Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

Megan Stack, Every Man in this Village is a Liar (2010)

Megan Stack in her memoir Every Man in this Village is a Liar (2010) presents herself as a young, female, American war correspondent in the Middle East from 2001 to 2006 who is initially a naïve but keen journalist whose professional notions of journalistic objectivity were overturned by witnessing the horrors of war.  She emerges as a committed pacifist and opponent of the foreign policy of the United States in the Middle East, including being opposed to the justifications for, and the conduct of, the War on Terror, including the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. 

She criticises the War on Terror as flawed in its conceptualisation by seeking to provide the United States with a degree of security from terrorist attack that is impossible to achieve.  In this context, she criticises the war in Afghanistan as an unwinnable war, since the US military has no clear objective and is operating in inhospitable territory, in an economy corrupted by the opium trade,  and is working with unreliable warlord allies and a corrupt local government. 

Megan Stack sees the invasion of Iraq as a major mistake since the US government and military did not understand the Islamic people and the divisions between the Sunni and Shiite Muslims, as well as between other ethnic groups, which led to unforeseen complications and counter-productive consequences.  Consequently, the US-led invasion was unsuccessful in bringing peace to Iraq and it constitutes a public relations disaster in the Middle East.  She argues that the resentment against the United States in the region is too widespread and too deep, making it impossible for the US to win the hearts and minds of the Arabs, which is essential for winning the War on Terror.  Furthermore, the US military cannot win the War on Terror by killing terrorist leaders since they are merely replaced, while the injustices caused by the United States, or tolerated by it, inspire new generations of fighters to replace the old, thereby perpetuating the cycle of violence.  Meanwhile, traditional and continual religious, ethnic and tribal divisions and conflicts make any US plans to remodel the Middle East untenable. 

However, Megan Stack’s main objections are moral in nature.  She argues that the US has no moral authority in the Middle East because US foreign policy is riddled with moral inconsistency and hypocrisy.  This is evident in the US government’s professed opposition to cruel dictators, yet it tolerated cruel dictators in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Libya who cooperated with the United States, but it invaded Iraq to overthrow a cruel dictator who refused to cooperate.    The US is also denounced morally for seeking to do good but bringing harm, especially regarding the division and destruction its invasions brought to Afghanistan and Iraq. 

In addition, the US government proclaimed itself to promote democracy but in reality it only supported democracy in the Middle East when it would produce the outcomes it desired.  It did not want Islamic fundamentalist groups in power, elected or otherwise, such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.  The US government also pretended to support the freedom of Lebanon from Syrian occupation, but it failed to back this rhetoric by supporting a free and vulnerable Lebanon against subsequent Israeli aggression.  The US government professes to promote human rights but it only put pressure on governments that abused human rights that were uncooperative, like Afghanistan and Iraq, but overlooked human rights abuses by governments friendly to the United States, like Saudi Arabia and Israel. Furthermore, the US government massively supported its ally Israel, which oppresses its Arab citizens and neighbours.  Meanwhile, the US military was also exposed as using torture in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. 

With its wars in the Middle East, the United States has therefore let down all those around the world who believed in America as representing something noble and good, an ideal to which other nations could aspire.  However, like many others on the Left, Megan Stack sees the United States as morally tainted by its history, having long had blood on its hands from its own human rights abuses, such as the oppression of African-Americans, therefore making the United States appear undeserving of this hope and idealism. 

Meanwhile, Megan Stack indicates that she hopes for the triumph in the Middle East of the kind of progressive Left ideals she espouses, but she simultaneously admits that this is a forlorn hope, since an example of the type of feminist career woman she thought could transform the Middle East for the better, the journalist Atwar Bahjat in Iraq, was assassinated for promoting these progressive views. 

When Megan Stack is critical of Islamic societies and Arab states it is primarily from a feminist perspective.  She speaks out loudly and passionately against sexism, whether it is religiously inspired in the Middle East or expressed by Western men, arguing that while the denial of women’s rights is extreme in nations like Saudi Arabia, too many Western men in the Middle East seemed to like what they saw or fail to criticise it.  To Megan Stack, this implies that all men are to blame for this sexism, not just those in Islamic societies.  She makes a global call to arms for women to struggle against male oppression everywhere.  In addition, she sees the moral hypocrisy of the United States government evident in the area of women’s rights, noting that the US government justified its defeat of the Taliban government in Afghanistan partly on the need to stop its subjugation of women, but it ignored the same kind of subjugation of women when practised in Saudi Arabia, which was an ally of the United States. 

Megan Stack also has much to say on journalistic ethics.  She is aware that journalists in the field are confronted by the moral question: Do you just observe and report events or do you step outside the role of journalist and participate in the events you are supposed to be covering?  As her memoir progresses chronologically, she moves from trying to be an objective observer of events to being a partisan participant.  In Southern Lebanon, which is being bombed by the Israeli military, as a journalist she is expected to observe and report, but she feels she can no longer stand by and watch the suffering of bomb victims and refugees.  She becomes partisan, declaring herself to be against the War on Terror and the foreign policies of the United States and Israel.  She also accepts that the Islamic political groups in the Middle East, which are anti-American and anti-Israel, have widespread genuine support and should therefore be treated as legitimate, just as the religious Right is respected in the United States as part of the political landscape. 

Megan Stack frames her memoir in postmodern terms, expressing the view, encapsulated in the title, that all evidence is suspect, and all you can do in pursuit of the truth is the best you can with what information you have got.  There is uncertainty in knowledge.  The title, Every Man in this Village is a Liar, is a parody of the ancient paradox attributed to the Cretan philosopher Epimenides: ‘All Cretans are liars’.  If he is telling the truth, he is lying, and if he is lying, he is telling the truth.   She became aware of this dilemma when she sensed that you can never be sure if the person whom you are interviewing is telling you the truth.  Everyone has agendas that they are promoting and this often motivates them to say what will promote those agendas regardless of whether it is truthful.  In addition, she notes that the official statements of her government should be treated as suspect.  For example, US officials had doctored one of her reports on bombing in atrocities in Afghanistan to avoid putting the United States in a bad light. 

Megan Stack is also concerned about the psychological cost of war.  She believes that people can emerge from war physically unscathed but profoundly psychologically damaged or significantly altered.  She expressed this belief when she said: ‘You can survive [war] and not survive, both at the same time’.  She believes this happened to herself.

Megan Stack is profoundly pacifist in her account of the wars in the Middle East.  This is evident in her apparent lack of interest in the military strategy and tactics of war, which are barely mentioned, and her focus on the human costs, especially the civilian casualties.  She argues passionately about the futility of war, claiming that there is so much destruction for little, if any, gain.  In addition, her pacifist idealism is evident when she claims that education is the solution to turning, for example, Afghan men away from their love of war so they can learn to live in peace.  In addition, she echoes the pacifist Left in her accusations against the United States for practising neo-colonialism in the Middle East, seeking the control of oil supplies or  doing the Israeli’s bidding, rather than pursuing altruistic objectives to promote social justice and democracy.

Megan stack is influenced by post-colonialism in her approach.  Post-colonialism is an academic and literary discourse that responds critically to the legacies of the colonialism of the European powers, usually by taking the perspective of the formerly subject peoples.  It is especially interested in challenging the European’s Eurocentric (and ‘racist’) view of the world and of the colonial experience, and it also seeks to raise the consciousness, sense of identity, and self-esteem of the formerly subject peoples.  This is evident in her blaming European imperialism for creating an Iraq with unworkable ethnic divisions, and in her frequent attempts to tell the story of the wars against the United States and Israel from the Arab perspective. 

Finally, Megan Stack saw her memoir as an opportunity to provide up-close descriptions of war for curious readers who may have never experienced these kinds of events.  This is evident in her account of a friendly-fire incident in Afghanistan, of a suicide bombing in Iraq, of an anti-American riot in Jordan, and of the experience of being bombed in southern Lebanon.  It is also evident in her pitiful description of the experience of losing a friendly local helper in Iraq who was probably assassinated for assisting her in her reporting.  

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

© Mark Lopez 2019 All RIGHTS RESERVED

The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

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