Objectivity in Independent Media
On 10 November 2004, PINR published, “The Threat of Al-Qaeda and the Islamic Revolutionary Movement”. The opening paragraph read:
On October 29, 2004, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden released a new videotape, revealing the first images of the leader in more than a year. The video offered proof that bin Laden is alive and healthy with access to modern technology. The resurgence of Osama bin Laden emphasizes the threat to the United States and its interests still posed by Islamic revolutionaries.
An objective reading of Erich Marquardt’s analysis and the quotation provided would reveal that PINR is either gullible or guilty of compliance with corporate elites. This is because that analysis does not differ one iota from the logic and thought of the corporate media and its systematic abuse of the majority’s apathy for world politics and history to spread disinformation.
Moving to reply to PINR’s certainty of interpretation on 9/11 and Islamic movements, Petersen took the initiative by writing to PINR’s Marquardt: “Hi, I would like to respectfully ask: What makes you so sure that the OBL video is authentic?”
On 5 January 2005, nearly two months later, came Marquardt’s reply: “Kim, the whole world is not filled with conspiracies. While they do occur, most of the time what you see is what exists, as long as you open your eyes and do not let your sight be guided by personal biases. All the best.”
While Petersen asked a legitimate question, Marquardt responded tautologically. First, he defended his position by insinuating that conspiracy theories, hence paranoia, are leading the question. Second, he announced an “epistemological” principle to uphold his position. Three, he patronized the enquirer by asking him to open his eyes, as if his own eyes were wide open. And, fourth, he preached by asking that sight should not be guided by personal bias, while bias and dogma was permeating his own analysis.
Among the four points that make up Marquardt’s response, point number two (epistemological principle), raises a host of theoretical, philosophical, and political problems that the present authors have to address. The other points are irrelevant because they are reactive and meant to fend off criticism by transferring bogus counter-argument to the question.
“What you see is what exists” is a superficial, unidimensional, and uncritical principle when used to understand, evaluate, and judge world history, events, and policymaking. Moreover, it does not even take into consideration the subjective reality as in French philosopher Rene Descartes’ Cogito ergo sum, or the objective reality as in Marx’s dialectical materialism. There are two situations where this principle has some validity: (1) Visual field: For example, you are inside a room; you see four walls, one door, one desk, one chair, one bookcase, and nothing else. Therefore, unless you are hallucinating, what you see is what exists around yourself in that specific environment; and (2) Awareness field: It is known, as verified by facts, that China exists, that it is distant from North America, and that it has over one billion inhabitants.
In the visual field, the situation becomes more complex as that field expands. For example, suppose that you stand in front of a very wide and high wall situated in open space. Suppose also that as you look at the wall, you have no idea that 3000 silent men are standing behind it with their arms crossed. Now, is the reality composed of just the wall you are looking at, or the wall and the men standing behind it? Of course, what you see is a wall, but that wall is obstructing an existing reality that you do not see; that is until you become aware of it because you discovered it or someone told you. The moment you reach this awareness, you can still look at the wall, but you can visualize a reality that exists behind it as well.
In the awareness field, the situation can get murky. What would happen, if you went to China but failed to count the Chinese one by one to demonstrate their number? Would that failure constitute denial of the staggering number of the Chinese population? And why do some people deem China distant, since it can be reached within one-day by air travel? After all, is awareness reality? Because awareness is the first stage in understanding successive multiple truths about a subject, it is, therefore, a reality in progress.
No such certainty similar to visual and awareness fields exists in the empirical world of politics and wars. For example, it is known that the Bush administration built a bogus case for war against Iraq and went to war based on it. Does Marquardt imply that: yes, readers have witnessed bogus rationales and genuine war and that is what is out there? What happened to investigating those people who invented those rationales and why? Can readers see behind what exists? Sure, some readers can through analysis; and it is there where Marquardt stops and proceeds no further.
Marquardt, therefore, raises a metaphysical conundrum with his “what you see is what exists” conviction. First, as stated earlier, one can predict existence upon seeing, as in the example of awareness and the existence of China. Second, no one can verify that the very act of seeing by an individual is actually such. Objective restrictions can impede such verification, thus the whole act of seeing remains in the domain of senses limited to sight. In addition to that, abstractions and the forces of the universe are unseen forces, but this does not refute their existence? Electricity, magnetism, and gravity are invisible. Surely, no one denies that love, hate, truth, and justice exist.
In the case of his analysis of al-Qaeda and revolutionary Islam, Marquardt, who claims “what you see is what exists,” did not provide any basilar or in-depth analysis for the turmoil in the Islamic and Arab worlds, consequent to U.S. interventionism and regional Israeli colonialist imperialism. He simply departed on an ideological crusade from preconceived notions made and spread by imperialist and Zionists circles during the past 55 years, and converted them into cornerstone of his dysfunctional analysis.
Essentially, Marquardt depicted a convenient imperialist reality of Islam, al-Qaeda, and the Arabs, mingled all facts to support his personal convictions, and incongruously tied the resulting mixture to the U.S. and its response to 9/11. The outcome of such an approach is that while Marquardt did not provide balanced analysis of the conflict in course, he asked readers to believe his word that “what you see is what exists.”
If lies have being moving, systematically, with the evolution of U.S. foreign policy and wars, why is it not probable that a country built on lies, can lie about a videotape? If Powell had the audacity to show, Hollywood style, faked slides on Iraqi military capability, why could he not produce a bogus videotape on bin Laden? Incidentally, where is Osama bin Laden? Does he really exist after all those daisy cutter bombs dropped on the caves and mountains of Tora Bora? Or is it, as Marquardt suggested, that what one sees is what exists -- that is, video and audio tapes as a substituted reality for a person presumed to be still living?
A question for Marquardt: “Since when is it that skeptical doubt and valid inquiry are synonymous with a closed mind?” An investigation of the bin Laden tapes is useful to see if doubt is a legitimate tool of investigation.
The Bin Laden Tapes and the Myth of Zarqawi
The U.S. has historically sought to personify great evil in its imperialist aggressions. From Adolf Hitler during WWII to Kim Il Sung in the Korean War to today’s bogeymen, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, a demonized foe has been requisite in U.S. propagandizing. In Iraq, the U.S. has marketed and written sinister accounts about a dubious figure called Abu Musaab Al-Zarqawi, the purported “brain of the Iraqi Resistance.” With the great requirement for a demonized enemy, it is therefore unsurprising that the elusive bin Laden is occasionally and conveniently resurrected through the medium of video, the authenticity of which is rarely scrutinized in the corporate media or even in the progressive media. The authenticity is not only questionable because of the strange and coincidental timing of the videos’ appearance but rather because of their contents. In the case of the purported tapes of bin Laden, what the viewer sees is a video representation of a person. Most people are aware that with makeup, camera angles, special lighting, computer technology, and editing, a video could mimic reality or even replace it (Remember Forest Gump shaking hands with Lyndon Johnson, or Natalie Cole singing with her deceased father, Nat King Cole!) Yet, Marquardt, and he is not alone in doing this, accepts this as “proof”.
Sam Hamod, whose bio describes himself as an “expert on the Middle East/Islam and World Politics,” tackles the authenticity of the bin Laden tapes in a compelling article:
The Bin Laden tape of last week was clearly a cheap fake. My proof is very simple, as a devout and devoted ultra-fundamentalist Wahabi Muslim, Bin Laden does not believe in kings, queens, princes or princesses. Thus, when this alleged “Bin Laden” called Zarqawi “the prince of Al Qa’eda” -- it shouted, this is not Bin Laden. Bin Laden would never use these words, but some Hollywood, or Pentagon, or State Department hack might think it sounded good, as praise for Zarqawi. But in the very doing of this, it made clear that this tape was not Bin Laden’s.
logical inference is that the Bush Administration intended to deceive the
American people and keep them in fear. As usual, after the U.S. announced
that it is studying the tape for evidence, the State Department hurried to
back-up the assertion, and of course, an army of American “experts” is ready
to provide all proofs of authenticity -- just as there was no shortage of
U.S. administration experts to pronounce on the certainty of Iraqi
weapons-of-mass-destruction. The same was true of the other “bin Laden tape”
that came out just before the election and helped scare the American public
into the arms of Bush. The problem with that earlier tape is that bin Laden
is left-handed, and the man in the tape gestured with his right hand! Not
only that, but also, most Arab people realize that Arabs, including the
genuine bin Laden usually gesture with both hands.
A logical answer would be, “He could not. He is dead.” Another possible answer is that he would never allow the United States to uncover his whereabouts thus leading to his capture.
As for Zarqawi, why is it that a Jordanian speaks Arabic without a Jordanian accent? Most experts on the Middle East would also impart that Zarqawi is a Kurd who was leading the Islamic organization of Ansar Al-Islam (partisans of Islam) that operated in the American controlled Iraqi-Kurdistan during the 1990s.
The agenda of imperialism is complex by dent of its aims. To scrutinize it correctly, a person can choose one of two ways. The first method is “what you see is what exists.” This is PINR’s method. The second method requires analysis, verification, refutation, and counter refutation. This is the logical way.
It is not presumptuous to state that objective journalism should mean open-minded skepticism. Many PINRs provide information-packed views and especially on regions little covered in the media. However, certain PINRs do little to distinguish themselves from the drivel pouring forth from the corporate media when they regurgitate the same language and biases.
In Part 3, the authors will discuss the use of language when defining objective reality.
Kim Petersen is a writer living in Nova Scotia, Canada. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. B.J. Sabri is an Iraqi-American antiwar activist. Email: email@example.com.
Other Recent Articles by Kim Petersen
Objectivity in Independent Media, Part One
* The Progressive Paradox: Defining Viability
* The Shame
* The Wrong Direction
* The Pornography of War
* The Fairy
Tale of Liberation
Other Articles by B. J. Sabri
Objectivity in Independent Media, Part One