An owl's eye view of forests and trees

Everyday Critical Thought Exercises: Qatar and Meme Propaganda

Based on recent reporting on Qatar, I thought I’d offer some basic advice on handling memes we encounter.  Hint: today let’s add exercising caution into our daily routines.

 

From time to time, I’d like to start posting a few shorter articles on thinking more critically based the kinds of things we encounter in our everyday. Like memes, advertisements, headlines, and so on.

 

LET’S WARM UP

 

With that in mind, I encountered an article on Snopes about links between the Trump campaign, the United Arab Emirates, and a diplomatic crisis in the Persian Gulf revolving around treatment of Qatar.

 

 

You may remember from last year that several nations cut off diplomatic ties to Qatar and called for what amounts to a blockade of the country.  Allegedly because Qatar funded terrorism, although strong indicators, at the time, were that this related more to religious sectarian conflicts in the region and money, than any alleged connection to terrorist activities.

 

You may also recall that President Trump tweeted very triumphantly, at the time, in support of punishing Qatar:

 

During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar – look!

 

[G]ood to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!

 

Qatar is not just a U.S. ally. It’s a major reason why we can have any operations in the Middle-East, as it allows us to house U.S. operations at the Al Udeid Air Base.  The base also hosts the forward headquarters of the U.S. Central Command and the U.S. Air Forces Central Command.  The air strip is the only long, big strip capable of handling significant or bigger operations that the U.S. has available in the area. And Qatar does not have to continue to allow the U.S. to stay.

 

Regardless of how you may feel about the U.S. getting involved in the Middle-East, it is there now. We can’t turn back that clock.  If the U.S. wants to launch major operations in the area, it needs a base like that one.

 

No let’s put this in perspective. Qatar is willingly hosting foreigners, allowing them to conduct military strikes from Qatar on fellow Muslim countries.  I think you’d agree that radical Muslim groups would not take kindly to this.  Qatar is an ally that is willingly painting a target on its back to continue to allow us to do what we feel we must do in the area.

 

And our President tried to side with those kicking it to the curb.  Now, the administration had to step back from the President’s tweets. It has since tried to offer itself as a neutral and an arbiter, but the crisis is not yet resolved, nearly a year later.

 

LET’S START WITH SOME GENTLE STRETCHES

 

The Snopes article points to discovered monetary incentives for the Trump administration and other U.S. politicians to back the move against an ally like Qatar.  While the main point of the article and its findings is “follow the money,” something else stood out to me:

 

According to federal documents, London-based defense contractor SCL Social, which is best known in the U.S. via its American counterpart Cambridge Analytica, landed a $333,000 contract with the UAE government in September 2017 to pump social media channels full of posts labeling Qatar as a terror sponsor and smearing its state-owned global news network Al Jazeera as ‘dangerous’ and ‘radical.’ Qatar is an American ally and home to the largest U.S. military base in the Middle East.

 

The U.S. last year tried to kick a vital ally to the curb apparently because of cash and memes.  Look at President Trump’s tweets above. He bought into and then tried to sell the propaganda.

 

I have to ask. What have we become? Why don’t we care more about what we’ve become?

 

NOW LET’S START REALLY EXERCISING

 

So here’s an exercise for all of us in our daily life:

 

  • Don’t cast a ballot based on memes.
  • Don’t make or support domestic policy based on memes.
  • Don’t make or support foreign policy based on memes.

 

That goes for the President, Congress, and every single one of us.

 

Yes, it is bad foreign governments are using social media to spread propaganda to other countries. But it’s also bad that so many of us keep willingly swallowing it.

 

So, when you see a meme, exercise stepping back and thinking instead.

 

Stop buying into this kind of stuff, no matter where it comes from. Treat everything like this as if it’s coming from a used car salesperson. Exercise caution, fact check, check under the hood, and kick the tires before proceeding.

 

4 Comments

  1. Ross Anderson

    The gentle, matter-of-fact way in which you phrased this reminds me a of an anti-smoking ad from thirty or so years ago. It was a beautiful animated montage of a man resting under a tree. Pastel color choices abounded. The narrator sounded like a PBS special aimed at five-year-old children as he explained why smoking was bad, The kicker, the summation statement at the end of the ad was something like this:

    “Why am I telling you all this like you’re a child? Because when we talk to you like an adult, You Don’t Listen.”

    • Ann Anderson

      While that is a nice comment, it is not my intent to condescend here. The attraction to following memes is very understandable, but, in my opinion, the practice itself is very harmful. And the more we practice it, the more it becomes our default, or norm. So we need to shake ourselves out of this kind of complacency and practice questioning things that come in such pat little answers. Easier said than done, once we’ve gotten into the habit of believing in memes.

      It’s so seductively simple at the start too. It’s a meme here and a meme there, not many. Just a few that seem to really make sense, or so simple that they must be true/make sense. Until you look behind the facts or events they cover and realize that they simplify a bit too much. But if we accept those first few about benign things, it becomes easier and easier and more of a habit to accept others for more serious issues and end up basing our opinions and actions on completely misleading or false information. All the while feeling the headiness of being righteous.

      The habit of buying into memes is understandably addictive. Which is why, in this exercise, I call for more of a “cold turkey” approach. Don’t trust any of them without investigation. I know you’ve been told it for most of your lives folks, but knights did not need a system of pulleys and cross bars to get into the saddle, and the Egyptian pyramids were not built by aliens from outer space or to store grain. If you can’t trust the pat answers from history, you should not trust the ones for today’s world.

  2. Ross Anderson

    Last line, “… You Should NOT trust the ones for today’s world.”

    • Ann Anderson

      Thank you. I have edited accordingly.

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