Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Michael Byers and the Neo-Conservative Bogeyman Redux

Byers indulges himself in a feat of historical engineering

Michael Byers' recent op/ed article "From rogue nation to world leader", published in The Toronto Star, then mercilessly fisked and shredded all around the blogosphere, has garnered a lot of attention for Byers.

At first glance, it's easy to dismiss Byers' article as politically motivated. However, closer examination of the article uncovers something a little more sinister.

Byers' article isn't merely a politically-motivated dig at a sitting government aimed at inducing an election. It's a full-out act of historical engineering -- described by Noam Chomsky as the act of "designing the facts" in order to conceal historical truth.

According to Chomsky, historical engineering is conducted either by misrepresenting key facts, or by omitting them altogether. More often than not, under such conditions, the act of historical engineering can be identified by examining foreign media sources for such ommitted or misrepresented facts.

As previously mentioned, Byers' work is full of them.

He insists China shouldn't be agitated despite its atrocious human rights record.

He insists that the war in Afghanistan should be abandoned in favour of peacekeeping in the Sudan despite the fact that Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir has announced UN Peacekeepers would be treated as foreign invaders (in other words, Byers suggests we abandon the war effort in order to attempt to peacekeep in a country where our peacekeepers would have war waged against them). Osama Bin Laden has also jihad against any UN peacekeeping force deployed to Sudan. (Pity Bin Laden cares so little for the victims of the Muslim-on-Muslim violence in Darfur).

Incidentally, he also ignores China's involvement in the Sudan.

He attempts to shift political responsibility for anti-terror laws that allegedly undermined the civil rights of Canadians away from the government that created it to the government that attempted to renew them. Despite the actually largely unthreatening and benign nature of the laws sunsetted, largely for partisan gain, somehow they were seemingly much more tolerable under a previous government.

He portrays the summer 2006 invasion of Lebanon by Israel as having been perpetrated over the abduction of a lone Israeli soldier, whereas Hezbollah had also been launching rocket attacks into Israel from Lebanese terrority, while the Lebanese government declined to prevent it.

He condemns the government for recalling its ambassador to Iran in protest of the Iranian handling (or actual lack thereof) of the Zahra Kazemi case, while continuing to raise complaints about the alleged torture of Afghan prisoners of war, and about the use of the death penalty on Canadians like Ronald Smith, who killed a Montana aboriginal to find out what killing is like. (When Iranian prison guards rape and batter Canadian citizens to death, Byers seemingly has very little to say. When Afghan prison guards torture their charges, somehow it's Canada that's responsible.)

He suggests we fight climate change by ignoring the countries in the world with the poorest enviornomental legislation -- something that writers like Naomi Kline would remind us attracts multinational corporations to increasingly base their manufacturing operations in such countries.

He suggests that we use Norway as a model to successfully fighting climate change despite the disastrous failure of that country's policies in regard to greenhouse gases.

Of course, when Byers says such things, and says them in a national newspaper, we're expected to beleive him. He's what you would call an expert.

Yet the facts, when uncovered, so eagerly contradict him. Furthermore, he's a man who is so atrociously out-of-step with even his own contemporaries that virtually everything he says has to be taken with a grain of salt. The factual omissions and half-truths loom large over the credibility of his work.

Some may be tempted to excuse such scholarly indiscretions as sheer ignorance. Perhaps Byers simply isn't the expert he claims to be, or is claimed to be.

Yet, if Byers isn't simply a third-rate foreign policy scholar with a political axe to grind, then certainly the misinformation contained in his article was intentional. That's very illustrative of an effort at historical engineering: it is, by nature, a calculated act.

Historical engineering, as Chomsky (whom Byers would, ironically, probably consider to among his contemporaries) theorizes, relies on dogmatic belief systems around which national identities are so tightly wrapped.

In his particular case, the dogma is that of Canada as a progressive country. The idea forwarded, based on this dogma, is that a progressive country must have a government that is progressive enough for Byers' liking. Once transformed into such a pervasive dogma, the theorem takes on a nearly religious quality. It may not be challenged without summary accusations of blasphemy.

It's unsurprising that Byers would apply such dogmatic arguments to a government that he essentially describes as all but blasphemous, even if he never actually resorts to using that particular word.

The dogmatic, religious quality of the arguments forwarded is also by design. It protects them from scrutiny, under which such arguments certainly would not -- and are proven to not -- stand up.

Most importantly, however, historical engineering, such as Byers has indulged himself in -- is a principally Machiavellian act. While faux-progressives like Byers may argue that ruthlessness in pursuit of a "greater good" still serves that "greater good" (however one may define it), it is still ruthlessness, is still a vice, and is still regressive in nature.

Above all, it is still propaganda, and fits snugly within the "Propaganda Model" that Chomsky elaborates in books such as Necessary Illusions.

As such, Michael Byers, propagandist, historical engineer, faux-progressive and foreign policy "expert" warrants very close scrutiny.

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