Thought and Propaganda in the Media

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Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.

Thomas Jefferson, 1786

If you’ve ever wondered how truth became the first casualty of war, look at the way our media cover Arabs and Muslims; or rather, how they don’t. Except for a few journalists like the CBC’s Neil Macdonald and Toronto Sun columnist Eric Margolis, balanced and fair reporting in the national media is virtually non-existent.

To understand why, let’s recall the recent furour caused by Raymond Baaklini, Lebanon’s ambassador to Canada. In early January, he blamed Canada’s predominately pro-zionist press for forcing the Chrétien government, despite repeated refusals, to include Hezbollah’s social wing on a list of banned terrorist organizations.

Ostensibly, the reason for the government’s about-face was a speech by Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, in which he urged Palestinians to export suicide bombings. In defending his decision in light of this statement, Foreign Minister Bill Graham told the Globe and Mail: “Hezbollah, as an entity, is indicating it does not intend to be governed by the rules of civilized conduct.”

Editorials within Israel Asper’s CanWest media empire, which dominates Canadian news to an obscene degree, obediently pilloried Baaklini, using the knee-jerk epithets “racist” and  “anti-Semitic.” Asper, who does not tolerate any criticism of Israel or zionism, even had the arrogance to demanded Baaklini be expelled from the country.

I suppose it’s only coincidence that the government’s about-face came shortly after a delegation from the B’nai Brith strutted up to Parliament Hill to lay down the law to our elected representatives.

However, unless you were watching the CBC that same day (Dec. 11) and caught Macdonald’s report from Jerusalem, you likely don’t know that Graham was suckered.

Nasrallah never made this statement. What he said was: “The zionists are the ones who came from all over the world to usurp the land, holy places, cities and villages of othersé What the Palestinians are doing with the martyrdom operations is legitimate, legal, Islamic and moral, because they seek to end injustice.”

The source for this fraud is an alleged Jerusalem-based correspondent named Sayed Anwar. I say “alleged” because “Sayed Anwar” is a composite pseudonym fronted by London-based columnist Paul Martin, who is notorious for spreading anti-Arab disinformation.

The specific honour of misrepresenting Nasrallah went to Walid Phares, a Florida Atlantic University political science professor and “contributing expert” to the Israel-based Ariel Center for Policy Research. The centre’s membership reads like a who’s-who of zionist/anti-Muslim thuggery, e.g.: Benjamin Netanyahu, Uzi Landau, Yitzhak Shamir, Irving Moscovitz, Yossef Bodansky, Joseph Farah and Frank Gaffney Jr.

In the end, an Arab was libeled by a zionist organization; the media widely applauded; Graham rebuked Baaklini; Baaklini apologized, sort of; and the issue disappeared. The question is, why? After more than two months, Graham has made no attempt to rehabilitate Hezbollah’s social wing, or even admit that he was conned. Neither the Globe and Mail nor the National Post has issued a correction, or pressed Graham to reconsider his decision, and no other news agency has followed up on Macdonald’s scoop.

Our government-that is to say, the Canadian public-was bullied and manipulated into unjustly punishing an Arab organization for the sake of a foreign power, Israel.

Is this assault on our democracy not newsworthy? Of course it is, but where Israel and zionism are concerned, fair and complete reporting do not apply to Arabs and Muslims. If it did, we would read about Arab suffering in Occupied Palestine.

But as Baaklini intimated, Canada does not have a free press, so nobody’s going to go to bat for one of Israel’s enemies.

This media bias against Arabs is so familiar that it goes unnoticed. Pejorative buzzwords, demonized caricatures and pro-zionist frames of reference have become hard-wired into our language, such that the presumption of Arab wrongdoing is readily accepted.

When a single Palestinian sacrifice bomber blows himself up in Tel Aviv it is decried as an act of terror; when Israel uses American-made bulldozers daily to destroy Palestinian homes and businesses, we read barely a word and certainly see no pictures. Thus, we have Palestinian terrorists and the Israeli Defence Forces, rather than the other way around.

The media routinely speak of Palestinian hostility toward Israel, yet fail state that Israel provokes these attacks by continuing to build illegal “settlements” in the Occupied Territories, and insult the Fourth Geneva Convention regarding just treatment of occupied peoples.

Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and even Yasser Arafat have been likened to Adolf Hitler-an allusion that is patently ludicrous, but has been propagandized to great effect. Hitler commanded a colonizing empire based on extreme ethnic chauvinism, and possessed a first-class military. The only Middle Eastern nation that fits this description is Israel, yet the media refer to Ariel Sharon as “Prime Minister” and Israel as “a democracy.”

While the U.S. bombs Iraq, few if any media report that United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441 does not authorize any nation to resort to military force. Even the term “war” is dishonest because it implies that Iraq is an equal partner in what is really an unprovoked assault on a largely defenceless people.

On the other hand, distortions and fabrications from official U.S. voices are reported as fact, and Orwellian euphemisms like “regime change” and “shock and awe” become common currency.

The demonization of Hussein and disinformation about “weapons of mass destruction” make it easy for the media to parrot the official line, but at the expense of honesty. As a tyrant, Hussein pales in cruelty to Chile’s Augusto Pinochet or the Shah of Iran, both of whom came to power when the U.S. overthrew a democratically elected regime.

Hussein happens to lead a sophisticated, cultured country that is rich in oil, and is the only Gulf Arab state not bought off by the U.S. That, along with Iraq’s potential threat to Israel, is why the U.S. Attacked.

But don’t expect to hear that from the Asper empire.

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Mr. Greg Felton is a Canadian writer on the Middle East. He writes a political column every second Thursday for the Canadian Arab News, and is writing a book on the rise of fascism in the U.S. He contributed this column to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from Canada.

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