The growing mythic stature of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is the latest case in point. In an attempt to find some information on the figure, whose stature easily rivals that of Osama bin Laden, I wound up…confused. On the internet, I found a flurry of contradictions and conflicting claims about al-Zarqawi.

Some point to the growing sophistication of editing techniques in the grisly beheading videos – the manipulation of real time; the prolonging of sounds of anguish; the complexity of initial sequences, with animated graphics and titles – as evidence that al-Zarqawi is very much aware of the effect such propaganda has on a global audience. Motives attributed to al-Zarqawi in the making of these videos include the possible crumbling of support for auxiliary and support staff in Iraq, the pitching of anti-Americanism to would-be supporters and followers, and the overshadowing of Osama bin Laden himself as the main perpetrator of terror. As we know, a picture is worth a thousand words, and violent images have historically influenced the American public to pull out of Vietnam and Somalia. Such deft manipulation of information puts the media in an understandable quandary – to report or not to report.

But a whole other camp (take a look on the Internet for yourself) calls these videos Bush propaganda, noting how the videos seem to released at times where the administration finds itself in a tight spot – for example, the timing of the video released right after the story broke about Abu-Ghraib. Truthfully, amidst all the conflicting claims and utter lack of evidence, it is easy to see why some call al-Zarqawi a political invention. Senior members in the administration, after claiming in 2002 he was dead, now say, in a moment of honesty, they don’t know whether he’s alive or dead. And that’s especially important, because they have also repeatedly claimed that he is one of top people in al-Qaeda, who they have been pursuing since Sept. 11. What about the much questioned authenticity of the letter al-Zarqawi supposedly wrote to al-Qaeda? Even the little discrepancies: the fact that he’s supposed to have a fake leg, was not jiving with the person in the videos (supposedly al-Zarqawi) who beheaded Daniel Pearl and Nick Berg.

It may be that these critical bloggers are unreasonably infatuated with conspiracy theories, but the controversy over al-Zarqawi, whether it is deserved or not, reveals growing tension over an essential issue that is becoming increasingly more salient in modern politics: truth. The concept finds its root in antiquity. Briefly (one could spend entire classes on this), in the Republic, Plato believed in a single metaphysical truth (or the Form of the truth), which was part of a metaphysical reality that was the source of all goodness. The visible reality – the world in which we live – was merely a projection of the metaphysical reality (see the famous “Allegory of the Cave” from Republic, Book VII). Thus, by induction, how closely the truth in the visible world approximated its metaphysical counterpart was a measure of how “good” it was, and further, one could gain insight of the metaphysical truth (Truth) by understanding truths in the visible world. Thus, Plato envisioned a political world where philosophers (those lovers and students of Truth) were leaders. Another concept that Plato espoused was the so-called “noble lie,” which – without going into too much detail – was the lie told to society to prevent social unrest and maintain the order and harmony of a political system.

Cicero came along in the Roman Empire and described a world in which there were two forms of truths (see Treatise on the Commonwealth, Book I), the quasi-Platonic notion of truth and the political truth. The idea of the political truth is related to Plato’s “noble lie” and, essentially, it is the truth that politicans deliver to society to preserve order and harmony in society. That is, Cicero justified the withholding of Truth and the disemmination of a political truth to maintain social order. To some extent, this justification of lying is reasonable if we believe that the general welfare of society is the ultimate goal of politics. We can see that from Plato to Cicero, we have already strayed far from a utopian concept of truth and its role in political entities.

But to what extent should politicians withhold Truth, and moreover, how far should the political truth be allowed to deviate from the former? More than ever in our history, this two-thousand year-old question is becoming more important. And then the question becomes: what is the role of the media – is it responsible to society or to the government when it disseminates information?

Perhaps these recent blogs criticizing government flip-flopping on al-Zarqawi show us that society has become acutely aware of the noble-lie-induced stupor it has been in. Perhaps the maximal divergence between political truth and Truth has been crossed.

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The growing mythic stature of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is the latest case in point. In an attempt to find some information on the figure, whose stature easily rivals that of Osama bin Laden, I wound up…confused. On the internet, I found a flurry of contradictions and conflicting claims about al-Zarqawi.

Some point to the growing sophistication of editing techniques in the grisly beheading videos – the manipulation of real time; the prolonging of sounds of anguish; the complexity of initial sequences, with animated graphics and titles – as evidence that al-Zarqawi is very much aware of the effect such propaganda has on a global audience. Motives attributed to al-Zarqawi in the making of these videos include the possible crumbling of support for auxiliary and support staff in Iraq, the pitching of anti-Americanism to would-be supporters and followers, and the overshadowing of Osama bin Laden himself as the main perpetrator of terror. As we know, a picture is worth a thousand words, and violent images have historically influenced the American public to pull out of Vietnam and Somalia. Such deft manipulation of information puts the media in an understandable quandary – to report or not to report.

But a whole other camp (take a look on the Internet for yourself) calls these videos Bush propaganda, noting how the videos seem to released at times where the administration finds itself in a tight spot – for example, the timing of the video released right after the story broke about Abu-Ghraib. Truthfully, amidst all the conflicting claims and utter lack of evidence, it is easy to see why some call al-Zarqawi a political invention. Senior members in the administration, after claiming in 2002 he was dead, now say, in a moment of honesty, they don’t know whether he’s alive or dead. And that’s especially important, because they have also repeatedly claimed that he is one of top people in al-Qaeda, who they have been pursuing since Sept. 11. What about the much questioned authenticity of the letter al-Zarqawi supposedly wrote to al-Qaeda? Even the little discrepancies: the fact that he’s supposed to have a fake leg, was not jiving with the person in the videos (supposedly al-Zarqawi) who beheaded Daniel Pearl and Nick Berg.

It may be that these critical bloggers are unreasonably infatuated with conspiracy theories, but the controversy over al-Zarqawi, whether it is deserved or not, reveals growing tension over an essential issue that is becoming increasingly more salient in modern politics: truth. The concept finds its root in antiquity. Briefly (one could spend entire classes on this), in the Republic, Plato believed in a single metaphysical truth (or the Form of the truth), which was part of a metaphysical reality that was the source of all goodness. The visible reality – the world in which we live – was merely a projection of the metaphysical reality (see the famous “Allegory of the Cave” from Republic, Book VII). Thus, by induction, how closely the truth in the visible world approximated its metaphysical counterpart was a measure of how “good” it was, and further, one could gain insight of the metaphysical truth (Truth) by understanding truths in the visible world. Thus, Plato envisioned a political world where philosophers (those lovers and students of Truth) were leaders. Another concept that Plato espoused was the so-called “noble lie,” which – without going into too much detail – was the lie told to society to prevent social unrest and maintain the order and harmony of a political system.

Cicero came along in the Roman Empire and described a world in which there were two forms of truths (see Treatise on the Commonwealth, Book I), the quasi-Platonic notion of truth and the political truth. The idea of the political truth is related to Plato’s “noble lie” and, essentially, it is the truth that politicans deliver to society to preserve order and harmony in society. That is, Cicero justified the withholding of Truth and the disemmination of a political truth to maintain social order. To some extent, this justification of lying is reasonable if we believe that the general welfare of society is the ultimate goal of politics. We can see that from Plato to Cicero, we have already strayed far from a utopian concept of truth and its role in political entities.

But to what extent should politicians withhold Truth, and moreover, how far should the political truth be allowed to deviate from the former? More than ever in our history, this two-thousand year-old question is becoming more important. And then the question becomes: what is the role of the media – is it responsible to society or to the government when it disseminates information?

Perhaps these recent blogs criticizing government flip-flopping on al-Zarqawi show us that society has become acutely aware of the noble-lie-induced stupor it has been in. Perhaps the maximal divergence between political truth and Truth has been crossed.

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In America we are now seeing a divide which echoes the two kinds of ‘truth’ that Plato and Cicero wrote of. Ron Suskind’s piece in today’s NY Times Magazine (“Without A Doubt”) points to this. He quotes a senior Bush administration figure who disparages “what we call the reality-based community,” which holds the outmoded belief “that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality… We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”
While approximately half of America seems to be stuck in the “reality based community” of facts, figures, and outcomes, another significant portion of the citizenry embraces a ‘reality’ that is something created by resolute insistance and repetition, facts be damned. No WMD’s in Iraq? Saddam was a ‘gathering threat’. Job numbers down? The tax cuts are working.
I doubt that Plato could have foreseen the ‘noble lie’ extending into these new realms of suspension of disbelief. The ‘order and harmony’ that they maintain is increasingly difficult to see as well, either in Iraq or on the domestic political front. Of course, a good Rumsfeld press briefing is somewhat akin to shadows cast in a cave.
Al-Zarqawi may have once been an expediently motivating example of a cutthroat enemy- created or not- but for those of us in the reality-based community the beheadings are a vivid reminder of the failures of the Bush administration’s foreign policy.
As for that bum leg, maybe his recent fame has brought in enough money for him to buy a new prosthesis that is safer, stronger, and better.

Al-Zarqawi backs Bush! Bush’s biggest political coup! Headlines: http://wishesarehorses.blogspot.com/

Senate Approves More Offshore Drilling

with the House of Representatives, which wants even more drilling in waters now off-limits.


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