“It is better than an opera!”

It’s a weird moment when you start noticing how much “homegrown” dissident movements are optimized for sparking sympathy from upper- and middle-class Americans, not their fellow countrymen.

This isn’t confined to Turkey – next time some protests hit the news, just keep an eye out for signs deliberately written in English rather than in their native language.

Here’s a protest in Libya – a country in which 95% speak Arabic as their native tongue.

And here’s one from Syria, in which 85% of the population speaks Arabic and 9% grows up with Kurdish.

Turkey, by comparison, is a veritable Anglophone country – with 17% of the population speaking English.

And here (nudity) is a protest by FEMEN – a Ukrainian group.  Outside an Egyptian embassy.  An Egyptian embassy in Stockholm.  And yet, everything is in English.

It’s not only the English emphasis that’s unusual.  It’s also the clever cultural references chosen to resonate with Western audiences, with little resonance for a domestic population.

Of course the reasoning is clear: these protests are optimized for Western consumption because they are an attempt to attract the use of force by Western powers.  It’s somewhat important to have some support from your fellow countrymen (hence there certainly are some signs written in Arabic), but the ultimate goal is to seize power by attracting sympathy of the West’s media organs, and using the West’s military and diplomatic capabilities in a proxy war against the current government.

This tactic is only a tool, and can be used for good or evil purposes.  But it’s sharply at odds with the conventional notion that these protests are organic expressions of the will of the people.  Protesting is a game that favors Westernized classes – those that have educationally and ideologically assimilated into Western norms.  A small minority of malcontents – if it’s the right minority and plays its cards right – can protest and win, and be considered by the international community as representative of “the people.”

Now, certainly part of this “English-language protest” phenomenon is that the news media (including Google’s image providers) pick out pictures that resonate with Western audiences.  If so, that by itself is an act of political partisanship, selectively and inaccurately reducing inferential distances between their readers and the protestors (but not the reigning government.)  And even so, it’s strange enough that there are even a modest number of Western-optimized signs.  Imagine how odd it would be if a bunch of American protestors marched under signs designed to resonate with Turks.

…And now I’m imagining a Tea Party rally, hoisting signs written in Chinese, and making ironic self-aware references to the latest wuxia flick. To the Turks, these protests must look equally bizarre – but what works, works!

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