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<nettime> MW9
Ivo Skoric on Tue, 30 Oct 2001 08:37:29 +0100 (CET)


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There is a substantial difference between the media manipulation in the 
U.S. and places like let's say Afghanistan (which is, perhaps, the most 
exaggerated extreme example). It is true that one may contend that what 
we get from Al Jazeera, which is a Qatar based independent satellite TV 
station based on employees of former BBC Arabic TV, is less filtered 
than what we get from the six US TV networks. But in the US one is not 
confined to those six networks. Village Voice, The Nation, American 
Prospect, Atlantic Monthly, Harper's Magazine, Hustler, High Times, 
Flipside, Profane Existence, News & Letters, The Indypendent - the U.S. 
indeed has a lot of independently minded media, and if one really wants 
to find the information he wants to hear, one can. That's an obvious 
difference from Afghanistan where there is only one radio station, and 
that's controlled by Taliban. And the TV is forbidden altogether for 
everybody, except for Osama Bin Laden and Taliban which apparently 
received the special exception from their Allmighty allowing them to 
appear on video tapes for foreign networks.

Yet, while the Taliban method of mind control, seems almost 
tragicomically Orwellian to the rest of us, why is that the American public 
is often so badly informed? Here is an analogy: in former Yugoslavia 
there was almost no health & fitness industry - I didn't even know where 
the gym was in my city and dietary supplements were simply not 
available. Men grew stomachs as status symbols as soon as they landed 
cushy office jobs and got married, while women stayed fit benefitting 
from public emancipation (but not domestic one) that made them work 
two jobs at once for the rest of their lives. But I've never seen the kind of 
obesity I witnessed in the US, the land of health and fitness. Here, gyms 
are pervasive and eating healthy is promoted with religious zeal. Even in 
Western Europe I have difficulties to find stuff that I eat here for lunch. 
And still this is the country where 60% of people are overweight since 
their teenage years.

How is that possible? And the same is with the intellectual food and the 
intellectual exercise. Information is available, but people simply don't 
look for it. My conclusion over the past ten years living in this society is 
that here people are generally lazy to do stuff that they are not paid for. 
And when they are not paid, they tend to wish to sit back and take for 
granted whatever is most loudly served right in front of their very noses. 
It is perhaps due to the curious situation in which majority of  the people 
in supposedly the richest society on the planet, have to toil harder than 
many of their peers in the rest of the world, just to make the ends meet. 
Because, of course, those "ends" are exaggerated and sometimes 
grandiose. 

So, the ideal they develop is the one of passive reception. Couch, six-
pack, mega-dose of junk-food and a baseball game are nearly a paradigm 
for the American pastime - and it is important to notice that a game of 
baseball can last MUCH longer than a game of soccer/football (the 
European favorite sport), enabling viewers to ingest more food and 
beverage and acquire more calories. And the same seemingly applies to 
the reception of news: which should be as simple, straight-forward, un-
controversial and un-disturbing as possible. So that people can return 
back to work.

Yet, the world simply does not oblige sometimes. And given the general 
expectations of social tranquility, then the things tend to be taken to 
other extremes. Now, everybody has a gas mask. And most of people 
take antibiotics. The entire Supreme Court takes them. Some maintenance 
workers in New York office and residential high-rises, who got them from 
their managements, reported sick with side effects in hospitals. The 
media is trying to adapt to the new era of worrying. It is the first time 
since probably the Cuban missile crisis that Americans are so profoundly 
worried about their very existence. The CNN even came up with the self-
mocking news entertainment. But, meanwhile, the government in 
response to the crisis still works within the old, and only known, 
parameters: bombing abroad, arresting at home. So, far US ordnance has 
ACCIDENTALLY  hit a boys' school, a Red Cross compound (twice), 
civilian areas in cities, villages, at least two mosques, a UN office for 
mine-clearing operations and a military hospital. And there are vague 
hints that the suspects held on immigration charges may be deported to 
countries with regimes that are known for torturing people.

It is the only possible for me to seek alternative paths and information 
under such circumstances. One was the yesterday meeting with Tameena 
Faryal of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, 
organized at Judson Memorial Church by the Marxist-humanist group 
that publishes News & Letters. The meeting was well attended. 
Unexpectedly well, I should say, since about hundred people were 
turned away at the doors to avoid over-crowding the auditorium. People 
looked calm, attentive and worried. Tameena was clear, concise, direct - 
very businesslike. There was a look of someone who saw and heard a lot 
of suffering through her life in her and in other women from RAWA and 
from another Afghan women organization present (Women for Afghan 
Women). She also had a female colleague at her side at all times, dressed 
in body-armor, ready to jump and protect Tameena with her body if 
necessary. And what Tameena said just re-enforced the deep sadness I 
felt about the developments around Afghanistan.

Even before the recent US air-strikes, Afghanistan was a continuous 
battlefield for past twenty years. Years of war with Soviets and of civil 
war left the US with only rubble to bomb. It is, also, a place where three 
proxy wars have been fought since Taliban took power. The Taliban and 
Northern Alliance were locked in unresolvable struggle for years. Taliban 
are financed by Saudi Arabia. Taliban leaders and soldiers are a product 
of Islamic schools in Pakistan, sponsored by Pakistani government and 
intelligence. Also, for years the Taliban side was helped by the US, 
hoping to secure the oil pipeline deal and reduce the country's output of 
heroin. 

On the other side, Northern Alliance is paid for and supported by Iran 
(waging a proxy war against Saudis), India (happily waging a proxy war 
against their arc-enemies the Pakistanis) and Russia (hoping to turn 
American hopes sour). The Afghani population is meanwhile left to 
subside on the UN help. People are starving, they are left with no health 
care and no education. Tameena sees the education as the primary goal 
of her 'revolution' - before the Soviet occupation twenty years ago at 
least the urban population of Afghanistan was decently educated - with 
40% of doctors and 60% of teachers being women. Now 70% of country 
is illiterate. Those born in last twenty years don't know anything but 
war, pain and suffering.

Clearly, she does not want to see Taliban in the next government. But 
she does not want to see Northern Alliance either. She views them 
essentially as the two sides of the same coin. And they don't want to sit 
together in the next government. Neither would any of them accept the 
former king or anybody from outside of their environment - ironically 
labeling that 'foreign influence'. In the case of Serbia I used to argue that 
it would be best if the country was run by women - by Vesna Pesic and 
by Women in Black. In the case of Afghanistan, this seems to be even 
more the situation.

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