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December 06, 2004

I Was Right! Right! Right!

Oh, how I love being right.

I've had a theory for some time, and it has been proven to be burningly correct. The fact that I was right makes no difference to anything, and certainly doesn't make the world better. Yet I find it deeply satisfying.

My theory was based on a standard behavior of extremists on both "sides" of any dispute. Such extremists seek out the most threatening statements by the other side's extremists. They then publicize the threatening statements. This is to make the case to their "side" that the other "side" as a whole is implacably evil. And you better support your side's extremists, because they're the only ones who take this terrible threat seriously.

Note that none of this has to involve lying. The extremists can choose real, but unrepresentative statements.

A truly sophisticated example of this is the odious MEMRI. As you probably know, MEMRI combs through the Arab press for vicious anti-Semitism, insane conspiracy theories, etc. Then they translate it and regurgitate it into the mouths of the media's hungry baby birds.

So... my longtime theory was, the same thing was happening in the Arab world with one very specific statement by my favorite extremist on our side, Ann Coulter. Coulter, when she was able to take time out from her demanding career as a whippet-impersonator, famously wrote:

We should invade [Arab] countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.

And it turns out -- if you will forgive my shameless, capitalized self-adulation -- I WAS RIGHT. Sheldon Rampton, a beautiful human being who co-runs PR Watch, has discovered

a fundamentalist, pro-jihad Muslim web site which... contains Ann Coulter's column in its entirety, with bold, red letters highlighting the sentence which reads, "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity."

The webmaster comments on Coulter's column by saying, "We told you so. Is anyone listening out there? The noose is already around our necks. The preparation for genocide of ALL Muslims has begun... The only safe refuge you have is Allah."

Dear lord, I'm so happy. Have I mentioned that I was right?

Posted at December 6, 2004 06:56 AM | TrackBack

Funny -- I always thought you were Left.

Posted by: Brian at December 6, 2004 03:23 PM

Can't we just give them Ann Coulter's address? It would be the patriotic thing to do.

Posted by: zed at December 6, 2004 05:50 PM


Ha. But actually, while in the US I'm on the left, on the world spectrum I'm probably on the right.

I realize that sounds crazy when uttered here in America, but if we were suddenly transported to the slums of Caracas or San Paolo, it wouldn't. America is probably the most right wing and ideologically-rigid country on earth... which of course you'd expect in a country that's been so incredibly powerful for so long, and is essentially a huge island.

So someone like myself appears to be left wing here. But frankly, it would be hard for me not to resist any genuine worldwide push toward democracy, since I'm a white American man. A more democratic world would likely make my life less cushy.

Finally, the whole left vs. right thing is generally wrong. The political spectrum is a circle, not a straight line. As Jim Hightower says, it's not left vs. right, it's top vs. bottom.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at December 6, 2004 05:57 PM

I agree with your last point about the speciousness of left/right distinctions. However, I believe there's a pretty strong tradition among the moderate left resisting totalitarianism and undemocratic brutality, especially as it relates to human rights abuses.

Would you mind elaborating on this statement, though?--

"But frankly, it would be hard for me not to resist any genuine worldwide push toward democracy, since I'm a white American man. A more democratic world would likely make my life less cushy."

Surely whatever neo-imperialist comforts you enjoy (assuming that's the "cushiness" you're referring to) would pale in comparison to your desire for genuine, democratic self-determination throughout the world. Right? Tell me that it wouldn't really be that "hard" for you to support such a promising movement... please. And why does your skin pigment and sex factor into your decision-making?

I'm not sure I'm understanding you here.

Posted by: oyster at December 6, 2004 08:32 PM


I'm just trying to be honest. If you're a white American man, particularly if you're middle-class or above, you have all kinds of unearned priviledges. God knows I do.

Now, I do think I'd be much happier in a more democratic world. In particular, I'd be more likely not to be killed in a more democratic world, and I enjoy staying alive. But it's hard for people to change, even if the change will make them happier.

So I hope I'd get behind and participate in a far-reaching, promising movement. I think I would, even it were hard. But I don't know 100% for sure. As Stokely Carmichael said (I think), "the problem with bourgeois comforts is they're so damned comfortable."

I believe this is a real issue in progressive politics, and it's almost never discussed. And it should be. We could even start now, if you want.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at December 6, 2004 09:16 PM

I checked out the website, which seems not to have been updated since 2001. It does not contain any other articles though. To truly be like MEMRI, an Arabic equivalent would 1) translate the offensive articles into Arabic and 2) do it regularly, searching the US press for wingnut rampages. It would be very easy to do if they use the internet rather than print; just translate regular comments on the right wing blogs like the free republic or the little green footballs sites. As far as I know, no one does exactly that in the ARab world. In fact, the Arab press reviews that are published on the satellite and government channels I have seen pretty much do the opposite; they cherrypick the Western press for articles that are SIMILAR to their own ideas or that seem to be on their side.

Posted by: Anna in Cairo at December 7, 2004 12:23 AM

Re your final point, you probably are right (I will have to go look at MEMRI, which I usually avoid in order not to get mad, in order to confirm that for sure) in that the Arabs they quote as being "good Arabs" are seen in the Arab world as being sellouts or agents. Probably because in a lot of cases they are people like Chalabi. I will keep an eye open for an Arabic MEMRI-like service though. It would be good for both your website and that guy who does those point-counterpoint bead things that you drew our attention to a while ago.

Posted by: Anna in Cairo at December 7, 2004 03:46 AM


I'd be surprised if there's any formal equivalent to MEMRI in the Arab world. It probably happens just on an ad hoc basis.

I say this because MEMRI is a truly sophisticated propaganda operation. And as Professor Chonky (as some friends of mine like to call him) says, the best propaganda is found in democracies.

Still, I'd love to hear about any examples you find, organized or not.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at December 7, 2004 04:43 AM

I'm not as clear as I'd like when I write, but please let me know if your travels bring you to New Orleans because I'd love to discuss this issue (and many lighter ones) to our heart's content.

I guess an example I would point to would be the Ukraine. Say for the sake of argument that this is exactly the type of large scale democratic movement that we'd like to see spread everywhere. Now, how many Americans (white males especially) even considered how this might negatively impact their pocketbook? I doubt many. It never occurred to me, but permit me to say that it seems to be almost front and center in your mind. This just stikes me as a very curious (but understandable) reaction.

Granted, other potential examples might hit closer to home, but especially in this (remote) case of the Ukraine, it's difficult for me to imagine progressives considering the mass protests in selfish, personal terms. I could be wrong, but it seems as if this is a non-issue for the left, because relatively few people actually evaluate world events in the rare manner that you do.

Perhaps, then, an achilles heel of many unearned privileges is that they are often assumed, or taken for granted. Your own awareness of them is admirable, but I think you are the exception, and that many others don't see the intricate connections of specific world events as they eventually impact one's pocketbook. If this is the case, and few have your keen awareness, shouldn't progressives consider tabling the discussion because it flies under the radar in a most helpful way?

Or not. I'm not sure, but I appreciate the conversation about it! A few new synapse connections have been forged in the ol' oyster.

Posted by: oyster at December 7, 2004 08:43 PM


Thanks re New Orleans. I will certainly let you know if I'm down that way. Then if we meet, I will get embarrassingly drunk, say lots of unenlightening things, and get into a fight with Anne Rice and punch her in the face.

I think you've put the finger on the problem with the Ukraine example. Assuming it were a shining example of democracy (which I suspect it's not) then everyone would support it without reservation. The problem arises with things that hit closer to home. Then there will be resistance.

However, as to whether we should "table the discussion"... that's a VERY bad idea. In fact, I believe one of the main reasons progressives fail consistently in the US is because this issue is ignored.

I could go into lots of specifics about why I think this, but that's a discussion better had over beer. And punching Anne Rice.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at December 11, 2004 06:19 PM