Iraq, movie/tv propaganda

How Our Mainstream Media Turned Into The ISIS PR Team.

Turning on the TV, browsing through the news on the internet, even walking on the street… So much repetitive talk about ISIS, all over the place. And yet, so often, I feel like nothing (new) is being said. Like nothing (new) is being learned. What do we even know about ISIS?

In his recent talk with Democracy Now! Patrick Cockburn tried to talk about some of those things we don’t know, and don’t hear about in the mainstream news. Cockburn discussed the funding of the self-proclaimed Islamic State. He said it seems like the Islamic State has much more money than it ought to have. “It’s raised certainly 100,000, and getting on over 200,000, soldiers. They’re all being paid. It’s introduced conscription. It recently lowered the age of conscription below 18. If you join up, you don’t get much. You get $400 a month. If you’re a foreign fighter, you’ll get $800 a month and your keep. But this is a pretty large army they’re putting in the field, and they don’t have many sources of revenue. They have some oil. They have some taxes. So, there’s a great big gap there, which senior Kurdish officials and officials in Baghdad have told me they’re convinced come from private donors in the oil states of the Gulf. That’s the only real explanation for that,” Cockburn said.

9781784780401-35d961c1f3e3af20ab8ad2edc9a7d143/Patrick Cockburn’s book The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution/

In his recent article for The IndependentPrivate donors from Gulf oil states helping to bankroll salaries of up to 100,000 Isis fighters’, Cockburn writes: “There are two further developments to the advantage of Islamic State. Even in the face of the common threat, the leaders in Baghdad and Erbil remain deeply divided. When Mosul fell last year, the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki claimed that the Iraqi army had been stabbed in the back by a conspiracy between Kurds and Isis. The two sides remain deeply suspicious of each other and, at the start of last week, a delegation led by the Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani failed to reach an agreement in Baghdad on how much of Iraq’s oil revenues should go to the Kurds in exchange for a previously agreed quantity of oil from Kurdish-held northern oilfields.”

In the interview with Democracy Now! he also talked about the atmosphere in Mosul, saying: “But one should also say two things. One, that the Sunni Arabs in Mosul are very frightened of ISIS, what they call DAESH, of ISIS, but they’re also very frightened of the idea of the Iraqi army or the Shia militias capturing Mosul. So, they don’t really know which way to go. I was talking this morning to some people in a refugee camp here in Erbil who had left Mosul because their parents had been in the Iraqi police force. And what happened was that they had fled Mosul, but then ISIS goes to their houses and blows them up and then puts the video of the explosion on the social media, so the—saying this is a message to even people who have fled, that they’re blowing up their houses (…)

And there’s one other point, a very important one, I’d like to make, which I don’t think people have taken on board. As you know, that the U.S. government, the Pentagon and the Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, have said there’s going to be an offensive to capture Mosul. But the major relief organizations, the World Food Program, believe that if there’s an attack on Mosul, there’s going to be an exodus of up to a million refugees, of basically the Sunni Arabs who live in Mosul, that they’re going to flee the city when airstrikes intensify and they believe it’s going to come under attack. At the moment, they couldn’t get into the Kurdish region. They’re banned. So they’re all going to be on the road. So, they’re pre-positioning supplies for one of the biggest exodus of refugees that we’ve seen, I don’t know for how long. But it’s going to be massive. There’s going to be terrible suffering, and many will die.”

Cockburn briefly reflected on Turkey’s (possible) role in the ongoing conflicts: “Yeah, I mean, there are about or said to be 20,000 foreign jihadis who have gone to the Islamic State. One of the amazing things is that they’re still quite easily able to cross the Turkish frontier into Syria to—into the Islamic State, despite the fact that Turkey is meant to be part of the coalition to eliminate the Islamic State. But there’s a 500-mile border between Syria and Turkey, and it still seems to be generally open.

What I find as one of his most important points is that the Islamic State is very obsessed with the idea of dominating the news agenda, and it doesn’t really matter how they do it. After months of seeing videos of executions, libraries burning and statues smashing in prime time news hours, we can all agree with that point. “So they know that if you have a Japanese hostage and you demand $200 million ransom, that that’s going to be leading the news. For a long time, cutting off people’s heads led the news. Then that—people became used to that, so they burn to death this Jordanian pilot in a cage, knowing again that will dominate the news, will be assertion of their strength. And they do that particularly when they’ve had a military setback. When things aren’t going too well on the battlefront, they want the news to be dominated by some assertion of power on their part, which may be a hideous atrocity, usually is, but they feel they’ve achieved their aim if that’s what everybody’s talking about. They said at one moment on their social media that media is half jihad. So it’s something they do very consciously, and it’s something they use, particularly foreigners entering the Islamic State, as a method of publicity,” Cockburn explained.

It makes one think – should media stop covering ISIS stories, stop covering them the way it did so far? Because, so far (with some great and notable exceptions like Democracy Now!, Independent’s Cockburn and Fisk, just to name a few), media coverage suited ISIS’s agenda. Showing videos of executions. Statues smashing. Libraries burning. People burning. And that would be it, maybe a sentence or two of comment (with words like outrage, brutality, evil), a sentence or two about the references made to the prophet and Islam, sentence or two of some superficial analysis of the situation, a sentence or two of some additional ‘facts’. We get to know so little about the general situation on the ground, about the funding and the organizing of the fighters, about the various interests tangled in this story, about the background stories and issues. I don’t know if that is intentional, it might be. One thing I am certain of – the mainstream public, the average viewers, the ‘regular people’ – we get to know only the things ISIS serves us. Is that journalism? No, it isn’t. Our main media outlets are basically ISIS PR teams.

• • •

For more on ISIS, I recommend reading Patrick Cockburn’s book The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution. I hope to review this book and write more about ISIS sometime soon.

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art of resistance, movie/tv propaganda

Why Are We Still Stuck On “Humanizing”?

In one of her interviews, Palestinian filmmaker Annemarie Jacir says she’s “not one of those filmmakers who cares about humanizing Palestinians, that’s not my goal at all… I’m not interested in that dialogue with people, in showing the West that Palestinians are human beings too, because that is so basic, if somebody doesn’t know that, I’m not interested even in the beginning of a dialogue with that person.”

Unfortunately, it seems like, for a great number of audiences, humanizing is still a thing. Just going through Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York (HONY) images from the Middle East, one can notice a huge difference in reactions and comments. There are endless comments thanking him for “humanizing the people of the Middle East”, for “showing they are people too”, for “showing Iraq has shopping malls, wow”, etc. And, of course, it took a white guy from North America to provide them with the right dose of credibility.

Not to take my comment the wrong way – HONY is a truly beautiful project and I admire Stanton’s work. He deals with humanity, with those things all of us share – like parents worrying about their children, insecurity in looks and life decisions, thrill of love, importance of friends… The thing that worries me is that (looking at the reactions of the public) some people are automatically perceived as humans (which is normal and how it should be), while for others – it takes some time and effort to be perceived as such (now, that is not normal). Remember, we are talking about random, everyday people, folks you meet on the street (not political leaders or high-rank army officers). How is it that we are still in need of showing them as humans?

I am aware of the broad extent of political propaganda and the lacking representations of diversity of the Middle East, particularly in the United States, but still, something about these reactions is still shocking. If Stanton is showing them as humans, what were they before, to those who now see them as humans? Did they not even think about them, or were they just numbers, were they aliens, were they savages?

Now, if there is still a need for and a thrill over “showing as human”, we can’t move forward – to talk about the burning issues of the Middle East and our (Western) part in it. If you do not perceive someone as human, then you do not relate to that person, you do not feel compassion for what’s happening to that person. That human being is as strange and unknown as it gets. And if, let’s say, your country invades that person’s country, you just might not find it troubling at all.

Another thing is that realizing we are all human is not enough. That is not the ending point. That is the starting point, that’s the point of departure for our activism. Yes, we’re all humans, and yes – we will react when we see injustice happening to other humans, no matter where they are and who they are. We will inform ourselves and we will not satisfy ourselves with crying over an image of children in Iraq who lost everything but still find a way to laugh and play with toys they made out of junk. We will not use that image to feel better about our peaceful lives, to make ourselves appreciate everything we have. It shouldn’t be (just) like that. We should do something for those children. It’s about them, not about us, remember. It’s about responsibility and interconnections of the world.

As we are being stuck in this long phase of “humanizing”, the world is slowly deteriorating.

General, your tank is a powerful vehicle.

It smashes down forest and crushes a hundred men.

But it has one defect:

It needs a driver.

General, your bomber is powerful.

It flies faster than a storm and carries more than an

elephant.

But it has one defect:

It needs a mechanic.

General, man is very useful.

He can fly and he can kill.

But he has one defect:

He can think.

Bertolt Brecht

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art of resistance, movie/tv propaganda

West vs. Islam: Playing The Religion Card.

In the spring of 2009, Barack Obama gave his famous Cairo speech. One of his first sentences was:

We meet at a time of great tension between the United States and Muslims around the world, tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate. The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of coexistence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars. More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunites to many Muslims.“

He continues to talk about Islam during the speech, emphasizing the partnership of Islam and America,and the fight against negative stereotypes of Islam.

Now, the terms West vs. Islam or United States vs. Muslims are quite obvious – West is not defined by religion, but (Middle) East continues to be. It is true that the dominant religion in the West is practiced differently and is maybe less obviously present in everyday life (on a personal, not on an institutional level – let’s just say that the influence of the Catholic Church is not be underestimated) and you will probably not see Christians in New York or Sydney praying five times a day, but you will definitely see Muslims doing it in Amman or Sana’a, for example. But, there are so many issues with defining people by their religion primarily.

One of them is that those terms are extremely insulting to Muslims living in the West, people who have spent their lives in – let’s say – USA, and find it as their home, find American identity as an important part of who they are. Saying that we are in conflict with Muslims generally or have an issue with Muslims is problematic for there are 1.5 billions of Muslims in the world, and they belong to diverse communities, different countries, and many, many of them – live and belong to the Western world.

Jocelyne Cesari, Senior Research Fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, an the Director of the Islam in the West Program at Harvard University writes how:

One major consequence of such a polarized mindset is to mask the sociological reality of Muslims. In fact, a striking gap exists between the image of Islam as it is constructed in binary public discourse and the multifaceted reality of Muslims across countries and localities. For example, the dominant assumption is that visible Islamic identities in the West are inversely correlated to their civic and political loyalties, while there is empirical evidence that contradicts such an assumption. My book – ‘Why the West Fears Islam – An Exploration of Muslims in Liberal Democracies’ – presents first-hand data from focus groups I organized in Paris, London, Berlin, Amsterdam, and Boston between 2007 and 2010. In this regard, it is the first systematic and comparative review of the existing knowledge about Muslim political behaviours and religious practices in western Europe and in the United States.

The major conclusion is that although Muslims are challenged by their secular environment, they do not experience the incompatibility so intensely debated by western politicians and Salafi preachers alike. Then why is Islam depicted as an obstacle in political discourse and the media? Taking up this intriguing gap, I have attempted to make sense of this disjuncture between what Muslims do and the political construct of the ‘Muslim problem’. During this exploration, liberalism and secularism have appeared as the two major idioms used to make sense of the Muslim presence.

The ‘Islamic Problem’ in Europe is a consequence of immigrant settlement that in the last two decades has been phrased in cultural and religious terms. The fact that Muslims stand at the core of three major social ‘problems’ – immigration; class and economic integration; ethnicity and multiculturalism – has increased the concern about Islamic religion, increasingly seen as the major reason for all problems. I show in my book that in the United States this culturalization of all political issues related to Muslims is more recent and primarily related to security concerns. Therefore, categories of ‘immigrant’ and ‘Muslim’ overlap in Western Europe, unlike in the United States where immigration debates centre on economic and social concerns such as wages, assimilation, and language. The outcome of these social shifts is visible in the apocalyptic turn of the public rhetoric on Islam in Europe. Extreme right political figures like Geert Wilders speak of ‘the lights going out over Europe’ or of ‘the sheer survival of the West’.“

She continues to say:

This ‘new integrationist’ discourse is widely shared across European countries and, interestingly, promoted by former left-wing activists. Gender equality and rejection of religious authority, which were primary left-wing topics of struggle in the 1960s have become in the present decade the legitimate markers of European identity. In these conditions, all groups and individuals are required to demonstrate conformity to these liberal values in order to become legitimate members of national communities. The ‘Moderate Muslims’ label serves this purpose. It creates a distinction that is supposedly not based on Islam as such but on the adherence of Muslims to liberal values.

Strikingly, feminist groups have become key actors of this discourse. Some feminist figures have been particularly vehement against group rights and especially against any Islamic principles that could undermine gender equality. Curiously, this feminist discourse silences the Muslim women that it purports to defend. As a consequence, Muslim women are transformed into subalterns in a way that is similar to the colonial and postcolonial vision of the Muslim subject.“

With their book Who Speaks for Islam? John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed have performed an invaluable service in understanding contemporary Islam and the disparate views of 1.5 billion Muslims.  Relying on the work of the Gallup organization to ascertain the views of Muslims across the world, Esposito and Mogahed have analyzed public opinion in the Islamic world on all of the most important issues of the day. Their analysis provides an excellent foundation for bridging the gaps between the West and the East, and is a great read for all of those who wish to understand this topic.

There are many reasons for us to do so. For example, a 2006 USA Today/Gallup poll found that substantial minorities of Americans admit to harboring at least some prejudice against Muslims and favoring heightened security measures for Muslims a way to help prevent terrorism. The same poll found that 44% of Americans saying that Muslim are too extreme in their religious beliefs.

What is extreme? Isn’t the killing of Dr. George Tiller, a 67-year-old abortion provider who was shot point blank in the forehead as he attended church services in Wichita, extreme? Tiller’s clinic was one of a handful in the USA that performed abortions after the 24th week of pregnancy. Tiller’s case is not an isolated one, and that is only one tiny example of the wrongdoings of extreme Christians. But Tiller’s murderer Shelley Shannon was not chosen as a representative model of Christians by the media, the same way we do not see Army of God banners and flags all over the place as an image depicting Christians.

Donald_Spitz_holds_Army_of_God_BannerDonald Spitz holds Army of God banner. /image via wikipedia/

And I think that is good, since those people and those acts do not represent the majority of Christians or the religion itself (this is not to say that we shouldn’t pay attention to them, but rather not to take them as a standard and representative for all).

Now, the other issue I find disturbing when it comes to West vs. Islam, is that it allows us (Western countries – our governments) to make the religion of Islam responsible for everything bad going on in the (Middle) East. It is a way of reducing people and issues to one thing – a way in which Islam serves as a cover-up of for all the complex realities, identities and historical events of the Middle East. It is extremely ignorant and extremely dangerous. But it is also perfect – since Western governments share a great deal of responsibility for the turmoils of the (Middle) East.

Of course, part of the blame for the religious name-calling lies on the shoulders of incapable Arab leaders who – knowing not how to lead their countries and provide competent solutions for their people and issues they are facing – every now and then talk about Islam like it is going to magically solve everything (but, then again –  Obama also finishes every speech with God bless America, and when we talk about America – we do not say Christians or Christianity).

I believe that the religion is what a person makes of it. All of the holy books – whether it is the Bible, Qur’an, Torah – can be interpreted in many ways. If you are a good person, you’ll find what’s good in it and live by it. If you’re a violent, embittered person, you’ll find in it an excuse to be violent in the name of religion. Like Reza Aslan says in the interview for the CNN: „Islam is just a religion and like any other religion in the world it depends on what you bring to it. If you are a violent person your Islam, your Judaism, your Christianity, your Hinduism is going to be violent.“

So – instead of all the talk about the Islam, we must talk about the legacy of colonialism which continues to make a profound impact on East-West relations today. We must talk about the current distribution of global power, once wielded by Europe and now by the United States, which fuels a sense of alienation, frustration, and mistrust in the Eastern world. To finish this post – let’s just go back to 1996 and Samuel Huntington’s implicit claim in his Clash of Civilizations that there is a collision between the fundamental values of Islamic and Western worlds and that “Islam has bloody borders” , a point of view that justifies the current global power imbalance to the detriment of non-Western cultures and societies. It is time to finally let go of the dirty games, lower passions and superficial explanations we are being fed with.

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art of resistance, movie/tv propaganda, Pakistan

Why I can’t celebrate Malala’s Nobel Peace Prize.

The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded this Friday to India’s Kailash Satyarthi and Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai for their struggles against the suppression of children and for young people’s rights, including the right to education. That is great news, and it might almost mean Nobel Peace Prize makes sense again, after being awarded to Barack Obama in 2009 “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”, and to European Union in 2012 “for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe”.

Still, there is something that really troubles me. How come we (meaning the West) always recognize the “devils” of the East, the torments children like Malala had to and have to go through (in her case, with the Taliban), but always fail to recognize our own participation in creating those “devils”? How come we never talk about the things our governments are doing to the children of Pakistan, or Syria, or Iraq, or Palestine, or Yemen? Let’s just take drone strikes as an example. Last year’s tweet by George Galloway might illustrate this hypocrisy.

10494696_10205086935471637_7493940445304227766_n

Galloway is absolutely right. We would never even know her name. But, since Malala’s story fits into the western narrative of the oriental oppression (in which the context underlying the creation of the oppression is left out), we all know Malala’s name. Like Assed Baig writes:

This is a story of a native girl being saved by the white man. Flown to the UK, the Western world can feel good about itself as they save the native woman from the savage men of her home nation. It is a historic racist narrative that has been institutionalised. Journalists and politicians were falling over themselves to report and comment on the case. The story of an innocent brown child that was shot by savages for demanding an education and along comes the knight in shining armour to save her. The actions of the West, the bombings, the occupations the wars all seem justified now, ‘see, we told you, this is why we intervene to save the natives.'”

The problem is, there are thousands of Malalas West helped create with endless wars, occupations, interventions, drone strikes, etc. In Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, one can hear how little we know about the drone strikes – its aims, targets, results. “Right now we have the executive branch making a claim that it has the right to kill anyone, anywhere on Earth, at any time, for secret reasons based on secret evidence, in a secret process undertaken by unidentified officials. That frightens me.” This is how Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown professor and former Pentagon official under President Obama, explained the US policy on drone strikes during a congressional hearing last year.

The following photo presents the piece that was installed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province, close to Pakistan’s northwest border with Afghanistan, by an art collective that includes Pakistanis, Americans and others associated with the French artist JR. The collective said it produced the work in the hope that U.S. drone operators will see the human face of their victims in a region that has been the target of frequent strikes.

foto/photo via notabugsplat/

That is the reality we are not being presented with. Another reality is the story of Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, 14-year-old Iraqi girl, who was gang raped by five U.S. Army soldiers and killed in her house in Yusufiyah (Iraq) in 2006. She was raped and murdered after her parents and six-year-old sister Hadeel Qasim Hamza were killed. Also not irrelevant to mention is that Abeer was going to school before the US invasion but had to stop going because of her father’s concerns for her safety.

article-0-0C89D3B2000005DC-51_634x548Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi

And while the West applauds Malala (as they should), I am afraid it might be for the wrong reasons, or with a wrong perspective.  It feels like the West wants to gain an agenda that suits them or the policies they want. That is also why Malala’s views on Islam are rarely presented. She uses her faith as a framework to argue for the importance of education rather than making Islam a justification for oppression, but that is rarely mentioned. It also “doesn’t fit”.

So, my thoughts were mixed this Friday when I heard the news about the Nobel Peace Prize. On so many levels. They still are. We’ve entered a new war, and peace prize award ceremonies seem ridiculous after looking at this photo.

tumblr_nd1ycaClBV1tgyqboo1_1280“They say that if God loves you, He will let you live a long life, but I wish that He loved me a little less. I wish that I didn’t live long enough to see my country in ruins.”  Ahmad, a 102 year old Syrian refugee /photo by A. McConnell, UNHCR/

Sure, we must acknowledge the efforts of those who are fighting for a better world, but when it is done in a way that feels so calculated, unidimensional, loaded with secret agendas and tons of hypocrisy – I just can’t celebrate it.

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Iraq, movie/tv propaganda

Mapping the “Other”: A one-way street of the West.

“The British Army adopted the same cynical colonial attitude in its cartography of Belfast. I still possess their sectarian maps of the 1970s in which Protestant areas were coloured red (of course) and Catholic districts green (of course) while the mixed, middle-class area around Malone Road appeared as a dull brown, the colour of a fine dry sherry. But we do not draw these maps of our own British cities. I could draw a map of Bradford’s ethnic districts – but we would never print it. Thus we divide the ‘other’, while assiduously denying the ‘other’ in ourself. This is what the French did in Lebanon, what the British did in Northern Ireland and the Americans are now doing in Iraq. In this way we maintain our homogenous power. Pierre Gemayel grew up in Bikfaya, firmly in that wedge of territory north of Beirut. Many Lebanese now fear a conflict between those who support the ‘democracy’ to which Gemayel belonged and the Shias, the people – in every sense of the word – at the ‘bottom’. And the French are going to ensure that the country in which all these people are trapped remains ‘independent’. Quite so. And by the way, when did we ever see an ethnic map of Paris and its banlieus?”

This is a quote from one of Robert Fisk’s articles for The Independent (article published in November 2006, found in his book The Age of the Warrior: Selected Writings). After I read it, I marked the page and went on a search for maps that showcase ethnic and religious diversity of the Middle East countries. There are many, many maps like that on Google Images. Here are some of them.

Afghanistan-groups-Ethnic-in_525924c4ee764

ethnic_iraq

iraq_ethnic_religious_map

iraq-demographic-map

Mid_East_Ethnic_lg

MidEastSyriaEthnicMap

Now, when you google USA and search for its ethnic and religious diversity maps (and we know that USA really is a land of diversity), there are only couple of images, one of them being this map of New York (published by The New York Times).

nyt-2010-nyc-mosaic-map

It is even worse when trying to find something about France, a country where the “other” was always a problem. There are no maps presenting the suburbs of French cities or France as a country the way Iraq, for example, is presented. No maps to point out our “weak spots”. No maps to note the existence of suburbs like Clichy-sous-Bois, located only 15 kilometres from central Paris, but not served by any motorway or major road and no railway (not served by any station of the Paris Métro, RER, or suburban rail network), and therefore one of the most isolated of the inner suburbs of Paris. Clichy-sous-Bois has a high unemployment rate compared to the rest of the country, more than 40% of the young population, and of course – the vast majority of its population is made up of African heritage, and it is where the riots in 2005 started (after the death of two young boys who had been escaping a police control).

No maps. All I have to answer the question Robert Fisk asked  (“And by the way, when did we ever see an ethnic map of Paris and its banlieus?”), is to go back to 1995 when movie La Haine was made. It is a story of three friends – Vinz, a Jew, Saïd, an Arab, and Hubert, a black boxer, raised in French suburbs – and one day in their lives filled with boredom, unemployment, tension, hatred and violence. It’s about a society on its way down. And as it falls,it keeps telling itself: “So far so good… So far so good… So far so good.” But… It’s not how you fall that matters. It’s how you land.

“La haine attire la haine!” or  “hatred breeds hatred!” These are our maps.

la haine

la hine2La Haine /photos via IMDb/

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art of resistance, Iraq, movie/tv propaganda

The Book To Read: Robert Fisk & The Age of The Warrior.

This morning I found myself digging through my books, searching for Robert Fisk’s The Age of The Warrior (2008)I did it only to read the preface again. The first time I read this amazing collection of Fisk’s writings, I remember the overwhelming feeling and (already then) the need to go back to and through it again. So I do it, from time to time, and I still discover the power and importance of this preface – so I decided to type it up and share it here.

main_largeRobert Fisk

Iraq, I suspect, will come to define the world we live in, even for those of us who have never been within a thousand miles of its borders. The war’s colossal loss in human life – primarily Iraqi, of course – and the lies that formed a bodyguard for our invasion troops in 2003 should inform our understanding of conflict for years to come. Weapons of mass destruction. Links to al-Qaeda and the crimes against humanity of 11 September 2001. We were fooled. Yet I sometimes believe that we wanted to be fooled – that we wish to be led to the slaughter by our masters, to race for the cliff-edge with the desperate enthusiasm of the suicide bomber, our instincts awakened by something that should have been buried at Hastings or Waterloo or Antietam or Berlin or even Da Nang. Do we need war? Do we need it the way we need air and love and children and safety? I wonder.

Anger is a ferocious creature. Journalists are supposed to avoid this nightmare animal, to observe this beast with ‘objective’ eyes. A reporter’s supposed lack of ‘bias’ – which, I suspect, is now the great sickness of our Western press and television has become the antidote to personal feeling, the excuse for all of us to avoid the truth. Record the fury of a Palestinian whose land has been taken from him by Israeli settlers – but always refer to Israel’s ‘security needs’ and its ‘war on terror’. If Americans are accused of ‘torture’, call it ‘abuse’. If Israel assassinates a Palestinian, call it a ‘targeted killing’. If Armenians lament their Holocaust of 1, 500, 000 souls in 1915, remind readers that Turkey denies this all to real and fully documented genocide. If Iraq has become a hell on Earth for its people, recall how awful Saddam was. If a dictator is on our side, call him a ‘strongman’. If he’s our enemy, call him tyrant, or part of the ‘axis of evil’. And above all else, use the word ‘terrrorist’. Terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror. Seven days a week.

That’s the kind of anger that journalists are permitted to deploy, the anger of righteousness and fear. It is the language of our masters, the Bushes and Blairs and Browns, the Kinkels and the Sarkozy and, of course, the Mubaraks and the King Husseins and the Arabian kings and emirs and the Musharrafs and, indeed, even the crazed Muammar Ghadafi of Libya – who signs up to the war of Good against Evil. For journalists, this has nothing to do with justice – which is all the people of the Middle East demand – and everything to do with avoidance. Ask ‘how’ and ‘who’ – but not ‘why’. Source everything to officials: ‘American officials’, ‘intelligence officials’, ‘official sources’, anonymous policemen or army officers. And if those institutions charged with our protection abuse that power, then remind readers and listeners and viewers of the dangerous age in which we now live, the age of terror – which means that we must live in the Age of Warrior, someone whose business and profession and vocation and mere existence is to destroy our enemies.“

Robert Fisk, The Age of The Warrior (preface)

You can buy  The Age of The Warrior on Amazon, and for more of Fisk’s writings – read his weekly column for the The Independent. Also, I highly recommend his books Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War and The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East.

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Israeli - Palestinian conflict, movie/tv propaganda

Scarlett Johansson doubles down on support for Israeli settlements.

Author: Ali Abunimah/ Electronic Intifada

Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson has strongly reaffirmed her support for Israeli colonies built illegally on land stolen from Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

In an interview with Carole Cadwalladr in The Guardian this weekend (see excerpt below), Johansson also claims – falsely – that the charity Oxfam supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

Knew about settlement

Johansson says she was fully aware that SodaStream operates in an Israeli settlement before she agreed to become the company’s spokesmodel.

SodaStream is an Israeli company that manufactures home fizzy drink machines in the illegal colony of Maaleh Adumim, built on land from which Palestinian Jahalin Bedouinswere forcibly expelled.

Johansson tells The Guardian that she still sees the factory in the illegally colony as a “model.”

The star also offers stale excuses – recycled from arguments used to defend apartheid South Africa in the 1980s – that Israeli colonization is actually beneficial for Palestinians.

Hits back at Oxfam

In January, amid a global media furore, internal dissent at Oxfam and a campaign by the Palestine solidarity movement, Johansson quit her role as humanitarian ambassador for Oxfam.

The charity strongly criticized Johansson for endorsing SodaStream.

Oxfam said that while it “respects the independence of our ambassadors, Ms. Johansson’s role promoting the company SodaStream is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador.”

In the Guardian interview, Johansson hits back at Oxfam, claiming, “for a non-governmental organization to be supporting something that’s supporting a political cause … there’s something that feels not right about that to me.”

Praised by Netanyahu

Johansson’s unapologetic support for Israel’s abuses of Palestinians confirms that she fully deserves the praise Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heaped on her in his 4 March speech to the Israel lobby group AIPAC in Washington.

Netanyahu said Johansson should be “applauded” for opposing BDS, which he claimed stood for “bigotry, dishonesty and shame.”

No matter how much she claims not to be “political,” Johansson is now seen by many Palestinians and their supporters as an advocate against them.

Days after Netanyahu’s speech Tamer Nafar of the Palestinian hip hop group DAM, published the video at the top of this post ridiculing the fizzy drinks spokesmodel.

Nafar calls his track “Scarlett Johansson Has Gas.”

Scarlett won’t back down

Here’s the excerpt of Cadwalladr’s Guardian article on her interview with Johansson. Cadwalladr – in contrast to many interviewers – does a fine job of challenging Johansson and testing her claims against reality:

When I Google “Scarlett Johansson” the fizzy-drinks maker is the third predictive search suggestion in the list, after “Scarlett Johansson hot” – before even “Scarlett Johansson bum.” A month ago, Johansson found herself caught up in a raging news story when it emerged Oxfam had written to her regarding her decision to become a brand ambassador for SodaStream. The company, it transpired, manufactures its products in a factory in a settlement on the West Bank, and while “Oxfam respects the independence of our ambassadors,” it wrote, it also “believes that businesses that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.”

Johansson responded by stepping down from her Oxfam role. From afar, it looked liked she’d received very poor advice; that someone who is paid good money to protect her interests hadn’t done the necessary research before she’d accepted the role and that she’d unwittingly inserted herself into the world’s most intractable geopolitical conflict. By the time Oxfam raised the issue, she was going to get flak if she did step down, flak if she didn’t. Was the whole thing just a bit of a mistake?

But she shakes her head. “No, I stand behind that decision. I was aware of that particular factory before I signed it.” Really? “Yes, and … it still doesn’t seem like a problem. Until someone has a solution to the closing of that factory to leaving all those people destitute, that doesn’t seem like the solution to the problem.”

But the international community says that the settlements are illegal and shouldn’t be there. “I think that’s something that’s very easily debatable. In that case, I was literally plunged into a conversation that’s way grander and larger than this one particular issue. And there’s no right side or wrong side leaning on this issue.”

Except, there’s a lot of unanimity, actually, I say, about the settlements on the West Bank. “I think in the UK there is,” she says. “That’s one thing I’ve realised … I’m coming into this as someone who sees that factory as a model for some sort of movement forward in a seemingly impossible situation.”

Well, not just the UK. There’s also the small matter of the UN security council, the UN general assembly, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Court of Justice… which all agree that they’re in contravention of international law. Half of me admires Johansson for sticking to her guns – her mother is Jewish and she obviously has strong opinions about Israel and its policies. Half of me thinks she’s hopelessly naive. Or, most likely, poorly advised. Of all the conflicts in all the world to plant yourself in the middle of…

“When I say a mistake,” I say, “I mean partly because people saw you making a choice between Oxfam – a charity that is out to alleviate global poverty – and accepting a lot of money to advertise a product for a commercial company. For a lot of people, that’s like making a choice between charity – good – and lots of money – greed.”

“Sure I think that’s the way you can look at it. But I also think for a non-governmental organization to be supporting something that’s supporting a political cause … there’s something that feels not right about that to me. There’s plenty of evidence that Oxfam does support and has funded a BDS [boycott, divest, sanctions] movement in the past. It’s something that can’t really be denied.” When I contacted Oxfam, it denied this.

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