A Key Question About the Middle East Conflict – What Do We Know?

Meteor Blades asks what I think is one of the most important questions about the Middle East conflict: Daily Kos: How Do You Know What You Know? This is the question to ask yourself about everything you think you “know.”
We live in what I call The Propaganda Age. We are bombarded from every direction with carefully crafted messaging from people who want to influence us. This goes wayyyy beyond just the marketing of products, significant and effective as that is. (Cigarette marketers convince people to kill themselves, but not before handing over their money. They even know how to make us blame the victims!) This is about the very foundation of what you “know.” Because so much of what we “know” is just stuff designed to make us think things…
Think about the people in the Heaven’s Gate “Comet Cult” who all killed themselves because they believed they would be transported to a spaceship hidden in the comet’s tail. The “knew” that spaceship was there. That is the power of manipulated information, and that is why we must always question how and why we know the things we think we know.
Think about how loaded the word “terrorist” is. Extreme emotional loading is a good tipoff to psychological manipulation. Think about the emotional reaction attached to the idea of a terrorist. Think about the images that come into your mind – and the fear. You are justified in doing anything to a terrorist – setting aside the Geneva Conventions, torture, bombing an entire country into the ground – civilians and all – if there might have been a terrorist there. No one is thinking.

Most Americans think, at this point, that Arabs and Muslims are terrorists. I wonder if they are terrorists because “our oil is under their sand?” I mean, maybe it’s about giving the public a justification for going over there and taking the oil, so we propagandize them as “terrorists.”
Another example of something we “know”: People “know” that President Ahmadinejad of Iran called for Israel to be “wiped off the map.” But did he really? Juan Cole says this is an (intentionally?) incorrect translation,

But the actual quote, which comes from an old speech of Khomeini, does not imply military action, or killing anyone at all. The second reason is that it is just an inexact translation. The phrase is almost metaphysical. He quoted Khomeini that “the occupation regime over Jerusalem should vanish from the page of time.” It is in fact probably a reference to some phrase in a medieval Persian poem. It is not about tanks.
[. . .] The phrase he then used as I read it is “The Imam said that this regime occupying Jerusalem (een rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods) must [vanish from] from the page of time (bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad).”
Ahmadinejad was not making a threat, he was quoting a saying of Khomeini and urging that pro-Palestinian activists in Iran not give up hope– that the occupation of Jerusalem was no more a continued inevitability than had been the hegemony of the Shah’s government.

This does not excuse Ahmadinejad, who hates Jews and denies the Holocaust, for example. But it does show how expertly-placed propaganda can affect people’s understanding of the world.
And don’t think my writing this is intended to excuse shooting rockets into civilian areas in Israel, or bombing power plants in Gaza or bridges in Lebanon. War is bad and wrong! War is the worst thing! THAT is something we ought to “know” for sure.
What Meteor says:

Our only choice is looking futureward to what a peaceful, secure, prosperous Palestine and Israel would look like in 50 years, and doing what little part we can to make that happen. We can’t say that’s their problem, not ours.

3 thoughts on “A Key Question About the Middle East Conflict – What Do We Know?

  1. This is especially true when dealing with ANY topic about which we know very little. Most of us don’t really know very much about the history, ethnic makeup, or anything else for sure about the Middle East. For example, Iran is Persian, not Arab. We think we have facts and we don’t.
    It’s a given in art forgery that the most forgeries are made to fool the experts in fields about which there is little technical knowledge. This continues until the gaps in knowledge gradually get filled in; then the forgeries have to be weeded out of art collections. This is really a basic rule.

  2. This is kind of stupid:
    You first debunk the Ahmadinjad wipe Israel off the map junk, but in the next sentence you say he “hates Jews and denies the Holocaust,”.
    Is there any base for this more secure than the “wipe Israel off the map junk”?
    Ahmadinejad may have some doubts about some details of the holocaust, but do you have any line from him that he “denies” it?
    Is there any line that you can show that proves he “hates jews”?
    In a piece about propaganda and manipulation it is sad to see you fall to it hook, line and sinker.

  3. good post–we are indeed on the receiving end of a concerted misinformation campaign. Here’s a fine example: last night my wife and I were watching the ‘news’ on CNN, and while they were airing an interview with a Lebanese woman ‘on the ground’ and her words were translated as:
    ‘Where are the other Arabic countries?’
    to which my wife, who speaks Arabic cries ‘bullshit!’ and informs me what the woman actually said:
    ‘Where is the Red Cross?’

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