By Hani Hamdan, Engage Minnesota
The CEO of the company I work for likes to send e-mail commentaries about world events every now and then. His last mass e-mail was in regards to the recent terror attacks in Paris. In addition to lamenting (rightfully) on how horrifying the attacks were, our CEO kept repeating his bewilderedness at the mindsets of the attackers. How could they be so cruel? So devoid of humanity? What’s going on in the world? Why is this happening to us?
He echoes the sentiment of many people – the sentiment of amazement and confusion. Unfortunately, such confusion is no surprise given the current state of media in the US.
I grew up in Kuwait during the Iraqi-Iranian war. Whenever my parents wanted to follow war events, they would turn the television to Iraq’s government channel. All Arabic channels were government channels back then. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, Iraqi TV became the only channel to watch as Kuwaiti channels were shut down after the invasion.
My family and I moved to Jordan before the first Gulf war started. Jordanian TV was pro-Iraq at the time, but I also got a glimpse of Israeli TV programming, which was anti-Iraq and pro- Coalition. Since the Arab Spring began in 2011, privately and government owned news outlets would each champion its owners’ points of view in the way its news is represented.
The above experiences made me quite familiar with wartime media. At times of peace, media has more room for fairness and self criticism. In times of war, media is quickly transformed into an critical part of the arsenal of its host country. I remember Iraq TV’s constant barrage of patriotic songs and overly passionate “news reports” injected between regular programs. I remember the awfully one-sided nature of the coverage. I remember being amazed at the bias even as a kid. It was easy to see how all channels whose governments were involved in conflicts operated by the same book.
Obviously, our media cannot delve into the same conspicuousness of bias as third-world channels do – we have an obligation to appear like heralds of free speech and transparency, values which define us as a civilization. We will probably (hopefully) never hear phrases of excessive exaltation for our president or of passionate resentment towards our adversaries from respectable news channels.
But even though we’re not formally at war with the Muslim world, for some reason our media behaves consistently in a wartime manner. Whether it’s by corporate control, US government intervention, or a fear of declining ratings, the result is self-evident.
People’s opinions are shaped largely by the facts with which they are presented. Control the facts that get through and you control how people feel about any issue. This is all it takes for wartime media to be effective. No need for patriotic music and passionate speeches, just filter the facts. Show only the good side of “your people” and only the bad side of the enemy and, congratulations, you’re a master of wartime media.
The list of examples to prove this is too long to enumerate. The utter ignoring of all the people we killed in Iraq and elsewhere, the amazing one sidedness of coverage in all Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, the complete lack of acknowledgement to the suffering of civilians inflicted with our drone war abroad, the lack of a single account of any of our torture victims.. We know all about Boko Haram but nothing about the massacres committed by Christian militias in Africa or by Bhuddists in Myanmar against Muslims.
Consider this: in June of 2013, a military coup took place in Egypt, overthrowing the country’s first democratically elected president. Shortly thereafter, the Egyptian military gunned down over 1000 unarmed Egyptian protesters in cold blood in one of the worst military crackdowns in modern history. Our government was instrumental to the success of that coup, and Western governments still support it financially and militarily.
You probably don’t know much about that crackdown, but you know all about the recent terrorist attack at cartoonist Charlie Hebdo’s office in Paris. One key characteristic of wartime media is to extinguish all sense from the enemy’s point of view. The enemy acts unprovoked because he is simply bad by nature. Showing the source of the enemy’s grievances is counterproductive and must be avoided at all costs. The enemy’s retaliatory acts are shown as being an overwhelming display of violence in response to our goodness and fairness, where in this case the truth is that we are responsible for far more deaths and suffering on the other side than we are comfortable in believing.
The world is not going crazy. We’re just half-informed.
It doesn’t stop there. When was the last time you saw or heard anything in the media about the cultural or scientific contribution of any Muslim-majority country? From Indonesia to Morocco to Mali, that entire section of the planet seems to have nothing noteworthy about it except war, famine, or terrorism. No beautiful rugs are being made in Iran, no novels are being written in Egypt, no soap is being manufactured in Lebanon, no falcons are being trained in Saudi Arabia, and no natural beauty to display in the Atlas mountains of Morocco. The only time you see Arabic letters is on wall graffiti in scenes from an Iraq war movie or while playing Modern Warfare, and the only “positive” stories about Muslims are those that serve our agenda, such as Malala Yousefzai’s.
This is the epitome of wartime media.
Even during exposés and leaks that show the magnitude of our own wrongdoing, our media knows well how to divert attention, trivialize, desensitize, or otherwise make sure that we never have a full grasp on reality. Whistleblowers are prosecuted and honest journalists are pushed into fringe websites and small news outlets.
So if you’re finding it hard to make sense of what’s going on in the world, remember one thing: our media, right now, is wartime media – from FOX to NPR and everything in between. What to do about it is up to you, but if there’s a time to stop listening to mainstream media and look for alternative outlets, this is it. And if you find that events are not making sense, it’s almost always because there is missing information that was not presented to you..