Middle East Notes and Comment: Made for Television Events
September 15, 2004
As news of kidnappings and beheadings flowed out of Iraq this summer, it was easy to assume that Iraq had fallen into a state of primordial chaos. The brutal forces of tribalism and barbarity appeared to be triumphing, and the modern appeared to be giving way to the medieval.
Such a reading misses much of what is important in present-day Iraq. What is happening is not a return to a premodern past, but a blast forward into a postmodern future. In fact, many of these kidnappings and beheadings are best thought of as made-for-television events; a calculated set of actions and images directed toward influencing a mass audience. In this way, the audience is often more important than the action itself, and the symbolism is inseparable from the strategy. Missing this vital point can lead to precisely the wrong response.