The Youtube Way Of War
June 22, 2009 7 Comments
Despite my “pessimism”, I have been watching many of the video clips coming out of Iran, trying to catch up, at least a little.
I don’t like what I’m seeing. Let me specify what I mean by that. First, obviously there is a natural revulsion to the chaos and bedlam they (at their worst) portray. Whatever their meaning and eventual outcome, it must be admitted that at the moment, these events are literally nightmarish. Try to imagine them on the streets of your city for example. It is the stuff of nightmares. I would not like to see it. I would not like to experience it. I want to stay as far away from it as possible. I shudder at the thought of it spreading, of it being the way of the future. We ought to be careful what we wish for, and cheer on. There’s no reason this sort of thing couldn’t come to Detroit, to Chicago, to Los Angeles, to New York.
But more to the point, even if I assume that I’m on the side of the protestors (and vice versa, more importantly), I simply don’t see these actions as likely to accomplish anything. These are some properties of scenes I have seen:
-lots of people out in the streets, mostly standing around, looking confused. Maybe walking/rushing from one place to another when this or that thing happens.
-lots of posing and posturing on the one hand, and gawking and rubbernecking on the other. At times it seems like the entire crowd is composed of posturers and rubberneckers. Reminds me of my time at Berkeley.
-chanting/yelling stuff. “Allahu Akbar” being the only thing I can make out, of course.
-rocks. People pick some up, others throw them (I think?).
-standoffs with policemen. I haven’t seen clips of policemen being particularly brutal (which doesn’t mean none such exist) – at least, not compared to, say, the French in Sierra Leone a couple years ago
-at one point in one of the clips I saw, a body is carried through the streets. He’s put down on the ground. Picked back up. Put down somewhere else. Maybe it’s just me but violence in Middle East crowd scenes always seems to be followed closely by medical nincompoops.
-Another guy soon follows running down the street with a bloody hand. he holds it up in the air for all to see. Circles back, does it again. The point being…? (I know, I know, “in their culture” that probably means something significant..)
-people pushing one way. then something happens. so they get scared and run backwards. Policemen.
The general properties I perceive in these protests, or whatever they are:
-superficially demonstrative (“hey look at me”) with no substance; emoting/posing/posturing.
-fear/retreat (on both sides) in the face of any true direct confrontation.
-chants (this behavior at least is universally recognizable; the behavior of a rock concert, a pep rally – apt analogies in my view, because those things accomplish just about as much)
-fascination with blood. I gather that seeing the blood is supposed to make other people do stuff/react a certain way. Blood is magical.
I could be wrong but this is not the stuff that simultaneously successful and good revolutions are made of. (I could, alas, see a successful but not good revolution coming out of this, I think.) What are all these people trying to accomplish? What are they going to accomplish? What they are demonstrating is that they can be called upon to provide chaos. But chaos is just chaos; it is not focused, it is not disciplined, it has no aim, it has no defined end. This is not warfare, it’s not a revolution, it doesn’t even rise to the level of gang warfare (which at least might tend to have clear targets and aims). It’s almost a form of violent performance art. “Look at us, listen to us”, they are saying. And so we do. But so what? The “best” outcome one can hope from all this is that the Ahmadinejad challenger points at them, says “cut me a power-sharing deal and I’ll call them off”, and so a deal is cut, all his distant cousins get on-paper jobs/sinecures in parallel with Ahmadinejad’s cousins, the rest of people go back to work, the dead are buried, the old women wail on camera, Time Magazine does a glossy cover story on the whole thing, and then things get calm again. Soon Iran gets the bomb anyway and that will be that: deterrent. Untouchable.
Maybe I lack imagination. But I can’t imagine anything good coming from this. Besides, at best, the paltry accomplishment of getting some other guy’s good-for-nothing cousins more jobs/cashflows/apartments.
I view this, and similar recurring patterns in that part of the world, as part of what appears to be a long-nurtured cultural trait in some parts of the world: the deeply-held belief in trying to win all wars without actually fighting them, and deeply-held ignorance of how to win wars any other way than through symbolism and theater. At its worst, in our modern era, this becomes the instigation/Palestinian terrorism method of warfare: randomly blow something up somewhere until you induce a response, then when response comes, preen for cameras, and cry, and wave a bloody shirt, and say ‘look how oppressed we are, the UN should do something’. Repeat until it works. I have no respect for this form of warfare. I have no respect for the cultural tradition which values and propagates it.
Seriously: what the heck are these people doing exactly? Are they fighting? Who are their leaders? Who gives them orders? What are their targets? What is their strategy? What are their tactics? Are they gaining territory and establishing footholds? Are they organizing supply lines, chains of command? Engaging in shadow diplomacy, forming alliances, arranging for loans, setting up government in exile, getting arms? Turning former enemies, subverting opposing generals, making secret deals to divide the enemy?
Or are they just wandering around streets pelting policemen, yelling stuff, videotaping it on cellphones, and then posting it to Youtube?
What’s that accomplish? Seriously what? I know, I know, these are just normal, for the most part unarmed people, what can I expect them to accomplish? Well maybe nothing. But so then why should I pretend they will accomplish anything with this bedlam, other than some of them getting killed? Because it would feel so good to pretend? I think we’re all really fooling ourselves as we watch this stuff, tell ourselves “we’re seeing history unfold”, call Twitter the future of revolution, and blog to each other about how exciting this all is. Because at the end of the day, this stuff is not going to accomplish anything.
Let me take the most optimistic view possible and assume (unjustifiably) that the younger generation of Iran, and a majority of Iran, is indeed opposed to theocracy and dictatorship and wants a government that respects human rights and views their current government as an enemy of those aims, and therefore has declared war on that government with the aim of seating a rights-respecting republic that won’t prioritize exporting revolutionary terrorism. Well, ok then. But that’s a serious declaration. It’s a serious act. Running around on city streets mindlessly is not going to get them there. Ever. I just don’t see these methods getting them from A to Z, even if Z is where they want to go, which I doubt.
Maybe it’s just that these cultures have lived in cities too long. They seem to think like herded, hounded city dwellers. It seems like they think street corners are important. It seems like they think whether cars are on fire is important. This is not just Iran, I see this in other parts of the Middle East and in Europe as well; there is to my mind a “citified”, narrow, local, failure-to-think-outside-the-box thought process dominating their actions that makes the overal endeavor look pathetic. Overall their acts appear reactive and constricted and sheeplike and herdlike and small to me. I see no vision. I see no plan. I see no leaders. I see no honorable behavior. And so, I see no victories in their future. I do see street chaos, and perhaps the chaos will be scary or damaging enough to push one guy or another over the top in the halls of power – because his gang is more chaotic/scary than the other guy’s gang. But that is not liberalization, it’s not ‘opening up’, it’s certainly not democracy. To me it looks like more of the same. Or worse – because you never know what the ultimate outcome of this sort of thing will be, which Bonaparte these people might induce to rise to the occasion and put them down. We’ll just have to see.
The only cold comfort I have is that these events must surely be causing distress for the regime and for Ahmadinejad. But at the end of the day, so what?
I want to be an idealist. I want to be a “neocon” and a liberal. I’d love to be wrong. But I just don’t get it. I’m even depressing myself here with my pessimism. Am I missing something here? What am I missing? Please, tell me I’m wrong.