Monthly Archives: July 2011

Terror in Norway: What to Remember about the Relationship between Terror and the Media

Anders Breivik
gunned down dozens of young people and blew up a building all in the name of
“Norwegian ethnicity,” “Christianity,” and “Muslim fear.”
It is important to remember that these are group categories and capable of
producing the greatest violence. We sometimes think of modern terrorists as
outlaws perpetrating violence for their own ends, but these terrorists usually
have larger political goals, and are more strategic than we think. They
consciously manipulate the media, and violence is the mechanism they used to do
so. As terrorists specialists have pointed out for some time now (e.g. McCauley),
terrorism is not best understood as an individual pathology. In fact, terrorism
would be easier to handle and understand if it were an individual pathology. It
would be easier to identify the individuals and prevent their terrorism. Their
behavior would be more predictable and they would be easier to catch.

No, terrorism
is a strategy. It is instrumental violence. It is violence in the service of a
goal and in some way the violence has been legitimated. It is not a pathological
behavior carried out for the pure pleasure of the perpetrator. Anders Breivik had
broader political objectives. His first request in court was to represent
himself and have the opportunity to speak. He is trying to manipulate the media
in the service of his political manifesto. Studies have reported the
correlation between the rise in terrorism and the availability of media. More
broadcast outlets are associated with more terrorism, especially dramatic and
high concept terrorism that attracts attention.

Terrorism has
two primary strategies: the first is a psychological impact on the enemy. Breivik
wanted the Norwegian people to “wake up.” He was trying to
“warn” the world about an impending danger. Blowing up buildings and
killing innocent citizens has very little material effect, but its psychological
impact is enormous. Terrorists need the media for these psychological effects.
The second strategy is to mobilize the terrorists’ own supporters. Even if
other supportive individuals do not engage in terrorist acts, they will
sympathize. This sympathy is also a goal. Breivik wanted to arouse the
Norwegian people from their slumber and expand the level of sympathy for his
cause.

Terrorists
such as Breivik use violence as a “communication strategy.” They have
an important relationship with the media, and are reliant on them for exposure;
they want others to ultimately embrace their cause. Modern terrorists are
sophisticated in that they want more than buildings simply blown up. Terrorists
need the media to damage their enemy, both psychologically and materially. But
governments also use the media to communicate to terrorist organizations. They
want to present themselves as in control and use the media to present favorable
images of strength and determination.

When
terrorists want to take credit for violence the media are in the untenable
position of assisting them. They can be easily used as dupes. The media need to
protect the public’s information rights, but not at the expense of assisting
terrorism. Moreover, when the public knows little about a particular terrorist
group they turn their attention to the media who report on the terrorist group
and increase the public’s understanding. Consequently, it is not uncommon for
the public to express a certain amount of sympathy for the terrorist group
agenda, even though the public condemns violence.

And, as much
as terrorists depend on media attention, they can also be exposed by the media.
Investigative journalists can get close to discovering and exposing terrorists
and thus put themselves in danger. The Committee to Protect Journalists (www.cpj.org)
reports a steady upward trend in the murder of journalists in the last two
decades.

Terrorism has a close relationship with modern
media. Over the years terrorists have refine their communication skills. Weimann
probably best captures the essence of terrorism by equating it with a
theatrical performance, complete with scripts, actors, and stage management.
The young people murdered by Breivik were actors in his script. He put on his
police uniform costume and played the role of avenger warning the townspeople
of the coming storm of Muslim immigrants. Breivik played his role successfully because
he is now reaching larger audiences.

Advertisements

The Flotilla Affair: The Ship of Fools

Listen to Dr. Harvey Jassem’s interview concerning the flotilla.

Jassem interview about flotilla

The radio interview above is worth
listening to because it gives good perspective on Israel and issues related to
Gaza. Some students at a campus radio station reported positively on the
flotilla incident, and Professor Jassem in the interview above provides a
little balance.

The flotilla spectacle seems to be
fading. The UN’s inquiry into the incident last year found that Israel’s
blockade was legal. But what’s even more important is that a crude attempt to
diminish Israel has been stopped. The flotilla activists, wrapped in their
symbolic kafiyehs, have had the wind taken from their sail as participants have
bailed out. It’s important to underscore that the flotilla was never about
human rights. It was about trying to embarrass Israel. Actually, I always
chuckled at the slogan referring to “liberating Gaza.” Liberating
Gaza from what? Hamas? Fine, have a good time. The organizers were also
embarrassed by the regular disclosures of the connections between Hamas and the
flotilla organizers. Some Dutch journalists reportedly pulled out after having
discovered the extent of Hamas’s involvement in the flotilla stunt.

This is another one of those situations
where some people end up defending barbarism. Moreover, many of them are
hopelessly uninformed. They actually believe Gaza is under Israeli occupation,
when Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005. Others will claim that it is only the
blockade that they are protesting, and Israel is denying medical supplies and
humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza. Again, this is a simple falsehood because
Israel allows all sorts of aid and supplies into Gaza, but does have security
issues. Israel simply must be sure that only aid and humanitarian supplies are
finding their way into the hands of the Gazan leaders – namely, Hamas. If these
human rights activists really cared about helping the downtrodden, there are
numerous other places in the world they would be traveling.

The issues that define the conflict
between Israelis and the Palestinians are complex enough. It simply is not
helpful when one group tries to turn the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a
world conflict, or a conflict between Israel and the world. Although any
thinking person realizes that the flotilla is designed to delegitimize Israel
rather than provide humanitarian aid, it is nice to know that various legal and
international groups have supported Israel on this matter. Israel remains in
the security dilemma; that is, it cannot ignore the rockets and violence aimed
toward Israel from the Gaza Strip. Yet, the more Israel responds by maintaining
its own security, the more it exacerbates the problem.

Benny Morris, writing in the National Interest, explains the origins of the relationship
between Israel and Turkey, and Turkey’s current role in the flotilla incident.
Ben-Gurion early in the history of Israel decided to reach out to the region’s
non-Arab and non-Islamic states such as Turkey. Hence, the relationship between
the State of Israel and Turkey over the decades began to mature and develop
into full diplomatic relations. But the recent rise of an Islamic government in
Turkey has changed all that. Turkey had become a source of support for the
flotilla. But the US is not happy with the turn of events in Turkey, and Turkey
would still like to appeal to US interests. There is some speculation that the
US has tried to cool Turkey’s involvement in the flotilla. Thus, the second
flotilla will not float.

Democracy and Intractable Conflicts

Learn about five dangerous ideas and conflict

 

Conflicts
involving religion and ethnicity, along with the host of economic and political
issues, are the most deep-rooted and difficult. The Israeli-Palestinian
conflict is not about religion, but religion lurks in the background and is
implicated. Still, one important implication for intractable conflicts is that
simple negotiable material interests are less important than the recognition of
basic needs, and these needs such as religious and identity confirmation are
entrenched and not subject to negotiation. And to make things even more
complex, these needs are not subject to the traditional models of conflict
management; that is, they are not satisfiable within a framework of bargaining,
negotiation, third-party interventions, or expressions of authority. Most of
these models, especially the use of authority or force, will make things worse
and entrench cultural attitudes even more deeply. But the good news is that
intelligence can be applied to these issues and there are strategies for making
progress on satisfying the basic needs of the two parties. Within a proper
respectful political framework, and with sufficient cultural knowledge and
sensitivity, a zero-sum negotiation can be turned into an integrated solution
that meets the needs and interests of both sides.

Changing
groups in conflict can involve interventions on numerous levels of analysis. Political
scientists might design institutional arrangements conducive to democratic or
citizen rights and these institutions will have a “trickle-down”
effect such that they affect individual psychologies and attitudes. But the
political science approach remains primarily interested in political
institutions. The same is true for a relational and communication approach. The
entry point might be individual psychologies or group relations but as these
change and development they will influence expectations about larger social
structures. Deep-rooted intractable conflicts can benefit from political
arrangements designed to foster equality and democratic values, but such
intractable conflicts begin with distorted relational and psychological
patterns that result in what Bar
Tal and Teichman
(2005) called the “ethos of conflict.” A
conflict ethos is a repertoire of stereotypes, images, myths, and societal
beliefs that constitute a relationship between two conflicting parties that
defines how they perceive one another and how they communicate. The conflict
ethos is coherent and implies attitudes toward the two groups that legitimize
the ingroup and delegitimize the outgroup. This ingroup-outgroup contrast
fosters integration in one’s own society – albeit integration based on
distorted understandings – and various dangerous misperceptions of the other
society. The conflict ethos can be clustered around eight societal beliefs most
associated with resistant intractable conflicts. A fuller development of these
ideas appears in Bar Tal and Teichman (2005).

I
would add that this repertoire of beliefs applies equally well to the
generalized conflict between the West and Islam. We live in a historical period
characterized by the perception of a clear divide between the West and the
Muslim world. This is captured in Samuel Huntington’s unfortunate but appealing
phrase referring to the “clash of civilizations.” The strength and
depth of this divide between the West and the Islamic world is evidenced by the
outrage over events such as the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten printing the
Mohammed cartoons in 2005. The subsequent violence reproduces the perception of
dichotomous cultures. The “conflict” between East and West is usually
described in intractable terms. Each of these below plays an important role in
conflict resolution. They must be the subject of discussion, moderation,
adaptation. They are issues ideally for the public sphere as well as the macro
political realm of institution creation.

The
first primary theme of intractable conflicts is the sense that your own cause is just. Both
Palestinians and Israelis believe that their version of history and the conflict
are correct and worthy of support. Muslims believe their religious tenets
produce “justice” in the eyes of God, just as Americans believe
strongly in democracy and its encouragement. Americans and Muslims, as well as
Palestinians and Israelis, will shed much “blood and treasure” for
the justice of their cause. Secondly conflicting parties stressed the
importance of security. The Israelis
feel existentially threatened. They are convinced that the enemy is committed
to their destruction. Palestinians invoke the language of occupation to justify
their own violence. Security discourse is harnessed to justify any sort of
violence. Security is a basic human need and an easy rationale for the
legitimization of violence. Third is a powerful sense of patriotism where group members attach themselves to country and
land fusing the identity of both to individual identities. Without a powerful
internalized sense of patriotism group members will not sacrifice. Patriotism
mobilizes members of intractable conflicts in the face of heavy costs both
human and material. The United States has experienced a surge in patriotism and
identification with soldiers as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The fourth is unity or the
expectation of agreement in the face of the threat. This creates pressures to
conform to your own societal group and discourages disagreement that might be
an impediment to the cause. The fifth element of the conflict ethos is the
discourse of peace. Each group in the
conflict expresses themselves in utopian and vague terms with respect to peace.
This discourse maintains the image of the peace loving society, and encourages
support for one’s group, but rarely takes the form of the hard work and
sacrifices relevant to true peace. Victimization
is a sixth quality of intractable conflicts and a powerful psychological
self-image that emphasizes group vulnerability and the evil intentions of the
opponent. Israelis have a long history of victimization, and Palestinians have
developed the victim image that garners international sympathy. The seventh
quality of intractable conflicts is a belief that reflects ethnocentric attitudes about your own group. The culture develops a
positive self image and sees itself as moral and heroic as it confronts a less
than human enemy. The United States has demonized Islam and regularly
characterizes the religion as “unevolved.” Finally, there is a very
sharp set of beliefs concerning negative
qualities of the adversary
. Stereotypes, poor communication, and
psychological distortions compose society’s image of the other.

These societal characteristics are deep rooted and
require serious analysis and consideration. Democratizing the conflict
resolution process is one way to approach these problems. More on how to do
that in coming posts.

Israel: How Democratic? How Jewish?

 

I think the
question of how Israel balances the democratic nature of the state with the
Jewish nature of the state is fascinating. I recently returned from a
conference devoted to this issue and found the discussions and debate about
democracy versus Jewish particularity to be maddeningly complex but engagingly
interesting. Very simply, if the state of Israel is a fully articulated
democracy that guarantees group rights (group rights not only individual
rights) then in time it might cease to be a Jewish state; the Zionist dream of
a home for the Jews and a place for them to go would be over. On the other hand,
the more the state is legally or constitutionally a state that privileges Jews
the less democratic it is with respect to its Arab citizens.

So what is
Israel to do? If it is going to be a Jewish state does it pass laws saying an
Arab cannot be the Prime Minister or hold high elective office? If you are an Arab
minority citizen of the state and you celebrate the Nakba in 1948 rather than the war of independence do you get fined?
Do you say to the Arab citizens, “you can work and live your life but you cannot
be full citizens and enjoy the benefits of citizenship including financial
benefits associated with military service?” Maybe you do limit minority
citizenship and simply declare the state an ethnocracy; maybe just say
“tough luck” this is a Jewish state.

Multiculturalism
is one answer but that is coming under increasing criticism. Even the most
liberal countries such as the Netherlands are questioning multiculturalism as
minority groups (essentially Muslims) fail to assimilate. The British, too,
have expressed fears about the Muslim population in Great Britain. And Germany
continues to struggle with the Turkish population who do not have a path to
citizenship and have thus become even more cohesive as an identifiable ethnic minority
group. Multiculturalism has come to mean two things: one, it is a respect and
tolerance for diversity, and two it is a set of policies used to manage
differences.

The British
tried to manage these differences by identifying particular minority groups. These
groups had leaders who were given access to the political elites as well as the
power to distribute resources. The result was simply to empower minority group
leaders and the policy failed to advance the status of individuals. The leaders
of these groups became official spokespersons who over time where more and more
isolated from their constituents. The case of France is sort of an ironic twist
because everyone is a citizen and no one is a member of an ethnic or religious
category. It is a fully expressed citizen democracy designed to privatize
ethnicity and minority standing. But France ends up going after its citizens
for expressing group identification. The ban on burqas is an example. The
United States and Great Britain manage minority groups by working to allow them
to express their minority status; France attempts the same group management by
suppressing group symbols. Neither is working very well.

The Israeli
Knesset is currently run by cultural conservatives and a right-wing coalition.
They know they will not be in power forever so they are trying to impact the
Israeli democracy while they can. The right-wing coalition has produced more
conservative – some say racist – legislation than any other. It is now a crime
to celebrate the Nakba. This is the
day Israeli Arabs mark as a catastrophe rather than a victorious day in
Israel’s War of Independence. It would be like the American Indian celebrating
the Fourth of July as a disaster and holding them legally responsible. All
sorts of legislation has been introduced to protect the Jewish nature of the
state by preventing the Arab minorities, along with left-wing intellectuals
with universalistic values, from challenging the Jewish nature of the state.
Legislation has been introduced that permits criminal charges to be brought
against anyone who slanders our libels the state. Several bills trample the
rights of foreign workers, foreign caregivers, illegal immigrants, and
sometimes even the ultra-Orthodox.

Some
conservatives behind severe domestic legislation such as David Rotem simply
don’t understand the problem. Rotem does not believe there is anything
problematic or racist about the legislation because as he replies, “This is
a Jewish state.” The Jewish nature of the state does require some special
conditions. It will not develop and mature on its own accord. But the
relationship between Jewish nature of the state and the democratic nature of
the state is pendulous. As of now, the pendulum is swinging away from the
democratic side.

Manage Your Algorithm

You
don’t believe you have to manage your algorithm? Click on the link and watch
the video.

http://idorosen.com/mirrors/robinsloan.com/epic/

A
few weeks ago in the New York Times
Evgeny Morozov wrote about the perils of personalization. He meant that
increasingly Internet sites are keeping records of your personal click
preferences and then finding web addresses that match those preferences. In
other words Google’s algorithm is such that if you click on something the
algorithm searches your previous clicks in order to find links consistent with
those. For example, what if you click on this blog (http://www.middleeastmirror.com/peace_and_conflict/) and then later searched the Huffington post blogs for information on the Middle East, links to my blog and subject related to it (Israel-Palestine, media, and democracy) will be statistically favored in the
algorithm. Google keeps track of your click history and then tries to tailor
results to that history.
Now,
at first blush this might seem pretty cool, and it is. And it is certainly
sensible to assume that your click history is a good indication of your
interests and preferences. Amazon has recorded my interest in clicking books
that are categorized as “spy novels.” So when I open up Amazon’s
webpage the algorithm still assumes that I’m interested in spy novels and lists
some new ones. This can certainly be convenient.

But
what Morozov points out is that this can result in an “information
cocoon.” I will keep receiving information consistent with my click subjects
and I will be locked into a pattern of regularized information. I will exist in
a sort of information enclave that will over time make me even more remote from
my friends and other information enclaves. We are not managing the algorithm
the algorithm is managing us.

This
is not a cute oddity associated with modern technology. The threat of over
customizing our information world is real enough. If you are a political
liberal and you have an aggregator on your computer that delivers each morning
a series of websites and blogs, and Google delivers you information after you
initiate a search based on your past history of site choices, then you are
slowly evolving into a more narrow information world. Over time you could
classify the information you received as propaganda. Is, after all, information
delivered to you by an authoritative source (the algorithm) designed to manage
and control knowledge and availability of information for desired (corporate)
reasons.
Cass
Sunstein has written persuasively about this phenomenon and argues that it ends
up in “enclave polarization.” Enclave polarization is the tendency to
talk mostly to people who already agree with you and therefore have your positions
reinforced resulting in an even stronger and more intense sense of being “correct.”
In a word, liberals tend to read liberal information and matters consistent
with a liberal ideology; conservatives read conservative information and
matters consistent with the conservative ideology. People increasingly receive
personalized information consistent with beliefs they already hold, and they
never engage in heterogeneous deliberation. Sunstein cites our uncivil and
contentious political culture, exemplified by raucous talk shows and polarizing
talk radio, as evidence of enclave polarization.
Enclaves
and the tendency to selectively expose oneself to information are well enough
understood and a natural human tendency. But living in an information cocoon
and joining enclaves of like-minded people means the loss of exposure to
oppositional information. This is difficult for many people but the advantages
are important. Exposing oneself to non-like-minded political points of view
creates greater awareness of what other people are thinking, greater awareness
of their rationales and perspectives and increased tolerance. Diana Mutz in her
book, Hearing the Other Side, reports data and explains the value of
exposure to non-like-minded political views.
But
back to the problem of algorithms and big-brother-like infrastructures for the
Internet, there are other issues of concern unrelated to the disadvantages of
information cocoons and polarized enclaves of talk show hosts and political
pundits screaming at each other about nothing. One, there is the matter of
privacy. We don’t have access to the algorithm and we cannot shut it off. We
cannot tell Google to change its algorithm or at least be more open about how
it works. This issue will probably be taken up in future cyber law. Maybe
algorithms will contribute to creativity and new insights when they are
programmed to maximize differences forcing the user to make new connections
between information. And finally, we might ask how the algorithm can encourage
education. Why can’t we program the algorithm to bring us high-quality sources
of information? New sources with ideas we would have never thought of!
When media become dominant – whether it be oral, written, print, or
electronic – they always assume new responsibilities along with certain moral
and political obligations. With the advent of print the “book” became
an object of adoration, the subject of study and analysis, a repository of
ideology and political implications, as well as a new site of legal implications.
Google’s algorithm will be no different.

 

%d bloggers like this: