How to read Iraq with crossed eyes and forked tongue

Firas Al-Atraqchi
10 Min Read

CAIRO: More than three years into this war, and after nearly 650,000 Iraqi deaths, reporting by mass media on the crises there is no better than the gung-ho, hoopla expressed by numerous columnists seeking evidence on weapons of mass destruction on the eve of invasion.

With Iraq’s infrastructure utterly decimated, the media is entirely complicit in crimes against humanity for failing the very tenets of basic journalism first and foremost, and secondly, for failing to establish a series of checks and balances to correct itself.

I remember clearly in the build-up to the war the near feverish frenzy in North American media to see some blood spilled, to destroy Iraq, to lambaste every voice of opposition to the war and raise to divinity every pro-war sack of manure passed off as objective journalism.

In the US, those who called for scrutiny into the Bush administration’s war plans were ostracized, shunned, called traitors and ultimately fired.

If they could, mobs would have likely lynched the Dixie Chicks.

The media had become a cult of self-serving, self-righteous fanatical and maniacal pundits patting each other on the back every time the White House uttered its diatribes of sheer lunacy.

Embedded journalism was not meant to give a clearer picture of combat and conflict but the pre-approved rendering of what North American viewers were allowed to see.

But it didn’t end there.

All of a sudden, we heard terms like “overwhelmingly Shiite population . Says who? And what does “overwhelmingly really mean?

We also hear from such “Iraq experts as some of those you will read from time to time that Saddam oppressed the Shiites, oppressed the Kurds.

But not once do you read that Saddam also oppressed the Sunnis. Saddam was what one friend called an equal-opportunity oppressor. It did not matter how you prayed or to whom you prayed. If you were a political threat or dissenter, you wound up in jail or worse.

Saddam never billed himself as a Sunni Sultan but as a champion of pan-Arabism. And as such, he did not play into the Shiite-Sunni rifts the Friedmans, Sholomos, Hitchens, and Rices of this world would have you believe.

I remember quite well in the first few months after the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the wires began to refer to the government of Iraq as Shiite-led, while on the other hand we heard of efforts to unite and nationalize the government.

We heard from one end of the spectrum such wonderful musings as “government of reconciliation and on the other we heard “Sunni insurgents waging war against the Shiite and Kurdish-led government .

What utter garbage. What do you call Shiites fighting US occupation? And when a Shiite faction takes arms against Shiites in the government, why no rush to label there?

Pick up your pants.

We must ask ourselves, why is the media so hell-bent on playing up the issue of sectarianism in Iraq? Why are certain misinformed columnists systematically and methodically insisting on giving you part of the story and not the rest?

Why, during the invasion of Lebanon this past summer, did the media insist on labeling some countries as Sunni and others as Shiite?

When was the last time any Egyptian referred to his country as a “Sunni power ? It has never happened. And likely will not happen. Not in Egypt and not in Jordan, Libya, Yemen or elsewhere.

But it exists in the fantastical world of the foreign media, most of whom could not say “Ana ghabi in Arabic much alone order a loaf of bread on the streets of Cairo or Amman.

These are the same people – journalists and columnists – who parade their skills by referring to “informed sources , “senior sources , and my personal favorite – “reliable sources .

How many of these sources have been cited in the run-up to the war, when the biggest media corporations were building the case to invade Iraq for the Bush administration?

But it isn’t only about Iraq. Remember Jenin, when dozens of Palestinians were pulverized by the bulldozer, the war hero Ariel Sharon?

Lally Weymouth interviewed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for Newsweek’s (April 1, 2002 issue) cover story “How Will Israel Survive?

Her interview, titled “There’s a War On , painted the most dignified picture yet of a man that is considered by his own military to be the Butcher of Beirut, where some 2,000 Palestinian civilians (civilians, not militants and not terrorists, but civilians) were butchered by Israel’s allies, the Phalange.

And this all happened in the midst of the butchery of Jenin. Palestinians armed with rifles were portrayed as a threat to Israel, one of the most powerful nations in the world with likely the most advanced weapons system.

Reading through Weymouth’s pathetic portfolio of articles and interviews with Israelis in 2002, one comes away with the feeling that there is none more ardent a pro-Israeli Arab-basher than her.

In a CNN segment concerning her interview with Sharon, Weymouth almost seemed to cry as she told the viewing public how gentle and endearing a man Sharon is.

Was Weymouth reporting about how many Palestinian civilians were killed by Israeli Aggression Forces (IAF)? I am sorry, but hey, remember that word: O B J E C T I V I T Y?

It is an English term, I assure you, and not created by Islamic Fascists.

And also notice how south Beirut was referred to as a Hezbollah stronghold. This is a tactic often used by the media when it wants to build up support for increased aggression and whitewash the deaths of civilians.

US media, especially in the case of Fallujah, referred to Iraqi cities where fighting against occupation troops had erupted as strongholds . The most popular definition for this term alludes to a militarized area akin to a fortress, populated by military or militia-affiliated personnel. The civilian component is therefore removed from the collective psyche.

By performing such sleight of hand definitions, Fallujah, once home to 400,000 Iraqi men, women and children, was then considered a legitimate target – an area upon which open warfare and the many horrors thereof was permitted. We all remembered what happened there right?

This, too, is the semantic strategy for qualifying the destruction of entire neighborhoods in Beirut and all outlying villages and towns in South Lebanon. Villages dotting the Lebanese side of the border with Israel are now referred to as strongholds.

One last note I beg all to consider: what makes one an expert on a particular topic? Does sitting behind a desk in Langley make one an expert on the Pushan province in China without ever having visited the place?

Furthermore, what gives an Israeli the right to write about internal politics in say, Iran, or Syria, or Chad? Had they lived in those places, I would concur some credence may be applied to their testimony.

But how can an American columnist write with such authority about Diyarbakir, for example, without having ever been there? Are they basing their information on hearsay? Did they read about Diryabakir in an encyclopedia or check to see previous articles written on the topic? Where do they get their information from?

Some do speak with forked tongue, so scrutinize.

I would never pretend to write about internal Israeli, Turkish or Vietnamese politics no matter how much I had read about the place. I would, of course, interview analysts and experts from those areas. But to pass myself off as such without experiencing what they experienced . nope, not going to happen, I won’t do it.

But this is not all gloom and doom. There are some out there like David Ignatius who continue to write with reason and flair – my hat is off to you Mr. Ignatius, you inspire.

PS: Pushan is not in China; rather it is the capital of South Kyongsang Do in South Korea, but I think you get my point.

Firas Al-Atraqchi is the Editor of The Daily Star Egypt

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