September 05, 2013

Bias Confirmed: When Academics Flop on the Couch of a "Syrian Moderate"

I don't like to play seven degrees of Kevin Bacon even though I'm only three steps from Kevin Bacon. No, really, it's true. I have a close relative in the business who worked with a guy who worked with Kevin Bacon. Even without this relative I'm only four degrees from Kevin Bacon. I have a buddy who has family in the business. Etc, etc. It's actually both a sociological and mathematical phenomenon based on overlapping social circles and geometric progression of numbers. The point being that every one is socially connected to every one in far more ways thane we'd like to imagine.

So, I don't like to play connect the dots. When you start playing the connect the dots game then you are already halfway to becoming Charles Johnson.

Remember Charles Johnson from Little Green Footballs? He used to make claims like this leftist is connected to that dictator before he switched to claiming this right winger is connected to that white supremacist. Those connections sometimes being as tenuous as they had their photo taken with some third person thus tainting the first person in his mind with the stink of the latter person for the crime of being connected by a third party.

Anyway, this kind of stuff drives me bonkers. It's why I never ran any articles on Hillary Clinton's connections to terrorists because her aide (Mrs. Anthony Weiner) had cousins in Palestine who were sympathetic to terrorists. I got news for you: I have a cousin who is a dedicated Marxist and teaches at a major university in the greater Boston area and I have another cousin who is a white supremacist who likes to use the word "mulatto" a lot.

I'm tainted because I'm connected.

These "connections" are then used to explain some phenomenon that we don't like. Hillary's stance on Israeli-Palestinian peace can be explained by her connections to terrorists in Palestine.

Or, if you're still a reader of Little Green Footballs, it might be something more along the lines of: Robert Spencer's stance on Islam is explained by his connections to white supremacists in Europe. Those connections being that he had his picture taken with people who once had their own pictures taken with white supremacists.

You get the point.

With that caveat in mind, let's play connect the dots on why it is that so many of our lawmakers think that the Syrian opposition is mostly populated by "moderates".

I don't think the answer is really "connect the dots" as Bryan Preston, elucidating in PJMedia on an earlier article in Front Page Mag, suggests. Or, at least, I don't think we can rightfully say that just because Elizabeth O'Bagy from the Institute for the Study of War has connections to Syrian activists who have connections to Sunni Islamists that this explains it all.

What Preston's revelations do, though, is perfectly illustrate the point I made last week about academics, journalists, and bias in the Arab world:

The problem that Westerners have is that when we talk to people in the Middle East we talk to people who share our values. Our friends in the Middle East are liberals. So, when an academic or journalist goes to Egypt they crash on the couch of their buddy who they went to grad school with. ...

And then our buddy connects us with their buddies. And what do the friends of this over educated, Mac using, iPhone tweeting, beer drinking, nominally Muslim guy or gal look like? Why, he hangs out with a bunch of people like him. A bunch of other liberals.

So, our "researcher" gets a first hand view of the "Arab street" which, oddly enough, seems to be filled with people not so different than them....

We conclude from our "experience with the Arab street" that any change will be a change for the better. From a more repressive regime to a more liberal regime. Shiny happy thoughts....

I have to wonder where Dr. O'Bagy got her information from on who controls what territory in Syria? From her interview, if I'm understanding it correctly, she's been on the ground in Syria recently. I'm betting that she was shown around by ... her friends in Syria. See above.

Which is exactly what Bryan shows in his report, that as a member of The Syrian Task Force Dr. O'Bagy friends in Syria -- the people she got her information from -- have an agenda. And that agenda is not strict neutrality, it's getting rid of Assad.

And, more from my earlier post:

Of course John McCain thinks we should be supporting the Syrian opposition militarily. When McCain went to Syria, who did he meet? Well, other than a terrorist or two accidentally thrown into the mix, he met with the liberal/secular opposition. He met with the people he was meant to meet with. And this isn't a conspiracy
I suggested that McCain's meeting was set up by the State Department, in fact it looks like it was set up by Dr. O'Bagy as reported by Front Page Mag.

So, naturally McCain's view of the "facts" on the ground are tainted by the same biases that Dr. O'Bagy's "facts" on the ground. This is how bias works. It's not a conspiracy, it's just what happens when humans interact with one another.

Last, let me suggest that the Syrian rebels the Dr. O'Bagy and McCain are backing are in fact "moderates". This isn't a case of taqqiya, but one of not understanding that a "moderate" in Syria is most likely anti-Israel and at best ambivalent about Islamism.

The sad fact is that most Muslims in the world can't be called "moderate" if by "moderate" you mean a "supporter of secular liberalism". Groups like the Muslim Brotherhood really are "moderates". That's kind of the whole point: their "moderates" are our "extremists".

This isn't the overt deception of lying liars who lie, it's the more subtle deception of seeing a world we want to believe in coupled with with a strong belief in unicorns, rainbows, and whirled peas. We want to believe they're like us because .... wouldn't it be nice if every one were as awesome as me?

I guess that my larger point is that we don't have to believe that the people we are being led into war by are lying to us (Bush lied, millions died! -- remember that one?). Remember that old line from George Costanza? It's not a lie if you believe in it. It was supposed to be a joke, but it's actually a pretty astute observation. Well, as far as any observation which is true by definition can be astute.

These people really think that we should go to war in Syria because they really think the opposition is mostly populated by moderates (in the Western sense of the word) who really will be able to take control of the state once Assad falls.

This is how subtle biases, bad social science, and activism can meet in the perfect storm and lead to bad foreign policy decisions and worse. Sometimes when academics get it wrong, people die.

By Rusty Shackleford, Ph.D. at 03:12 PM | Comments |