[Reader-list] Media War 1.3
ravis at sarai.net
Wed Oct 10 23:15:16 IST 2001
Todays Indian Express suddenly reported on the Al-Jazeera bureau in Delhi,
(it opened quite some time ago, no one reported it then), following US
attacks on that channel. This is a piece by Robert Fiske one of the few
critical voices in the media.
Robert Fisk: Lost in the rhetorical fog of war
'The Taliban have kept reporters out; does that mean we have to balance
this distorted picture with our own half-truths?'
09 October 2001
A few months ago, my old friend Tom Friedman set off for the small Gulf
emirate of Qatar, from where, in one of his messianic columns for The New
York Times, he informed us that the tiny state's Al-Jazeera satellite
channel was a welcome sign that democracy might be coming to the Middle
East. Al-Jazeera had been upsetting some of the local Arab
dictators President Mubarak of Egypt for one and Tom thought this a good
idea. So do I. But hold everything. The story is being rewritten. Last
week, US Secretary of State Colin Powell rapped the Emir of Qatar over the
knuckles because so he claimed Al-Jazeera was "inciting anti-Americanism''.
So, goodbye democracy. The Americans want the emir to close down the
channel's office in Kabul, which is scooping the world with tape of the US
bombardments and more to the point with televised statements by Osama bin
Laden. The most wanted man in the whole world has been suggesting that he's
angry about the deaths of Iraqi children under sanctions, about the
corruption of pro-western Arab regimes, about Israel's attacks on the
Palestinian territory, about the need for US forces to leave the Middle
East. And after insisting that bin Laden is a "mindless terrorist'' that
there is no connection between US policy in the Middle East and the crimes
against humanity in New York and Washington the Americans need to close
down Al-Jazeera's coverage.
Needless to say, this tomfoolery by Colin Powell has not been given much
coverage in the Western media, who know that they do not have a single
correspondent in the Taliban area of Afghanistan. Al-Jazeera does.
But why are we journalists falling back on the same sheep-like conformity
that we adopted in the 1991 Gulf War and the 1999 Kosovo war? For here we
go again. The BBC was yesterday broadcasting an American officer talking
about the dangers of "collateral damage'' without the slightest hint of
the immorality of this phrase. Tony Blair boasts of Britain's involvement
in the US bombardment by talking about our "assets'', and by yesterday
morning the BBC were using the same soldier-speak. Is there some kind of
rhetorical fog that envelops us every time we bomb someone?
As usual, the first reports of the US missile attacks were covered without
the slightest suggestion that innocents were about to die in the country we
plan to "save''. Whether the Taliban are lying or telling the truth about
30 dead in Kabul, do we reporters really think that all our bombs fall on
the guilty and not the innocent? Do we think that all the food we are
reported to be dropping is going to fall around the innocent and not the
Taliban? I am beginning to wonder whether we have not convinced ourselves
that wars our wars are movies. The only Hollywood film ever made about
Afghanistan was a Rambo epic in which Sylvester Stallone taught the Afghan
mujahedin how to fight the Russian occupation, help to defeat Soviet troops
and won the admiration of an Afghan boy. Are the Americans, I wonder,
somehow trying to actualise the movie?
But look at the questions we're not asking. Back in 1991 we dumped the cost
of the Gulf War billions of dollars of it on Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. But
the Saudis and Kuwaitis are not going to fund our bombing this time round.
So who's going to pay? When? How much will it cost us and I mean us? The
first night of bombing cost, so we are told, at least $2m, I suspect much
more. Let us not ask how many Afghans that would have fed but do let's ask
how much of our money is going towards the war and how much towards
Bin Laden's propaganda is pretty basic. He films his own statements and
sends one of his henchmen off to the Al-Jazeera office in Kabul. No
vigorous questioning of course, just a sermon. So far we've not seen any
video clips of destroyed Taliban equipment, the ancient Migs and even older
Warsaw Pact tanks that have been rusting across Afghanistan for years. Only
a sequence of pictures apparently real of bomb damage in a civilian area
of Kabul. The Taliban have kept reporters out. But does that mean we have
to balance this distorted picture with our own half-truths?
So hard did a colleague of mine try, in a radio interview the other day, to
unlink the bin Laden phenomenon from the West's baleful history in the
Middle East that he seriously suggested that the attacks were timed to fall
on the anniversary of the defeat of Muslim forces at the gates of Vienna in
1683. Unfortunately, the Poles won their battle against the Turks on 12,
not 11, September. But when the terrifying details of the hijacker Mohamed
Atta's will were published last week, dated April 1996, no one could think
of any event that month that might have propelled Atta to his murderous
Not the Israeli bombardment of southern Lebanon, nor the Qana massacre by
Israeli artillery of 106 Lebanese civilians in a UN base, more than half of
them children. For that's what happened in April, 1996. No, of course that
slaughter is not excuse for the crimes against humanity in the United
States last month. But isn't it worth just a little mention, just a tiny
observation, that an Egyptian mass-murderer-to-be wrote a will of chilling
suicidal finality in the month when the massacre in Lebanon enraged Arabs
across the Middle East?
Instead of that, we're getting Second World War commentaries about western
military morale. On the BBC we had to listen to how it was "a perfect
moonless night for the air armada'' to bomb Afghanistan. Pardon me? Are the
Germans back at Cap Gris Nez? Are our fighter squadrons back in the skies
of Kent, fighting off the Dorniers and Heinkels? Yesterday, we were told on
one satellite channel of the "air combat'' over Afghanistan. A lie, of
course. The Taliban had none of their ageing Migs aloft. There was no combat.
Of course, I know the moral question. After the atrocities in New York, we
can't "play fair" between the ruthless bin Laden and the West; we can't
make an equivalence between the mass-murderer's innocence and the American
and British forces who are trying to destroy the Taliban.
But that's not the point. It's our viewers and readers we've got to "play
fair" with. Must we, because of our rage at the massacre of the innocents
in America, because of our desire to cowtow to the elderly "terrorism
experts", must we lose all our critical faculties? Why at least not tell us
how these "terrorism experts" came to be so expert? And what are their
connections with dubious intelligence services?
In some cases, in America, the men giving us their advice on screen are the
very same operatives who steered the CIA and the FBI into the greatest
intelligence failure in modern history: the inability to uncover the plot,
four years in the making, to destroy the lives of almost 6,000 people.
President Bush says this is a war between good and evil. You are either
with us or against us. But that's exactly what bin Laden says. Isn't it
worth pointing this out and asking where it leads?
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
More information about the reader-list