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absent: Western journalists second hand reporting on the Syrian war and the propaganda against the Syrian government

absent: Western journalists second hand reporting on the Syrian war and the propaganda against the Syrian government

Eva Bartlett is an independent writer and rights activist with extensive experience in Syria and in the Gaza Strip, where she lived a cumulative three years (from late 2008 to early 2013). She documented the 2008/9 and 2012 Israeli war crimes and attacks on Gaza while riding in ambulances and reporting from hospitals. From June-August 2016, she visited Syria for her fifth time. On her sixth visit, in October and November, she returned independently again to Syria, for one month, during which time she visited Aleppo twice. 
She shares her findings and thoughts about Western media coverage of the war on Syria in this event.

UK’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson comments anger the rulers of Saudi Arabia, forcing Downing Street to distance itself from his views

UK’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson comments anger the rulers of Saudi Arabia, forcing Downing Street to distance itself from his views


When the British government is forced to choose between factual truth and political imperatives, it chose politics

The UK’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson stated a fact almost universally known by now. He pointed out that Saudi Arabia is fomenting sectarian war in the region. Saudi officials were angered by the comments and Saudi media accused British media of having an Iranian bias when reporting his comments.

Saudi rulers’ unhappiness with UK media is not specific to this particular instance. They are threatened by the rise in news stories portraying the Saudi military campaign in Yemen in a negative light. BBC had several programs that put the blame for the horrific conditions of children in Yemen on Saudi Arabia. Moreover, UK media in general is highlighting the hypocrisy of UK government, which criticizes Saudi War in Yemen, but keeps selling weapons that enable the rulers of the kingdom to conduct its destructive war in Yemen.

In its attempt to manage this crisis, especially that UK premiere was a guest during the GCC summit in Bahrain, Downing Street was forced to release a statement distancing itself from Johnson’s views.

Johnson’s comment is just one in many negative statements made by Western leaders, in the last two years, accusing Saudi Arabia of spreading an extremist interpretation of Islam

and supporting terrorist groups around the world. Outgoing U.S. president, Barack Obama made the case against Saudi Arabia in a 90-page long article summarizing his views in The Atlantic. Last summer, German intelligence officials also accused Saudi Arabia of building Islamic centers in the West that promote Wahhabism. The incoming U.S. administration will likely take a harsh stance against Saudi Arabian leaders as well.

In short the Saudi rulers must reform their political and religious institutions to be able to live in peace with their neighbors or risk crippling isolation.

The truth is the first and last victim of wars

The truth is the first and last victim of wars

Considering the utterly conflicting reports about a single strike, not a battle or a war, it becomes evident that a truthful narrative about war is elusive and indistinguishable from propaganda. This fact was underscored in the wildly divergent reports about a single attack on ISIL’s fighters fleeing the recently liberated city of Fallujah. In the end, the only fact about which we can be certain is this: “Airstrikes destroyed ISIL’s vehicles and killed fighters in a convoy leaving Fallujah.” Nothing else reported by even the most reputable news outlets can be ascertained. The event seems to be the same, since the video released by both sides appear to be the same (see below); yet, the details are radically different.
We cannot be sure if U.S. coalition or Iraqi armed forces carried out the attack.

We cannot be sure if the U.S. refused to carry out the attack as requested by the Iraqi armed forces.

We cannot be sure if the U.S. offered ISIL safe passage out of Fallujah.

We cannot be sure if Iraqi forces offered ISIL fighters safe passage out of Fallujah.

We cannot be sure if the Popular Mobilization Forces offered ISIL safe passage out of Fallujah.

We cannot be sure if ISIL convoy consisted of 40 or 700 vehicles.

We cannot be certain if 175 or 250 ISIL fighters were killed.

We cannot be certain if the convoy consisted of only fighters or fighters and their family members.

Yet, all those claims were made and reported in different news outlet. Western media gave credit to the U.S. coalition while Iraqi media gave credit to Iraqi forces. The sample below speaks to the state of journalism and media in times of conflict.
CNN, U.S. media
Ajel; Iraqi media
Alarabiyya; Saudi Media

Nile24; Egyptian media

Nahrain; Iraqi media

RussiaToday, Russian media

ShafaqNews; Iranian media

ShafaqNews Iranian media

SkyIraq, Iarqi media

Journalism and media in Islamic societies in conflict zones

Journalism and media in Islamic societies in conflict zones


al-Sharq al-Awasat coverage
Journalism in Arab countries: With the increased violence and potential for sectarian war in the Middle East, one would think that the media and journalists would pay more attention to details, facts, and the language they use to report about the death and destruction in that part of the world. Instead, journalist and the media in general sided with their benefactors or religious/ethnic community, betraying the profession and their duty to objectively inform the public.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat, which wanted to be the New York Times of the Arab world showed its true identity: the mouth piece of the rulers of Saudi Arabia. Aljazeera, whose funders wanted it to be the BBC of the Arab world, resigned to its limited true function: serving the Qatari ruling family and its political allies—the Muslim Brotherhood and Turkey. Alarabiya has become the Fox News of the GCC ruling families. Alahram serves Sisi… and the list goes on. 

Here is an example of the kind of headlines the “professional” journalists at al-Sharq al-Awsat ran recently:


5 nations cut their diplomatic relations with Iran… and the world condemn its violations

It did not cross the mind of Iran that its attacks on the Saudi embassy and consulate in Tehran and Mashhad would open the doors of hell on it, including the cutting of diplomatic ties…

[The headlines and opening sentence sound ominous. But the rest of the news story would make you think that you are reading a satirical piece on The Onion or watching a story on the fake news program, The Daily Show. The 5 countries that cut relations with Iran are:

Saudi Arabia (the country the just executed 4 and beheaded 43 including a religious scholar whose crime was “criticizing wali al-amr [the ruler]”)

Bahrain (the tiny kingdom that serves as a bar and resort for the Saudi princes and princesses)

Sudan (Whose president cannot travel much because he faces arrest for war crimes and genocide)

Djibouti (where the hell is Djibouti)

Somalia (does this country actually has a government?)

Arab journalists’ dereliction of duty during these difficult times will make a grave situation graver. In the past, and during peace time, people of that region were used to the media serving as the propaganda tools in the hands of authoritarian rulers. People did not take them seriously. However, with civil wars raging in a handful of Arab countries, the need for accurate information is compelling and Arab journalists ought to take their responsibilities seriously.
Aljazeera devoted half of its space of its website frontpage to reports about the humanitarian crisis in the town of Madaya, Syria, because it is is “Sunni” town. Aljazeera avoided referring to the other towns under siege for years, as the BBC report shows, simply because those towns are inhabited by Shia. To stoke sectarian passion, Aljazeera used graphic images that did not depict people from Madaya.

Worried for their own security, the rulers of Saudi Arabia expand their own list of “terror organizations” and criminalize dissent

Worried for their own security, the rulers of Saudi Arabia expand their own list of “terror organizations” and criminalize dissent


8 years in prison for tweeting
in support of a demonstration
Days after recalling its top diplomats from Qatar, Saudi Arabia published a list of organizations and activities that are deemed criminal and prohibited Saudi citizens and residents from joining or supporting such organizations. The two events might appear to be unrelated. In reality, the latter decision provides the proper context for understanding the former. Moreover, the list and the logic that produced it are intriguing. Here is a summary of the key points of this document followed by a short analysis.
 

______________

Any Saudi citizen or resident is prohibited from:

1. Promoting atheistic thought in any form; or raising doubt about the principles of the religion upon which this country is founded.

2. Renouncing the pledge of allegiance (bay`ah) offered to the rulers of this country; or paying allegiance to a party, organization, association, movement, or a person in this country or outside.

3. Fighting or encouraging others to fight in zones of conflict in a foreign country; or issuing religious edicts [fatwas] in support of fighting in outside wars.

4. Showing support for any of these parties, organizations, associations, movements, or groups; or showing sympathies towards them, or promoting their activities and attending their meetings inside or outside the kingdom; this applies to showing support through any and all means of communication including television, radio, print media, social media—visual, aural, written—and the Internet; or sharing and re-sharing of such content; or using the logos and symbols that express sympathies to these entities.

5. Donating to these entities or providing any kind of support—financial or moral—to groups and organizations that are terrorists or extremists; or sheltering anyone inside or outside the kingdom who belongs or supports these entities individuals and groups.

6. Communicating or establishing connections with these movements and groups, or persons who are enemies of the kingdom.

7. Having loyalty to any foreign country or having connection to any foreign country; or establishing connections with any foreign country in order to destabilize the kingdom or break the unity of its people.

8. Aiming to break the fabric of society and national unity; or calling for, promoting, enticing, or participating in sit-ins, demonstrations, or gatherings; or issuing statements in the name of a groups or association in any form that will risk the unity and stability of the kingdom.

9. Attending meetings, conferences, or colloquium that are held inside or outside the kingdom where ideas that may risk the security and stability of the kingdom are promoted or that could result in civil strife [fitna].

10. Criticizing other countries and its leaders.

11. Inciting other countries or organizations to criticize or act against the interests of the kingdom.


It ought to be noted that “the Holder of the Honored Place” [the King] has approved these recommendations and they are adopted in the royal decree 16820 and that these orders enter into effect on March 9, 2014. Violators will be prosecuted for acts from before and after this order was issued. Those still fighting abroad are granted an additional 15 days from the date of this order to reconsider their thinking and return home.

The Interior Ministry is appending a list of organizations and entities that are covered by this order including the organizations call themselves as follows:

Al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaeda in Yemen, al-Qaeda in Iraq—Daaesh–, Jabhat al-Nusra, Hezbollah of Saudi Arabia, Muslim Brotherhood, and the Houthi Association. The order applies to any organization that is similar to these groups in their thinking, preaching, and action; and all terrorist organizations as determined by the UNSC and other world organizations. The ministry will update this list regularly.

______________

A simple reading of this document would reveal that the rulers or Saudi Arabia are still far from treating the root cause of the culture of violence they had created in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and now Syria. They are, however, interested in protecting the Saud family’s hold on power and they are using the so-called “global war on terror” as a pretext to criminalize all forms and modes of dissent. In fact, the first victim of this new law is an activist who was sentenced to 8 years in prison. This decree treats those killing civilians on sectarian and theological grounds the same way it treats a student or an academic who attends a class or a conference where views critical of the rulers of the kingdom are expressed.

The document is, in many ways, an official statement about what the rulers of the kingdom fear most and provides an insight into their thinking as it relates to domestic and foreign policy matters. The following can easily be deduced from reading this text.

The rulers of Saudi Arabia…

a.      are fearful of Iran and they are worried that Iran would use the Saudi Shi’as to destabilize the kingdom.

b.     are fearful of the Muslim Brotherhood and countries that support the Muslim Brotherhood (Qatar).

c.      are fearful of dissent and social change.

d.     are fearful of disloyalty: they fear that Saudi citizens  would join the Muslim Brotherhood, non-citizens would fall under the influence of their original countries, and Shi`as would fall under the influence of Iran.

e.      are fearful that the takfiris now fighting in Syria and Iraq will return home better trained and hardened and overthrow them.

f.      are fearful of the uncontrollable nature of the means of communication

g.     are fearful of the “privatization” of religious authority: anyone with a twitter account and large following can be a mufti and no one cares to listen to the official one anymore.  

Since laws are not created in vacuum, this document is also significant in that it represents an official acknowledgement of the role of Saudi Arabia in inciting hate, sectarianism, and violence. It recognizes the role of Saudi religious scholars, donors, and individuals in promoting and sustaining a culture of violence and exporting it to other countries. In this sense, going after hate speech and sectarianism is a step forward: Saudi officials are taking an active role in eradicating supremacist and violent sectarian ideology the same way they took an active role in manufacturing it. The problem is that they are casting a wide net to stifle legitimate dissent and exert even more control over all aspects of people’s lives.

____________
* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

A Media Microscope on Islam-Linked Violence: Selective reporting misrepresents Muslims as prone to killing

A Media Microscope on Islam-Linked Violence: Selective reporting misrepresents Muslims as prone to killing

The murder of British soldier Sgt. Lee Rigby on a London street in May received massive U.S. media attention. The brazenness of the attackers—who allegedly struck Rigby with a car in broad daylight before hacking him to death with bladed weapons—guaranteed coverage. That the crime was captured on videotape from multiple sources didn’t hurt either. All told, Lee Rigby’s London murder has been mentioned in nearly 500 U.S. newspaper and wire stories, according to a search of the Nexis news database.
But the story also fit a comfortable media narrative: The attackers were Muslims who declared religious motivations. One of the assailants called the crime revenge for the killing of Muslims by Western military forces (Reuters, 5/22/13).

For many pundits, the Rigby killing provided dramatic “proof” of the violent and dangerous nature of Islam. Fox News liberal Bob Beckel (Five, 5/23/13) told viewers that Muslims are trying to impose a worldwide caliphate, and that Rigby’s killing was “a product of the British allowing Muslims to come into their country.”


Bill O’Reilly (O’Reilly Factor, 6/5/13) invited Tommy Robinson, the leader of British hate group the English Defence League, onto his Fox News show. Robinson faced little challenge as he smeared Muslims, saying politicians are “constantly pandering to Islam and they’re constantly worried about what the Islamic community would do and how they will react to anything.”

The association of Islam with violence is not restricted to right-wing media. “For a self-described ‘religion of peace,’ Islam does claim a lot of lives,” wrote liberal New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof (9/22/12) in a piece attempting to explain Muslim violence. On CNN (5/5/10), Anderson Cooper telegraphed a similar message when he asked HBO star Bill Maher: “Why is Islam the one religion that so many in America and in the West censor themselves when talking about or making fun of? Is it just fear?” This was a softball for Maher, a commentator known for anti-Muslim bigotry (FAIR Blog, 3/9/12), who responded that Muslims are “violent” and “threaten us.”


FAIR’s 2008 report, Smearcasting: How Islamophobes Spread Fear, Bigotry and Misinformation (10/1/08), found violent and dangerous portrayals of Muslims alive and well in centrist and liberal media habitats: The 2006 National Book Critics Circle nominated for an award the flagrantly Islamophobic While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West From Within, while the New York Times gifted new subscribers with the anti-Muslim DVD, Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West in 2006.

The best-known focus of the whirlwind of smears by the corporate media would be the Park51 Islamic community center, inaccurately but pervasively described as the “Ground Zero Mosque.” Media portrayed the center as a slap in the face to families of 9/11 victims—and as proof that the Obama administration was failing to protect citizens from Muslim extremists (Extra!, 10/10).

But is Islam, as Kristof, Maher and O’Reilly suggest, really particularly violent? It’s a curious argument to make from the vantage point of the United States, which has in recent years launched wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and lesser military strikes in at least a half-a-dozen other nations—violence that has cost at least hundreds of thousands of lives over the past decade (Iraq Body Count, 3/19/13; FAIR Blog, 6/7/13).


And looking over the last century, the bloodiest in human history, it’s an equally strange argument to make from a Western, Christian-majority nation. As University of Michigan Islam scholar Juan Cole (Informed Comment, 4/23/13) points out, of the more than 100 million war deaths in the 20th century, something less than 2 percent came at the hands of Muslim-majority nations. Most of those dead came in wars where non-Muslim nations played a significant role—such as the Iran/Iraq War, where the United States aided the aggressor Iraq, and the Afghan Civil War, where the Soviet Union was a major military force.

Cole also explains that “murder rates in most of the Muslim world are very low compared to the United States,” which is especially violent for a wealthy nation.

According to a Gallup poll (8/2/11; FAIR Blog, 5/3/13), Muslim Americans disapprove of violence against civilians at an exceptionally high rate. When asked if it “is justified for an individual or a small group of people to target and kill civilians,” 89 percent of Muslims said that it is never justified, which was the highest disapproval rate of the six religious and nonreligious groups polled. Muslim Americans also rejected military killing of civilians by a wide margin, while a majority of Protestants, Catholics, Jews and Mormons approved of such killings.

Glenn Greenwald (5/23/13) makes a strong case that the killing of Rigby, a sergeant in the British Army, though political violence, was not terrorism, which is generally defined as political violence targeting civilians. But U.S. coverage of even strictly defined terrorism gives a distorted impression that most of it is linked to Muslims.


In “More Terror, Less Coverage,” Extra! (5/11) showed how a story about an amateurish bomb that fizzled in Times Square in May 2010, planted by a Muslim American, got far more coverage than a much more lethal bomb planted by a white racist in Spokane, Washington, disarmed just hours before its planned detonation during a 2011 Martin Luther King Day parade.

This is par for a media that has an especially hard time reporting domestic terrorism with context or proportionality. Charles Kurzman (Think Progress, 9/10/11), author of The Missing Martyrs: Why There Are So Few Muslim Terrorists, noted in 2011 that since 9/11, Muslim American terrorists “have killed 33 individuals in the United States.” The University of North Carolina terrorism expert put that number in the larger context of U.S. violence: “Over that same period of time, there have been more than 150,000 murders in the United States.” That’s 0.02 percent of homicides since 2001 attributable to Muslim American terrorism.

A 2010 RAND study found that of the “83 terrorist attacks in the United States between 9/11 and the end of 2009, only three…were clearly connected with the jihadist cause” (Extra!, 5/11). Out of the 3 million Muslims living in the United States, around 100 joined jihadist groups during the study period, which according to RAND suggests that American Muslims overwhelmingly do not agree with radical ideology and the violent actions associated with it.
Cole found similar data on Europe. While the European Union’s population is 4.5 percent Muslim (Pew Research Center, 1/11)—“less than 1 percent of terrorist acts in the continent were committed by people from that community” from 2007 to 2009 (Informed Comment, 4/23/13). 

To successfully equate Islam with terrorism requires downplaying terrorism perpetrated by non-Muslims. As conservative Fox News commentator Brian Kilmeade (Fox & Friends, 10/15/10) put it, “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslim.” Kilmeade was defending Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, who’d been criticized for stating on ABC’s View (10/14/10) that “Muslims killed us on 9/11!” Kilmeade later retracted the comment (Fox & Friends, 10/18/10; Media Matters, 10/18/10), but Michael Goodwin, a columnist for Fox’s sibling publication, the Murdoch-owned New York Post (4/28/13), used the exact same phrase in a recent column on the Boston Marathon bombing.


But more influential than the overt bigotry of the Kilmeades and O’Reillys is the drumbeat of media attention to Muslim-linked violence compared to violence and terrorism linked to other groups.
In June, two men in upstate New York were arrested and charged with conspiracy to support terrorism after building a weapon that would shoot radiation into “enemies of Israel.” Possible target locations included an Albany Mosque and a Schenectady Islamic center (AP, 6/19/13; CAIR, 6/24/13). According to Nexis, only 24 newspapers and newswires covered the story in the U.S.

Three weeks before the gruesome murder of Lee Rigby in London, Mohammed Saleem, a 75 year-old Muslim man, was stabbed to death while returning from a mosque in Birmingham, 100 miles north of London. The murder is being considered a hate crime by police (Birmingham Mail, 5/25/13). The entire U.S. media coverage of Mohammed Saleem’s murder, according to Nexis, was a single 136-word dispatch (5/1/13) from the UPI wire service.

Between the two camps, Egypt’s media outlets have chosen to take sides in the ongoing tragic split

Between the two camps, Egypt’s media outlets have chosen to take sides in the ongoing tragic split

by Ahmed Magdy Youssef*
 
Egypt’s last two weeks’ incessant events not only gripped the minds and hearts of the Egyptians, but they captured the interest of the national and international media as well.

For many Egyptians, mostly those who filled public squares across the country to demand Mr. Morsi’s removal and early presidential elections, the military’s intervention on July 3 was inevitable to save the most heavily populated Arab country from slipping into a civil war.

By contrast, Egyptian Islamists and other supporters of Mr. Morsi remain steadfast in their rejection of what they call a “military coup”, refusing to acknowledge the military-backed interim president Adli Mansour and his newly-appointed vice president and prime minister as legitimate. Mr. Morsi’s supporters have staged a series of mass rallies in Cairo, demanding the reinstating of the ousted president.

Between the two camps, Egypt’s media outlets have chosen to take sides in the ongoing tragic split. To put it more pointedly, not only the state-owned media avowedly backed the military after Morsi’s ouster, but most of the Egyptian privately-owned TV stations and newspapers as well have embraced the military’s perspective.

It’s no secret to say that Egypt’s media landscape has never been non-partisan. The Muslim Brotherhood’s TV station – Misr 25 – and others run by their Islamist allies, in addition to newspapers like Freedom and Justice, official newspaper of the MB’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), were undoubtedly partisan. Additionally, being perpetually accused of aligning with the regime that rules, state-owned newspapers like Al-Ahram did partly side with Mr. Morsi before the 30-June demonstrations. On the flip side, most of Egypt’s privately-owned networks and newspapers were whole-heartedly in the anti-Morsi camp. Their dehumanization and demonization of the Brotherhood’s members and other Islamists, not to mention their disparaging of the pro-Morsi protests, has become engrained.

It all reached a crescendo on July 3 after the “popular” ouster of Morsi by the army’s generals. Under the expediency of restoring national order, the military-led authorities shut down Islamist-run TV stations, including Misr 25, and arrested their managers. Only the Freedom and Justice newspaper “survived” the media crackdown!

With only one tone dominating Egypt’s mainstream media, most of the national media outlets went berserk over what was called the “Republican Guard Massacre”. Last week, more than 50 pro-Morsi protesters were shot to death by the armed forces in clashes between the two sides in front of the Presidential Guards.

The aforementioned outlets not only have failed to acknowledge wrongdoing on the part of the military, but have directed their ire toward the victims, Mr. Morsi’s supporters, as well. By adopting the military’s viewpoint that revolves around accusing the pro-Morsi protesters of trying to raid the military’s facility, many Egyptian media outlets vindicated or even praised the “valiant” actions of the army!

This was further aggravated by some western media, such as The Telegraph, who published footage of an Egyptian photographer who chronicled his own death. The 26-year-old photographer from the Freedom and Justice newspaper was among the victims killed by the armed forces in the Republican Guard massacre’s incident. He had managed to capture the moment in which an army soldier with a rifle on top of a yellow stone building shot him dead! However, this footage was circulated only through different social network sites like Facebook. None of Egypt’s state or privately-owned television channels broadcast this footage!

In this polarized environment, many supporters of Mr. Morsi have resorted to Al-Jazeera’s Arabic-language channel, alongside western networks such as CNN , to cater to their needs of seeing unabated coverage of the pro-Morsi protests, in addition to the dismissal of the opposition rallies.

Previously, Egypt’s state-owned and independent media outlets were drifting into two distinct camps; pro- and anti- Morsi. But, from the moment Mr. Morsi was ousted from the political scene, these two different viewpoints have been steered into one sole anti-Morsi direction. This trend, most probably, will continue for a while, till the Islamist TV stations reopen again, given their popularity, wide audience base and their traditional role as primary source of information for the Islamist camp.
__________________

*Ahmed Magdy Youssef holds an MA in Global Journalism from Örebro University in Sweden. He has researched the media coverage of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, and is currently monitoring the Egyptian media system through the national media watch group, Egypt’s Media Credibility Index (MCE Watch).
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