If you’re reading this, then you’ve already read this:
“the War on Terror is really a War on the Unusual — it’s the systematic erosion of rights for people with nonstandard appearance, health, itineraries, and belief
s, without regard to whether those ‘irregularities’ are correlated with terrorist activity.”
That’s Cory Doctorow, from the one source that needn’t ever be reblogged since everyone already reads it anyway, BoingBoing, but I felt like drawing a line under that one sentence.
I was just going to leave it at that. But now that I re-read it up there, I have an aside that doesn’t belong anywhere else so it will have to go here. Have you noticed that the commentary about the revolution in Lybia has a distinctly derisive tone, in comparison to the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, and Bahrain? BB also posted today symmetric pictures of Qadhafi — pictures of two left sides, or two right sides, a trick that looks odd on everyone but looks very odd on him. That photo of him with the umbrella in the tuktuk, looking particularly un-Presidential, has been all over the place and was used to headline a somewhat premature “obituary” of the man at Iconic Photos. Andrew Sullivan has a series of posts titled “Cuckoo Qhaddafi.” There are those stories about him living in a tent, hiring Italian women to study the Quran, liking voluptuous Ukranian nurses, etc. Bill Easterly has been trotting a theory that more ridiculous leaders are more prone to overthrow, a theory he illustrates with recent photos from his vacation in Libya, and which he has the decorum to append with solemn conclusions like, “the people of Libya aren’t laughing…”
– George W. Bush
I realize that none of this is commentary that counts so it’s harmless. But it’s interesting to notice how much we look for ways to diminish
our bêtes noirs through ridicule. If the news is that a national leader has lost his faculties, then is giggling really the right response? The “oh look he’s wearing a funny hat” like of argument seems tone-deaf in light of the fact that the events in Libya right now are much more violent than anything that has happened in other countries. As dictators go, he is proving himself one to be taken more seriously, not less. Perhaps it is the seriousness of the actual events that makes us want to give the commentary a farcical turn. We spectators to this drama are powerless, and we are made uncomfortable by the fact that we are breathlessly (if not happily) watching other peoples’ harm; while we don’t have the power to ‘take him down’ we do have the power to ‘put him down’, and ad hominem attacks against him help us discharge some of our anxiety.
The twittetariat does its part for the war effort.
One of the outcomes of this kind of commentary is that it makes Qadhafi seem like an isolated, Kim Jong-Il sort of leader. And this may be the point: looking isolated makes him look more weak. But it’s worth noting that he is actually very powerful throughout the region. The map at that link understates his influence by a great deal, actually, because it only looks at political influence, not economic influence. In Mali, Libya’s neighbor to the south, he has built several large mosques and has just finished building a new administrative complex to house all government facilities — and all of these buildings, including the government offices, carry his name. I’m living in Burundi now, much further away, and the main mosque in the capital is the Qadhafi Mosque. Everyone knows Qadhafi as a rich guy who spreads his money around, and this is not a bad reputation to have. In these populist times his longevity will be determined by his conduct in Libya, not outside of it, but as someone inclined to build and hold on to power, he seems to have done a lot of things right.
I don’t say this to support Qadhafi or to vote on his future prospects. Just to say that, if you can look past his funny ways (or look at Al Jazeera), you see that he is someone to be reckoned with. But one of our defenses we’re most handy with is snickering at things that are different, and it seems like we’re seeing that all over the place these days.
Update: I seem to be the only one who finds it unseemly to be whistling past the graveyard here. I won’t bother linking to them all. But I will continue linking to those moments where, after they finish giggling, people realize that it doesn’t feel quite right.
After going on about his wardrobe: ”The laughter sticks in the throat though when one thinks of the suffering.” Your piety comes too late, I’m afraid.
Another blogger swipes at the same easy target, and then pauses to note: “it’s not politically correct, but it’s OK, humour is always in the frontline against oppression. ” Which is a bit cheap from someone nowhere near the frontline against oppression.
(I did read the FP profile on Otpor, where the veteran revolutionaries describe the importance of satire in making residents feel empowered to define their relationship with their government, and I’ve seen the satire coming out of Libya itself. But I don’t think that the same dynamic is occurring inside the country as outside.)
This is no way to conduct yourself during an uprising.
– A “senior member of Benghazi’s revolutionary council”, not referring to the sideshow going on among the blogetariat, but expressing my sentiments nonetheless. Via The Guardian.
Previously, on Hard Consonant:
- So crazy it just might work: some clever ideas that don't need to be suggested to Qadhafi
- Exceptional equality: another pretense is overcome by events
- I think I found a pulse
- Bad boyfriend: a second-hand account of an anti-corruption demonstration that perhaps should have been more first-hand
- The extremes do not hold: impossible choices from Libya and Japan