The Fourth and Final Axis of Evil Analysis
Recently, I was at a seminar in the Netherlands where I met a young Israeli diplomat who thought one of Israel’s biggest external perception challenges was that the country was seen as under-developed. It was a polite and small gathering, but with a fascination for the perceptions of nations, I couldn’t help suggest that it was Israel’s policy towards Palestine, rather than the fact that people thought Israelis were tent dwelling, camel riders that may be impacting how people saw the nation – and in fact may have a greater impact on Israel’s long term security. Having worked for the British government in Iraq, I know that no matter how much you window-dress a situation – it’s the reality of the policy (and action) that dominates the narrative – and what you will be judged on.
I share this anecdote because I am still swirling in a sea of shock and concern having examined the fourth and final part to my ongoing Axis of Evil survey. I have already shared readers’ thoughts on Iraq, Iran and North Korea – but in this last installment, I look at the responses of readers when offered the chance to speculate on which nations they thought were “evil” in today’s world. They didn’t hold back. The perceptions of the nations concerned were astonishing. Knives were drawn.
Some readers asked me to define “evil”. I deliberately didn’t. As George Bush didn’t when he announced the evil three a decade ago. The fact is, I don’t really believe in it. I agree with the 7 per cent of respondents who said there was really no such thing as an out-and-out “evil” country. The questionnaire was set up to challenge prejudices and alert people to the propaganda of leaders (in particular Bush) and how you might be influenced by them – and, as it turns out – by the media too. But an overwhelming majority came straight out with naming and shaming places as being purely, greatly of simply “evil”. In fairness, many people went into detail to define evil acts or the reasons for their choices. But not all.
Some were singled out as evil: Tony Blair; Bush/Cheney/Rumsfield; Big Oil Republicans; those controlling the media; the rather poetic “brutal-evil CIA-Mossad Delta and Orange Forces”; and not just the state but a casting of the very “people of Pakistan” as evil (someone used the example of rose petals being showered on the assassin of the Punjab Governor as evidence of this). One person listed a huge range of countries as evil, but then included “ignorance” at the end. Hmmm. Another offered a complex sliding scale of evil – with Saudi at the top and the UK at the bottom (the later considered evil nonetheless). One even claimed that “everyone!” was evil.
The causes for evil were many – some said money, corruption, the deliberate destabilisation of other countries, communism, or “violent and nihilistic Islam”. Others said lunacy or the madness of leaders. In general we thought ignoring UN resolutions was evil, as were human rights abuses, bullying other nations, and an overuse of military power (5 per cent mentioned the invasion of Iraq as an Act of Evil). Nearly a quarter of readers believed that harboring or funding violent extremists was very evil indeed. And here is where Pakistan comes in…
The problem with Pakistan…
An Over Diagnosed Nation was my second piece of writing for Dawn about Pakistan. I stand by everything that I wrote in that article. My modest Axis of Evil survey showed that a staggering 56 per cent of respondents thought that Pakistan was categorically evil as a nation. That’s more than half – and masses more than the next most evil – the USA. At first I was cynical about the high numbers of Indian respondents and felt empathy for the India-Pakistan paranoia that is as rife as self-diagnosis. However, it soon became apparent that although more than half of respondents were from India (“Pakistan is evil, but not because I am an Indian”) many of the mud-slingers were from Pakistan itself (“Pakistan is evil, even though I’m Pakistani”). And the reasons for this claim were plentiful. The top reason, far outnumbering any other cause of evil for any nation was harbouring or funding terrorists.
This evil act was also credited for causes of evil in Saudi Arabia, Iran, India, Yemen, Palestine, Somalia, and Afghanistan. But to be fair, mostly to Pakistan. Other causes, pretty much reflected the much mused over “problems with Pakistan…”: corruption; lawlessness; the Baloch issue; double dealing with the USA; blasphemy laws; her false aspiration to “be like the Arabs”; for “not valuing the lives of it's own citizens”; and 4 per cent of people said Pakistan was evil for simply “being weak”. One person said Pakistan was evil because it was paranoid about India, which made me smile given the large number of Indian respondents.
And of course the “misuse of military power” is never far away from any rhetoric on Pakistan. It was bad. It felt like self-mutilation in places. And it was very angry. One person wrote, “Pakistan is one of the greatest evil nations”. Tears pricked my eyes. All the positive things I know Pakistan to be felt smashed. You won’t be surprised to hear that all this got me seriously thinking about how useful it is for a nation to be perceived in this way – either by it’s own people or by others.
A gold star should be given to the person who wrote that although Pakistan was evil, it had the potential to become a “beacon of hope for the Muslim world if a liberal leadership emerged”. More of this please.
Curiously, Pakistan was often mentioned in the same breath as Israel – and some parodied the nations as both being founded on faith – and perhaps the birth of each nation a painful, messy one. I will talk about it all being Britain’s fault in a moment. I was struck again by the Israeli diplomat’s research, which told him that Israeli nationals were fed up with being considered as people who rode camels in the desert. How far from the truth could this perception be? I immediately wanted to grab a clipboard and step out on the street and ask people about their perceptions of Israel – but I guess that would have been doing the diplomat’s work for him. The Pakistanis (and maybe the Indians) on the other hand, appear equally deluded and transfixed almost entirely with “everything that is bad” about Pakistan. There is perhaps a PhD thesis in studying each nations media and relating this to domestic self-esteem around nationality.
The American bully
The most common grouping offered as a new axis was Britain, Israel and America, with America topping the three. Thirty-two per cent of respondents thought the USA was an evil country – making it the second most popular choice. Several people thought it was “so obvious” why the US (and Israel) were evil, that they didn’t elaborate – but those that did, offered the invasion of Iraq (5 per cent); the war on terror; hating Muslims and spreading Islamophobia and Pakiphobia; and thought the USA was evil for “creating monsters like Afghanistan, Bin Laden, and Israel”. I was surprised that nobody mentioned drones in the sample I looked at.
America is aware that it has a perception problem, particularly in Pakistan. Many thought that Barrack Obama’s arrival in office would put an end to the perception of Islamobia, but actions speak louder than words. A quote from JS Knox that I often use in strategic communications seminars is “you cannot antagonise and influence at the same time”. Back to my previous point about window-dressing.
Israel … Its obvious (And China)
I was surprised at the third highest scoring “evil” nation. I quite expected Israel to be there as many of those that contact me rant about her ills, but China? To those studying public diplomacy in the west, China appears as the master of quiet diplomacy. At the Netherlands conference we marveled at the paper presented by the Chinese delegate – and over coffee someone suggested that China really had its overseas operations “sewn-up” with bold infrastructure projects in exchange for economic and mineral extraction deals.
But it seems the people, at least in this survey, are not fooled. Not forgetting this survey was announced in a Pakistani newspaper, I had assumed that as beneficiaries of Chinese “support” those close to Pakistan would view the country favourably. I’m not pointing the finger, but perhaps I have to remember that 50 per cent of respondents were from India. Reasons for Chinese evil were offered as: bullying/manipulating it’s neighbours (4 per cent); buying US bonds to blackmail USA in the future; her “potential” energy policies; and 2 per cent thought China was evil for supporting Pakistan and North Korea.
The main reason (when a reason was given) for Israel’s evil was, as I suggested to the Israeli diplomat – her treatment of Palestinians and the settlement situation. Others thought her relationship with India was evil, as well as her attitude towards her Arab neighbours. One person simply wrote “Israel is the illegitimate child of the west”. I will pass the news on to my Israeli friend.
All the other Evil places
Twenty-two other evil nations were named and shamed (see below), and as readers snorted their derision, I internally flinched each time my own nation was mentioned. As a former British diplomat I was uncomfortable (to say the least) about the invasion of Iraq and our alliance with the USA, and the shameful “dodgy dossier”, but I had no idea that Britain was still blamed for so many ills of the world. One reader described Great Britain as “the real ‘monkeys’ of Kipling’s ‘Jungle Book’”, and the UK was blamed for the situations in Kashmir, Iraq and Palestine. Partition was our fault as was “the Arab-Spring”. These are all claims that I am allowed to make as a Brit, but I realised how defensive I felt when someone else pointed the finger of evil.
Perhaps I am beginning to understand what it is like to be a Pakistani! The one claim that really flummoxed me was the claim that Britain was evil for “dragging the US into World War II”. I had honestly never, ever looked at it this way. As diplomatic scholars we are in awe of Churchill’s strategic communications campaign to persuade America to come to our aid (see “Selling War” it’s a fascinating read). America’s last minute “rescue of Europe” is seen as heroic – saving us from a sure life of fascism under Nazi rule. But I guess if you had relations in Hiroshima you might feel differently. I am always grateful to have my own perceptions challenged.
Media influencing opinion
In all three previous articles on Iraq, Iran and North Korea, I wrote about how the media had influenced our perceptions of a nation. The findings appear to be that the more we rely on the news media to influence our opinions of a country – the more negative they are likely to be. This discovery, from rather crude research certainly begs further research – and perhaps more study needs to be done into domestic media and national self-esteem. I fear, as I always have that Pakistan’s problems are exacerbated not only by external media reporting on the bad, but by an overwhelming negative self-reporting press.
The problem with this survey
I mentioned that this survey was crude – hundreds of people responded, but as I said in the first scene-setting piece about Iraq, I was only able to access a hundred of the responses, which were also almost entirely comprised of readers from Dawn. The other accusation that could be leveled at me was that it was entrapment. I asked respondees to let me know what countries they considered as “evil” and when they replied I shot them down in flames. I am not going to apologies for this, only ask you to query whether it really is possible for a whole nation to be considered as “Evil”.
To sum up
To see the CAPITAL LETTER anger directed at America is as disturbing as the lower case doom and gloom about Pakistan. To see that so many readers appear to go along with George Bush’s outrageous claim that North Korea, Iraq and Iran were the axis of evil was distressing – albeit that Iraq has largely been replaced with Pakistan. But perhaps the most disturbing reflection of how we feel about today’s world were the 10 per cent of respondents who were convinced that the world was getting worse, nuclear exchange was on the cards, or that the world was about to come to a nasty end. “How useful is this?” doesn’t even begin to address this.
Many of you may be poised to point out that a British writer, who attends fancy conferences with Israeli diplomats may not have been exposed to the evils of the world, and is in no place to point out that “evil” is not a useful rhetoric. Please take my word for it, I have witnessed evils, and quoting Thomas Hardy as I did on the first page of my book “If a path to the better there be, it begins with a full look at the worst”. There. We have done it. Now let’s get on with a better path. Response in more details
Evil countries by % respondents
56 per cent Pakistan (3 per cent said “but it’s the USA’s fault”, and 1 said specifically “west Punjab”) 32 per cent USA (2 per cent said allies of the USA) 21 per cent Israel 21 per cent China 19 per cent North Korea 16 per cent Iran 16 per cent Saudi Arabia 15 per cent UK 8 per cent Afghanistan 7 per cent India 6 per cent Russia 5 per cent France 5 per cent “All Nato countries” 4 per cent Somalia 3 per cent Australia 3 per cent Iraq 3 per cent Burma/Myanmmar 2 per cent Europe/EU (1 per cent said “even if Turkey is in it”) 2 per cent Germany 2 per cent Yemen 2 per cent Egypt 2 per cent Syria 2 per cent “The Taliban” 1 per cent “The Arab World” 1 per cent “Some Muslim countries” 1 per cent “The Middle East” 1 per cent Canada 1 per cent Bahrain 1 per cent Bangladesh 1 per cent Palestine 1 per cent Lebanon 1 per cent Denmark
Some Evil acts/causes
22 per cent being a base/funder for violent extremism (17 per cent Pakistan, 6 per cent Saudi, 1 per cent Iran, 1 per cent India, 1 per cent Yemen, 1 per cent Palestine, 1 per cent Somalia, 1 per cent Afghanistan) 12 per cent misuse of power/military/being a bully 5 per cent the invasion of Iraq 5 per cent disregard for human rights/murder/torture 4 per cent the “situation” in Palestine/settlement policy/oppression of Palestinians 4 per cent China bullying/manipulating it’s neighbors 4 per cent money – if in doubt follow the money 4 per cent being a nuclear “threat” 4 per cent Pakistan for being week (!) 3 per cent the attack on Afghanistan (by US and allies) 3 per cent extreme maddrassas/corrupt education 3 per cent corruption 2 per cent French attacks on Libya 2 per cent Chinas support for Pakistan and North Korea 2 per cent thought UK is to blame for most conflicts of the world 2 per cent for being selfish and not making an effort to resolve regional and global conflicts 2 per cent killing own people (1 said Bahrain, 1 said Syria) 1 per cent on the war on terror 1 per cent a terrorist calling “Allahu akbar” before blood-letting. 1 per cent India for supporting USA, UK and Israel 1 per cent Denmark for blasphemy 1 per cent Pakistan for blasphemy laws 1 per cent piracy 1 per cent oppressing their people (China)
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.