Truth, Narrative, and Journalism in the ME: Barry Rubin nails it

I’ve dealt with pomo before here, and will again. Meantime, one of the saner observers of the madness that pomo can induce in journalists (and diplomats), Barry Rubin, has an interesting column on the subject.

When journalists say there is no such thing as truth than the world is in big trouble.

He begins with a couple of anecdotes:

A reporter just wrote me a letter that contains a single sentence which I think reflects on why the Western world is in such trouble today. After understandably discussing such real problems of reporting as short deadlines, complex issues, and the duty of the reporter to report what people say, the letter concludes with this sentence:

“And when it comes to the Middle East, one man’s [obscenity deleted] is another man’s truth.”

Woe to us that a journalist thinks this way. Of course, this is very similar to the older version that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

Recently, I heard that latter one from the Danish ambassador to the Council of Europe who said that Hamas and Hizballah were like the Danish resistance in World War Two. I replied, among other things, that I don’t remember the Danish or other World War Two European resistance movements bombing German kindergartens and glorying in getting Danish civilians killed as human shields.

I also don’t think that the Danes and other European resistance movements were attempting to commit genocide on the Germans. I do believe it was the other way around.

(PS: More Danes fought in the German army than in the Resistance, and that was true of other countries as well. Forgive me for remembering who was the main victim of terrorism and “freedom fighter” terrorists then and today. But I digress)

That a European country—and one of the more astute ones, to make matters worse–is represented by someone like that says something pretty sad about the state of the world today.

and finishes with a hilarious (to me at least) thought experiment:

Let me suggest an experiment. Take an apple or other handy piece of fruit or vegetable. Hold it in one hand. Then take a very sharp knife. Hold it in your other hand.

Then, say out loud: One man’s [expletive deleted] is another man’s truth.

Next, assuming that the location of the piece of fruit is a matter of personal opinion which has no relationship to spatial dimensions, slash out with the knife until you fall to the floor bleeding profusely.

Congratulations, you now understand the effect of such a doctrine on the Middle East.

One of the metaphors I used to make when arguing with my historian colleagues was that the ship of historical analysis can break apart on the icebergs of unseen (largely undocumented) phenomena (like popular apocalyptic expectations), and because it happened so long ago, as long as our colleagues agree with us, we can go on “sailing” through the past long after our ship has sunk. At the time, I would contrast the luxury of the historian to be wrong without consequences with the analyst of our current world, in which, when you hit an iceberg, you sink.

Roger Cohen quoted Max Weber in his recent piece of self-congratulation from Iran, “It is generally overlooked that a journalist’s actual responsibility is far greater than the scholar’s.” Cohen continues with gravitas:

Yes, journalism is a matter of gravity. It’s more fashionable to denigrate than praise the media these days. In the 24/7 howl of partisan pontification, and the scarcely less-constant death knell din surrounding the press, a basic truth gets lost: that to be a journalist is to bear witness.

Alas — and Cohen incarnates the problem — they all too often bear witness primarily to their own agendas, for which they pick and choose the “narratives” that please them.

Just how long can a ship of state navigate the real waters of our global century and not sink, when they show such contempt for anything that contradicts their “understanding.”

For example, in his Cairo Speech President Obama declared that: “the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable.” And has predicated much of his foreign policy on what strikes some of us as a Rube Goldberg approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict: solve that one, alleviate Palestinian suffering, and everything else — Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, even Russia all fall into place on the wings of Arab gratitude and cooperation (ie what one might call extra-vulgar Walt-Mearsheimer).

The response of the Palestinians to Obama’s heavy pressure on Israel to relieve their intolerable suffering has been to declare that they will continue to wait, now that the tide has turned in their favor.

In other words, the “intolerability” of the Palestinian situation is far more in the eye of the media-distorted Western observer than in the hearts of the Palestinian leadership. Does Obama, or Mitchell, or Clinton, or anyone “crafting” the current administration’s foreign policy take note?

Just how bloody does your hand get before you stop wielding that knife wildly?

8 Responses to Truth, Narrative, and Journalism in the ME: Barry Rubin nails it

  1. Lorenz Gude says:

    Until you begin to feel the pain yourself. According to another article by Barry Rubin

    http://www.gloria-center.org/blog/2009/06/israels-left.html

    the Israeli left is indifferent this time to the latest American ‘no settlements’ initiative. Evidently, they have noticed the pain unlike their American counterparts.

  2. Diane says:

    Is “pomo” postmodernism? Your link is self-referential.

  3. davod says:

    “And when it comes to the Middle East, one man’s [obscenity deleted] is another man’s truth.”

    This is also the argument of revisionist historians.

  4. Cynic says:

    “It is generally overlooked that a journalist’s actual responsibility is far greater than the scholar’s.” Cohen continues with gravitas:

    I think that this is back to front as the scholar’s work will be used in many cases to teach future generations and any bias and falsehoods will inculcate distortions in the minds of the students and depending on the subjects under study serve to produce incalculable harm in the future.
    The journalist’s writing on the other hand, which is only of immediate importance to those disposed to accepting it, will soon be forgotten until some unfortunate historian in the future attempts to rely on it to piece together cause and effect, in which case confounding the work of the scholar and compounding the damage :-^)

  5. oao says:

    The journalist’s writing on the other hand…

    there is hardly another bunch of people who is so full of themselves as journos. which has a strong negative correlation to their (decreasing) knowledge, comprehension and ability to reason.

    and ever since they became well-paid celebrities they also became lazy and elitist.

  6. Eliyahu says:

    So raj cohen quoted Max Weber. Wasn’t Weber a little too reality-based for raj? I’m surprised that he didn’t quote Al-Ghazzali, a leading medieval Muslim phoolosofer. Al-Ghazzali, called Algazel in Latin writings, was a post-modernist avant la lettre. He believed quite frankly in cooking up a suitable narrative for the purposes of winning political/ideological advantage. He was right in step with taqiyya, Kasb, and kitman. Dissembling is good, he wrote.

    Nowadays, we can say that the Western academy, or much of it, has been already Islamized since the post-modernists follow Algazel’s teachings, even if they are not aware of it.

  7. [...] “one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.” They’re all even-handed distortions of empirical [...]

  8. oao says:

    a piece that nails the western liberals’ position on israel:

    http://elderofziyon.blogspot.com/2009/07/what-is-goal-of-foreign-policy.html

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