Hidden meanings in western media’s language of discourse

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Zafar Bangash

Rabi' al-Thani 08, 1419 1998-08-01

Features

by Zafar Bangash (Features, Crescent International Vol. 27, No. 11, Rabi' al-Thani, 1419)

The Crescent International is often considered ‘blunt’ in its reporting of world events. We make no apologies for this. We tell the truth as we see it without mincing words. The western media, with minor exceptions, indulges in double-speak. This is especially true of the US media which is heavily influenced by the Zionists. There is seldom any mention of Israeli crimes against innocent civilians.

It is however, to the language of discourse that one must turn. Apart from such loaded and deliberately misleading words as ‘terrorist,’ ‘fundamentalist,’ ‘moderate,’ etc., there are other innocent-sounding words which carry a cultural and/or political bias. Take, for example the designation of Southeast Asia as the Far East.

Geographically, the designation ‘Far East’ makes no sense. Far from where? Canada is not referred to as the Far North, nor Australia and New Zealand the Far South. The earth is round. Therefore, one must have a reference point to determine how far east a particular region is from there. The reference point is not only Euro-centric but distinctly British-centric.

The British are outrageous at such things. They have come up with other racist epithets. Africa is referred to as the ‘dark continent.’ It projects Africa in a negative light negating all its achievements, culture and history. Enlightenment, one is told, exists only in Europe, and perhaps in the tiny island of Britain. The tiny island-State, currently verging on poverty, calls itself ‘great Britain.’ It takes gall.

There are many other designations which Muslims have accepted uncritically. One is the division of the world into ‘developed,’ ‘under-developed’ or ‘developing’ status. Another is the categorization of the globe into ‘first,’ ‘second’ and ‘third worlds.’ The latter is used for countries in Asia and Africa.

Development is confused with industrialisation and technology. It was Oscar Wilde who said America is a society that has gone from barbarism to decadence without going through the stage of civilisation. Based on the commonly-accepted concept of development, America obviously lays claim to the most-advanced society in the world. When the quality of life is measured by such factors as safety, happiness or satisfaction, America falls way back but this seldom finds space in the western media.

Let us take another example. The US has drawn up a list of ‘rogue’ States because they refuse to toe the American line. Islamic Iran is included in this list and is accused of sponsoring ‘terrorism.’ While no proof is offered - none is considered necessary - one needs to compare the quality of life in Iran and the US.

In Iran, people can be seen playing with their families in parks at late hours of the night. Surely a country that is supposedly a threat to world peace must have see reflection of it in its own society as well. But there is no hint of this in the daily life of Iranians. There are no police brandishing guns or other menacing weapons in Iranian cities.

In most US cities, people lock themselves up behind bars after sunset. A drive down the main street of any major city would indicate the degree of insecurity people feel. Stores are shuttered and padded with heavy locks; there are elaborate security systems and the police cruise city streets in menacing formations. Are Americans safe in their own country?

The US claims to be the world’s policeman accusing others of sponsoring terrorism but it cannot provide a sense of security to its own people at home. What is the yardstick by which other States are judged? Are American values universal? Does America have any values at all?

On another level, American officials often refer to their policy preferences as the will of the international community. The western media uncritically reports these statements. Unfortunately even media in the Muslim world swallow these loaded designations.

Those who follow the western media carefully will have noticed some interesting changes. From the sixties to the late eighties, Yasir Arafat was branded a terrorist. Now he has become an elder statesman and is referred to as ‘chairman Arafat.’ Even such Zionist commentators as Wolf Blitzer of the CNN refer to him by this respectable title. The only change has been in Arafat’s open surrender to the Zionist entity. Respectability comes not in performing noble deeds in support of one’s people but in surrendering to the west, according to western media logic.

The Afghan mujahideen’s is an equally interesting case. When they were battling the Soviets, the western media referred to them as ‘freedom fighters.’ Once the Soviet army was banished, they became guerrillas and now they are rebels and outlaws. The Kashmiri freedom fighters are called militants or separatists even though their State is recognised by the UN as disputed territory. How can a people who are not part of a country be called ‘separatists’ when they struggle to secure their rights?

The current struggle of the Muslims in Kosova offers another revealing trait of the western media. They are referred to as ‘ethnic Albanians.’ In Bosnia, the Muslims were clearly identified by their religion. It led to outpouring of sympathy from the global Muslim Ummah. Such a mistake was not to be repeated. Putting ethnic labels pigeon-holes people neatly.

It is, however, in the treatment of Zionist atrocities that the western, especially American media really come into their own. Israeli crimes are either not reported or tucked away on the inside pages. If an Israeli soldier is killed, pictures of his grieving family fill newspaper front pages as well as television footage. Zionist suffering is sacred; Palestinians’ does not deserve recognition.

Similarly, when US-born Zionist settlers kill innocent Palestinians while praying (for instance, Baruch Goldstein’s shooting of 48 Palestinians during Fajr prayer on February 24, 1994 in the Ibrahimi Mosque), the western media refer to the murderer as an ‘extremist’ or ‘zealot’ but never a terrorist. Palestinians or Lebanese struggling against the Zionist occupiers are terrorists.

There is an equally sinister move afoot in which the US State department has started to call the Zionist occupied West Bank as ‘disputed’ territory. The US media has dutifully picked this up. Similarly, Zionist settlers brandishing Uzi submachine guns are referred to as ‘settlers’ and their illegally-occupied land as ‘communities’ in a sea of Palestinians. Most of these Zionist Jews are born in the US. They arrive there and evict the native inhabitants yet the occupiers are presented as if they are peaceful neighbourhood communities who only wish to be left alone but the wicked Palestinians would not let them do so.

Muslims must develop more critical reading habits to understand the hidden messages in the western media.

The writer is Editor, Crescent International, Canada.

Muslimedia: August 1-15, 1998

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