In a recent article by CNN.com (seen here), senior international correspondent Nic Robertson wrote the following statement regarding support for Gadhafi in Libya:

“There is an uneducated population that will go with their tribe. If the tribe says ‘go with Gadhafi’ then they support Gadhafi.  Government officials will tell you a good part of the population will follow the tribe. It is not a developed society. It’s tribal and basic and people are not taught to analyze for themselves.”

CNN has a decent reputation and it’s journalists are certainly as well-trained as those of any other news agency.  As such, these comments seem bothersome.  Consider all the things said and assumed.

1.  “This is a uneducated population…”  Perhaps schools are lacking in tribal areas, yet this is not proof that people are uneducated in the issues at stake.  Economic problems and poor leadership are certainly things people face all over Libya, whether on a national or tribal scale.  There is no need for the writer to imply that the lack of a formal education renders rural Libyans incapable of grasping the issues.

2.  “It is not a developed society.”  What defines a developed society?  Families, clans, and leaders?  Local cuisine?  Local government structures?  Role in local politics?  Presence of religious beliefs?  Again, the journalist seems to be making some rather unjustifable assumptions about Libyan tribal culture based on his own entho-centric definition of “developed society.”   Simply making political decisions through processes that deviate from the writer’s version of normal is not evidence of an undeveloped society.

3.  “It’s tribal and basic and people are not taught to analyze for themselves.”  The first adjective is factual: these are tribal groups.  The second adjective is a judgment, based on the observer’s estimation of basic versus complex.  His estimation, though, is predicated by what he personally believes is necessary for societal complexity.  Libyan tribes, presumably, do not hold dear the same notions as the author and would likely consider his society to lack certain complexities. 

The third section of this sentence is most troubling.  The correspondent seems to suggest that tribal Libyans do not think for themselves, and instead blindly accept what they are told by the tribe.  That begs the question, “Who is the tribe?”  If the tribe is every individual who has contributed to the consensus within the group consciousness, then the people are contributing to the group’s decision.  In other words, an informal local democracy has determined the group’s political decision. 

The problem seems to be that each individual is not expressing a private opinion of Gadhafy; instead, the group is expressing a consensual opinion of Gadhafy.  The notion that each person must have a independent voice on the national level in order to be an analytical voter is an American concept.  In other societies, the group is more powerful than the individual, and the needs of the community outweigh the wants of the individual.  In this situation, a state within a state demands slightly different decision-making processes.

Perhaps this is a tempest in a teacup, but the number of assumptions here is somewhat disturbing, especially with the apparent ethnocentrism in an international correspondent.  Readers and consumers should be forewarned about swallowing blindly the conclusions of a single news source, and should look beneath the surface for assumptions on which those conclusions are based. 

What do you think of this?  Does it bother you, or do you disagree with the statements here?


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