Across the world, crucial political scenes are being smeared by sensationalist pot-stirrings and opportunistic spin. Fun as this sounds, these factious foamings do no one any good except for the media and small, petty parties doing the stirring. They endanger the fate of the entire world just so that someone can sell advertising space or keep their campaign chest stuffed.
In Gaza and the West Bank, the proverbial slings and arrows were recently real bullets. But as damaging as the takeover of Gaza by the militant HAMAS party’s militias was in real terms, it’s the subsequent dialogue that does the worst long-term harm. President Mahmoud Abbas of HAMAS’ rival, the entrenched and corrupt Fatah organization made by Yasser Arafat’s grasping hands, was quick to trumpet all allegations of HAMAS brutality in the takeover. They’ve as much as promised a state of siege against Gaza, doling out enough cash to win what little favor it can from the common Palestinians while standing tough against any real cooperation or talk of reforming a unity government with HAMAS.
Outside observers might wonder why Abbas is stalling, when his nascent country is literally divided. The reason is that no sooner than HAMAS cut the lands run by the Palestinian Authority government – though occupied at leisure by the Israeli military – in half, foreign aid from all the western nations that had been cut off since HAMAS was elected began rolling in. Now Abbas doesn’t have any real control over his own militias; he has shown no capacity for actual improvement of Palestinians’ lives or substantial moves towards statehood through negotiation with Israel; he doesn’t, as the conflict two weeks ago showed, even have the capacity to run or defend his government. But he will be a favorite of the cameras now that he’s free to call his former colleagues in the Palestinian government “murderous terrorists”. He will be championed as the lone rational voice in the wilderness of occupied Palestine. And, most importantly for him, he will be able to indefinitely bilk the West of aid money to keep he and his Fatah pals rolling in dough and clinging to power.
This doesn’t give HAMAS a pass either. They’ve been as hardline as ever, but only if you buy into the spin of Abbas and the West do they sound as unreasonable as HAMAS – who has as a party platform the destruction of Israel – customarily sounds. Take note of some of the above points. First, they were denied foreign aid entirely. For those of you unaware, the Palestinian territories essentially subsist solely on aid and slave wages from Israel. Second, HAMAS was elected. Like it or not, the democratic elections chose HAMAS to lead the country – to staff ministries, lead the parliament, and fill all functions except for the highest executive powers that Abbas is now all too happy to exploit, like dissolving the government, enforcing martial law “state of emergency”, and sopping up aid money.
Which brings us to why HAMAS fought to seize Gaza in the first place. The reason is because Abbas and Fatah, such as they are, refused to let any of HAMAS’ people into the Palestinian law-enforcement and military forces which they had exclusive control over. Take a hard look at that, reader. Both sides of our esteemed aisle got their blood up when allegations of vandalism by the outgoing Clinton Administration officials against the White House hit the air waves. Imagine now if the Democrats had controlled not just the White House, but all of the armed forces and police, and refused to let any Republicans serve.
HAMAS first responded by entreaties. Then by negotiations. Finally, after Fatah militias began trading fire with them in the streets of Gaza, they took over. Again, this is not to say that HAMAS is the very soul of logic, but it entirely dispels the notion that Abbas, as he would like to claim, is playing fair. In fact, the last major incursion against the Israelis in Gaza, detailed in an earlier post on this weblog, was not by HAMAS but by one of Abbas’ own Fatah militias!
The chain’s links are easy to follow – HAMAS wins the popularity contest and the government because of Fatah recklessness, corruption and mismanagement. Fatah and the west shut HAMAS out. HAMAS seethes for the better part of a year and then, responding to provocation, takes over. Now they, and not the equally murderous and far more uncontrollable Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade of Fatah, are the “murderous terrorists”. And now Abbas, safe in his West Bank isolation, can play the satrap of the West with the whole of the Palestinian Authority living on his till and the whole of the West casting him as the great white hope.
Meanwhile, a similar slugfest is spiraling around the American airwaves. Yesterday Elizabeth Edwards called into Hardball with Chris Matthews to rake Ann Coulter over the coals for saying:
“If I’m going to say anything about John Edwards in the future, I’ll just wish he had been killed in a terrorist assassination plot,”
A stiff glance at that quote will detect the inference that it requires a larger context. In fact, Coulter was talking about how her earlier comment about Edwards – the notorious “faggot” remark – was itself taken out of context. When she voiced the nasty jab at Edwards, it was in discussing how certain terms were unallowable under the social standards of political correctness. Well, she certainly proved her own point. It is unallowable. Except if, like Ann Coulter, your livelihood thrives on that kind of scandal and divisiveness. “Commentators” – and I use the term very lightly – like Coulter depend on attacks on her to get the media buzzing, get the blog posts up – yes, like this one – and get the TV appearances rolling in.
Her point about Edwards being killed was, in fact, a criticism of the media finding Bill Maher’s comment allowable whereas her remark employing ‘faggot’ was not. In that criticism, she cited Maher as wishing Cheney had been killed in a terrorist attack. Thus, she reasoned to Good Morning America’s viewership, she would in the future refrain from using the term ‘faggot’ against an adversary, and simply wish they were killed in a terrorist attack.
But Maher did not say that at all. His discussion was, like Coulter’s, about what kind of political speech was allowable. Though pressed into a certain sympathy for the opinion that Cheney’s demise would bring about an end to the military adventurism for which the Vice-President is credited, he was ultimately asking whether or not people posting on the internet – not commentators, nor politicians, nor even bloggers, but respondents to blogs – had the right to say they wished Cheney dead.
All of this is lost in the discourse. And Elizabeth Edwards’ remarks of censure against Coulter, urging her to tone down the rhetoric, were not the end of the pot-stirring either. As is always the case, it cast more attention on Coulter’s inflammatory comments, thus giving her more incentive to voice them. And as for the Edwards side, they immediately posted the comments on their campaign website, got to talking to the press about it, and are profitting vastly as well.
Here we see another chain of spin’s links strangling us: Radical opinions on a website are discussed by Bill Maher. Maher is pressed into stating a position, which is then radicalized by his opponents. Coulter plays off of Maher’s comment, making it sound radical and using it as an excuse to make herself seem more radical. And finally, Elizabeth Edwards and the ailing Edwards campaign raises a loud cry against radicalism that they have exploited to leap to the fore of the election coverage.
Compare us with the Palestinians. Are the stakes as high? Is it, because we have a functioning system of government and they do not, just entertainment? Is it life and death for them, but just good prime time and watercooler talk for us?
It is life and death for everyone.
This kind of twisting of fact, exploitation of distortion and relentless divisiveness is not just throttling the desperate Occupied Territories. Our own government suffers. Budget battles loom, our Iraq legislation is as much a quagmire as that of the Iraqi parliament itself, and domestic initiatives bog down. And this is not only important because it is our country that suffers – it is important because when the world’s superpower languishes, order in the world languishes. Global credibility of America’s leadership is at an all time low. Aid is dysfunctional. Strategic power is diluted and fettered.
Not all this is the problem of George Bush. Remember who voted to give him his war powers and what powers were voted for. In the case of so many of the Executive’s blunders, we now hear his deriders claiming, “We supported him because we did not know”. That is nonsense. The information was out there. The reason we did not hear it then is the same reason as we do not hear now:
The clamor is deafening.
At the core of America’s global woes, we have its ventures in the Middle East. At the core of the Middle East conflict, inspiring and uniting generations of Islamist radicals and anti-American nationalists, we have the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. And at the core of that crisis, the complexities we need to unravel to solve it are being drown by a power elite exploiting the spin. To defeat the disease known as The War On Terror, the cancer of the Palestine crisis must be conquered.
And where is America’s political will – its voting public – in this?
Too busy debating what their favorite soapbox crier – Coulter or Maher – did or did not say.
Care to see what they did say? See here:
But for an even better read, check out how the HAMAS/Fatah feud is already deepening the battle lines of The War On Terror:
Helping Abbas Hurts Real Peace Negotiations
It Also Foments Further Division In The Arab World, Making Them Either Martyrs For Islam Or Traitors