The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

A Contest of Narratives

Throughout the Obama era, it seems that it's the narrative that really matters. No matter what the subject, from healthcare to guns, from spending to taxes, from the racial divide to climate change, from the Middle East to the South China Sea, the appropriate narrative is repeated by administration spokespeople and friendly pundits and published widely by Obama's trained hamsters in the media. If the administration's narrative overcomes the narrative of its opposition, it's a win.

Objective truth, facts that somehow disprove the narrative, and even reality itself are often ignored. Only the narrative is important. For if enough people believe this president's narrative blindly, those in power will remain in power—after all, they own the narrative.

There are literally thousands of examples of this over the past seven years, but none more irritating (to me, at least) than the contention that both sides in the Israeli-palestinian conflict are equally at fault, that both perpetrate senseless violence, and that both have equal responsibility for the "cycle of violence." Obama's narrative, repeated by the president, his spokesman at the state department, by John Kerry, by Susan Rice, and countless others is (please excuse the language)—bullshit!

Ben Avni notes that:
The belief that reality is a contest between narratives, rather than a series of facts, has consequences — including a lot of blood spilled in Israel and the West Bank this week...

Arabs are convinced that Israel is set on destroying, desecrating or “Judaizing” Haram al-Sharif, the Jerusalem compound that includes al-Aqsa, Islam’s third-holiest site. As Abbas indelicately put it in a mid-September speech, the Jews are trying to “defile al-Aqsa with their filthy feet,” and must be stopped.

Israel points out that the arrangements that have existed since 1967, when it seized control of the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site, are intact, and will remain so: A Jordanian trust, the Waqf, maintains the Mount.

Jews can visit, but not pray there.

In a perfect world, of course, disputes over religious narratives would be confined to heated debates among theologians. But from Salman Rushdie to Charlie Hebdo, we’re now used to the idea that blood follows indignation over real or imagined slights to Islam.

So Jerusalem officials know, as former Knesset member Israel Hasson told Israel Radio, that “you don’t need to test the level of gasoline fumes in the air with a torch.”

Not so in Ramallah. Once Abbas presented his al-Aqsa “narrative” in September, Palestinian youths heeded his call to spill blood for Jerusalem. They drove cars into pedestrians at bus stops, cut down passers-by with knives, meat cleavers and screwdrivers and otherwise attempted to kill Jews ...

Enter State Department spokesman John Kirby [and regular protector of this president's foreign policy], who said Wednesday, “certainly, the status quo has not been observed, which has led to a lot of the violence.”

Come again? That factually challenged statement followed Secretary of State John Kerry, who has his own “narrative”: Israeli settlement expansion is responsible for the violence. (State later walked back Kerry’s statement.)

And after pressure from Israeli and Jordanian officials, Kirby also retracted, tweeting, “Clarification from today’s briefing: I did not intend to suggest that status quo at Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif has been broken. We welcome both Israel’s & Jordan’s commitment to continued maintenance of status quo at Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.”

But why’d State embrace a contention that’s so easily refutable to begin with? Alas, if narratives trump facts, Washington can pick and choose its reality, and further inflame an already tense situation.
Picking and choosing which aspects of reality are worthy of consideration, if any, is exactly the M.O. of this president. That's why he states emphatically that his policies in the Middle East have been successful, that the Iran nuclear deal is a good one, that after approving funding to arm and train Syrian rebels, he was really against the activity from the start (that actually might be true, but with so much spin, who knows?) and therefore, objective failure is not something that can be associated with him.

Of course, the use of the narrative to mislead goes far beyond the Middle East and foreign policy. To quote conservative commentator, Charles Krauthammer: "We’re living in an age where what you say and its relation with the facts is completely irrelevant ..."