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Ragged Human Edges

In General Discussion, Specific Discussion on March 1, 2012 by tinfoilturban Tagged: , , , , , , , , ,

Bismillah iRahmen iRaheem

Asalaamu Alaykum Wa Rahmetullahi Wa Baraketahu,

😀

I hope this finds you all in the best of health and iman. I would start with an apology for my lack of posts, but since that ends up being what I do every time, I will try and stop it from becoming customary.

Jason Stearns, in his book ‘Dancing in the Glory of Monsters’ about the war in the Congo said the following:

The Congo war had no one cause, no clear conceptual essence that can be easily distilled in a couple of paragraphs. Like an ancient Greek epic, it is a mess of different narrative strands – some historic, some venal, all combined in a narrative that is not straightforward but layered, shifting and incomplete. It is not a war of great mechanical precision but ragged human edges.

That idea, of ragged human edges, is what I wanted to focus on today in talking about the relationship (yet again) of scepticism and politics.

While scepticism defines no particular political ideology, it is an essential tool for anyone who involves themselves in politics, and exists as often a counterpoint to ideology. Ideology is, at the end of the day, about narratives. An informed scepticism is a check to those narratives, a balance for the tendency of ideology to encourage self-deception.

I began to think about this in relation to the book that the quote is from. Stearns discussed how the balance of media coverage, of Africa anyway, was strangely skewed towards conflicts with easily grasped narratives. The Congo, a conflict that has accounted for at least 3 million lives, thousands of rapes and war crimes that makes one numb with horror, received a tiny percentage of the coverage of things like the civil war in Libya or the conflict in Darfur.

This, he argues, is because for those conflicts one can draw out easily recognisable ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’. There are the heroic rebels, the genocidal Islamists, the comical dictators and the simple story of a rebellion, or genocide or whatever.

What his point shows is the level to which human beings generally balk from nuance. The conflict in the Congo is not covered because of a conspiratorial menace, but rather because people shy away from things that require a complex understanding; conflicts where the line between perpetrator and victim are constantly shifting, or don’t exist at all.

The reality is that that nuance is the norm, not the exception. Life and politics in general, rather than being about goodies and baddies, is precisely about the ragged human edges. No conflict conforms perfectly to an ideological narrative because such narratives usually stem from self-interest, and such interests usually lead to self delusion.

I have been engaging in discussion relating to Syria of late, and found that the above trend is very much present. One finds two extreme positions, one that wholeheartedly endorses the rebellion, endorses Western intervention and anything else to get rid of Assad. The other swallows the Baathist party line, where the people in Homs are massacring themselves to get sympathy and Assad is the great defender of the Palestinians and without the Baathists the entire Middle East will be conquered by Israel.

I am not on the ground in Homs or Damascus, so what I know of the conflict is always going to be viewed through the lens of a range of biased sources. However what we should instinctively do is question such clear, black and white narratives of the conflict. We must ask ourselves to what extent all the assumptions of either side are required.

Does one have to support intervention to support the Syrian people? Does one have to support Assad to oppose it? Does a fear for what will happen after Assad automatically have to equate to a support of his regime?

Of course interests abound that muddy the waters. Ideology plays a huge role here. Western Leftists naturally like the idea of a socialist hero, standing without support against American imperialism. The idea of a kafir Alawi government oppressing a Sunni majority with the backing of Iran appeals to Sunni /Arab narratives of the Iranian menace. Enthusiastic Westerners love the idea of a popular uprising against a dictator and the Shia can readily view an attack on pseudo-Shia Assad as reinforcing a persecution complex.

When a narrative appeals to you, that is the point at which you must be wary, for we rarely accept unappealing falsehoods, it is those that appeal that slip through the cracks in our incredulity.

This is not a world of easy, pleasant narratives, it is a world of ragged human edges.

I pray that we are all given the sagacity to see truth clear from falsehood, to seek nuance and intellectual conviction.

Keep well til next time!

Walaykum Salaam Wa Rahmetullahi Wa Baraketahu.

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2 Responses to “Ragged Human Edges”

  1. Awesome post

    Didn’t know you were a big fan of post structuralism

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