Wednesday, November 5, 2008

U.S./Somalia Links, Associative Meanings

Nuruddin Farah has complicated ideas about the U.S.'s role in Somalia, and he forms associations in his novel that bring those complexities to the fore. He sees the difficulties of international intervention in his country, as well as the necessity. Farah, however, makes a distinction between helping the other and helping one's self. Farrah points to the difficult relationship between the effort on the ground in the U.S./U.N. intervention, and the media portrayal of the situation that has the ability to sway public opinion. Farah posits the idea that American foreign policy is as much a TV show as anything else, "a circus for the benefit of prime-time TV back home." The link between the media and American identity makes it hard for motives to be seen as altruistic (all the more appropriate that I use an image from a movie to begin this post).

The complexity of the situation is also written in religious terms. One of Farah's protagonists explains his "misgivings about saints and angels ... especially as I fear that people describe the Yankees as 'good angels' come on a humanitarian mission, to perform God's work here. Do you think Yankees ceased being angels, because of the conditions met here, conditions that wouldn't permit them to perform any work but Satan's? When do angels cease to be angels and resort to being who they are, Yankees?" Farah embeds religious terms in the political questions in an way that draws the two together.

The links he forms ask the crucial questions. How does the media influence foreign policy and subsequently the lives of individual Somalis? How can humanitarian goals be forgotten so quickly when things begin to go wrong on the ground? And then link the two - the media, humanitarian ideals gone wrong - an ethical imbalance?

18 comments:

MBins said...

I feel the way the media influences our foreign policy can be understood by looking at our form of government. As a Republic, the people's attitudes and opinions greatly influence what direction our elected leaders take us in. Nothing has more of an influence on shaping public opinion than the media. We see this through out our history. It can be seen in the eventual withdraw of U.S. troops in Vietnam, because of the extensive gruesome media coverage of the war that turned public opinion against it. Public opinion influences our government's policies and the media influences the public's opinions.

hdgie411 said...

The media has a large amount of influence on the foreign policy of America. We are a country that has a very politically uneducated populace. The number one source of information for the American people is the media. Thus, the US peoples' attitudes are influence greatly by what they hear in the media. The American people put way too much faith in the reporting of the media.

This has a huge impact in the lives of the Somali's, because how it is reported on the world stage by the media sets the world attitude towards the country. For example, if the media shows kids starving and people dying, then the world will take pity on the country and be more willing to help.

The humanitarian goals are only good for as long as they are convenient to the donating country. If people start getting killed and the point starts to get lost in the violence, then they are more likely to just pull out and give up. This was the problem in Somalia as different supranational organizations tried to help.

Mr Floyd Waters said...

In conversation about the intentions of American military in Somaia, Bile makes the assertion,

“The U.S. Forces failed to define why they really came to Somalia in he first place, soon after the Gulf War. This was never made clear. The 'good' Americans, just back from defeating Bad Guy Saddam, were seen on TV holding a dozen starving babies at a feeding center – a picture of postcard quality.”

No single objective, sourced to a single cause, defined the intentions of U.S. Forces. Instead of a concrete reason 'why' they arrived in Somalia, America relied on a distinction of their own construction – the difference between 'good' and Bad. The author's use of lower case and indirect quotations is most certainly intentional here. This distinction served in the Gulf War, because the proper name, Saddam, existed to fill in as capitalized Bad. In contrast, America represents the lower case and single-quoted 'good' – not absolute or objective by any means. Distinguishing between their own 'good' selves and the Bad enemy was inappropriate in the context of Somali civil war, and the use of religious motive, implied by Bile's imagery of the angelic and demonic, matches the misapplied distinction between 'good' and Bad.

Otherization becomes one effect of viewing Somalia through the distorted lens of 'good' and Bad. All Somalis became improperly represented by the feuding clans. The spokesman of the UN assumed he was talking about the same groups of people when he said “we fed them” and “they killed us”. A recipient of America's 'good' intentions vanished with the fading distinction between those perpetuating violence and those suffering because of it. Media portrayal contributed to this further by failing to provide complete context for the violence in Somalia. I'm not sure anyone is still fully convinced we have “fair and balanced” reporting by the media in America, but if you still need a little convincing, here's a presentation visually representing proportional coverage time by country across the span of a recent year.

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/alisa_miller_shares_the_news_about_the_news.html

lindsay said...

The media is a very high influence of forging policy is which can be portrayed always negatively. The media seems to only shown negative tendencies of events going on, one of which is forging policy. The media is also a guiding hang in influencing ones opinion of thinking on individual issues in which the government possesses. Somalia lives are a great display of these issues, forcing certain opinions created by media and government officials. Humanitarian goals seem to be forgotten due to lack of media interest. Once a bigger and better story comes around, the media seems to turn its attention to "the bigger picture "Media is very influential, creating false images of the truth, yet without some type of coverage, one can be lost in a single event that is occurring.

Recoleta09 said...

In this day and age, the media is one of those things that is necessary for citizens to be informed on what is occurring around the world. Yet, as it serves as this primary window of information it often fails to reveal a well-rounded story. The media is a powerful mechanism: an art form really, that displays pictures, sounds, and video clips that unearth emotion in its viewer. Agreeing with what we’ve discussed in class and to the posts above, the media coverage on the war in Vietnam was the first time, US citizens outside of the military could grasp the horrors of war. Besides my personal belief that the media is a jaded and corrupt establishment currently, it really can be a very positive tool to enrich awareness of current issues facing Somalis in the future. How the information is presented can leave the audience feeling empathetic and willing to serve the citizens of Somalia or it can be a deterrence- leaving the audience fed up with the way in which the situations are handled.
What our media today has come to though is more of a reflection of our sensationalized culture. We are fed tragedy and negativity which continually keeps viewers glued to the television or newspaper but yet doesn’t that lead to apathy or a numbness to violence and misery? All of this terrorism coverage… does the media not instill fear in the people?? The media has a heavy role in foreign policy. The way it displays certain governments and citizens’ reactions can influence many movements. I am aware that the war in Iraq has been mismanaged by many ill informed instigators but I wonder why positive instances taking place in the Middle East are not being demonstrated through the media. Personally, I have heard countless stories from many family members and friends serving in Iraq. I think that such images of America, could give the US some great PR internationally. Or how about our movies? Instead of so much war, why can’t we make more Hollywood movies dedicated to inspirational people/movements?
On the ground humanitarian goals can go wrong because we are all human. Although unfortunate and frustrating, many times leadership fails to make well-thought out and educated decisions on matters... Due to this, many institutions with great power fail to recognize or understand cultural, ethnic situations occurring in the areas they hope to aid/change. With humanitarian assistance, something innately good, it can be mismanaged by the governments receiving the aid. This is where America could improve its oversight of where the aid is going in such pariah states as Nigeria or Somalia, where the government does not distribute its aid fairly among the citizens. On the other end, I think superpowers could do a better job at administering aid to countries in dire need whether or not they necessarily obtain anything in return.

reduserisk said...

I honestly can't say just how much media effects foreign policy, but it definitely effects public opinion, which to a degree can effect foreign policy when voted on. This can definitely effect the lives of Somalis becuase it not only impact whether or not a military action is taken but how people around the world view them.

Humanitarian goals are just like any other goals....meaning when there are things placed in front of us that take priority we push other goals to the side. When things begin to go poorly on the ground and lives are being taken due to violence, it is easy to forget the humanitarian goals and make the top priority survival, even at the cost of the lives of others.

I definitely think that their is real potential for a breach of ethics when trying to combine the media, humanitarian goals, and a war torn country. But so long as the motives are pure, the country is stable enough to handle intervention, and the humanitarian goals are realistic, then its ok.

rjrpat said...

Today, media covers the world and can change ones views from having and educated assumption to an emotional decision. As I have seen multiple times from different accounts and events from overseas, the media is very bias twords the audience that they are broadcasting to. The media is not just molded to their audience but is also molded by the central government or lack of government within the audiences area. If the public is won over by the media that is controlled or influenced by the government then the nation or area is now in support of the government in most decisions that are made. For instance with war, U.S. will not show the death of enimies nor give the total number of enemy troops killed but will give the amount of U.S. troops not only killed but also injured to slowly develop an emotional tie from civilians to troops. As the govenment manipulates the media and wins over the public, it can further strengthen or weaken the international policies of multiple governments.

bailarina said...

I agree and disagree with rjrpat. I think that the media does have the power to sway a person's decision through pathos. We have seen this in many elections, wars, riots, etc.

I don't think, however that the media in the US is "controlled" by the government. It may feel threatened and may even be censored, but most of what the media says and does is not controlled. Call me naive, blind, or even an idiot; I think that many times when our government censors the media, it is for the good of our country. A lot of writers will write anything to get a rise or to make the front page. This includes unearthing secrets that threaten national security if published and publishing graphic images that are scarring to our society.

As for influencing foreign policy, the media definitely plays an important role. As in the Black Hawk Down incident, the US soldier shown being dragged through the street forced an impression of Somali people on citizens of other countries. Because of that one image many people probably see Somalis as savages who aren't worth saving.

sikes688 said...

The media puts everything under a gaze, every move meticulously watched and studied. It looks for any opportunity to twist events to serve whatever bias to which it has subscribed at the time. The Somalis, in this instance, are at a disadvantage because any bad move will be broadcast and used as an excuse to deny them aid. Humanitarian efforts will inevitably be abandoned if the participants face more danger than the aid they will give is worth to themselves. This idea gets into Mauss's idea of "The Gift" which believes that every gift is given with the expectation of something in return. To aid the Somalis, they must have something to offer the humanitarians that outways the dangers portrayed by the media.

lu2009 said...

The media only shows us bits and pieces and they get to pick and choose what we see. We most likely see what's the worst for us and not as much bad for other countries, this could make us disagree with our foreign policy and demand change when we don't know the whole story. Somalis see it as us benefiting and then question our motives. Humanitarian goals can quickly be forgotten so quickly when things go wrong because suddenly the goal becomes to save yourself and no longer to help the other country. When it's the US going in to do what we think is helping a country like Somalia and the next thing we know, our soldier is being drug around, we are quick to blame Somalia and say they are resisting when it's really just them protecting themselves and keeping us from doing damage to them for the benefit of good tv. The media causes humanitarian ideas to go wrong

ahelton said...

To me it seems that the media, and perhaps all of us, forget the cost of war. Going into a hostile environment and expecting to come a way with no casualties is far from realistic. It seems that the media often "plays-up" (at least in this novel) death and destruction once it hits the home-front--If one American dies, its time to load up and come home...we did all we could. This proves that we never had real intentions of actually helping out Somalia as a whole...as well as on an individual basis. America's action in this "war-effort" reminds me of a child sulking/rebelling because he did not get his way.

TexasAggie09 said...

The media definitely influences foreign policy. They treat it almost as if it's entertainment and not give it really a blunt, honest assessment. Most Americans really have no idea what is really happening overseas. For the most part we know what the media shows us. The Somalis were shown almost as the ones who were the culprits and agitators, but the whole story was not relevant to the media so they did not show it. The complete story is what the media lacks sometimes. Most people have a short-ranged memory when it comes to foreign things, such as the Somalis. Once it's relevance left, there was no need to think about it. Unfortunately, the situation never died out and now it's worse than ever. People, especially Americans, only cast the importance on what the media shows us and lets us think that's important. Once that element of importance has left the media, the humanitarian aid slowly dies as well.

tay123 said...

I think that the media has such a strong impact on foreign policy and what is going on far away in the world, that its effects aren't even completely understood. When something tragic happens in another country, what we know about it comes from what we hear on the news or read in the newspaper. How that particular person reporting it decides to portray the incident is how the majority of the American people are going to see it. How the American people few an incident usually determines how much effort the United States is going to put forth to stop it. So, ultimately, the media indirectly controls the roles of the United States in foreign affairs. By appealing to human emotion, the media has realized the power that they contain.

Caitlin Van Wagoner said...

we live in a world where the memory of the public is only so long as a news cycle. in an age of technology; technology based on better and faster communication. it stands to reason that, in this world, international policy is enormously affected by the media. how certain situations play out on television, the internet, and in newspapers has the ability to greatly influence how the public views this situation. if the government is truly supposed to be representative of the will of the people then media has to be considered in the equation. some could even argue that big media executives have more power over the public than some law makers. the thing that scares me the most is that the media is accountable to virtually no one. and how can we expected to make responsible and well thought out decisions when we are, at best, getting our information second hand?

mimi7557 said...

The media has a big responsibility because they in a sense control what the people know about any given situation. They can control public opinion by choosing what they allow you to know about a situation, which is usually the negative aspect of it. Death and destruction is the majority of what people hear about. People know this yet continue to allow the media to influence their opinions, resulting in the media's control of public opinion and foreign policy. The original goal is lost in the negative reactions of the people.

hurrayforstuff said...

Media is a weird thing. I feel like we have the right to be informed, but if the information is misleading or inaccurate, then the already uneducated Americans will participate in democracy with their decisions being based on misleading and inaccurate information. When they see dying babies and murdered woman, of course we will opt to "go in" as the typical human would feel the need to stop that. but if we don't know what's really going on, that is, if we are not living there, and we are not, then i almost feel like we shouldn't even be allowed to know whats going on via media. the average person's heart, rather than their brain, will elect officials to stop the atrocities.thus affecting the lives of the somalis when we go in shooting.

ZJCH said...

WE definitely have the right to be informed, and the job of the media should be to provide us with "fair and balanced" news coverage. However, the media only seems to ever provide the "juicy" stuff that will attract more and more attention to help with their ratings; thus, this leads the majority of the American public to be mis-informed and uneducated on certain topics. As the news media is controlled more and more by liberal-sided people, such as CNN for example, they will always provide gruesome statistics, images, and media coverage during war-times in order to cause negative views about war and making the American public believe that we need to back out now. Like ahelton said in a comment, if one American troop dies or if just a few die, the media will be all over that event and portray it as a losing battle and that we need to get out of that horrible place now! As long as the media is kept as a corrupt establishment, Americans who do not actually do their research (which is a huge majority of people) will always stay ill-informed and just go along with whatever has been "fed" to them.

Pellerino87 said...

The media definitely can persuade different people to think whatever they want. They can bend the truth to make people see what they want to see, instead of what could actually be happening. Initial goals can be forgotten in desparate situations. The decision-making of a leader can be skewed, making it very difficult to stay the path that was orinigally intended. This can happen especially when the desparate situations lead to the deaths of friends and loved ones.

In the end, humanitarian ideals are meant to be for the best of everyone, but when the media intervenes, it has selective meaning, geared towards the things that it's viewers really want to see or believe. This could lead to people forgetting the initial humanitarian goal and getting rid of the "problem" before them altogether.