Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Holy Land Foundation a Victim of the "Information Age"

Among the dangers of living in a world in which anyone can become a specialist, in which anyone can put out her shingle as an authority (to wit, this “BLOG”), in which anyone with a certain amount of academic “expertise” can hold forth in the media (from blogs to supposedly academic books) as purveyor of information—in that kind of world, the first casualty is likely to be anything approaching “truth.” If “truth” is the first casualty of “war,” then we can assume that TRUTH is the FIRST CASUALTY in the “war on terror.”

In a 2005 article, Dr. Leila Hudson, assistant professor of Near Eastern Studies at the University of Arizona writes about specifically about Martin Kramer of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, but about “Think Tanks” in general,

“…Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), [is] one of several ideologically narrow think tanks that have colonized the intellectual terrain first opened up by interdisciplinary area studies, providing policy recommendations, media performances and even intelligence channels for U.S. interventions in the Middle East. Kramer’s accusation of an academic “culture of irrelevance” is ironic considering that the think tanks systematically foster what might be called a “culture of counterrealism,” with arguably disastrous results on the ground. For all their bellicose claims to the contrary, privately funded think tanks have…occupied the ivory towers of area studies and adopted an even more otherworldly culture than they accuse their academic colleagues of indulging in…”
“The New Ivory Towers: Think Tanks, Strategic Studies, and ‘Counterrealism,’” MIDDLE EAST POLICY, VOL. XII, NO. 4, WINTER 2005, 118.

As “think tanks” control more and more of the information that the American public receives, it becomes more and more unthinkable to challenge these “authorities” at any level. After all, the “talking heads” that we see on the evening news, who write “opinion” pieces in major newspapers, and, worst of all, who have continual access to those in power in government, are quoted without question as persons who have researched and studied questions that we commoners do not have time or expertise to study. From the Rand Corporation in the ‘50s and its working papers on “strategy” through to the current work of the “think tanks” that evolved from it,

“What emerged — the “clash of civilizations” — is an uncomfortable blend of grand strategy, low tactics, imaginative gymnastics, ideologically motivated private funding (on average 10 times greater per institution than the total public investment in Middle Eastern Title 6 centers), and a studied avoidance of Middle Eastern human realities” (Hudson 119).

These “think tanks,” and specifically the preponderance of them that are funded by extreme conservative individuals and organizations, have helped shape the public discourse in an alarming fashion. For example, in 2005, one of the plethora of “think tanks” in Washington, D.C., Freedom House, (now a part of the Hudson Institute http://crf.hudson.org/ ) published, through its the “Center for Religious Freedom” a report titled, “Saudi Publications On Hate Ideology Invade American Mosques.” As Tanya Hsu, a researcher on Saudi-American affairs wrote on October 25, 2205,

Freedom House’s Report…does not serve to advance dialogue or to accurately report hate speech. Rather than reaching conclusions based on well-documented findings, the report is an anti-Saudi and anti-Muslim diatribe. Reliance on its faulty finding will only serve to further radicalize those who must be brought together….The report states that its purpose was to evaluate the content of the “Wahhabi ideology that the Saudi government has worked to propagate.” Far beyond failing in this effort, the Center seems hardly interested in making a serious effort toward this goal. The Center employed a deeply flawed methodology and then compounded its error by distorting the findings in order to reinforce faulty conclusions” (Private communication, March 18, 2007).

Thomas Jefferson said,

“The way to prevent these irregular interpositions of the people is to give them full information of their affairs thro’ the channel of the public papers, & to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people. The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.
Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington, January 16, 1787. The Online Library of Liberty. http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=1734

The public media in the United States have failed in their obligation to “give [us] full information, to question statements by those who set themselves up as the purveyors of information, as “authorities,” but who are, in fact, disseminating their own opinions in the guise of information, and everyone loses. The Holy Land Foundation deserves judgment based on unbiased information that rises above a “blend of grand strategy, low tactics, imaginative gymnastics,” and systematic presentation of evidence based on opinion rather than opinion based on evidence.