By Aijaz Zaka Syed
April 12, 2014
Journalism is just a gun, suggested Warren Ellis, it’s only got one bullet in it but if you aim right, that’s all you need to blow a kneecap off the world. But how often is this gun held and aimed right?
Blaming media for their woes comes rather readily to Arabs and Muslims. In fact, after the long festering Palestine-Israel conflict, the only issue that evokes strong passions across the Middle East and the Muslim world is the apparent, in-your-face ‘bias’ of western media.
The rest of the world can perhaps never understand the anguish and helplessness that ordinary Arabs and Muslims go through every time the media trains its skewed spotlight on their affairs.
It is commonplace to hear Arab and Muslim intellectuals talk of the ‘Zionist lobby’ controlling and setting the agenda of the global media. But is the media bias really a myth? I don’t think so.
The western narrative is indeed hopelessly lopsided and dictated by its geopolitical and economic interests worldwide and powerful lobbies, especially the all-powerful Israeli lobby. According to received wisdom, it is this monopoly over the media that allows Them to distort, misrepresent and misinterpret Our reality.
From Palestine to the general state of affairs in the Middle East and elsewhere, the world views us through the western and Israeli prism. Thanks to this stranglehold of the Lobby over the western media – patiently built over the past several decades – Arabs and Muslims almost always lose the battle of hearts and minds even before it’s begun.
So the Palestinians struggling to survive in their own land in which they have lived for centuries have to suffer the indignity of being demonised as ‘terrorists’. Their fight for freedom and dignity is painted as the terrorism of barbarians bent on blowing themselves up to destroy ‘civilised Israel’ and its western friends.
And while the west props up its friendly potentates as ‘democratic’ and ‘moderate’ leaders, Arabs and Muslims are vilified for their somehow ‘inherent’ inability to ‘embrace’ the glorious ideals of western democracy and freedom that the rest of the world has adopted and practices successfully. This is an impossibly asymmetrical and one-sided battle. We are faced with a monstrous Orwellian media machine and its awesome, overwhelming power that has for years controlled our world and dictated its agenda.
From the worldwide media empire of the likes of Rupert Murdoch (whose News Corp owns Fox News besides scores of newspapers, television channels and radio stations around the globe) to the stable of Time-Warner that owns some of the world’s most powerful newspapers, magazines (Time, Times etc) and other media networks, the control of the Lobby and its long-extending, powerful tentacles is complete.
This control even extends to the Hollywood, the mighty dream factory that plays a critical role in evolving and perpetuating lasting stereotypes, myths and impressions about good guys and bad guys in Hollywood-speak.
Most of the major Hollywood studios and production companies are wholly or partly owned by Jewish and pro-Israel groups and families. So it is of little surprise then that Arabs and Muslims do not exactly come across as the friendliest and most likable people on earth in Hollywood flicks and popular media.
The fact that some of the top editors, columnists, writers and filmmakers in the US and elsewhere are pro-Israel also doesn’t help our cause. Just look at the New York Times and Washington Post, the two most respected voices of the US establishment, and the proud line-up of their editors and columnists.
From Tom Friedman to Paul Krugman to Roger Cohen to Charles Krauthammer, some of the biggest names in the business are either pro-Israeli Jewish or happen to be staunch supporters of Israel and its ‘divine’ right over Arab land.
If America, as the sole superpower and political and intellectual master of the free world, controls our world, a tiny but most powerful minority in turn controls America. The Lobby controls our past, present and future. So is it any surprise that both Republicans and Democrats are fighting all the time for the vital support and patronage of the Israel lobby? The Lobby can indeed make or mar any public figure.
Look at the Republican Jewish love-fest in Vegas this week. Top Republican politicians including governors lined up and vied with each other to boast their love for Israel and offer their obeisance to the Lobby as the infamous casino baron Sheldon Adelson held court. He’s the same gent who at the behest of Israel’s Netanyahu bankrolled Romney and other Republicans in order to thwart Barack Obama’s re-election.
But to be fair to these Zionist movers and shakers, if they are there right at the top of the US establishment, they have every right to be there. After all, they have worked very hard for years to be in that position.
In fact, Arabs and Muslims have no reason to bemoan the fact that the world pays them little attention while lapping up the distorted, alternate reality offered by the pro-Zionist media and intellectual establishment.
After all, what has the Arab and Muslim world done to present their side of the story before the world? Very little indeed, notwithstanding the enormous economic, human and natural resources at their disposal.
While their precious resources are splurged on mammoth monuments to vanity, shopping malls and other myriad, splendid avenues of leisure and pleasure, they have invested next to nothing in initiatives that could have helped them fight this critical battle of hearts and minds.
How many universities from the Middle East or for that matter the entire Muslim world can make it to the top 100 or 200 universities in the world? And this is the region that is supposed to have given the world its first professional university, not to mention some of the most brilliant minds in all philosophy, medicine, astronomy, chemistry and all branches of sciences. This is the region that boasted some of the richest libraries and scientific research centres like Dar Al Hikmah of Baghdad.
Whatever happened to the pioneering Arab spirit of discovering new frontiers of knowledge, innovation and above all an ever voracious hunger for new ideas wherever they come from?
It is as if we are floating through an endless infinity and suffocating vacuum where there is no light of fresh ideas or winds of change. We are in a constant state of atrophy and listlessness, tottering from crisis to crisis. And it shows in all our affairs, from public life to governance to economics to our various institutions including media.
The media’s role has been reduced to paying endless tributes to personalities. Most official media in the Muslim world are preoccupied with what is considered non-news elsewhere while editing out the real needs, concerns, and challenges facing their people.
Our affairs are run and dictated by those who have never been known to be our friends or cared for our interests. Indeed, our key institutions and decision-making bodies, including the media, are peopled and manipulated by forces that have nothing but deep contempt for Arabs and Muslims. Today in Arab and Muslim-owned media it is hard to find stories and voices that mirror our reality or empathise with issues and concerns of the larger Muslim world.
It is a hopelessly bleak and gloomy scenario across the region and it seems to get gloomier by the day. That old wise man called Shakespeare promised there is a tide in the affairs of men.
When will our tide turn though? Will it ever? The answer is in the negative unless there is a change in our attitude as a people.
Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Middle East based writer and editor of ‘Caravan’, an online news magazine.