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  • What is to be done?

    Posted by Helen on February 26th, 2007 (All posts by )

    For those who do not know about the history of the Russian radical movement I should explain that the title was not invented by Lenin. Very little was. This was the title given to an interminably long and boring novel by Chernyshevsky, which outlined in fictional form the ideas of radicalism. One of the great mysteries of the Russian soul is how a novel of such incredible turpitude should have become so popular in a country, which, at the time, boasted some of the greatest novelist in the world.

    Among many others, the young Vladimir Ulyanov was so impressed by the book and its appalling characters, not least the secondary hero, the revolutionary Rakhmetov, that when he came to write his blueprint for political activity he took Chernyshevsky’s title and, to a great extent, his ideas, certain that readers of his (somewhat shorter) work would immediately discern the connection.

    The title, however, is useful and can be applied to many problems that we face today, including that of the propaganda war that we, all of us, are fighting. On balance, it is hard to define who “we” are, as the war Britain, the United States and their allies are engaged in is not immediately obvious to many people, as World War 2 was. Then again, we had the same problem with the Cold War, which occasionally degenerated into a fairly warm one, but mostly went on in a way that was incomprehensible to many, largely because they did not want to comprehend it.

    As I have pointed out on another occasion, the fight of those who believe in liberty and other loosely defined Western values is hamstrung by the public opinion created in the West some decades ago by several masters of propaganda. It is only now that we are beginning to fight back seriously, not least with the growing discussion and theories of the Anglosphere.

    The front line in the battle has moved to the Middle East (apart from Hizonner the Mayor of LondON and the former celebrity moonbat-mom Cindy Sheehan, nobody has a good word to say about Hugo Chávez, after all, as the man proceeds to wreck a reasonably working economy).

    We have to face up to the fact that the latest summit of Condi Rice, Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert have gone precisely nowhere. There are good reasons for this and Secretary of State Rice seems unable to grasp them. Or, maybe, those who brief her cannot grasp simple facts. The point that seems to be obscured by the mellow propaganda is that neither Hamas nor Fatah want to acknowledge Israel’s right to existence or to agree that terroristic activity should stop.

    In his aptly named article, “The Stink“, Bruce Thornton on the Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers sums up:

    The only honest group has been Hamas, which tells us plainly that it wants to destroy Israel. But if we watch what they do rather than listen to what they say, so do a critical mass of Palestinian Arabs, including the so-called moderate Mahmoud Abbas. His disagreement with Hamas is not over whether the existence of Israel will be accepted, but over tactics and timing: Hamas thinks Israel can be destroyed sooner with more terrorist violence, Abbas thinks later with dishonest “agreements” and demography. Just listen to the so-called “condemnations” of terrorism that issue from Abbas. After last month’s murder of three Israelis by a terrorist bomber in Eilat, Abbas condemned the attack as “not in the interests of the Palestinian people” — which implies that such murder is acceptable as long as it is in the interests of the Palestinian Arabs.

    Of course, their efforts to destroy Israel and murder as many Israelis as possible, as well as those Palestinians they accuse of working for the Israelis and, indeed, to harass the Christian Palestinian community out of existence, not to mention destroy historic evidence of the fact that Jews have been in Jerusalem for something like 3,000 years do get derailed by their inability to agree on anything and an ongoing desire to kill and maim each other.

    It is, however, extraordinary that these very simple facts and information are so easily buried by cleverly disseminated propaganda.

    EUReferendum and other blogs followed some of the creation of this propaganda last summer during Israel’s war against Hezbollah, when the latter seemed to be in total control of the “news” output by the MSM and only the blogs managed to speak up about the truth.

    One of our complaints at the time was the little help we received from the Israeli embassy in London, from the leaders of the British Jewish Community (ably and repeatedly lambasted by Melanie Phillips) and from the Israeli Defence Force.

    It is completely untrue that the IDF lost the shooting war against Hezbollah and, of course, it is completely untrue that Lebanon is now happily at peace, with the Israeli forces out of the country and UNIFIL patrolling the border without any rights to disarm terrorist organizations. Hezbollah, as we have reported on numerous occasions, is still interested in destroying Lebanon rather than allow it to become a more or less peaceful, pro-Western state that is not controlled by Syria or Iran.

    What the IDF and Israel lost and lost heavily was the propaganda war, largely because of their ineptitude in this field. It is hard to tell where this ineptitude comes from. It has been suggested to me that Hebrew culture is too straightforward to play “linguistic jiu-jitsu” but I find that hard to accept completely. Not that I know a great deal about Hebrew culture but I do know that some of the best propagandists of the twentieth century have been Jews and I cannot see why this talent, present in so many should not be used to Israel’s advantage.

    The problem, I am happy to say, has been noticed in Israel as well, as this no-holds-barred article in the Jerusalem Post indicates. As the author Amotz Asa-El puts it, Lt-Gen Gabi Ashkenazi, new Chief of General Staff, may not put this at the top of the agenda but it really ought to be:

    The problem is simple: In last summer’s war, what began with Israel’s portrayal as a just victor ended with its depiction as an unjust loser. It is even more perplexing considering that the IDF Spokesman’s Office was reasonably budgeted, staffed and trained. In fact, the IDF’s media operation had been revolutionized since the days when it saw the press as an intrusion on the battlefield.

    Amotz Asa-El goes through the whole sad saga of incompetence and wrong persons being appointed. Clearly, it has not really sunk in deeply that the IDF’s media operation should be conducted by someone who knows what the media is like, how it operates, what kind of stories it likes.

    Furthermore, the someone should have a clear idea of the importance of instant (and I do mean instant) rebuttal. Even Mr Asa-El seems unable to grasp what actually happened at Qana (or Kana). Perhaps we should send him a copy of the pdf so painstakingly prepared by my colleague, Richard North.

    As the blogs proved conclusively, at Qana and in other places, Hezbollah simply concocted news stories that were then reproduced as real by the Western media. The IDF media sector should have pounced on every single one of them, demanding explanations, evidence and independent confirmation. Instead, they apologized, then muttered about things being not quite the way they were depicted.

    The Israelis should have had the world media in the northern towns and villages that had been consistently shelled for a long time before the attack, not accept the “world’s judgement” that they simply over-reacted to the kidnapping of two soldiers (not the murder of eight others, oh goodness me, no).

    The trouble goes back to at least 2000 with the Mohammed Al-Dura story, which we have written about on EUReferendum. Terrorists blow up children with impunity. Those pictures are too horrific to show. Therefore, the iconic picture of the way children are affected, has been the little boy of unknown provenance, unknown name and unknown destiny, crouching behind his father at one of the carefully staged “battles”. Did the Israelis demand explanations, evidence and independent confirmation? Did they heck. Just rolled over and apologized, only then muttering about it not being quite like that.

    The point is that the Western media is already predisposed to creating a certain story in which Israel is the aggressor; the Jews having arrived from Eastern Europe, have taken over land that has “always” been Palestinian (whoever the Palestinians may be) and every problem in that part of the world is caused by Israeli aggression.

    Hamas, Hezbollah and the others use this. Israel has been outmanoeuvred on the battlefield of propaganda. The IDF has been slow to react, unable to deal with the Western media, incapable of understanding the growing importance of the blogosphere, large tranches of which are on her side.

    Of course, the problem may be rooted in even older matters. There is no need to discuss that here. We have to deal with the situation as it is.

    Mr Asa-El puts blame for the latest debacle squarely on the previous Chief of General Staff, Dan Halutz, and his protégée, the lady who is still in charge of the IDF media section, Miri Regev. With all due respect, one has to say that Ms Regev has been an unmitigated disaster and one wonders what General Halutz was thinking of in appointing her.

    The lady, it would seem, does not speak English, the language of the international media. She has no interest in the international media but only in promoting her boss in the Israeli one. As if it mattered how many pictures of General Halutz appeared in Israel.

    Regev’s career as a press officer focused on dealing with the Hebrew press and with logistics. To her, the foreign press – the alpha and omega of that fourth arena where Israel was taking a beating, and which she was assigned to conquer – was but a sideshow. And so, rather than spend the war personally briefing the world’s major media figures, she spent it behind Dan Halutz’s shoulder, evidently thinking her job was to push her boss into Israeli papers, rather than get her own face on foreign TV.

    At the same time, when the IDF began its frantic search for a “victory photo,” Regev failed to supply it. True, this task would have been simpler had there been a victory to photograph, but the fact is that some things could have been done. For instance, after the war I learned from combatants that when surrounded, Hizbullah troops would often commit suicide, in some cases shooting themselves in the temple with pistols in the very presence of approaching Israeli troops.

    I doubt this could have been photographed. Yet had this been made known immediately, it would have proven valuable to the press as a story, and to the IDF as a reminder to the foreign press that Israel’s enemy was not the freedom fighter it tried to portray, but the fanatic suicide attackers who have been haunting the West from Bali to Madrid.

    Why was this lost on Regev? Because she has poor English and has never been a journalist. How can she know where to lead the foreign press if she can’t read an issue of The Economist or hold a serious conversation with a New York Times editor? Regev was as clueless about the foreign press as Halutz was about the ground forces.

    Replacing Ms Regev with a savvy Anglophone journalist would be a step in the right direction. I suspect, more is needed by way of mentality change in the Israeli military apparatus.

    Why does this matter? Why should we not simply shrug our shoulders and say, well, if they are that stupid, let them get on with it? Because Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, surrounded by tyrannies and terrorists, all intent on destroying it. Because Israel is fighting our battles and we need to support the country and its people. But, hey, guys, meet us half-way.

    Cross-posted (mostly) from EUReferendum

     

    18 Responses to “What is to be done?”

    1. Dave Schuler Says:

      BTW although that’s the common translation of Chernyshevsky’s novel’s (and Lenin’s essay’s) title, it’s not a particularly good one. Russian verb tenses are tricky to translate. A better translation would be “What should we be doing?” Still not great but the verb isn’t perfective.

    2. John Says:

      And it’s in the infinitive. “What to do?” is probably closer grammatically.

    3. Jonathan Says:

      A brilliant post. Thank you for sharing it.

    4. Tatyana Says:

      Agree, the post states things very clearly.
      As to the infamous phrase (infamous now, of course, after 1.5 centuries of bloodshed that “revolutionary democrats” of 1850’s had started), John’s translation is the closest. It is usually quoted in tandem with another book title, “Who’s to blame?” (or “Whose fault is it?”)by another founder of the movement (however, much more respectable Anglofile) Gertzen and now is the salt of many jokes.
      Кто виноват и что делать?

    5. Ginny Says:

      Well, if Israel gets better at this, perhaps they can teach Americans. We’ve got a lot to learn.

      It just seems strange to have to develop a propaganda arm that will lead an audience to be aware that the other side sends suicide bombers in to crowded church squares and marketplaces to kills young and old, man and woman, friend and foe. Do we really need to say this is a sign of a desperate, anti-human, even evil tradition? Our news seems to see this arising from sincerity. Well, our suicidal friend may be sincere, but if we really love them we believe an intervention may be in order.

      Our society has so successfully internalized our sense of both responsibility and guilt that we examine ourselves & our responses to bombings in the marketplace. Well, that’s all very nice, I guess. But here it seems to lead to a mushy kind of sympathy, a vague kind of guilt – when I suspect a more healthy reaction would be real anger. I don’t understand why someone who actually sees this – the reporters – don’t seem to feel the anger, while others, our army, does. (That seems to be their take given the re-up rates.)

    6. James A Pacella Says:

      I”ve been compiling some videos on YouTube.

      I recommend anyone interested seeing the Muslims in action check them out.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vypKSWHlnKA
      Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West
      Intro clip for the must see documentary on global terrorism, and the groups hijacking Islam with the aim to kill non-Muslims and Muslims who don’t agree with them. Deals with Saudi, Syrian, Egyptian, and Iranian roles within radical Islamism, and groups like Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, Lebanese Hezbollah, Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Interviews with former PLO terrorist, Palestinian journalists, and the threatened liberal minority and moderate majority within Muslim culture worldwide. Includes events like September 11th, Beslan, London and Madrid bombings, suicide bombings in Israel, Iraq, as well as the historical link between Nazism and the emerging militant Islamism. Ahmadinejad. Khomeini. Hizbullah

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJweJ02Ar0c
      Muslim Chaplains Caught Deceiving in Public
      Footage of a Muslim proselytization event at a public library. The footage shows how two Muslim chaplains practice the Islamically sanctioned deception techniques of taqiyya and kitman on the audience

    7. Denny Says:

      The calling of our generation is to defeat radical Islam, protect against the threat of WMD attack and proliferation, and promote representative consitutional government by, of, and for the people of their respective countries.

      I have come with good news of great joy for those who hear the ‘calling’
      of this generation.

      A new political party is being offered to the tens of millions of Americans who feel that the Republican party and the DemocRAT party have NOT led them to achieve what they really want our government to do for them.

      They want their borders secured and their immigration laws ENFORCED NOW! They want tax reform-and they want it ASAP! They want much more efficient, innovative and effective SMALLER government that gives them more bang for their hard-earned buck. They want Senate rules that do not allow an up or down vote for all executive appointment to the federal judiciary changed to allow a constitutional up or down vote. They want their second amendment right to keep and BEAR arms VIGILANTLY protected! They believe America’s best and brightest days are YET to come! They yearn for REAL change that PRODUCES real results that truly satisfies their good desires for families, America’s future and their posterity. And, they want it all RIGHT NOW!

      The new party is called the ‘New Republican Party’ and can be further studied at my website. This party is what we, and millions of others like us, have all been searching for…but it has never existed before…until NOW!

    8. Helen Says:

      I quite agree with the quibbles about the translation, though Gertsen is generally known as Herzen in English, which is, oddly enough closer to what he was called originally, the name being from the German for heart. I rather like “What is to be done?” as being rather tougher and more deterministic than “What are we to do?”.

    9. Tatyana Says:

      I don’t think in Gertzen’s case returning to a German word would be the right translating method. Then the name would indicate that he was of German nationality, which he was not: being an illegitimate son of a Russian gentleman, he was given the last name to indicate he was a “child of passion of the heart”. As in case of all foreign-borrowed names in Russian language, when translated from Russian to the the third language, it’s better to follow Russian grammar rules and just transliterate the word.(examples: Benediktov, Bryullov, etc).

      I agree, your version on the novel’s title is indeed, “tougher and more deterministic”; it’s in fact more deterministic than the author’s meaning.

    10. Helen Says:

      Well, Herzen is known as Herzen in English and that is really that, I am afraid.

    11. Tatyana Says:

      Known to whom? Are you representing final authority on English language?

      Чины людьми даются,
      А люди могут обмануться.

    12. Shannon Love Says:

      Unfortunately, a better media campaign will not help much when so many so much emotional investment in blaming the liberal-democracy in any given conflict.

      Most of the world wide condemnation of Israel has nothing to do with the actual conflict and more to do with the internal social and political dramas of the developed world.

    13. Helen Says:

      Tatyana, do stop. I do know Russian probably as well as you do. But do look up Herzen in any history book, history of literature book, library, catalogue, what you will. And that is my final say on the matter.

      Shannon Love,
      True enough. In many ways the left turning against Israel was based on the perception that it was America’s client state. The propaganda battle has to be fought by all of us.

    14. Tatyana Says:

      Helen, do stop giving me directives; so authoritarian of you.
      So which one is it, you “know Russian as well as I do”, or is it “probably”? The latter, most likely.
      I think your expertise in Russin-to-English translation is on the same level (possibly lower) than your criticism of Chernyshevsky as 19cent. novelist, and that is being generous.

      Not expecting you reply, as was your promise, so this is MY final word on the matter.

    15. Wes Turner Says:

      I’m a vehement critic of Israeli militarism. I think it’s counterproductive and is leading, step-by-step to Israel’s destruction.

      I know what terrorism is and how it differs from legitimate military self-defense.

      I know extremist Islam is a real and present danger to Israel as well as Europe and, even, to the U.S. I have no sympathies with and make no apologies for terrorists of any stripe. I know that Israel was not defeated in Lebanon, in a conventional military sense. I know that Hezbollah is, mostly, a terrorist organization of criminals motivated more by greed than politics of any kind.

      The vast majority of informed critics of Israeli militarism share my views on those subjects. Those who don’t are part of a tiny fringe of extremists and/or are ignorant of the basic facts out of choice, not because of exposure to inaccurate journalism.

      Helen’s comment is unpersuasive because it’s based on the false premise that opponents of Israeli militarism could only be motivated by tolerance, indifference or support for terrorists. Most critics of Israeli militancy, and ALL serious ones, oppose military aggression as a response to terrorism because they believe it doesn’t create peace or security.

      If you’re thinking about ways to persuade opponents to support Israeli militarism, you should begin by acknowledging why they’re opposed to it and present your arguments accordingly.

    16. James R. Rummel Says:

      Wes Turner weighs in….

      The vast majority of informed critics of Israeli militarism share my views on those subjects. Those who don’t are part of a tiny fringe of extremists and/or are ignorant of the basic facts out of choice, not because of exposure to inaccurate journalism.

      Most critics of Israeli militancy, and ALL serious ones, oppose military aggression as a response to terrorism because they believe it doesn’t create peace or security.

      Interesting way he sets the conditions for any debate. Anyone who disagrees is non-mainstream, ignorant, an extremist, one of the “tiny fringe”, or at least unserious.

      I would have to say that this is an example of a mind like a steel trap in that it has slammed shut and there is no opening it again.

      James

    17. Wes Turner Says:

      I’m not setting any limits on the terms of debate. I’m saying that, in America, Islamic extremist sympathizers and apologists are a tiny minority on the political fringe or, indeed, not serious.

      America has one of the world’s best educational systems, highest standards of living and deepest traditions of free thinking. Hard to get people to sign on with Islamic extremism in such an environment.

    18. James A Pacella Says:

      >America has one of the world’s best educational systems, highest standards of living and deepest traditions of free thinking. Hard to get people to sign on with Islamic extremism in such an environment.

      Jihad isnt about education. It’s about Culture and identity. Indeed, Jihadis can claim a lot more mindshare of the thinkers in the Islamic world than the non-thinkers.

      Jihad is simply the devout implementation of the screeds of Islam, any pious believer of Allah can find more than enough justification within the faith to take up the cause.

      The Palestinian Nationalistic movement is the ideological continuation of the Hilter’s anti-Jewish NAZI program. NAZI anti-Jewish actions inherited from Islam and on the otherside of the WW-II contributed to the rekindling of Jihad.

      One of the most interesting comparasions was made to me in the film Obsession:

      Mein Kampf = My Struggle = Jihad.