Friday, April 8, 2011

The West neglected Arab dictators to focus on Israel

That's true for both practical and ideological reasons, each of which reinforces the other. While reporters, diplomats and human rights activists are free to operate in liberal democracies, by definition, they cannot operate freely in dictatorships. When dictatorships portray themselves as anti-colonialist or anti-imperialist, and portray liberal democracies as colonialist and imperialist, the international focus on the alleged wrongs done by liberal democracies is a fun house mirror, confirming beyond doubt that up is down and down is up. But what is expedient for dictatorships can be expedient for the media and NGOs in particular, and the international community in general, only until the dictators' veils are torn away and the ugly truth revealed.

Nick Cohen makes that point well here: They Missed the Story | Standpoint.

...Daniel Patrick Moynihan composed an aphorism as he watched dictatorships pile opprobrium on democracies: "The amount of violations of human rights in a country is always an inverse function of the amount of complaints about human rights violations heard from there." Journalists, lawyers, academics and opposition politicians can investigate the injustices of democracies, and because they can investigate, injustice is kept in check. They cannot expose the greater atrocities of dictatorships because there is no freedom to report, and hence their greater crimes pass unnoticed...

The Arab uprising is annihilating the assumptions of foreign ministries, academia and human rights groups with true revolutionary √©lan. In journalistic language, it is showing they had committed the greatest blunder a reporter can commit: they missed the story. They thought that the problems of the Middle East were at root the fault of democratic Israel or more broadly the democratic West. They did not see and did not want to see that while Israelis are certainly the Palestinians' problem — and vice versa — the problem of the subject millions of the Arab world was the tyranny, cruelty, corruption and inequality the Arab dictators enforced.

Put this starkly, it sounds as if the charges of double standards and anti-Semitism habitually directed at liberal Westerners are justified. But liberal prejudice — "anti-liberal prejudice" is a more accurate description — is a process as well as an ideology. Dictatorial states and movements shepherded liberal opinion into a one-way street by exploiting the logistics of news-gathering.

No news organisation in the West could base their main Middle Eastern bureau anywhere other than Israel, for the simple reason that it was the only free country with a free press, an independent judiciary and a constitution. Researchers and diplomats, as well as reporters, could phone or visit Palestinians in the occupied territories, as indeed could anyone else. Crucially, in an age dominated by images, television crews could get pictures. I am not saying that the authorities do not harass foreign or Israeli correspondents trying to report the undoubted violations of Palestinian rights, simply that they can report from Jerusalem but cannot from Damascus or Riyadh.

Read the rest....

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