I’m a brown person, so any time the word “terrorism” makes the rounds, I perk up. In the wake of the Charleston Massacre I’ve seen a certain hashtag, #Whiteterrorism, make its way around progressive corners of the web. Yet I have to wonder: do those who use this term understand the full weight of what it means to be called a terrorist? What do Muslim Americans have to say about calling others by that epithet? Terrorism, from our recent history, is tarnished by its racial connotations. It is, at best, slander used to tell us that we don’t belong. At worst, it is the banner under which the United States Government has terrorized our people with impunity.
I recently read a great article by David Simon on his blog, putting the aftermath of the Baltimore Uprisings in context. I liked many of his insights into the pragmatics of achieving institutional reform through the US’s two-party political rivalry. But his critique that rioting is bereft of any political potential left something to be desired.
I write about this because even though Simon trotted out “Selma, Gdansk, Robben Island,” it was a sophisticated formulation of an oftentimes hackneyed argument. Most of the time, it seems that people use the nonviolence incantation as a way to lazily dismiss contemporary attempts at agitation for change, or to hold people to an impossibly high standard. But Simon, perhaps as a credit to his extensive experience with the press, understood it in terms of the battle of images.
In his own words,
“When the very demand is an end to wanton and brutalizing overpolicing, a riot and all the imagery that a riot conjures is in fact the most useless thing in the great arsenal of civil disobedience and rebellion…
This makes me wonder. Is David Simon right to place the crux of reform on wooing the middle class? And what about “Selma, Gdansk, Robben Island?” Does history actually line up behind his examples?
Once again, I am unhappy with the fourth estate. This post in particular shares my thoughts on a pretty old Atlantic piece titled something like "What ISIS Really Wants". Compared to other journalism these days, I think it was a relatively good quality article. The Atlantic certainly has reason to be proud of this piece (on my Facebook feed they triumphantly advertised it as a "must-read"). However to me, it's only as good as an article written by a white journalist from the US can really get when talking about politics in the Arab world.
The article's main argument is that in order to effectively counter ISIS, the US government must understand them on a theological (i.e. Islamic) basis. At first glance, I thought it was an interesting and sensible argument: let's try to understand the people who work for ISIS from their perspective. But there's an important difference between understanding from "their" perspective and understanding their "Islamic" perspective. True, the article jumps through the necessary hoops of journalistic balance by giving some space to all the other Muslims out there who condemn ISIS as essentially un-Islamic. But this is a mere mention, and the article suggests ultimately that while we should not implicate all Muslims with the actions of ISIS leadership, there is something undeniably Islamic about the organization thanks to its identification with Koranic scripture and theology.
Alright, I'll admit. Apeshit is a bit of a strong way to describe a very understandable reaction from a very outraged press. This post is inspired in particular by one of Vice's articles on the subject. The outrage, which seems to be reflected in other headlines for articles that I actually haven't read, is over the fact that not only was the WMD threat wildly inflated, but there was no connection whatsoever between Iraq and Al-Qaeda (at least until the U.S./Coalition Forces got in there and created a fucked up power vacuum).
Here's why I'm not happy with the fourth estate today. While the anger is understandable, I think journalists are making a mistake by going after Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld and pillorying them for incompetence. By all means, pillory the politicians. But please, do it well. The incompetence route is a rather lazy justification for the shitshow the U.S. and U.K. keep failing to not make worse in the Persian Gulf. The Vice article seems to imply that the tenuous connection between Iraq and terrorism was sloppy, a poor excuse to ramrod jus ad bellum down the throat of white public opinion. I believe this is only partially true.