Our democracy isn’t the cure-all

Prominent UK blogger Norman Geras, both pro Iraq war and Tony Blair, is a little confused about the non-Western world. He wrote the following a few days ago (in relation to my book The Blogging Revolution):

If there’s a half-baked notion out there somewhere about the West’s comparative disadvantage relative to some other places, you can bet it’ll turn up before long in the liberal press. Welcome to Media Guardian, Antony Loewenstein. He’s just come from telling us how ‘in repressive states, blogs and websites have become essential sources of information on topics… routinely shunned by channels for official propaganda’, when he throws in the obligatory detrimental comparison – detrimental, that is, to us lot:

These openings for citizens in the non-western world to be heard are far more empowering than the equivalent outlets in our own societies. But how often do we hear these voices in the west?

September 11, for example, should have been the perfect opportunity for the western media to listen to the grievances of the Muslim world. Alas, with notable exceptions, indigenous voices were excluded then and still remain largely absent from the pages of the world’s leading papers.

I suppose that ‘with notable exceptions’ saves Loewenstein from the inconvenience that the grievances of the Muslim world have been rather widely aired in Western media. But consider what you have to come up with in order to explain why the same facilities that empower people in repressive states seem to be smothered by a suffocating cushion of media inattention or bias in democratic societies. Could there be a conspiracy? Or perhaps some very sophisticated method of thought-control which those repressive states haven’t yet figured out how to use?

Geras, like so many supposed intellectuals since 9/11, simply assume that Western culture and media are superior to the rest of the world. It doesn’t even enter their heads that there may be profound issues with the ways in which our media operates and reports on the rest of the globe. Being “complicit enablers” of state power, in the words of former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, isn’t viewed as a problem.

Living in the UK or any Western world is a privilege in terms of opportunities, but as I point out in my book, despite the serious restrictions and censorship, the online communities in places like Egypt and Iran are probably far more engaged in the political process than a country such as Britain.

But then, Geras wouldn’t really know that; he only reads about these places in the mainstream media.