Media and the situation in Afghanistan – A Battle for the Mind

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Who can forget the image of hijacked planes smashing into the world trade centre towers on September 11th causing the instantaneous death of 5000 people? I watched transfixed, with millions of others throughout the world, as this crash was replayed almost continuously from different angles. Then, gasping with disbelief, the implosion of this massive building as it folded and disappeared forever.  It is the enormous power of the media, of television, that has indelibly etched this scene in all our minds.

Within a few hours Osama bin Laden was the “prime suspect”. This “terrorist”(no definition of terrorist or terrorism has been provided) was blamed without any evidence, just as have Muslims for any other bombing that took place on Western soil. One hardly ever hears of a Jewish, Christian or Buddhist terrorist.  In the media, both print and electronic, OBL’s photo’s appeared, linking him to other bombings in Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and other places. For at least ten years now, the ground has been prepared by the Western political elite, aided and abetted by the media. The international community was already carefully primed, baying for the blood of OBL and the destruction of Al-Qaida. The media fuelled the hysteria, and Muslims, even Indians, Arabs and Sikhs, were killed and harassed…

“He who controls the image controls the mind”

The attack on Afghanistan that commenced on October the 7th is not a war against terrorism, but a terrorist war against the innocent. The West poses one of the greatest threats to the human rights and human dignity, not only to the Afghani’s, but also to human beings everywhere.

But, in fact, the war had really begun many years ago. Henry Gobard a French scholar has distinguished three types of warfare:

The first is the classical war, its object is to wound and conquer – it is aimed at the heart.

The second is the economic war. Its object is to exploit and enrich – it is aimed at the stomach.

The third kind is the cultural war, whose target is the head – its object is to paralyse. It seeks to conquer through the putrescence of the object under attack and to enrich itself through the decomposition of cultures and people.

This deliberate distortions and misrepresentation of Islam has been made the basis of US foreign policy. This is evidenced by incendiary statements of such prominent leaders as House Speaker Newt Gingrich who urged that the United States adopt a “coherent U.S. strategy for fighting Islamic totalitarianism. Willie Claes, the previous Secretary General of NATO claimed, “Islamic fundamentalism now poses as great a threat to the West as communism once did.”

In the September 22, 1997 edition of The Washington Post, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger wrote an op-ed piece entitled “Limits to What the US Can Do in Bosnia.” Kissinger’s commentary opened with a very revealing and provocative observation: “Every American foreign policy setback, from Indochina to Somalia, has resulted from the failure to define objectives, to choose means appropriate to these objectives, and to create a public opinion prepared to pay the necessary price over the requisite period of time.”

And this the Americans have done well for the past decade – prepared the western world’s public opinion against the myriad of Muslim organisations throughout the world in Palestine (HAMAS and Islamic Jihad), Kashmir, and Al Qaida.

The significance of public opinion cannot be treated lightly. It is known that effective manipulation of public opinion can successfully install or topple governments. The opinion formers are carefully selected individuals who appear to have allegiance only to a form of liberalism which in turn is defined by them and which does not permit any sympathy for Islam.

One can argue that public opinion has been so deviously manipulated in America and Britain and the West as a whole, that for the average person the words Arab, Islam, Muslim and terrorism have become almost synonymous. And the consequences have been enormous. As Voltaire once said, “Those who can make us believe absurdities, can also cause us to commit atrocities.”

American television channels are at a disadvantage in this war; they do not have a ringside view as they did in Baghdad, when Peter Arnett and CNN were launched in early 1991. When US channels, using an Al-Jazeera feed, broadcast Osama’s taped message on October 10, their executives were called to the White House and told by US president George W. Bush not to do so in future; all the TV channels immediately obeyed. Even the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation announced its voluntary compliance with the preposterous order. The TV channels – American and Canadian – should have protested against such interference in their duty to provide accurate information to the public, on the grounds of the much-vaunted ‘freedom of the press’.

The CNN has become a mouthpiece for American propaganda; alternative points of view are simply not aired. No sort of skeptism about or criticism of the West’s war aims or strategy is tolerated; those who dare express such ideas are branded as traitors.

In the age of the Internet, al-Jazeera and al-Manaar (the Hizbullah’s TV channel from Lebanon), CNN and even the BBC have become largely redundant in the Muslim world. Al-Jazeera today boasts nearly 40 million viewers in the Middle East, Europe and North America. Most people get it via a satellite-dish. Thus the claim that Osama may be using CNN to transmit coded messages is nonsense.

America’s attempts, however, reflect its desperation. In much of the Muslim world, including the Middle East, America’s version of events is simply dismissed. Even in Pakistan, where the government has joined the US’s ‘war’ on Afghanistan, at least 83 percent of the people, according to a Newsweek poll, are opposed to the US bombing of Afghanistan. In Europe there have been enormous anti-war demonstrations and people are far from convinced that the US has made a good case against Osama bin Laden.

Here are some other crude propaganda ploys. The US’s air-drops of food-parcels and Bush’s plea for American children to help Afghan kids with dollar bills will go down in history as two of the most cynical manoeuvres of media manipulation ever seen. The yellow packets containing food poses a real danger because the parachute of the cluster bombs is also yellow.

Equally laughable are attempts by the US to drop leaflets in Pushto and Darri telling people what to do if they see American troops armed with “state of the art weapons.” Americans are trying to tell the Afghans: “Drop your weapons, raise your hands and walk towards the American soldiers.”

This campaign, termed Islamophobia, has its roots in a morbid (irrational) fear of Islam and Muslims. The key features of Islamophobia include the portrayal of Muslim cultures as monolithic, intolerant of pluralism, patriarchal, misogynist, fundamentalist and potentially threatening to other cultures. In particular, the treatment of Afghani women is a subject that they have concentrated their ideological warfare on. So concerned are they about the women wearing hijab that they now explode cluster bombs and daisy cutters blowing away the heads of these poor souls. A further, and particularly disturbing feature of Islamophobia is that this view is readily accepted as valid.

“Ask American college students, in the elite universities or elsewhere, what they think of when the word ‘Muslim’ is mentioned. The response is inevitably the same: gun-toting, bearded, fanatic terrorists hell-bent on destroying the great enemy, the United States”, Zachary Karabell observes.

Nobody knows who committed the WTC and Pentagon attacks and there is NO evidence that OBL is responsible.

The attack on Afghanistan is not a war against terrorism, but a terrorist war against a people already devastated by war for the last 23 years, one of the poorest countries in the world. This country waged a terrible war against America’s Cold War enemy, the USSR and defeated them only to be abandoned after the disintegration of the USSR. Who receives Western aid today, Afghanistan or Russia? Who is America’s coalition partner today? Russia of course.

As long ago as 1953, Nelson Mandela spoke up against such madness when he said: “We have been gagged because we emphatically and openly condemned the criminal attacks by the imperialists against the people of Malaya, Vietnam, Indonesia, Tunisia, and Tanganyika, and called upon our people to identify themselves unreservedly with the cause of world peace, and to fight against the war policies of America and her satellites.”

A case may be made that this is a war against Islam and Muslims, despite the enlisting of such countries as Pakistan, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. One must also consider the nearly 40 year boycott and economic sanctions against Cuba simply because it resisted American hegemony.

There are geopolitical reasons for the attack, just as in the Iraq war they now have permanent bases in the Gulf states in Saudi Arabia, they will now control the oil and gas reserves in the Caspian base

In the latest Newsweek, it is reported that 2,200 troops are ready to counter any possible coup against Musharraf and to take full control of the nuclear bombs in Pakistan.

The obvious starting point would be to pose the question: exactly whose interests do the media serve? This limited overview on the dynamics, even of the South African media, is essential for recognising the validity of concerns expressed by communities, including Muslims, who ask: Are we getting the media we want? Are media narrations accurate? Are image projections by the media free of prejudice? Is the media doing enough to change preconceptions and assumptions? Are the media reinforcing stereotypes?

The Western media is an extension of the West’s foreign policy. CNN has agreed to broadcast only what the US administration permits. It is they who decide which human rights violation should be highlighted and which human rights violations should be downplayed. They set the human rights agenda for the world. They mould our consciousness on human rights issues. They shape our thinking on human rights.

It was Steve Biko who said, ” The greatest weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed”.

The media is a powerful instrument in the hands of the western powers of the USA, Britain, France, Germany and Japan and Israel, and the un-elected, illegitimate elite ruling Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan � all these dominant centres of power, wealth and knowledge, have created an unjust, unequal global system which allows superpowers and super states to invade alien lands, occupy foreign territories, impose economic sanctions, usurp natural resources, manipulate terms of trade, suppress industrial growth, thwart technological transfers, perpetuate crippling debts, dump toxic wastes, monopolise the international arteries of information (CNN, BBC , Fox, Sky, Reuters, UPI, AFP, and AP), crush alternative ideas, marginalize non-western cultures- with maximum impunity and minimum accountability.

It is time, now to call them to account.

(Mr. Firoz Osman is Secretary of the Media Review Network, which is an advocacy group based in Pretoria, South Africa.) 

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