Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The tsunami T-shirt scam

One of the ways that smears work is that they prey on people's gullibility -- on their willingness, or even desire (depending on your Oxycontin intake), to believe the worst about other people. Especially if it excuses your own lack of human feeling and basic decency.

See, for instance, the far-flung right-wing discussion of the tsunami victims seen wearing Osama bin Laden T-shirts. As Digby noted the other day, a caller to Rush Limbaugh used the photo of a person wearing such a shirt as part of her excuse for not feeling any sympathy for the tsunami victims:
CALLER: (Giggle) Well, I was pretty upset and even getting madder the more coverage I watched, and I was thinking, 'Why am I not feeling so charitable, and I'm seeing all these bodies,' and then I see this picture on the Internet that was sent to me, and it was them carrying a body along in Sri Lanka, it said Galle, G-a-l-l-e, Sri Lanka and they had a crowd of people watching and this guy in the middle is standing there looking at the body wearing an Osama bin Laden T-shirt.

RUSH: I saw that picture.

CALLER: And I thought, it just validated the way I felt and I thought these are the same people that were the cheerleaders on 9/11, and we're going to go rebuild their world for them.

RUSH: Yeah.

This is all part of the right-wing meme blaming the tsunami victims' faiths for the disaster.

However, in at least some instances, something else is at work here as well.

The other day Amy Goodman interviewed the fearless Allan Nairn, who described how, in Indonesia, the bin Laden T-shirts are being used by right-wing miltarists as a propaganda ploy designed to anger Americans:
ALLAN NAIRN: Well, Colin Powell announced that the U.S. would be supplying spare parts for C-130 transport planes ostensibly to help with the relief effort, the Indonesian military transport planes. Within days of Powell making this announcement, it came out that the Indonesian military, which had previously used these planes to transport the goods looted from East Timor, as they were destroying East Timor in 1999 to take thousands of Timorese civilian prisoners out after the 1999 campaign of slaughter in Timor, which previously have been used to drop paratroops over Aceh, were now used just in the past week to bring members of two Bin Laden affiliated Indonesian groups, the FPI and the MMI, the Islamic Defenders Front and the Islamic Mujahadin Council, they flew them up to Aceh, ostensibly to help in the relief effort. These groups were created or – well the FPI was in part created by the Indonesian armed forces, and the MMI has received backing from Indonesian military intelligence at various points. The MMI includes Laskar Jihad a group the went into Malukus and helped spark sectarian fighting between Muslim and Christian peasants, Muslim and Christian militias, in which thousands were killed. This was done to create chaos, which the Indonesian military could then take advantage of. And these groups are openly connected to Bin Laden and espouse that ideology.

AMY GOODMAN: You're saying that the Indonesian military has brought them into Aceh now, actually flown them in?

ALLAN NAIRN: Yes, they brought them into Aceh. Some of them are walking around with Bin Laden T-shirts. They go up to foreign reporters and present themselves as Acehnese even though they are not, and James Kelly of the U.S. State Department just said, there's worry that such militants might attack U.S. troops. Well simultaneously Powell was announcing the U.S. is going to aid the Indonesian military, one of the rationales being the Indonesian military is needed to fight such Bin Laden-style military.

AMY GOODMAN: The Indonesian military brought them as in as a way to galvanize support for the Indonesian military?

ALLAN NAIRN: Apparently so. They have used similar tactics before. It's also seems to be a way of terrorizing the Acehnese population.

Be sure to check out Nairn's blog. I was working MSNBC's international desk during the 1999 East Timor crisis, and came to admire Nairn for his bravery and awesome reporting. Here's a Salon piece looking back on that episode.

[Hat tip to Erin in comments.]

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