthy context critical of US drone strikes in the area? This dilemma is more than theoretical. The more insidious effects of the media lie not in the stories people read, but the ones they skim, the ticker feed, or the ones they don't even click on. It is in the milieu where the US war machine has achieved its most complete propaganda victory. The number of Americans who do not believe that the US was/is the morally superior party in the wars it's been fighting for the past ten years probably numbers in the thousands. There is no Islamist celebrated figure among the radical left a la Ho Chi Minh. The most ardent criticism still comes from a fundamentally liberal standpoint, of a desire to see American force used for good. Nobody argues that American imperialism actually deserves to be fought, much less that political Islam is a valid way to do so. We may have avoided military aggression in Syria, but Assad is a secular dictator, and indeed much of the skepticism was over how the plan fit in with the goals of the War on Terror. Currently, all signs point to Congress scuttling any deal President Obama might be able to reach with Iran. Back in August, when the same embassy closed in Yemen, along with other US embassies around the Middle East, Al Jazeera had a token imperial stooge, on Inside Story, who said the closings were in a response to “some very specific intelligence, particularly within the region. It may not have been specific” and of course that the intelligence came from intercepted communications. These closings came at a time when hubbub around the Snowden leaks/NSA surveillance story was at a high point. All of which is to say that master propagandists these guys are not. And yet they've largely managed to succeed, not least because whenever they clear their throat, we all come running. Address all hate mail to

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