Brave new world: The Internet and the war in Iraq
At a recent family gathering, I was surprised by a comment by a valued relative. The conversation revolved around the issues of pirated DVDs and possible penalties one can incur by owning or making the wretched little discs.
And then came the surprise. Said relative piped up, and in all seriousness announced: 'You should never buy those DVDs on the streets, the money goes to Al-Qaeda!' A severe widening of the eyes followed, as did a solemn succession of nods intended to impress upon us the moral implication of an indiscriminate transaction consummated between the seductive thighs of the South African (sub)urban landscape.
In turn, I guffawed (loudly) and stunned the company by releasing a series of rather dismissive statements into the air that had by now gone stale with the quiet disbelief of everyone present. Hang on. Am I the only one who does not buy this rumour, which was clearly intended to fill the naggingly empty spot left by nightmares of the swart and rooi gevaar? Do we have such an innate sense of fear and paranoia, or did we have it drilled into us, that we accept any loose arrangement of who/what supposedly pose a 'threat', whichever way it is dished up to us by whichever powers that happened to be?
In a sense, the pervasive paranoia and rather fickle (read ungrounded) nature of the Bush administration's construction of 'threat' is at the heart of Michael Moore's recent film, Fahrenheit 9/11. (This is where this tale again comes uncomfortably close to the issue of piracy, but lets leave that for a later project page).
Rumour has it that Moore kept back some of the prints of the film intended for international release, in order to flood the American market. This was apparently done to try and sway the voting public, with a hope of keeping Bush junior from extending even further his unwelcome stay in the White House. The rumour goes that this is why it was not released on the scheduled date locally.
I do not wish to recount Moore's filmic pamphlet here, you can see it for yourself. In an unprecedented move for a director of a major film (and to the chagrin of his publishers), Michael Moore himself has encouraged everyone to download Fahrenheit 9/11. You can do so at www.filesharingcenter.com/?hop=091558 or www.DownloadShield.com/?hop=biz1000k (among many other sites) after registration and for a nominal fee.
With the conjunction of the two events (the family gathering and the viewing of the film), I reflected on the increasingly important role the Internet plays in the swaying of opinions, and lightning fast dissemination of facts, ideas and material. On a political level then, it follows that the Internet can be a powerful tool in propaganda, information warfare and perhaps even liberation. Thus I set out to collect from the Web some of the crucial material around the Iraq/American standoff. Indeed, I thought, this month the project page would have a project of its very own.
Even a cursory search on the Web yields an overwhelming number of hits relating to Bush, Iraq and associated topics. What follows here is simply a selection of some sites that I have come across, and which, for various reasons, I believe to be significant. These are neither the official media party-liners of Fox or CNN, nor are they the highbrow commentaries of Noam Chomsky (a good deal of which can be found at www.zmag.org/chomsky/index.cfm).
They are rather of the man-in-the-cyber-street variety. This brief tour cannot be fully comprehensive or representative, purely due to the volume of material, but I am hopeful it gives a glimpse of the discussions as well as the videos and other material available online.
First up then, is the anti-Moore site www.moorewatch.com. This site is dedicated to defending the honour of the Republican Party and fending off bravely (though by necessity it is more the kind of self-delusional bravery associated with bar fights than the kind demonstrated by the Fellowship of the Ring) any attack by 'left wing radicals', or, people who voted for Al Gore in 2000. The opening page boasts delightful gems, such as the 'Capitalism Rules' section featuring the parody of an insecticide advert; it reads: 'Bush, kills terrorists dead'. The site continues in this hilarious vein.
Hunter S. Thompson, venerated ex-sheriff of Aspen, commentator on the Watergate scandal, and author of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas could not resist getting into the fray. An avid propagator for the resignation of Bush, Thompson is on public record with this controversial statement on the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers: 'Not even the foulest atrocities of Adolf Hitler ever shocked me so badly as these [Abu Ghraib] photographs did'. Thompson shocked many with this, and some fans have even subsequently handed in their badges. You can follow the discussion of this and a number of other topics related to the war and American politics at www.conspiracyplanet.com
Perhaps the most significant developments in the Internet's role in the war, are the videos of the beheadings of people from various nationalities, purportedly by members of Al-Qaeda. Allegedly, one of the beheaded is Nick Berg. The website dedicated to him (www.nickberg.org) claims he was in Iraq on a humanitarian mission. To download the video of his beheading, go to www.hwforums.com/2115/messages/869.html. Many other sources for this video exists as well, and most of them are in .wmv format.
The Berg video is the most controversial of the lot, because many consider it to be a fake. Protestations on the veracity of the video have spawned an Internet discussion forum storm of gargantuan proportions. You can follow some of the discussion and links to download other videos with the help of Whizbang http://wizbangblog.com/archives/002452.php and read the extensive argument to make the case that the video is a fake at www.kuro5hin.org/story/2004/5/15/22827/0477 and www.rense.com/general52/anom.htm.
Contestations of truth and fact also haunt Moore. One such was launched by David Kopel in his article 'Fifty-nine deceits in Fahrenheit 9/11' (www.davekopel.com/Terror/Fiftysix-Deceits-in-Fahrenheit-911.htm. A young filmmaker called Michael Wilson reacted to Moore's Fahrenheit and the controversy around it, and is producing his own documentary entitled Michael Moore Hates America, with the tagline 'The story of a rebel that took on Mike'. It is due for release at the end of this year, but you can get a sense of what it is all about at www.michaelmoorehatesamerica.com.
On his official website, www.michaelmoore.com, Moore responds to the allegations of obfuscation and twisting of the truth in a section called 'Facts in Fahrenheit 9/11', in which he provides sources and back-up material for his film. There is also a repository of comments from registered voters, who testify to having changed their minds about supporting the Republican Party in the upcoming elections. According to Moore's count, he receives around 6000 emails per day. Interestingly, a copy of acclaimed author John Berger's essay on the film is also available on the site.
Some of the more active groups voicing anti-war and anti-Bush sentiment are No blood for oil (www.nobloodforoil.org) and Moveon.org (www.moveon.org). These two activist groups make available information and news that the government-friendly media in the U.S. does not, as well as hosting essays and discussions for those concerned with the state of affairs in the American government. They further provide information on how these concerned citizens can take part in activist events.
I have pointed my dear relative in the direction of some of these sites, the activist groups, Moore's film, and open forums. With any luck this avenue of information dissemination can conjure up some resistance against the prefabricated news and information monopolies that are ultimately more restrictive than useful. Most of all, I hope they will succeed in effecting the badly needed changes in American and geopolitics.