As Jeffrey Alexander argued within the context of American politics, performance is often more important than the Habermasian ideal of debate and facts. He applies his theory on performance and evaluates it within the context of the American President. But the ideas and theory that he presents in “Performance in Politics” is far more widely applicable than one position, or even one country.
For over a decade now, the American military has been conducting a campaign for “hearts and minds” in the Middle East (specifically in Afghanistan, though the strategy has been applied elsewhere). But there is a fundamental error in this strategy – Americans will always be outsiders in the Middle East, and in order to win hearts and minds away from Al Qaeda, you need the alternative to be a societal insider.
ISIS has begun conducting it’s own elaborate and advanced campaign for hearts and minds within the borders of its perceived “islamic State.” More than just being a terrorist organization, ISIS is trying to become a state, a government with political leaders and citizens, the whole shebang. And in order to be a state, ISIS has changed tactics. It’s trying to resemble more of a militaristic fascist soon-to-be state in the style of Hitler Germany than the decentralized network of terrorists that it’s (former) parent organization Al Qaeda is.
In other words, ISIS has begun to “perform” in a way that Alexander could understand, albeit without the strains of democracy present in American political performances. But despite not being a democracy, ISIS still needs public support in order to succeed at its goal of establishing an Islamic state and uniting Syria and Iraq under Caliphate rule. And that means propaganda – lots of it.
The U.S. should know by now that another “hearts and minds” strategy will not work. But more than that, it’s not needed. Because the people of the Middle East have responded with their own “hearts and minds” strategy – one that has been long used in a culture where direct attack and criticism is frowned upon: Satire.
Satire is the art of supporting the opposing viewpoint in order to show just how ridiculous it is. So these comical satirists in the Arab world are not making shows that tell you how stupid ISIS is and what a terrible idea it would be to join them. They’re not telling you how ISIS has got Islam all wrong and you shouldn’t listen to them. Instead they’re showing the audience through cartoons, bugs bunny style. They’re obeying the age-old writer’s precept of “Show, don’t tell” – which is never more applicable than for satire.
Within the Arabic culture, satire is a permissible way to criticize and attack. But more than that, it’s an effective tool for winning hearts and minds away from an organizations with so many holes in its logic it might as well be a satirist’s dream come true. Satire is a way to debate and arrive at the truth, as Habermas idealized, while recognizing the inherent need for performance in order to get people to pay attention, as Alexander emphasizes.
Alexander, Jeffrey C. The Performance of Politics: Obama’s Victory and the Democratic Struggle for Power. New York: Oxford UP, 2010. Print.