Press Freedom Day shows limitations to the West’s commitment to free speech

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Zafar Bangash

Safar 22, 1422 2001-05-16


by Zafar Bangash (Features, Crescent International Vol. 30, No. 6, Safar, 1422)

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists held its Press Freedom Day on May 3, issuing its list of countries and rulers where journalists are either being killed or incarcerated. Iran was blamed, as were China, Cuba, Malaysia and Tunisia. Turkey, however, was not listed, although even western sources report that at least 14 journalists are imprisoned there. The real figure is much higher, as Islamically-committed writers are not counted. The omission — by no means unique — was yet another reminder of the partiality of the western media and its supposedly objective commitment fair reporting and objectivity.

The Americans in particular are notorious for their anti-Muslim animus. While Muslims worldwide have experienced a series of disasters over the last 20 years, it is interesting to see how Muslims in the west (North America and Europe, in effect) have responded to each crisis. Given the long list of disasters — from Palestine and Kashmir, which are more than 50 years old, to Iraq, Bosnia and Chechnya which are recent — Muslims have failed to demonstrate the kind of concern they ought to show. There is a tendency to become lethargic after an initial reaction; others must do something about our problems, seems to be the attitude.

The most striking example of this is reflected in the western media’s coverage of Palestine. The West was never sympathetic to the Palestinians, and the issue has long since fallen off the western media’s radar screen. When confronted with this disdain for Palestinian suffering, journalists offer the standard response: readers get bored with the same story repeated daily.

But what the western media reports about Palestine is equally revealing; often it is little more than apologising for zionist crimes. Brian Whitaker made an interesting observation in his column in the Guardian on April 9. He described how the BBC reported an Israeli attack in Ghazzah: “Palestinians launched three bombs overnight against the Eile Sinai settlement in the far north of the Gaza Strip. Israeli troops responded with tank shells, destroying a Palestinian border post and hitting two houses.” He said he found this report from the BBC not only familiar for the events it described, but also for the way they were described: “the Palestinians attack and the Israelis ‘respond.’ Military actions by the Israelis are always a ‘response’ to something, even when they strike first. If they haven’t actually been attacked, it’s a ‘response’ to a security threat.” He went on to elaborate on the choice of words: “ ‘Response’ is a very useful word. It provides a ready-made reason for the Israelis’ actions and neatly brushes off demands for further explanation. It says: ‘Don’t ask us why we did it; ask the other side’.”

The BBC is considered a relatively balanced and refined news outlet; the American television network, CNN, and other channels and newspapers are less subtle and much worse, partly because of the zionists’ control and manipulation of much of the US media, US Congress and the White House. According to their coverage, Israel can do no wrong, the Palestinians can never do anything right, and Muslims are all “terrorists.” Such abuse is so routine that it hardly needs repeating any more. What the constant repetition of such drivel does is to keep the American public ill informed about important issues. That is why Americans are surprised when their military installations are attacked anywhere in the world.

American and Israeli crimes, in contrast, are underplayed or even justified. In April 1986, when American and British planes attacked Tripoli in Libya in an attempt to kill colonel Mu’ammar Qaddafi of Libya, and killed scores of innocent people (including Qaddafi’s 18-month-old daughter) instead, the CBS casually reported that the bombing had “played well in Peoria, Illinois.”

But it would be wrong to assume that such behaviour is confined to the American media. In the west generally there is a tendency to denigrate Islam and Muslims. The most common line of attack is directed at the “rights” of women. The west insists that women should be free to uncover, but not to cover. The inability of western journalists to see the true situation in Turkey is a case in point.

Beyond the women’s issue is an even more serious problem that relates to the clash of cultural values. In 1988, Salman Rushdie’s blasphemous book caused great agitation among Muslims. When Imam Khomeini issues his famous fatwa,the west went into a frenzy. Soon after the fatwa was issued on April 14, 1989, Muslims throughout the world held rallies against Rushdie’s book. Muslims had also organized a rally in Toronto, the largest in the history of the community in Canada. Soon after, Graham Greene, president of the Canadian chapter of the International Writers Union (PEN), met this writer together with a lawyer friend of his, to discuss the issue. Greene argued that it was PEN’s duty to support every writer anywhere in the world. When he was asked whether PEN had supported any writers in Egypt, he shot back, “Yes, we stood by Naguib Mahfouz [the playwright].”

When asked about Dr Fehmi Shinnawi, Greene had not even heard of him. Dr Shinnawi was at that time serving a jail sentence in Cairo, not for criticizing Egyptian president Husni Mubarak but for criticizing Saddam Husain. Saddam was then a friend of the west because he had fought Islamic Iran on its behalf.

Equally bizarre was the attitude of the Jewish lawyer with Greene. He said that PEN was duty-bound to support every writer, even if the organization disagreed with what he or she wrote. When he was asked whether PEN had, or would, support writers such as Ernst Zundel, an anti-Jewish writer and a holocaust denier, or his Canadian defence lawyer Doug Christie, the Jewish lawyer became quite hysterical. “They are anti-Semites and are spreading hate. They deserve to When it was pointed out that Muslims consider Rushdie’s book to be full of venom and hatred against the Muslims and their revered personalities, neither could see the connection.

Nor is it that such organizations are simply unaware of their bias. In 1993, a journalist friend of this writer requested that Crescent International be sent to the Canadian branch of the Committee to Protect Journalists. After about six months, they sent a fax to say that they no longer wished to receive the paper. When we investigated, we found out that some people working there had started to ask why the Committee was not taking up the cause of some of the writers and journalists mentioned in Crescent. The senior management did not want to have to answer such embarrassing questions, and decided to cut off the source of such unpleasant news!

So much for the Committee to Protect Journalists. Might it not be more appropriate to call it the Committee to Protect Pro-Western Journalists? Islamically-committed journalists need not bother to ask for help.

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