Blogging about Canada in Afghanistan: discourse predictions for 2010
Today President Obama will act as The Decider regarding the lives of men and women serving in the U.S. military – 30,000 troops will be added into Afghanistan, for a total of 100,000. Who will do the new calculations for the ratio of soldiers to citizens in that war ravaged country? Obama’s decision will sweep a curve throughout the world and already, Canada’s role is caught in it. The blog-o-sphere will hum with the day’s events.
Yesterday I attended an energetic and thought provoking conference on our nation’s role in Afghanistan. Today, a few observations on language. As Canada approaches our A/Stan withdrawal date in 2011 and another possible federal election looms, I predict we will see in our mainstream media and our blogging community, more instances of conjuring the ghost of Vietnam over Afghanistan. This rhetorical device will grow more controversial as NATO troops on the ground dig in. In Canada the role of women’s rights will continue to be a flash-point for how to determine the success of our mission in Afghanistan. The debate over Canada’s role in that country will increasingly reveal these discourse trends:
Lazy: Bloggers who don’t visit Afghanistan or don’t write as fans of those who do, will be criticized as lazy or worse, illegitimate. But the essence of blogging, like all writing is a kind laziness in the sense of say, writers compared to soldiers, those who do the living and dying, the hefting of many pounds of equipment under a 40 degree sun, who haul water to their comrades under the rat-tat-tat fire of weapons, the men and women who build things, who blow things up, who kill for us. To be the writer and not the soldier is to embody a certain kind of laziness. Plato understood this when he called poets, liars and enemies of the Republic. Canadians will hear more from “foreign returned” commentators.
Selective: In the coming year Canadians will see an intensification of commentators charging each other with “being selective.” Each “side” will marshal their arguments and herald “real” information – for full withdrawal, military withdrawal but continuing advisory and developmental aid, for “staying the course,” for increasing troops in response to a request from NATO & the U.S.
And “real-true-accurate” will increasingly mean data, experiences and commentary from those embedded in Afghanistan.
But all rhetoric, opinion, even knowledge and all writing, especially blogging, is inherently selective. We buttress our claims by pulling bits and pieces from the fabric of culture – from the culling of eye witness accounts,testimony, news,commentary, and academic research; from The Bible-Koran-HolyBook-Oracle ( an egregious practice!); from The Law (The Law is the Father), sometimes from poetry . This is the art of polemic, found now most often online, the new century’s discourse arena. Bloggers are pamphleteers; our market square, the internet.
Wrong Group: Your group is legitimate. My group is suspect. This rhetorical device: ancient and part of a grand tradition. Denigrate your opponent. Canadians will continue to label some groups as “not real, not worthy, not legitimate” – for instance, one Afghanistan woman’s group, RAWA will be pitted against Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan. The reference to Malalai Joya, as a voice of her people, will continue, as will the denigration of Ms. Joya, as suspect.
This will arise out of a deeper collective sensation: confusion about what’s “really happening on the ground”. This confusion will transmogrify into wariness about supporting grassroots indigenous Afghan groups. In the lead up to 2011, Canadians will seek out the “real” in Afghanistan, and will want to know, who is worthy of our support, who is in the wrong or right group. Bloggers will get angry with each other, will rebut each other back and forth in posted comments, but will be linked like dance partners by technology.
The web as a place of dance – let us welcome a continuance and ask the gods to save us from lazy and selective writers. This last bit, irony; a rhetorical inflection which will increase as the US prosecuted war in Afghanistan deepens past Obama’s declaration of “over in three years.”