Friday, December 17, 2004

"They cannot represent themselves, they must be represented"

This site depicting the results of "US Air Strike on Iraqi Civilians" is undoubtedly anti-U.S. propaganda, not in the sense that the photos are doctored, but rather in the sense that they show nothing of the U.S. but its brutality and nothing of the other side but its nobility.

The truth is that war barbarizes all involved. Many right-wingers assume that nobility of purpose, like military strategy, can survive contact with the enemy unaltered. It's just not true. That's why to fight a war your purposes need to be clear and unvarnishedly noble from the outset, and your means of achieving those purposes equally so. This is why Afghanistan was a reasonable war, and Iraq not.

The main reason to look at the site, however, is not to realize that war is hell, which we all know. The main reason to look at this site is that this propaganda makes you realize what the United States is up against: this propaganda represents the dominant image of the war for many in the Arab world, just as surely as the equally biased Fox-News-sanitized version of the war represents the dominant view of the war for American wingjobs.

And that's a huge problem for the Bushist ambitions in the Middle East. U.S. doesn't control the media representation of the war, at least outside the United States. Edward Said was right to suggest that a cornerstone of colonialism's efficacy was, as he quoted Marx from The Eighteenth Brumaire with regard to the French peasantry, "they cannot represent themselves; they must be represented." The inability of the lumpenproletariat, or colonial subjects, to represent themselves -- an inability partly technological, partly ideological -- was crucial for allowing classical 19th century European imperial powers to be able to rule without constant application of force, in short with the grudging consent of the governed.

But that world is gone, by force of technology and ideological evolution. Now (really for the last fifty years) the unwashed postcolonial masses can represent themselves, and by God they do and will. They no longer put up with being represented the way we (that is, the Bushists) want to represent them. And if we cannot control that representation, is it possible for us to win their hearts and minds? To repeat, has any Western power won a guerilla war in the global South since 1965?

For reference purposes, here's the whole quote from Marx:
The small-holding peasants form a vast mass, the members of which live in similar conditions but without entering into manifold relations with one another. Their mode of production isolates them from one another instead of bringing them into manifold relations with one another. Their mode of production isolates them from one another instead of bringing them into mutual intercourse. The isolation is increased by France's bad means of communication and by the poverty of the peasants.... They [have] no national bound and no political organization among them. They do not form a class. They cannot represent themselves, they must be represented. Their representative must at the same time appear as their master, as an authority over them, as an unlimited governmental power that protects them against the other classes and sends them rain and sunshine from above. The political influence of the small-holding peasants, therefore, finds its final expression in the executive power subordinating society to itself.
Italics added.

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