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By Barry Rubin
On this the first working day of 2011 in the Western world, go read Melanie Phillips in her analysis of what's going on in the world. While she focuses on the demonization of Israel and the bizarre distortion of Middle East realities in the West, her argument applies across the board to the internal debate in Western democracies today.
In short, as in the title of her book, this can be described as turning things upside down, creating a counter-reality based on emotion over facts and the belief that privileged groups can be said to be always right whatever they do because of past claimed victim status. This new way of looking at the world throws out the window all of the logical, pragmatic, and democratic concepts that have made the West so successful.
I would add that her argument overstates the negative since that's what she's trying to explain and given the brevity of her lecture, as well as the fact that she's experienced the worst of it in the United Kingdom. A lot of people--roughly a minimum of 50 percent in every country--knows that something is seriously wrong with the public debate and government policies. What Phillips does so well is to articulate precisely what's happening.
Then there is an incredibly brilliant article by Douglas Murray on how the West has dealt with the Islam issue so badly because it has been pushed to deal with it on Islamic, rather than Western, terms. While focused on the Ground Zero mosque/community center project, he ranges much further. It is the best single article on Western internal responses to Islam and Islamism that I've ever seen.
To summarize even more briefly, the issue is admirably presented in George Orwell's novel 1984. His nightmare of the mental (as much as repressive) dictatorship of the future was a place dominated by three slogans:
WAR IS PEACE. FREEDOM IS SLAVERY. IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
These are the slogans that, in effect, dominate our world at this moment. What do they mean?
War is peace is the failure to recognize on the part of many (but fewer each day) that this is an era of struggle in which forces within are bashing away with sledgehammers at the foundations of Western civilization and democracy at home.
At the same time, the central issue in much of the world is the struggle of revolutionary Islamists to impose totalitarian dictatorships on dozens of countries and hundreds of millions of people. This includes the notion that those waging war both on the West and on their own people are either friends or easily made to be so by appeasement and flattery.
Freedom is Slavery means that growing government power and regulation, along with the narrowing boundaries of individual freedom, freedom of speech, and other treasured rights, is presented as a positive development that will make life better.
The belief that people cannot be trusted with freedom but must be told what to do for their own good has, camouflaged in many ways, become prevalent. The idea that they are too stupid, greedy, bigoted, and short-sighted has become a powerful belief among Western elites. Ironically, anti-democratic actions have been rationalized in the name of the left, which has historically supposed to have been the champion of the common people but has now become a tool to enhance elite privileges through statism.
Ignorance is Strength is in practice the view of all too many of the very institutions supposed to enlighten the people and safeguard democracy but have become propaganda organs to spread misinformation. It tells people to ignore the evidence of their experience, dispense with the history and traditions of their societies, and to throw away their common sense.
The personnel in large elements of the schools, mass media, culture, and publishing have either consciously decided to use these vehicles to spread their ideology or choose to censor information so that people will only be told what--in the eyes of the gatekeepers--will elevate their consciousness. The goal here is to use the media to fundamentally transform--the split infinitive isn't mine--Western societies through what might be called voter-assisted suicide.
As noted above, these problems are far from universal, yet they are in Europe and North America more widespread today than at any time in living memory.
Your task in 2011 is to try to find ways and act on them that will roll back this plague; to create a wider liberated zone for security, freedom, and knowledge at the end of this year than exists today. Please go to work.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at http://www.gloria-center.org and of his blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com.