Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Who the Heck is Jamil Hussein?

The obsessions of others are sometimes so alien to our own way of thinking that we aren’t even aware of the issues that have set their hair ablaze. Many evangelicals were less concerned about the activities of the U.S.S.R. than the formation of the E.U., for example, because they believed that the unity of Europe was one of the signs of the end of days foretold in the Book of Revelations. A more recent example is the attempt of the right-wing blogosphere to get everybody upset about the case of somebody named Jamil Hussein, who the AP apparently claimed as a source for a story about the burning alive of some Iraqis. The bloggers in question deny the existence of the aforementioned Hussein and insist that the AP story is a fraud. Fraud it may have been—who knows?—but the remarkable thing about the question is that anybody thinks it’s very interesting. Obviously most people’s personal understanding of conditions in Baghdad has nothing to do with an incident very few of them ever heard about. Of course, if the Hussein story were fraudulent and also symptomatic of coverage of Iraq, somebody could claim that it had some importance as a telling example. Unfortunately, however, what has really been typical about media behavior during this affair has been a tendency to act as the propaganda arm of the military: for example, the reporters who brought us the faux-iconic image of the toppling of Saddam’s statue were perfectly aware that the event was a staged photo-op but kept quiet about it since they apparently thought of themselves as part of the war effort. To this day, the newscasters treat official pronouncements as if there were somehow credible: I guess they don’t know the phrase from the Napoleonic Wars: to lie like a bulletin.

Since art is long and time is short, I’m reluctant to come up with new arguments to prove that evolution is a reality, Iraq is a mess, and anvils don’t float. I recognize, however, that a great many people actually think that anecdotes are better evidence than statistics. In that spirit, let me venture a rhetorical bomb of my own. Consider this: three years after the end of World War II, American service men were chatting up frauleins and quaffing beer in taverns all over Germany. In Japan, they were going on sightseeing trips to Mount Fuji. Even during the Vietnam War, marines could go out on the town in Saigon. Does anybody believe that an off-duty American soldier could wander around Ramadi without getting shot, beheaded, or kidnapped? Or is that just what the AP wants you to think?

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