Knives, Lions, Children

by zunguzungu

New York Times, March 11, 2011

Delacroix, a long time ago

Jasper pointed out this visual rhyme on facebook, and it might help explain yesterday’s otherwise bizarrely patronizing and sneering New York Times article, “Libya’s Youth Revolt Veers Toward Chaos,” an article which goes to surprising lengths to portray the Libyan rebels as a bunch of kids having a lark:

Young men revel in the novelty of having no one to tell them not to play with guns. “God is great!” rings out whenever a volley of bullets is fired into the air. “Some guys consider this a lot of fun, and they’re hoping the war lasts a lot longer,” said Marwan Buhidma, a 21-year-old computer student who credited video games with helping him figure out how to operate a 14.5-millimeter antiaircraft battery.

Arabs as children, Africans as children… it’s an old, old story. And certainly there’s a bit of Orientalist theater mixed up in the mix. And certainly that guy is mugging for the camera. Is there anything to see here, other than the same old thing?

I don’t know. The thing I can’t get over is the weird way Anthony Shadid’s article places this “Youth Revolt” in the driver’s seat of this evolving clusterfuck, the way the implied answer to the implied question of why the “youth revolt” is “veer[ing] towards chaos” is given to us in the very act of calling it that in the first place. It is not a logistical failing; it is the quasi-moral failing of boys playing with guns. The fact that the rebel lines are collapsing — if they are — and Gaddafi’s army is gaining ground is not, say, the result of Gaddafi’s more professional, better armed, and much better supplied military force. In that article, the subject of all the important sentences are the youth themselves, whose military inferiority is seen to derive not from the superior force they face but from their own “moments of naïveté,” the way that “time and again, young people express amazement that Colonel Qaddafi’s forces would deploy tanks and warplanes against them…” But maybe if we talked about how and why the Gaddafi’s regime came to have those tanks and warplanes, that professionalism, and that army (or why it is that they’re rolling towards oil refining towns) we wouldn’t get to tell the story of Arabs with knives wrestling with lions? Maybe the absence of the thing the lion stands in for, the modernity of Western-allied dictatorship who , is the more important image? Or maybe I just wanted to write a post leading up to this image.

Who can tell. I’m so tired of the old stories…