The other air force: Book review

James Snell,
The New Arab.

the-other-airforceAmerica, Matt Sienkiewicz asserts at the beginning of his new book The Other Air Force, “is not a subtle nation”. In many ways – religious, political, cultural – the United States is seen as the enemy of nuance; its values are perceived to be bold, brash and often in conflict with those of older societies and older systems, in Europe and the world over.

This is especially true – conventional wisdom holds – in the Middle East, which has, again to take the well-trodden path, been chronically and catastrophically misunderstood by American politicians and military men, all of whom have misread the mood of that region and its citizens.

As always, some nuance is needed, especially when attempting to apportion a lack of it. And that depiction of American influence – in media terms and in ways political and military – seems to be, in its own way, rather reductionist.

Despite this, in recent years, the author, an assistant professor at Boston College, writes, “American attempts to influence the Middle East by funding local media productions have, quite often, been flexible, multifaceted projects”. And, more than that, “they have produced varied and, yes, sometimes subtle results”.
In the other kind of air war – a war for the airwaves as much as a war for towns, cities and streets, a real war of “hearts and minds” – American economic and cultural hegemony is sometimes an advantage and sometimes a hindrance.

In response to the charge of cultural imperialism, which both permeates the debate in this area and also, necessarily, the book at hand, Sienkiewicz writes that, “in defiance of orthodox media imperialist understandings, the contemporary American system… is one that embraces and depends on important levels of local agency”. This is both a blessing and a curse.

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