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The Iraq issue: arguments and statements


Information representation: Systasis comments, part 2


The Iraq issue, part 3

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The Iraq issue, part 3
Wednesday, 26 February 2003 Symeon Charalabides (symeon@systasis.com)

I arrived at the office, at around lunchtime as usual, to be informed by a friend that my second letter had been published. The postscript was missing, the phrase "paranoid racist" was missing (which the editor clarified had been removed so he wouldn't be liable to a libel law suit), and, funnily enough, the "trainee" part of my signature! Some points of punctuation had also been altered, which would seem to suggest that the e-mail had been read and typed, instead of copied and pasted.

Still, it was probably the longest reader comment that's ever been published in the Galway advertiser, as well as a unique instance when the newspaper was published online before the hard copies were delivered. I eventually got a lot of praise from people who surprisingly turned out to have been keeping an eye on the issue after all. My supervisor asked me to keep my thesis shorter than that, to which I replied that I wouldn't have as much to write. There was even another letter by a Mr. Jimmy Burke opposing the column's last outing right next to mine. They must have received quite a bulk of like-minded correspondence if they would publish two of them in the same issue.

I felt vindicated right there and then because, on top of all the above, Mr. O'Connell had used his column to reply to his critics, predominantly the two whose letters had been published. We all love feeling safe, but how do we fare against adversity? I read his reply with considerable interest...

Well, I didn't get enough for my typing's worth, really. There is some obscure reference to (half of) my signature without making any point. There is evidence that you can't teach mathematical logic to everybody, which is all the better for everybody concerned (that is everybody, I know). For the record, however, the proposition that Bertie Ahern is current prime minister of the Irish Republic is a perfectly quantifiable expression.

I must state here that I never stigmatised (a great word) anybody's opinion as subjective. Opinions are subjective by default, this is their virtual definition. Why would I do that and when did I? I merely commented on the fact that Mr. O'Connell opened his last article claiming he would present facts to show why he considered the peace protesters wrong, but only delivered partial facts and personal opinions. I must also state that my familiarity with the facts in question is very sketchy. Which doesn't bode well for the case supported by people who can't counter my arguments.

It is easy to dismiss somebody offhand, but trickier to come up with your own arguments. Until you do, however, you are firmly rooting on fanaticism. This reminds me of something else: Of course I heard the arguments of the Iraqi exiles and kindly sympathized. However, when I wrote "personally, I didn't hear anybody claim to speak for the Iraqis", I was referring to the peace protesters. I thought it quite apparent, as it was clarified by the sentence just prior to that and also because it replied to Mr. O'Connell's accusation of "supreme arrogance of the peace protesters to speak for the Iraqi people". Seeing things out of context - literally as well as metaphorically - signifies fanaticism (or desperation, but there's absolutely no point taking this route).

As regards my "ingenious sarcasm" (thank you very much), I'm afraid it never delivered the full impact intended. I tend to entertain the notion that my surname gives me right away as a Greek (substantial evidence to the contrary notwithstanding) and, thus, need not be lectured on what the West stands for. Two points I wanted to make via that unfortunate device:

a) I honestly don't believe there are people who hate the West per se. There are definitely people who hate the US, the UK, Spain, Germany, France, pretty much all the colonial powers, but personally I feel quite safe from ol' Osama. Osteoporotic sentimentalities aside, the world is gradually converging and I can only see hatred from certain countries towards the USA remain in the long run, but the US does not equal the West and its actions express fewer Westerners than they aggravate, as has, by now, been conclusively proven.

b) I agree on Mr. O'Connell's take on what the West should ideally stand for (the case becoming scarcer every day), especially "tolerance for unpopular or minority ideas". This obvious reference to fundamentalism, however, packs a vengeance all its own: if you're going to tolerate alien ideas, you're going to have to tolerate ALL alien ideas including intolerance for alien ideas. Sorry, but that's the game. If you feel free to set a limit that makes you feel comfier, soon there will be another on the strength that limits are allowed and, before you know it, you're shoveling snow in a gulag under a guard's whip "for your own comfort and safety".

Arguably, the highlight of this article is the reply to Mr. Burke's letter, where, by a precise comparative presentation of arguments, it becomes obvious how double standards tend to take over when there's nobody home. Mr. O'Connell agrees that the Palestinians should be given their land back, knows that the US voted for UN resolution 242 requiring Israel to return the acquired teritorries, as well as the fact that the US has vetoed all 34(!) resolutions to enforce the aforementioned decision, but doesn't complain about the US's reluctance to follow its own decisions. He doesn't lament the organization's credibility that is undermined by the US. He doesn't accuse the US of demonstrating the weakness of the UN to the entire Middle East. No, it's France with its 1 veto and Germany with its statement of no-support.

Looking at the facts is not the same as examining the facts, especially in a world where we get most of our information from secondary sources. There are millions of ways to waste our time (my choice is obvious) and we all employ several, usually only finding out in the end what had been wrong from the start. Misinformation, disinformation, informational warfare, downright propaganda have become an inseparable part of our everyday lives. Hopefully, future generations will develop defences that filter out the noise efficiently, but for those of us caught in the middle of this projected generation gap, it will always be tempting to believe that official statements can substitute reality. The fact is, however, that saying something doesn't automatically make it real or true, and there is no substitute for our own healthy scepticism and a set of open eyes.

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