Monday, August 13, 2012

Not Just A River in Egypt

An acquaintance of mine is vacationing on Cyprus, and recently posted this to her Facebook page:
The people of Cyprus are pretty religious and very Orthodox Christian. They keep icons on their desk in business offices, including the bank. Wednesday, the 15th, is dedicated to the Mother of God and it's a national holiday. Everything is closed.

But the cheapest satellite network here is the Nile Network [NTN], which the British here subscribe to for their holiday rental apartments and houses so that people on holiday have something to watch and they don't have to pay much. The Nile Network includes both Al Jazeera and CNN, and breaks 5 times a day for Muslim prayer. In the middle of an old American action movie (in English, with Arabic subtitles), an imam will come on and preach Islam - with English, Russian or Greek subtitles, depending on which holiday makers he is in the mood to hit today - for 15 minutes. The Nile Network tells you when a movie will be on, not as "Tuesday the 14th at 6 PM", but rather as "The Second Day (or 3rd) day of Ramadan at 6PM", so you have no idea when this movie is going to be on unless you check the Islamic calendar.

This place is pretty amazing. Most Greek Cypriots just basically ignore it all, never would subscribe to the Nile Network even for their holiday rentals, and kind of think that the British are a bit nuts.
A beach in Cyprus
The Cypriots might be onto something here. What else should one think of a tourist who pays good money to visit Cyprus, and instead of enjoying the local charms - food, landscapes, people, culture, etc. - they sit at their rental  and watch American action movies, with breaks for Islam?

Nile's Wikipedia page lists the network's goals thus (emphasis added):
  • Address foreign viewers in Egypt and all over the world with regard to culture, economy, tourism, and art, and to initiate a constructive dialogue between different cultures in foreign languages. 
  • Present the views of the Egyptian government and people on various issues concerning the Arab World and the Middle East, as well as global issues. 
  • Reflect the image of modern Egypt, and all its concrete achievements in the form of national projects in the fields of education, women's rights, health care, and the establishment of a democratic atmosphere
  • Broadcast news events from Egypt and the Arab World, and analyzing and discussing them with officials, politicians, analysts and cultured Egyptians, Arabs and foreigners in foreign languages. 
  • Present objective news on international events, analyzing and discussing those events to help foreign viewers understand the truth about the Egyptian and Arab stances on the current international events in order to protect foreign viewers from falling prey to biased media. 
  • Present images of Egypt and reflect its religions and values, humanitarian and tolerance. 
All the standard buzzwords and catchphrases are there. When you distill the verbiage, you're left with an understanding that Nile is an Egyptian propaganda channel. There's nothing wrong with that, mind you. But it's very interesting that they wrap that propaganda in American action movies - hardly a reflection of Egyptian "religion and values." 

I've observed a similar phenomenon in Serbia, where a network called B92 injects its propaganda (also called "news") into a stream of American entertainment programming. Not surprisingly, B92 was directly funded by the Empire for years - and may still be; though the station's ownership has supposedly changed, its slant hasn't changed in the slightest. The difference here is that NTN is spreading Egyptian propaganda abroad, while B92 is spreading Imperial propaganda at home (sometimes with hilarious results). Yet they have the same modus operandi: come for the fun, stay for the indoctrination.

Needless to say, this kind of propaganda works best on a thoroughly disoriented audience: people whose own culture, heritage, identity and values have been systematically stripped away. That way, when someone else's ideas and values are presented to them, they are embraced as a breath of fresh air. Earlier this year, indie Finnish satire Iron Sky played this for laughs in a subplot where a PR wizard earnestly brands an electoral campaign with ideas from actual Nazis (from the Moon!). 

Have the British been so tenderized? Brendan O'Neill seems to think so, illustrating the claim with examples of reactions against the people who dared dislike the opening ceremony of the Olympics. He also argued that the arrest of a boy who sent a nasty tweet to a British diver showed a "culture of intolerance" that has developed in the UK - paradoxically, in the name of imposing "tolerance" and "diversity." British tourists are already showing an alarming lack of judgment by choosing to watch TV while vacationing in what is by all accounts an exceptionally beautiful country. So, who knows?

Nile TV is merely exploiting an opening provided to it by culture warriors in the West. Serbs at least have a cause to be angry at B92, as it both creates and exploits the confusion in their society. If the British tourists fall for any of Nile's propaganda, it will be nobody's fault but their own. 

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Hostile Actions

The online edition of Albuquerque Journal ran a story today, almost entirely based on a New Mexico National Guard press release, that three Guard members are scheduled to receive Purple Hearts, "for injuries they received during hostile actions in Kosovo on Sept. 27, 2011."

What was it that happened in Kosovo on September 27 last year? Oh, yes: the Americans opened fire on unarmed Serb demonstrators, injuring several. I wrote about it then, and another blogger has helpfully collected a selection of video clips, stills and background information.

But to hear the ABQJ tell the story, "New Mexico troops helped prevent a Serbian mob from breaking through a border crossing and potentially killing a group of German soldiers on the NATO team, the Journal reported last December."

NATO's actual mission (from The Weight of Chains)
First of all, that was no "border crossing," but a checkpoint on the road between (the occupied Serbian province of) Kosovo and (the rest of) Serbia. Granted, the U.S. government believes that "Kosovia" is an independent state, and has tried to impose this belief on the rest of the world. But the very least a journalist could do is acknowledge that there is in fact a dispute. Secondly, the "Serbian mob" consisted of unarmed civilians. The German soldiers had body armor, rifles and tanks. Who was really a threat to whom? But since one can hardly have a story of heroism involving Our Boys ("New Mexico troops," to be precise) shooting at unarmed people whose land they are occupying, these inconvenient facts had to go.

At the time of the incident, KFOR claimed some of its troops were injured. They never offered any evidence for that, however - unlike the Serbs, who documented their injuries with photos and unedited video footage. But the ABQJ helpfully explained that the "The Purple Heart is awarded to members of the U.S. Armed Forces who are wounded by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy and is specifically a combat decoration." (emphasis added)

There is no mention what the "instruments of war" allegedly used on the New Mexicans might have been. But note that the said instruments have to be wielded by "the enemy" in a combat situation. So by the NMNG's own admission, the Serbs of Kosovo are "the enemy" and NATO's "peacekeeping" mission is really a combat mission. Judging by KFOR's operational activities, the objective of that mission is to finalize the ethnic cleansing of Serbs begun in 1999, thus creating and securing a 100% Albanian "independent state of Kosovo."

Closing up the story, the ABQJ paraphrases a statement by former Guard commander, Maj. Gen. Montoya, who reportedly said that New Mexicans' handling of the situation was praised by U.S. "military leaders around the world" (?!) for "potentially stopping a new Kosovo war by managing conflict situations without lethal force."

Whoa. First we had the deliberate shooting of unarmed civilians re-told as Saving Gefreiter Gruber, and now it has morphed into "potentially stopping a new Kosovo war"? I used to wonder how the U.S. government and military could make embarrassingly stupid decisions; now that I know how divorced they are from objective reality, I wonder no more.

Final question: if live ammunition isn't "lethal force," General Montoya, what, pray tell, is? Unarmed Serbs, perhaps?


From a regular reader:
"If New Mexico troops have now been granted Purple Hearts for routine crowd control duties, isn't it that much more imperative that NATO military authorities track down the identity of, and award the highest existing medals for bravery to, those daring NATO pilots who, dropping cluster bombs from a high altitude, risked their lives in a daring confrontation with enemy troops who would pass by the area unarmed thirteen years in the future?  Never have so many owed so much to so few."

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Defining Empire, Again

Cleaning up some archival material the other day, I looked at the very first post here, almost eight years ago. At one point there, I said I would "define Empire only once". Looking at that definition, however, I find it wanting:
The best I can say is that it is not so much a place, as a state of mind (credit to Chris Deliso for the phrase). Though historical analogies are perilous, tempting inappropriate parallels and interfering with rational analysis, they are nonetheless a sort of practical shorthand for describing modern phenomena. Today’s Empire to me is what is colloquially known as “The West,” and is not just the U.S. or the E.U., but both...
From a distance of eight years, I can see a little better now. Though what I call the EUSSR is an adjunct of the Empire, a transnational-progressivist reiteration of the Soviet Union that bows to twelve yellow stars on a blue field instead of one on red, the actual Empire is headquartered in Washington. I've even taken to calling it the "Atlantic Empire" for the sake of precision, as it represents a continuation of the British Empire of yore in terms of geopolitical goals (if not quite ideology).

A 1942 movie about a cattle empire; irony deliberate
It was in October 2004 that an unnamed White House official - later identified as Karl Rove - spoke the famous words dismissing the "reality-based community" to Ron Suskind of the NYT Magazine: "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality."

That's precisely the "state of mind" I was talking about, though I didn't realize it then. Sure, EUrocrats try to change observable reality by twisting language and making up convoluted laws, but  they stop short of rearranging reality at gunpoint - mostly because they have become squeamish about warfare. Americans don't have that "problem." 

To people who share Rove's view of power - whether they call themselves Republicans, Democrats or something else - being an empire means one is no longer bound by anything. Not the Constitution, not natural or divine law, not language, and not even physical reality. Everything is just a function of the Nietzschean "will to power". If they want something, they take it, by whatever means are most expedient. They can make excuses afterwards, or in many cases not even bother. As one former UN GenSec wrote, they see "little need for diplomacy; power is enough."

Is it? Judging by the extent to which Imperial will has been thwarted by actual reality at every step, no, power isn't enough. Examples are legion, from Afghanistan and Iraq, to Empire's failure to impose its will in Bosnia, or fully crush Serbia, or compel the world to recognize "Kosovo" as an independent state.

A thousand years ago, the Viking king of England ordered his chair be set on a beach, and commanded the waves to halt. Obviously, they did not. According to chronicler Henry of Huntingdon (Historia Anglorum), Canute the Great then said, "Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws."

Yet the way most people think today, Canute was a fool who really thought he could command the tide - thus missing the whole point of his little demonstration, intended to show the importance of reality to his sycophantic courtiers. 

In ancient Rome, imperium meant "power to command" - i.e. state authority over the individual. Today, it denotes the belief that one state - the U.S. - has authority over the rest of the world. It is an idea the founders of America would have recoiled in horror from, recognizing it as the ancient sin of hubris. Yet there we have it.

Until the tide comes in, anyway.