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Streets and nonsense

I am watching the BBC current affairs Newsnight. What a truly rich feast of stuff to look at. The main item was about the U.S. government’s response to the stories of atrocities by U.S. forces. Now I won’t go into the specifics but one point bugged me. It was the way in which the BBC presenter endlessly went on about the ‘Arab Street’.

Now, I no doubt imagine that the sort of persons who go on about the ‘Arab Street’ are sincere in imagining that all those who live in what is the Middle East are part of some common community, or ‘street’. But what is all too rarely pointed out is that this term in fact bands together tens of millions of very different individuals under one banner. It is a form of unthinking collectivism. The truth, of course, is that there is no such thing as an ‘Arab Street’, any more than there is a ‘Western Street’, ‘Asian Street’, or ‘North American Street’.

I hate to point out the blindingly obvious to collectivists on the Guardianista left and the isolationist right, but there are no ‘streets’ of this sort. The world is a tad more complex than that.

19 comments to Streets and nonsense

  • j

    so what s the deal are u guys a british group. what y’all into.

  • This reminds me of the orders that came down from somebody in the Reagan or George H.W. Bush administration: “Never say “The White House wants something.” Buildings don’t have wants. ”

    Streets don’t have emotions, or maybe that concept is too much for these folks to understand.

    Good Luck

  • James

    I think part of the reason it’s used so much (particularly on the anti-war side) is that it confers a sense of “consensus by majority” on whatever their own opinions are. By saying “the Arab Street is outraged”, they can make it sound as though the entire region is a monolithic demographic, and just so happens to agree with them. An argument from numbers.

  • Aral Simbon

    Er – Arab Street no. Guardianista yes?

  • Peter Gridley

    This post is a great example of how to turn a perfectly defensible (but not all that critical) point into pointless nitpicking, all for the sheer opportunity of typing the words “collectivism” and “Guardianista” a few more times.

    Simply railing against misguided generalization won’t buy you a good political argument, or at least it won’t help you sell it.


  • Peter Gridley

    Breathless nitpicking, eh Peter? Er, I was just pointing out that certain types in the British media unthinkingly use certain terms and rarely pause to inspect what they actually mean.

    Sorry but the nitpicking of lazy journalism is one of the things blogs can be useful for. Sorry if that upsets you.

  • Johnathan

    Sorry, the above comment was by me, not Peter Gridley. Not sure WTF happened. apols.


  • A_t

    … so next time anyone says the “American people” are resolved or strong or anything, or the “British people” are independent and fair-minded, can I point out these fictional entities are just a collection of diverse individuals?

    I think the “arab street” is just a handy term to summarise the pan-arab solidarity which *does* exist, at least to some degree, and plays a strong part in the affairs of the Middle-east. If you can think of a better term for it, then suggest away!

  • Ben

    The Arab street, whatever it is supposed to mean, is not going to react the way the Beeb thinks it will. For starters, the US is prosecuting the soldiers involved in this incident. This is something that does not ever happen in the Arab world. A government offical tortures someone, he is promoted. Not sent to jail.

    If anything, this is just going to freak them out and confuse them. And eventually show them that maybe this is a better way of doing things than what they do in their own countries at present.

  • Jacob

    You miss the point. You see, Americans or Brits – they are “people” (like in “American people”). The Arabs are not people – they are “the Arab street”, an irrational, incitable, hotheaded mob.
    Therefore, you must take special care never to say bad things about Islam, Arabs, terrorists, suicide killers and such, as this will tend to incite the hotheaded and terrible “Arab street”.
    Criticism of the “American people”, on the other hand is ok, they will understand you and accept it coolly and understandingly, and many will even applaud.
    It seems this is the message the Guardianistas are conveying. Is this somewhat racist ? Impossible. It is well known that lefties are never racist, racism is to be found exclusevly on the right.

  • How dare you demand that they think in a more “nuanced” way ? They invented nuance !! They have the monopoly on nuance !

  • Theodopoulos Pherecydes

    Since none of the roughly 20 countries that have Arabic as a first language is a constitutional democracy, I suppose “Arab Street” is a metaphor for public opinion.

  • Joe

    And we know about that little S&M club because of who?!? hm? give up?

    The US Army.

  • Jimmy Espy

    When they say “the Arab Street,” they mean a mob.

  • Ginny

    Is this the same Arab street that was going to rise up all over Europe as America entered Iraq? Or is this the Arab street that in country after country has been pressuring its leaders for reform during the last year? It has seemed to me that the Guardian seems not to have mastered sufficient Arabic to be a wise translator of the Arab street. I am not bothered by someone using that as a metaphor for public opinion (or the White House for the executive point of view), but I do find the phrase used by those who don’t have any idea at all of what those people think. (I’m not under the illusion that the Arab street finds America attractive or wants us to invade; I’m also pretty sure that they would not find the Guardian’s Utopia very attractive.)

  • “Atrocities”?

    I think you mean genocidal.madman.world.class.torture.inhumane.inhuman.unbelievable.stinking.rotten.lower-than-low.wildly.over.the.top.extreme.prolly-worse-than-the-holocaust.and.Hiroshima.put.together.running.out.of.breath.it’s.so.bad.brutal.Orwellian.torture.and.sadistic.ritual.humiliation.by.the.baby.killing.brainwashed.monsters.who.comprise.the.U.S.military.industrial.complex.much.hated.yank.bastidges.

    I mean, let’s call it what it is – the worst thing since the, er, well, since somebody killed Jesus, basically.

    Not that I’m piling on or getting hysterical about it, or using it as an excuse to bash hateful.Bush’s.America.idiot.cowboy.arrogant.imperialists or anything.

  • Not everyone on the isolationist right is a collectivist. Surely this is a generalisation.

    I prefer the phrase: I am an isolationist but I am not sure if I am right. You have to be scared of those who think they are.

  • Marcus Lindroos

    > I hate to point out the blindingly obvious to
    > collectivists on the Guardianista left and the
    > isolationist right, but there are no ‘streets’ of this
    > sort. The world is a tad more complex than that.

    Ahem. When it comes to naive black&white simplicisme, it is difficult to beat the pro-war neoconservative Right. Or most Samizdatistas for that matter.


  • Johnathan Pearce

    Marcus, oooh, you are hurtful! Seriously, I was trying to make the point that both the anti-war left and right have tended to assume that the whole Arab world is a homogenous mass. In a strange inversion of the usual pattern, the “pro-war naive neocons” thought it might be possible to change things along a better direction, at least in Iraq, while the Chomskyite left and the isolationist right have tended to assume that no change is really possible, at least not any change requiring force of arms. Hence my comment.

    Sorry if my remark about “Guardianistas” upset you though. There’s no way to hide it: I loathe that paper, apart from the footy page at the back.