‘The press is so powerful in its image-making role that it can make a criminal look like the victim and a victim look like he’s the criminal’. These words, said by Malcolm X, the icon of African Americans’ struggle for dignity and justice, still ring true four decades on. In fact, they are all the more relevant today when spin has been perfected as an art form by the likes of Thomas L Friedman.
The popular New York Times columnist and old hand on the Middle East is one of the most powerful spinmeisters of the US establishment. He is one of those incredibly gifted pundits and opinion-makers who can make victims look like oppressors, justice as injustice and truth as falsehood. These people can turn logic, reason and facts upside down and get away with murder.
In a recent piece, Friedman returned to his familiar territory, the Middle East and the Palestine-Israel conflict: “As a result of the Palestinian Intifada of 2000-2004, Israel concluded that partnership at that time was impossible with the Palestinians, whose leaders were too divided and dysfunctional to prevent suicide bombing. So Israel erected a wall, unilaterally pulled out of Gaza and basically said to the Palestinians, ‘We’ll continue to engage you, but only from a position of strength, only after we’re insulated from the daily threat of suicide bombings or the burden of occupying Gaza.’”
This is spin at its best. So it is the Palestinians’ fault, that Israel has occupied their land, continues to kill their men, women and children and shuts them off from the rest of the world by building a barrier on their own land. Blame the victims for the injustice inflicted on them. This is what Israel and its friends in the US establishment have successfully done for the past half a century.
So if the persecuted, besieged and utterly helpless Palestinian kids and teens blow themselves up, it is their own fault, of course.
What forced Fatma al Najar, a Palestinian grandmother and all of 64 years, to take her own life near an Israeli patrol? Many in her family had come in the line of fire of Israel’s brave soldiers and her old family home had been destroyed in Israeli bombing. Yet, in the eyes of Friedman and people of his ilk, if she killed herself in utter despair and frustration, of course she was herself to blame.
The New York Times columnist has an imaginative solution to the nuisance that the Palestinians and Arabs represent.
He goes on to argue: “What would be the equivalent (of Israel’s wall) for the west and the Muslim world? Also build a wall? How do we insulate ourselves from the madness of the Middle East – if Iraq and Afghanistan can’t be made to work – without giving up on reform there, which is still badly needed?”
Friedman answers his own question by suggesting:
“Build a virtual wall. End our oil addiction.
“We Americans need to end our dependence on this part of the world for energy, because it is debilitating for us and for them. It is terrible for us, because addicts never tell the truth to their pushers. We are the oil addicts and they (Arabs and Muslims) are the oil pushers.”
Hmm. So Arabs are now the ‘oil pushers’ – a la drug pushers. Now the Arabs are to be vilified and demonised for providing most of the world’s oil. So if the world is dependent on Arab oil for its growing energy needs, Arabs themselves are to blame. So while the world economy, including the US economy – with its gas-guzzling SUVs – runs on Arab oil, Arabs are to get brickbats for pumping it up at ridiculously low prices.
And it is awfully nice of Friedman to propose the wall ‘insulating’ the US from what he calls ‘the madness of the Middle East.’ That would be really something! Makes sense too. For the Middle East, the cradle of civilisation, had not known what Samuel Huntington calls the clash of civilisations – until world powers came along.
Who sowed the seeds of this conflict in the holy land in the first place? Who drove Palestinians out of their homes forcing them to wander forever across this ancient land? What is their sin, for which the Children of Israel continue to punish them?
Defending the indefensible, Israel’s apologists clearly believe in Goebbels’ dictum that you can turn a lie into truth by repeating it ad nauseam.
First you occupy Arab land using deceit, manipulation and force and then accuse them of being incapable of living in peace with Israel. These too-clever-by-half friends of Israel conveniently ignore the fact that it is not the Palestinians who have gone and occupied someone else’s land. It’s the other way round.
And we all know what the civilised and peaceful Israel has done to the people it calls terrorists. In the most recent offensive on Gaza alone, more than 2000 Palestinians were killed and the largest prison on the planet was nearly totally destroyed all over again.
And this has been the story of Palestinian existence for the past seven decades. Yet as far as Israel’s irrepressible apologists in the US and western media are concerned, it is the Israelis who are the victims and Palestinians the oppressors. Not the other way round. This is what Malcolm X must have in mind when he warned: “If you aren’t careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”
The media can get away with murder. That is the power of spin.
But are those at the receiving end in a position to complain? The Arab and Islamic world has done little so far to counter the brazen and unabashedly one-sided narrative proffered and perpetuated by those in the US media, much of it controlled by big business and Jewish moneybags.
But why cry about the western media when the media owned and supposedly run by Arabs and Muslims itself is increasingly controlled and manipulated by those who have little empathy for their hosts or care little for their concerns and interests. Except for solitary and brilliant examples such as the Qatar-based Aljazeera, which has consistently punched above its height to offer the other side of the story employing a credible and objective voice and truly professional, word-class medium, there is a lot that needs to be done to restore a semblance of balance in the way the reality of the Middle East is presented in the global media.
There is no dearth of resources and talent in the Arab world. What is needed is a vision and willingness to take charge of the narrative, if not the destiny. Why aren’t there more Al Jazeeras in the Middle East and around the world?
By: Aijaz Zaka Sayed