Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Take Me Down To The Other Side

Robert Fisk is deeply frustrated that his fellow journalists haven't figured out how to blame ISIS on Israel and the West yet.

That's a little unfair. But not really. Fisk's main argument is that ISIS' breathtaking barbarity has blinded journalists to one of their paramount duties: to report on "the other side of the story." As applied to ISIS, that's one of those statements that makes one recoil at first glance, makes sense when you think about it, but is repulsive anew once one sees how Fisk operationalizes it.

Journalists absolutely should examine all sides of the story, including a story like ISIS. Figuring out the "why" -- the actual undergirding ideology of ISIS and how it conceptualizes itself - is a valuable service and an important journalistic project. Graeme Woods' chilling report in The Atlantic is an excellent example of this.

But Fisk doesn't actually seem to want this. What he wants, desperately, is not the "other side" of the story but a very specific story that would contextualize ISIS into a framework of global relations he's comfortable with.
So how, today, do we tell the “other side” of the story? Of course, we can trace the seedlings and the saplings of this cult of lost souls to the decades of cruelty which local Middle Eastern despots – usually with our complete support – visited upon their people. Or the hundreds of thousands of dead Muslims for whose death we were ultimately responsible during and after our frightful – or “bloodthirsty” or “twisted” or “vile” – 2003 invasion of Iraq.
"Of course" we can? Maybe we can. But maybe not. There's no guarantee that ISIS' emergence is primarily attributable to Western meddling in Middle Eastern affairs. To be sure, it's doubtful that any contemporary historical phenomenon can wholly be divorced from such influences -- but at that level of generality the point becomes banal. Outside such tautological points, it may still be the case that ISIS is the direct love-child of bad acts from western governments. But it might also be the case that it is primarily the result of indigenous forces and should be related to as such.

Robert Fisk's story of the Middle East has long been one where most of the injustices, the barbarism, the death and the mutilation can firmly be laid at the feet of western (and Jewish) actors. ISIS challenges that story; it presents a different story that doesn't easily align itself with the older narrative. Ultimately, Fisk isn't calling for the "other side" to be told, he's expressing frustration that his story isn't. But sometimes even the "other side of the story" isn't the one you want to hear.

1 comment:

EW said...

Causation is tricky.

Both abuser and abused can identify events that putatively triggered any given round of abuse. So, do these events explain the abuse? Well, similar events do not trigger abuse in other couples. And no matter how much the victim modifies his or her behavior to avoid those events, there never seems to be a shortage of new events to trigger the next round of abuse. This may lead the observer to conclude that it is not the events, but the participants, that are the likely explanatory variables.

So if ISIS officials blamed the Invasion of Iraq for their conduct, what conclusion should I draw? In particular, should I conclude that in the absence of the Iraq invasion, no other grievance would have provided an excuse and opportunity for an equivalent movement to arise?

Alternatively, if they denied that the invasion had anything to do with their conduct, and claimed that they are solely motivated by Allah devoid of any worldly context, what conclusion should I draw? How would I explain that ISIS has arisen here and now -- not ten years ago?

In short, people don’t always have the most useful perspective on the causes of their own conduct.