The headline caught my attention: “Islamic State Getting Trounced in Battle for Arab Hearts and Minds, Survey Finds.”
The news story, written by Joby Warwick, appeared online on April 12, 2016 in The Washington Post. Warwick reports on national security and the Middle East.
In this story, Warwick features a new opinion poll that shows the Islamic State “is seeing a steep slide in the support among young Arab men and women it most wants to attract.” The “survey suggests” that “overwhelming majorities”—“nearly 80%”—strongly oppose the Islamic State. That’s up from 60% a year ago.
More than half of the young Arabs surveyed ranked the Islamic State as the number one problem in the Middle East, and three-quarters predicted it would ultimately fail to establish an Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria. “The survey found” that even those who do sign up with the Islamic State are motivated by economic hardships and unemployment, not by religious fervor. Religion is a rationalization, not a motive. Respondents also “tended to rank stability over democracy as a coveted virtue for an Arab state.”
All of this likely is good news from the standpoint of most readers, even those who profess the virtue of democracy. Who can be against political stability over violent revolution by an alien force? And who within the US mainstream would disagree that economics is the most realistic of motives?
So Warwick’s news story reflects and reinforces the mythos of the country, America’s grand salvation narrative, reassuring a chosen people that they are doing the right thing. No need or moral reason to change course.
My attention peeked, however, at the end of Warwick’s report. Whether by design or not, a fragment of disconfirmation appeared in his final few sentences.
- “Arab youth were generally mixed in their views of the United States.”
- Over 60% saw the US as an “ally,” especially respondents in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
- “More than 90% of Iraqis regarded the United States as an enemy,” with similar results in Yemen and the Palestinian territories.
The emphasis is mine, not Warwick’s. I italicized the 90% figure because it is more or less buried in a story with a headline that otherwise massages the nation’s ego, much like a typical headline on the local sports page.
After how many hundreds of billions of dollars spent on the war in Iraq?
After how many thousands of US soldiers wounded and killed since the March 2003 US invasion of Iraq?
After such a long war fought with such idealistic purposes declared—to save Iraq from its brutal dictator, to liberate the Iraqi people, and to democratize the country.
After all that, the US is overwhelmingly perceived by the youth of Iraq as their enemy. Arab youth do not support the Islamic State by a figure of 80%, but young Iraqis reject the US by a figure of 90%.
The moral of the story, as written, seems to be that the US, at worst, gets a “mixed review” from Arab youth.
No, that’s not the moral of the story. It is instead a way of discounting the inconvenient 90% figure. And by sheer omission, the tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of largely civilian Iraqis killed—lives lost to the war—are ghosts unseen and unheard.
The tacit moral of this news story (by discounting and omitting inconvenient facts) is that the US is winning another righteous victory against evil incarnate. The Ugly American dons the mask of the American Underdog to snatch victory melodramatically from the jaws of defeat.