I made the mistake of opening my local Sunday newspaper here in Memphis today and was greeted by this week’s issue of Parade. Parade magazine is the nationally syndicated weekly that makes its way into most of the Sunday editions of most major urban newspapers, and it functions mostly as a glossy condenser of the week’s news; especially celebrity related information.
This week my issue of Parade was saved from the trash can due to its cover. While many people will pick up a magazine due to a celebrity sex-scandal on the front, I was enticed by the promise of coverage on the developing world and mass civilian repression. This week even promised the enticing that the “World’s Worst Dictators” would be ranked, how fun!
But beside the fact that the two-page spread was painfully short in length, I quickly soured on the premise of the article. Avoiding for the time being the moral problems behind seeding these leaders in some sort of “bracket of evil”, the author actually had the gaul to assess these men by unspecified, and supposedly enumerable measurements of “evil”.
This issue of ranking the innate nefariousness of these leaders and the general thoroughness (or lack there of) research creates serious academic quandary for the author. I can understand the intent behind writing this article, as most readers of Parade have never heard of most of these men mentioned within the spread, much less their deeds. The fact that he includes another ten leaders on the website can be seen as an admirable attempt to spread the basic knowledge of the nasty ends of the earth to a rather ignorant readership, but the author did not include any more information on these men, not even an external link to a slightly more informative wikipedia page.
It’s not that the information presented in the article was completely inaccurate, and the leaders mention are most certainly deserving of a “world’s worst” tag, but a larger context was not provided. The readers of this article would be lead to believe that these individuals represent isolated cases of thuggery via governmental power. Again a small attempt by the author to give reasons behind both their appearance on the list and their length tenure’s in power (most of the tyrants listed were installed the late eighties and some stretch all the way from their nation’s date of independence in the 1960’s) but the lack of a consistent standard of information for these leaders makes for a dull and academically lazy piece of work.
Obviously Parade has extraordinarily low expectations for its readership as it simplified some of the basic realities of and facts concerning the misrule of the people they profiled. For example, the power of Burma cannot be centered on one man, rather a Junta of several shadowy rulers who are running their country into a miasma of destruction. Quaddaffi makes an appearance at number 10, but his voluntary disarmament is forgotten, obviously playing into the old biases of a readership that last heard of the President in the late 1980’s. Again, Qadaffi (like Raul Castro) can be described as dictators, but to label them as rising threats without acknowledging reforms or attempts at diplomacy is disingenuous. The ranking system is also biased tilted towards addressing recent news items. The number one dictator, Mugabe, obviously earned his spot due to his actions in last year’s election. While incredibly repressive and murderous, what is to say that Mugabe’s actions are any more or less evil then the murdering and thieving Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equitorial Guinea, or the long lasting and corrupt Omar Bongo of Gabon? The lack of historical context within the article also leaves out the larger explanation behind why these leaders are still in power, and by extension why their removal would be so complicated. Both Idriss Deby of Chad and Omar Bashir made the list, but the fact that they are each leading a massive proxy wars with the hope toppling the other side’s government is curiously left out.
Simply put, the article names some of the evil deeds of these men, but omits the reasoning behind said evil. Believe it or not, evils like those perpetrated by Parade’s “Worst” are often committed for concrete or even tangible reasons. Power, money, and egotism are main means for which these men work. Many of the people on this list murder not our of a need to kill, but rather a need to remain in a position from which they can line their pockets from the state coffers or sit in the elevated level during a military parade. Genocide, a repression of political rights, economic misrule, and even the ubiquitous creation of a personality cult have all been par for the course of ruling a successful dictatorship since the end of World War Two and the destruction of political colonialism.
Through creating an image of these men existing as isolated cases of evil, the readers of Parade are also misled into believing that their own government is also free from the blame of keeping these men in power. While the author does acknowledge some economic support in the way of Oil money going to these governments, the role of the Cold War and the War on Terror in preserving the leadership of these tyrants is completely neglected.
Some might say that this summary is meant to spur the reader to do some research on their own, which given the other topics broached Parade may be a bit of a stretch. The information provided inside the article is incomplete at best and misleading at worst. A complex academic dissertation might not be necessary but a few external links alongside some more in depth commentary might actually be considered helpful towards enlightening the target audience.
The general populace of country deserves to learn about the truth of repression throughout the world. Glossing even general facts about their rule does a great disservice to the readers of this weekly, and only contributes to the apathy and ignorance of the average American to the suffering outside of our borders. Placing the “World’s Worst Dictators” next to the celebrity news section is down right disgusting, but unfortunately not surprising.