Joi Ito's Web

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Christiaan van der Valk posted a thoughtful item about mutual respect and the Arab world on the GLT list.

Christiaan van der Valk
It goes without saying that Iraq and its people need all the help they can get short term.

Seeing US soldiers paint a message for Saddam on a missile saying "9/11" was a sad confirmation of US public opinion of the reason for this war. While of course inspired by a fear only those in combat have a right to judge, seeing troops cheer as missiles are fired off (a commander explains: "they know the devastation these things bring") was as revolting as seeing people in the Muslim world celebrate after 9/11. I am sure the US and UK are serious about bringing peace and stability to the region (albeit certainly without a sufficient understanding of what the region really wants) but a little PR briefing of the troops would have helped. I did some introspection this weekend and concluded that I, too, as probably most Westerners, have a level of sub-conscious fear and resentment against the Arab world -- as much as rationally I would like things to be different, I could not conclude otherwise. Why? Because apparently some primitive part of my brain says "they hate us" and "they threaten our way of life". Even if one has been educated (as I think I have) to always question such feelings and try to understand them and counter them through rationalization, it does not take a lot for these these feelings to take the upper hand. I am pretty sure most people in the Arab world have not been sensitized to signal and deal with such dangerous emotions -- in many cases rather the opposite. Try to imagine against that background how this war and its preparation feel. There is no doubt that the overwhelming majority of people in the Arab and Muslim world are convinced the West hates them. And as much as Bush and all of us are sure we're doing all the right things to inspire confidence, we haven't began to do what is needed to get there. It is this mindset we're up against. You can pump a hundred billion into post-war Iraq, if you do not address this basic issue it will not be interpreted as positive. We have to learn mutual respect and we have to accept compromise. Showing decency in every aspect of this war, which is now a fact of life, must be a first step.
quoted with permission


Unfortunately, I think Christiaan's last sentence presents an oxymoron that will stand firmly in the way of achieving the mutual respect and understanding that is desireable.
War is indecent. I do not think it can be fought decently. We are still clinging to the images of World War I aces gallantly saluting each other in the air prior to or after trying to saw each other in half with machine gun bullets.
America--I'm sorry, I should use its new name--Coalition is going out of its way to present itself as fighting this war in a "decent" manner. Its decently aimed weaponry is being shown time and again (just like Gulf War I) precisely hitting the intended targets.
But a 2000 lb. bomb, even if it hits within an inch of its intended point of impact, does not just take out the real estate of its own physical footprint. It takes out just about everything within 1-200 meters around it. And I submit that is neither precise nor decent especially when targets are in populated city centers.
We are not going to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqis, or those Muslims of the rest of the world who feel threatened, by showing them redundant footage of so-called surgical strikes from far away. Not when Al Jazeera is there post-blast to show the aftermath next door and down (what's left of) the street.

Jesus, this post is scary. I'm sure Christiaan has good intent but it just confirms to me part of the reason why we have such a huge conflict here. He seems to be judging that the way to deal with emotion is to reason through it, and that emotions that can't be reasoned through are dangerous. I posted a bit about this on my own blog, but this is a basic, basic misunderstanding that is widely shared by far too many people. It's too much to fit into a comment but emotion has nothing to do with reason and it's not supposed to. The Arab world knows this better than the rest of the world, and they have to deal with the rest of us seeing that as a problem. When the rest of us get stuck in seeing this as a problem to fix, it ties into all our other motivations for engaging in Middle East conflict and messes everything up.

Emotion is there to be accepted and physically expressed, not reasoned through. End of story!

"feelings to take the upper hand" and "dangerous emotions" are huge signals that there is a very powerful and subconscious bias towards viewing emotions as a problem and it needs to be challenged, pronto. I'm sorry for publicly blasting a post that clearly has good intent (and wouldn't if I believed the good intent wouldn't be receptive to being challenged), but more people need to realize this bias inside themselves if we're going to understand other points of view.

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