When the Taliban calls, pick up

Is the limited coverage of the Afghan war in the US a symptom of life in an American “republic of fear”?

General David Petraeus has almost daily opportunities to shape his version of proceedings in Afghanistan [Getty]

There is a saying, I may be twisting it in the retelling, to the effect of what you do unto others will be done onto you. These thoughts come to mind as I wrestle with a dilemma that seems to be worming its way out of the soil of a country at war overseas and with itself.

Earlier this week, I received a friend request on Facebook from one Abdullah Musafir. He identified himself as from the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. His wall was filled with Islamic proverbs and reports on the killing of Western forces and battles with “cowardly terrorists,” i.e., NATO, Afghan soldiers and US troops. There were references to the destruction of “puppet” police vehicles and the use of IEDs.

Clearly it was Taliban propaganda, a side of the war we rarely get in any unfiltered form, as opposed to our propaganda that routinely comes our way on TV and in the press. Theirs is crude; ours is much slicker. Is any of it credible?

Yes, there are also some excellent and gutsy US correspondents there who try to tell the truth, and that truth seems to be we are not winning.

When reports from the battlefield appear in the print press, there is usually some background like reports that military units worry about hostility from the people they are ostensibly there to defend.

General Petraeus speaks of facing an “industrial strength insurgency.” He is reported to be welcoming reports that Taliban commanders want to talk with our Karzai regime. That is supposedly a good thing, maybe the only way out of Afghanistan. (Of course, we want them to talk only on our terms as in lay down your arms, pledge loyalty to Karzai’s corrupt government, and then, and only then, can we talk.)

Now, Karzai has handpicked a 70 person ‘peace panel’ stacked with anti-Taliban personalities. Independent Afghan analyst Maritine van Bijlert believes it will go nowhere, saying, “he is not interested in substantial talks.” That is no doubt why Washington is said to be supporting this phony ‘initiative.’

Insurgents should be seen, and not heard

The Taliban has just denied they are talking to a government they claim has no support, so this whole effort may be a deception to try to boost world opinion and divert attention away from the pervasive corruption and a losing war, as in, see, ‘we are trying negotiations too!’

At the same time, our corporate media just regurgitates the one-sided nonsense we have come to expect. You never hear from the other side or even international observers who are not gung-ho US backers.

As Fairness And Accuracy (FAIR) points out, “The escalation of the war in Afghanistan is treated as something that cannot be debated (see the Sunday chat shows) or as the only thing that might save the women of that country (see Time magazine’s recent propagandistic cover).”

When these same stories air on TV, they become classic “bang-bang” war coverage of US troops shooting at the enemy and fighting bravely, The assessments of their performance often lacks background and context. One Afghan province looks like another. Our atrocities are rarely reported.

The assumption seems to be that if you get information from the enemy”, you become the enemy. Huh? Two Al Jazeera journalists were recently jailed for talking to the other side—but then released. This shows the information control focus that is part of our “Perception Management” strategy.

It is not working with 60 per cent of the American public now opposing the war.

Even as the Obama administration expands the use of brutal drone attacks that so often kill civilians, over Pakistani objections, and Petraeus threatens to expand the war into Cambodia, oops, Pakistan, without Congressional approval, it’s déjà vu stalemate all over again.

Guilt by association

But does that mean that American journalists like myself shouldn’t talk with or write to or even “friend” someone on the other side? I recently asked this question on my Facebook “wall” seeking advice from the people who have opted to “follow me.”

I was amazed when my request for advice triggered 58 comments. Many were genuinely concerned about my safety. Some thought I was going there, others worried that it could lead to an outrageous FBI raid, as are taking place in the Mid-West, or being put on the No Fly List. One suggested I could be in Gitmo by Christmas.

Apparently, guilt by association is alive and well. You can easily become an “enemy” if you have the wrong friends. Big Brother is back, if he ever left.

Many warned that we have no real online privacy especially with the Obama Administration threatening to monitor, and, when think necessary, shut down the Internet. (Wasn’t Joe Lieberman the first to recommend the practise already followed in China and other countries?)

This paranoia and blow against freedom is being fed by what political scientist Michael Brenner calls a “phony war,” writing that, “warnings are sounding about the growing menace to the US homeland from “homegrown terrorism.” A recent Congressional Research Service purporting to quantify that increased risk has created a stir. All this angst needs to be placed in dispassionate perspective. America stills lives in an acutely anxious post-9/11 state.”

Republic of fear

I keep thinking of a book written about Saddam’s Iraq called “Republic of Fear.” That title could be applied to a book about the USA today.

So what to do about Abdullah, the holy warrior in Afghanistan and a wannabe “friend?” If I friend him does that make me a Taliban supporter?

I decided to write him to tell him that rather than become “friends,” he could send me his “news” via email and so, he will be in the company of so many others like Newt Gingrich, the Tea Party, The Repugs, The Minutemen, The Birthers, The Birchers, The Israeli hardliners, the Mosque Marauders et.al.  who just love to inundate/litter my in-box with their “urgent communiques” forcing me to waste time hitting delete.

He wrote back inviting me to visit their website, but warned that it is often hacked. I wonder who would have the means and the motive to do that? We can’t ignore what such a powerful force is saying.

Fascinating that this should occur as the new Facebook movie opens nationwide.

I don’t have to see it. I am living it.

Danny Schechter wrote When News Lies (2006) about media complicity and the war in Iraq. His film WMD (Weapons of Mass Deception) covered that coverage. 

Comments to dissector@mediachannel.org

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

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