Thursday, February 22, 2007

"Why do I bother with these morons?"

While perusing the Hindustan Times over chicken vindaloo and mineral water in one of my favorite Muslim restaurants here in Mumbai this afternoon, I found an excellent article reprinted in the editorial section from Guardian columnist George Monbiot. The column was a follow-up to the volcanic and verbose response (777 posts on the Guardian Comment is Free website) that Monbiot’s review of the film Loose Change, which he panned as part of a "virus sweeping the world (that) infects opponents of the Bush government, sucks their brains out through their eyes and turns them into gibbering idiots," elicited some days earlier.

Monbiot, a writer of long-standing left-wing credentials, takes issue, to put it mildly, with the film’s contentions that, on September 11th, the Pentagon was not hit by a commercial airliner, but by a cruise missile, that the twin towers were brought down by means of "a carefully planned controlled demolition," that Flight 93 did not crash, but was redirected to Cleveland airport, where the passengers were taken into a NASA building and never seen again. After their voices were cloned by the Los Alamos laboratories and used to make fake calls to their relatives. Naturally

Having seen the film, I can say that it is a breathy, near-hysterical of hodgepodge of conspiracy theories, attempting to cover all bases by stringing together everything from Bay-of-Pigs era Cuba to a caricature of the gasping Jewish landlord to the neo-conservative agenda of more recent times, repeating groundless allegations as facts, libeling the dead, and wrapping it all up with incredibly irritating, whiny narration and terrible background music that sounds as if it was composed on a $20 Casio keyboard.

"I believe that George Bush is surrounded by some of the most scheming, devious, ruthless men to have found their way into government since the days of the Borgias," Monbiot writes acidly and accurately. "I believe that they were criminally negligent in failing to respond to intelligence about a potential attack by al-Qaeda, and that they have sought to disguise their incompetence by classifying crucial documents….I believe, too, that the Bush government seized the opportunity provided by the attacks to pursue a longstanding plan to invade Iraq and reshape the Middle East, knowing full well that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11. Bush deliberately misled the American people about the links between 9/11 and Iraq and about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction."

"But none of this is sufficient," Monbiot concludes, referring to the deluge of often highly abusive responses he received after discounting the farcical conspiracy theory at the movie's core.

"To qualify as a true opponent of the Bush regime, you must also now believe that it is capable of magic. It could blast the Pentagon with a cruise missile while persuading hundreds of onlookers that they saw a plane. It could wire every floor of the twin towers with explosives without attracting attention and prime the charges (though planes had ploughed through the middle of the sequence) to drop each tower in a perfectly timed collapse. It could make Flight 93 disappear into thin air, and somehow ensure that the relatives of the passengers collaborated with the deception. It could recruit tens of thousands of conspirators to participate in these great crimes and induce them all to have kept their mouths shut, for ever. "

As one of the millions of people who was in Manhattan on that terrible September day, now over six years ago, I applaud Monbiot for standing up to a negligible if shrill minority and pushing for honesty in accountability, both from government and in public discourse.

"Why do I bother with these morons?" Monbiot asks, as a handful of readers post comments accusing him of being an agent of MI5 and a "political whore."

Monbiot’s response?

"Because…those of us who believe that the crucial global issues - climate change, the Iraq war, nuclear proliferation, inequality - are insufficiently debated in parliament or congress, that corporate power stands too heavily on democracy, that war criminals, cheats and liars are not being held to account, have invested our efforts in movements outside the mainstream political process. These, we are now discovering, are peculiarly susceptible to this epidemic of gibberish."
As someone who has seen similar phenomena transpire with regards to debates regarding global issues that I have covered over the years (Haiti, in particular), I think that Monbiot is highly correct in saying that unexamined extremist theories, spun by those with little first-hand knowledge or expertise of the issues they are debating, actually serves to undermine long-term, progressive structural changes rather than contributing to it. Rather than a careful examination of the facts and causes of inequity and injustice, these theories instead seek solace in a feeling of powerlessness, of the inability of the individual to hold governments accountable for their actions. In short, defeatism, which helps nobody.

So, thanks, George Monbiot, for pushing for genuine accountability and debate and not helpless flailing and wild accusations.

The windows are open here in Colaba and it smells like my neighbors have begun burning something again, it’s about that late-afternoon time. The sounds of “Throw Away Your Gun” by Prince Far I are emanating from my laptop speakers and the sun will set in the next few hours on the other side of Bombay island. Time to investigate.

Oh, and if anyone has time, I highly recommend checking out my friend Jens Glüsing's very interesting article, Carnival of Death, in the new edition of Spiegel online.

1 comment:

Alice B. said...

Hi Michael. Thanks for your comment on my blog. Have you tried Goa? I hear there is a palpable Portuguese influence there and I wonder if they have a carnival. I only know Delhi and am dying to see other parts of India...