Of course I'm not suggesting that the deaths in Qana are completely fabricated, they're not, but rather that truth in the Middle East is a very tricky thing to unpack. We all recall the battle of Jenin where the IDF was accused of slaughtering 500 innocent civilians and the total number turned out to be under two dozen (Not that those deaths don't count.) Arab groups love to play the victim and they love to display the corpses of their brethren, to the point of perversity.
Of course they are not alone in this. Israel is guilty of lying for its own benefit, as is the United States (Weapons of Mass Destruction anyone?) but it seems like the Arab world is particularly proficient at announcing untruths.
The best theory I've heard about this is that Middle Easterners are bargainers. You know the stereotypical idea of a Middle Eastern bazaar:
"How much is this?"
"$60, my friend, and a steal at twice the price!"
"I'll give you $10."
"Sadly I cannot go any lower than $50. I am losing money, I assure you."
"I like you, so $45. I should call the police. You are robbing me."
"At $40 you are taking food from my childrens' hungry mouths. They will starve. But I will do it. You have won. $40. It is my final offer."
"My father is sick. If I sell this to you at $35 I will be unable to buy him his medicine. He will suffer. But I will do that for you. I will simply have to tell him to live with the pain."
"Alright my friend! Thank you. Please come again!"
If this is how they conduct business, and from the Israelis I have known it seems to pretty much be, then it is not that surprising that they would do casualty reports the same way. "I say 500, you say 25. We will compromise. 220." Except that there is a specific accurate number of casualties. And to the western world that number is all that matters. It's the same thing with the way diplomacy is conducted by Middle Eastern nations. They make outrageous claims or demands in the U.N. and wait for a counteroffer, which never comes, because America and its allies are too busy treating everything said as absolutely serious. I think, in part, the thing with Saddam Hussein was that he didn't understand how serious Bush was about invading. He thought that there were still bargains to be made.
So what can be done about this? Well the mainstream media can stop accepting ludicrously inflated casualty reports as if they were serious, but also the western nations either need to start dealing with the Middle East on its own terms or figure out a way to get them to deal on ours. We need to stop making our final offers our first ones. We also need to make it absolutely clear that there are certain areas where there will be NO negotiation. Terrorism is mostly about negotiation, and Hezbollah's capture of Israeli soldiers was an attempt to start negotiations for the release of their prisoners. Any such negotiations are simply going to lead to more bloodshed.
If our societies cannot communicate in a manner comprehensible to both then we will inevitably end up at a point of war. This is unacceptable. It is time for America to stop hating the playas and start learning the game. As for the Middle East, well, it would be best served by a switch over to a post-enlightenment Western logical point of view. But uhh...that's not going to happen right now.
I leave you with both an accurate and an inaccurate quote from Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf
"Today I have visited whole Baghdad city, no invaders found. You go and see how we have ousted them from this city. They are cying outside and waiting to receive bullets. They will be killed shortly."
"The midget Bush and that Rumsfield deserve only to be beaten with shoes by freedom loving people everywhere."