Just occasionally, so occasionally as to prompt a post such as this, the voices of those who know what they're talking about stand out among the propagandists, spinmeisters and ignoramuses who dominate mass media discourse on the Middle East.
I refer in this case to free lance journalist Michael Otterman and University of California academic Reza Aslan, here for the Sydney Writers' Festival (SWF). They were interviewed on consecutive days (17 & 18/5/10) by Fran Kelly on ABC Radio National's Breakfast program.
Otterman is the co-author of a new book about the "sociocide" of Iraq, Erasing Iraq, based on interviews with some of the 2 million* externally displaced Iraqis living today in dire circumstances in Syria and Jordan. He made these telling points:
On support for Western intervention among Iraqis:
"Some Iraqis I spoke to supported the toppling of Saddam Hussein, but I didn't meet any who supported this prolonged occupation."
On the extent of the Iraqi refugee crisis:
"The Iraqi refugee crisis is the largest in the region since 1948 and the establishment of Israel."
On the roots & results of Iraqi sectarianism:
"Before 1991 Iraq had the strongest public health system in the region, one of the strongest education systems and all this Sunni/Shia violence did not exist. This [sectarian conflict] has all occurred after the  invasion, as the US literally empowered certain tribal and religious leaders in their quest to stabilise [Iraq], which they really didn't do successfully, but the end result of all this has been the rise in fundamentalism which has obliterated ethnic and religious groups like the Mandaeans, and still today many people cannot return to their homes because, for many, they don't have a home to return to...Baghdad had over 200 mixed neighborhoods before the war, now there's only roughly 25..."
On media neglect of the issue:
"We didn't feel that the media was sufficiently asking or answering this question: what do Iraqis think about the invasion, before during and after?"
Aslan, author of How to Win a Cosmic War, neatly cut through the usual USraeli claptrap about Iran's nuclear program:
"[This] emphasis [on Iranian nukes] has to be understood by outsiders. When we think of Iran, all we care about is the nuclear issue. It's the number one issue in our minds. Iranians couldn't care less about this issue. In their top 10 list of to-do items, the nuclear issue is number 11. They are in the midst of the greatest social challenge to the regime, great political fracturing, an economy on the verge of collapse. Frankly, they don't really talk about the nuclear issue all that much... It's so far down on their list of concerns right now that there's a real disconnect between the way the US and the international community wants to deal with Iran and the way Iran wants to deal with the international community. In fact, if we focus too much just on this nuclear issue, there is a very real chance that we could derail what could be a very significant social challenge to this regime... Here's a question nobody bothers asking: why does Iran want nuclear weapons? It's not a difficult question to answer. 1) Iran is literally surrounded, I mean encircled, by American troops, troops from a country whose stated foreign policy for 3 decades towards Iran has been, unambiguously, regime change. 2) As much of a threat as Iran with nuclear weapons could conceivably pose to Israel sometime in the near future, as you and I sit here having this conversation, Israel has 200 nuclear weapons, most of them pointed at Tehran. Why wouldn't Iran want nuclear weapons? My argument is that if you want to deal with Iran's nuclear ambition, you cannot deal with it as just a national issue. It's a regional problem, and unless you're willing to deal with the other nuclear powers in that region - Israel, Pakistan and India - all of whom have nuclear weapons outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and all of whom receive tens of billions of dollars in foreign and military aid from the US, despite their illegal programs, unless you're willing to deal with that, you're never going to deal with Iran."
Unfortunately, the ms media being what it is, another SWF invitee, Christopher Hitchens, is far more likely to hog the media limelight than either of the above. In a Good Weekend feature, Devil's advocate (15/5/10), we get an insight into Hitchens' terrifying tunnel vision : "His last book, God Is Not Great, promoting the characteristically gloves-off view that 'religion poisons everything', brought him a wider audience and placed him in good company with Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion) and Philip Pullman (The Good Man Jesus & The Scoundrel Christ), bang up with the zeitgeist. 'I knew when I saw Dawkins' book that there was something in the air'. Why now, does he think? He waves a hand: 'Depraved papacy, jihads, Palestine, creationism in American schools - all in the name of theocracy'."
That's right, Palestine is all about theocracy. Not Israel, the Jewish state, but Palestine for Christ's sake!
[*Another 3 million are internally displaced.]