As a citizen of the United States of America there is much in my country that provides me with cause for anguish. The Union wages a war which she is unlikely to win, the elected officials who operate the cogs of government give no heed to its founding charter, and my fellow citizens stand idly by, content to play the part of sheep. Add the standard list of modern tribulations – a rapidly changing climate, increasing financial instability, a general disregard for liberty, etc. – and you have a torrent of affairs with which the concerned citizen must contend with.
This wide array of rather important public issues combines unfavorably with the limited number of hours in a day. The time-crunch prompted by this combination regularly forces me to justify my interest in oft-ignored problems such as stealth conflicts. The question is generally posed along these lines: “Why spend effort stressing about the media’s portrayal of third-world conflict when there are real and pressing problems facing the world?“
My answer to this query is simple: the existence of invisible conflicts is dangerous to the health of the American Republic.
Stealth conflicts are those wars the rest of the world never hears about. They are conflicts that carry a considerable human cost but never seem to find a place in the international consciences, progressing and digressing undetected by those not immediately affected by them. Virtually ignored by all forms of media, such wars are started, waged, and won without ever making a blip on the public radar. They are, for all intents and purposes, invisible.
Allow me to provide an example:
In January, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh asked his network of loyalist jihadists to prepare for offensive operations against domestic “enemies of the state.” In return, Saleh has ceded authority to fundamentalist fanatics who seek to impose a neo-Salafi theocracy in the religiously pluralistic country. It is unclear if this is the full extent of the quid pro quo.
Facing threats in the north and south, and an increasingly poverty stricken and desperate nation, Saleh has embarked on a strategy of empowering Islamic militants who, in exchange, have been given a free hand over some local populations. At a meeting in late January, Tariq al Fahdli headed a large delegation of “reformed jihadists” who met with President Saleh in Sana’a. Al Fahdli is a bin Laden loyalist and former al Qaeda operative. He is an in-law of Brigadier General Ali Mohsen al Ahmar, Saleh’s half brother…. The next week, security officials released over a hundred militants from jail including dozens of al Qaeda operatives. Al Fahdli asked for YR five million and settled for a three million riyal budget as sufficient to orchestrate the regime’s directives. Militants established several new terror training camps following the meeting.
In Jahr, Abyan Jihadists declared an Islamic Emirate. Nine homosexuals were gunned down and murdered in broad daylight. Shabwa Press reports “wine drinkers” were severely beaten. Fundamentalists also attached threatening leaflets to homes, condemning certain women. Tariq al Fahdli, “using elements of the mujahideen for help and security,” took over various buildings and plots of land for distribution to his inner circle, the paper said.
The hostile takeover of an entire city by Muslim terrorists with a connection to Al Qaeda is a news-worthy event. However, outside of the specialist publication Long War Journal
not a single Western newspaper picked up the story. Indeed, a conflict that has displaced upward of 70,000 people has seen precious little coverage in the media at all, despite Yemen’s well known status as a terrorist safe-haven. A quick search for the word “Yemen”
in the archives of the New York Times
provides readers with a small blurb about a bombing that killed 4 South Koreans, but nothing else about the country or the conflict therein. A search of the Washington Post archives
yields similar results; once again coverage of the country focuses exclusively on the March 12th suicide attack on South Korean citizens.
Yet at least these newspapers are recognizing that bombs do go off inside Yemen. The same cannot be said for the media’s treatment of another ongoing insurgency. Please consider the events detailed below:
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has approved the deployment of another 4,000 troops to the troubled southern border provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala. He announced the deployment after chairing a meeting of the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) on Thursday.
The prime minister said more troops were need to counter the activities of separatist militants in the deep South and discourage local teenagers from joining militant groups by opening up more education opportunities to them.
“I have authorised sending an additional 4,000 rangers. Their mission is non-combat. They will work towards a better understanding with local people,” Mr Abhisit said.
Did you know that Thailand is embroiled in an Islamic insurgency? Few do. The main-stream media is silent on the subject. Again taking the New York Times
and Washington Post
as examples, a quick search of the archives of both papers
shows that neither felt it necessary to spend ink on the subject once
over the last three months.
I could go on like this for quite some time. Certainly there are conflicts more destructive than these two that the general populace is unaware of.
The reason I chose to highlight the insurgencies in Thailand and Yemen is simple: one cannot deny that America has a stake in their outcome. While the United States government has dropped the phrase
“Global War on Terror” from its parlance, the fact remains that the United States is still committed to fighting Islamic insurgents across the globe.
This leaves one disturbing question: how shall a government run by the people respond to problems the people do not know exist?
Writing a letter to Colonel Charles Yancy in 1816, American founding father Thomas Jefferson sounded a warning to the young American Republic:
“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”
Jefferson’s words remind us of an uncomfortable truth: one of the great burdens of self-governance is the responsibility of the citizenry to remain informed and educated in the affairs of the state.
By all measures the great majority of Americans fail to take this responsibility seriously. Not a week goes by that a new study claiming that the average American’s knowledge of geography, science, foreign affairs, economics, history, or the structure of federal and state governments is woefully inaccurate and inadequate for modern times.
This laxity on the part of the American people will have its consequences. If Americans refuse to seek out knowledge necessary for their survival and liberty such will be taken away from them in due course.
Yet this is what makes stealth conflicts so unsettling. You cannot blame your average American’s ignorance of insurgencies in Yemen or Thailand on laxity. Apathy has not caused the invisibility of invisible wars.
In essence, ignorance is being forced upon the people of the United States. Where shall the the concerned citizen turn to make informed judgments of the world around him? What media outlet presents the world with any semblance of proportionality? NPR? CNN? The New York Times?
This is why I concern myself with the cause and continuation of stealth conflicts. A people cannot live both ignorant and free. The people of America deserve the chance to choose one way or another.
This post has been cross-posted at the Stealth Conflicts Forum.
Spectacular post! Keep it up…
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Thank you very much. If you are interested in this sort of thing, I advise you to peruse Virgil Hawkin’s blog, Stealth Conflicts. He looks at such conflicts from a variety of different view-points. This is representative of some of the interesting things you can find there.
At least SOME People in the U.S. of A are still AWARE of such incidents.
Meanwhile, in a minuscule nation in south east asia…
"Let's go town buy the latest '_ _ _' (fill in the blanks) album."
T. Greer : Everyone else on the planet's too BUSY mimickin' the American lifestyle to care 'bout what's goin' on in other troubled spots. Hell, if it dun involve us, who gives a damn? They be lucky not to have a dangerous state like Mexico next their border. Let's all drive cool rides like they do in "Fast & Furious", get sweet chicks & enjoy life. Who cares 'bout some backwater village in Thailand no one's heard 'bout?
Very true, but the causes are really the important issue. America does have one of the biggest ignorance quotients in the world compared to our literacy. But why? You no doubt will not like my take on it. The US is also one of the most religious modern countries on the planet. A full 80% are still Christians. The hostility this causes with science along with a belief that we can believe anything we like as long as it makes us feel better, I think is at the heart of the whole decline. who needs knowledge if god is on our side and he is handling everything. And if it all comes crashing down, well that just means Jesus is on his way back. I often wonder how we couldn’t learn, even after a 1,000 years of the dark ages. We also have a shining example right in front of our eyes what religion does to a culture, and that is Islam. It is really nothing more than Christianity during the dark ages. But just because it is not the power it once was does not mean it has lost all of it’s civilization destroying capabilities.
Kozz, you are right- I do find your general argument unsatisfying. Yet more pertinent to the post at hand, it is completely besides the point.The issue is not one of chosen ignorance. Ignorance quotients are irrelevant. The issue at hand is forced ignorance, or the refusal of media organizations, academia, and policy makers to give the most dangerous conflicts on this Earth attention.
This refusal is not unique to the U.S. Le Monde, Der Speigal, and The Guardian are just as bad- if not worse than The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. The international media is surprisingly consistent in its ability to choose certain issues and conflicts over others. Religion, I am sorry to say, has nothing to do with it.
I’m afraid no one is forcing anyone to be ignorant. The information is available for those who want to find it, the problem is too many don’t “want” to know about anything which doesn’t make them feel warm and cozy. This problem is much more severe here in America than almost anywhere else on earth, and I would say it is no coincidence that this is also one of the few modern countries in the world where over 50% of the population still thinks the earth is only 6000 years old and want to teach creationism to school children along with science. God is real and he loves America. Why bother with keeping informed.
“The information is available for those who want to find it…. the problem is that it is so much more severe here”Is it really? Both points are easily disproven. The first has been thoroughly thrashed about here and elsewhere- certain conflicts are ignored by the media. Period. The war in North Kivu is a case in point; despite the fact that it is the deadliest conflict in the world, not a single newspaper has bothered to place a bureau in Kinshasa. Likewise, news of the DRC is simply absent from mainstream media outlets. If my word lacks creditability, please feel free to test this yourself- search the archives of any media outlet, even one outside the United States and you will see that the DRC is almost nonexistent. That other conflicts of much smaller scale (e.g. Israel/Palestine, Balkans, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, ect.) are given more attention by the international media than is their due is a truth quite evident.
The previously mentioned Virgil Hawkins has written a rather lengthy post dismantling the “We don’t want to know” line of argument. Also worth reading are his thoughts on just how much of the media blackout can be blamed on the average consumer.