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Saturday, September 15, 2007

The subtly sanitized language of warfare

A lesson in the way bias for the invader's point of view can subtly be transmitted through the language and perspective of a piece of journalism. Consider this excerpt courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor: 'Sheikh's death threatens US success in Anbar Province'
Sheikh Abu Risha's death, which was the result of a roadside bomb explosion near his home in the provincial capital Ramadi, comes at a crucial time. The Sunni tribal forces he led were moving closer to creating a formidable block with sufficient weight to provide representation for the embittered community in the government and counter those Sunnis who still believe in using violence to achieve their aims.

"This is a tragic loss," said Gen. David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq, in a statement released in Washington by his spokesman. "It's a terrible loss for Anbar Province and all of Iraq. ... He was an organizing force who did help organize alliances and did help keep the various tribes together."

His death came 10 days after meeting President Bush during his visit to Anbar.
Notice how the sheikh's opposition (the shadowy Al Qaeda, which we are to assume killed him) gets tagged in the piece as violent, and justifiably so. Al Qaeda, to the extent it exists as an actor separate from US policy in Iraq, is a despicably reactionary organization. In this particular article, as evidence, we are reminded that they "still believe in using violence to achieve their aims".

But in comparison to whom? The US army? Leaving this question unanswered, readers can only assume that Al Qaeda's violent strategy differs significantly from the kisses and flowers strategy adopted by the likes of the Sheik and the US Army. Note also that this disconnect occurs despite mentioning the Sheik's pistol packing, highway robbing background later in the article. In this sense, US violence - and state violence in general (despite the dubious legitimacy of the Iraqi state) - is normalized and stripped of violent content. Meanwhile, a US ally's own violent banditry is minimized.

In fact, consider how the sheik's political objectives - partially achieved, we are assured by a compliant media - are referred to in a contrived passive voice. "The tribal rejection of Al Qaeda that started in Anbar Province and helped produce such significant change," the author informs us through the words of General Pataeus, commander of all US invaders in Iraq, "helped produce such significant change there has now spread to a number of other locations as well."

It "helped produce," we are advised by a dutifully stenographic media class, leaving the reader to conclude that the sheik and US forces had somehow managed to confront Al Qaeda non-violently. A ridiculous claim, of course - even in the most radical of the liberals withdrawal schemes a US force remains in country to attack Al Qaeda in Iraq. Clearly the US isn't planning to blast rock music at them until they give up.

Nevertheless, the agent of pro-American violence is obscured through the use of the passive voice. Plus, the Sheik's own declared aim of joining the ridiculously bloody American puppet government in Iraq is not similarly denounced as violent, although an association with Al Qaeda certainly would be. Nor does the reporter seem to consider violent the sheik's alliance with the mass-murderous US Army. Likewise, note that both General Patraeus and George Bush, collectively responsible for the deaths of around a million Iraqis, are not labeled as violent. No problem, the media's reporting insures that violence committed by America and its allies is not the same as violence committed by its opponents.

Meanwhile, in the broader media the elite's goals in Iraq have been similarly stripped of political content. They are spoken of merely in terms of "success" or "national interests". This is significant, because when the media use this kind of language, they reveal their alliance with the ruling class. When they talk about 'success in Iraq' and other related euphemisms for the application of state violence, we ought to remember that what they really mean is the successful conquering of that country for the benefit of the American elite. Putting Iraq under the thumb of US imperialism is considered "success" in Iraq.

Thus, pushing for success in Iraq, or denouncing the Administration for failing to achieve it as many liberals have done is an exercise in legitimizing the sanitized policy goals of the elite. It represents nothing more than one wing of the elite offering a better strategy for dominating Iraq. But neither wing of the elite class is interested in the interests of anyone not of their own class. Therefore, a genuinely radical position in Iraq must at least endorse one of these options. Either, the total destruction of the US military machine in Iraq or the immediate and full withdrawal of all American troops, followed by a complete dismantlement of the military machine at home. Redeployment must not be an option.

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