The War In Gaza Is Not Happening
War Crimes That Weren't, Purported Participants As Spectators, Non-Shifting Shifts, Pseudo-Intellectual Wankery, and Baudrillard Vindicated Once Again
It’s no secret that there’s money to be made on the internet as a content creator who traffics in sensationalism, hysteria, and other forms of obvious (yet often tantalizing) forms of clickbait. We are inundated with it on a daily basis, but if it didn’t work, it wouldn’t exist in the first place.
Some people are cut out for this approach and do very, very well financially from it. Generally, it requires a very high level of dedication and a constant, rapid-fire reaction to the 24 hour news cycle. It also means sticking your neck out all the time, and being comfortable with being proven to be wrong…repeatedly wrong. The smartest of these types have built-in audiences who are very one-sided in their views and/or happy to consume content that plays on their fears, confirms their priors, and so on. The “luckiest” are those whose audiences don’t care how often the creator is proven wrong in the near (or even immediate) future. Entertainment has a value all its own, and credibility takes a back seat. This is the nature of our present media environment.
There are others (I count myself among these) who prefer to wait at least a day or two before reaching (tentative) conclusions, and formulating arguments and analyses. This is called “being prudent”. This type of individual prefers to inform and analyze more than entertain, cognizant of the fact that this does hamper revenue generation. I will only speak for myself when saying that I try my best to not sensationalize or hype-up events that are happening as they happen. The event itself should inform us how sensational and worthy of hype it actually is. But then again, I am not much of an entertainer.
On the other hand, we must strive to not be BORING. No one wants to read boring (unless it is a very, very niche area of interest/study). To not be boring requires that you sometimes must stick your neck out, knowing full well that it can get THE CHOP. This essay is an instance where I will be sticking my neck out, and where I will be engaging in a bit of pseudo-philosophical wankery. If I am shown to be wrong, I accept my responsibility for it, and expect that people put the dunce cap on my head from time to time. I have been wrong before, and will be wrong again….maybe as soon as I hit the “publish” button when I finish writing and editing this piece. Anyway, on with the show!
My contention is that this new war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza is not going to substantively change a single thing in the Middle East or beyond. In fact, my pseudo-intellectual wankery take is that THE WAR IN GAZA IS NOT HAPPENING.
Note: this does not mean that I believe that fighting is not going on, that civilians are not being killed, that Hamas did not raid Israel, kill Israeli civilians, and take some of them hostage. All of that has happened and is happening. Despite that, NOTHING IS HAPPENING. Allow me to explain……
There’s a joke (or meme) on social media that takes the form of decrying media sensationalism by insisting that NOTHING IS HAPPENING or NOTHING EVER HAPPENS. Like all jokes that go memetic/viral, this one has taken on a life of its own, far beyond its original meaning. It does have value though; it serves as a humorous call for people to not let themselves get swept up in media hysteria, something that is increasingly common these days for many reasons, all of them very familiar to you already.
In my mind, ‘NOTHING IS HAPPENING’ will immediately lead to ‘THIS IS NOT REAL’. In my brain, the two are irrevocably linked together. When I question the reality presented to me by media, I will often think of Herman and Chomsky’s vital work “Manufacturing Consent”, my introduction to media criticism. But more important than “Manufacturing Consent” (at least in my opinion) is the work French post-Marxist and post-Structuralist philosopher and sociologist, Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007).
Baudrillard landed on my radar during the First Gulf War where he gained some notoriety in the Anglosphere after having three essays published by both the French outlet Libération, and the UK Guardian that dealt with that war, the run up to it, and its aftermath.1 The essays were as follows:
The Gulf War Will Not Take Place - January 4, 1991
The Gulf War Is Not Really Taking Place - February 6, 1991
The Gulf War Did Not Take Place - March 29, 1991
I was a teen at the time, and this war was the first real cable TV war thanks to CNN’s non-stop coverage. Everyone I knew was glued to their sets, watching the bombing of Baghdad in particular, but not understanding how the coverage presented to us was a product all its own.
Baudrillard was an exception, as he understood what we were all watching and seeing, but failing to grasp: we as spectators were presented a tightly-controlled and stylized simulacra of the war, far from its actual reality. Baudrillard’s contention was criticized as 'preening pseudo-intellectualism’ by many (“a postmodern mood of widespread cynical acquiescence”, said Christopher Norris), with others questioning his “humanity”. I understood the jist of his argument, but did not dwell on it for too long, as I was too excited by playing the role of spectator that so many of us were doing at the time.
After re-visiting his essays a little over a week ago, it struck me just how much that war and this conflict have in common. Allow me to list the similarities:
Saddam Hussein was in large part a creation of US foreign policy. The coup that brought him to power was aided and abetted by the CIA, and he went on to play the important role of helping the USA contain its neighbour, Iran, so much so that he led Iraq into a bloody eight-year long war against them.
In this new conflict, Israel is both a client state of the USA, and the source of Hamas’ relative power. Recall that Israel purposely built up Hamas to serve as an ‘extremist’ counter-balance to the secularist Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and to split Palestinian opinion into two camps. Israel has insisted that funds continue to go to Hamas to preserve this split that weakens their perceived enemy, the Palestinians. Zooming out, the USA sends billions of dollars to Israel every year in military support. This, in effect, means that the USA is actually funding both sides of this conflict.
Israel and Hamas have also sided with one another to topple the government in Syria, as Israel has backed al-Nusra (the local al-Qaida affiliate) and other Islamist militants, while Hamas, a local branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, has sided with Sunni Muslims rebelling against the Ba’athist regime.
The methods and the technology available to each side was radically different in both 1991 and in this war too. The First Gulf War saw the first extensive use of precision-guided munitions in warfare (aka ‘smart bombs’), while the Iraqi Army resembled a WW2 continental European force. The massive air superiority of the USA ensured that very little ‘combat in close quarters’ took place between the two main opponents, as US air power smashed Hussein’s forces whenever they dared to expose themselves.
In this war, Hamas engaged in cross-border raids that succeeded due to the element of surprise, helped by small-scale technology such as drones, and even older tech such as gliders. Despite their initial successes in ambushing IDF personnel (and killing many civilians along the way), they were quickly forced back into Gaza, where they are now scurrying around in tunnels. The IDF has since relied on its massive air power and artillery advantage to soften up/bludgeon Gaza, in order to set the stage for last week’s entry into the Strip. Unless there is a massive surprise awaiting the IDF in the strip (e.g. a trap laid by Hamas), the outcome is obvious: Hamas militants will be annihilated.
No Warriors, Only Hostages
During the First Gulf War, the lack of hand-to-hand combat meant that there were “no real warriors” involved, as per Baudrillard. He said that there were only hostages, both those taken by Hussein’s men, and us, the spectators glued to our screen.
In this conflict, there are some warriors, but there are quite a lot of hostages: 1) those taken by Hamas into Gaza, 2) the Palestinian civilians in Gaza, and 3) we, the spectators connected to our hand-held devices.
‘Liberation as Simulation’
Much like Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait was characterized as the ambition of a ‘tin-pot dictator’, its liberation was argued by others as a ‘trick’ by the USA to insert itself into the region more forcefully. This latter argument is based on the then-popular theory that the US Ambassador to Iraq at the time, April Glaspie, gave Saddam Hussein a “green light” regarding a potential invasion of Kuwait by his forces.
“From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free” goes the popular chant. Supporters of Hamas celebrated its cross-border raid as an ‘act of liberation of the Palestinian people’, with others justifying its brutality by relegating all Israeli citizens as colonizers. This “liberation” was very short-lived, and has been marred by massacres of civilians and hostage-taking by Hamas. It was ‘the liberation that wasn’t’.
On the Israeli side, the stated purpose of hitting Gaza is to ‘destroy Hamas for once and all’, but “you should never let a good crisis go to waste”. A paper that proposed a policy be adopted by the Israeli Government listed a goal to entirely remove the Palestinian population of Gaza, whether to Egypt, Europe, or beyond. Netanyahu is now saying that Gaza will have to once again come under Israeli control “for a bit”…….or permanently? Is Gaza headed back to 2005?