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Our reality, their spin

BY AIJAZ ZAKA SYED / 8 December 2006

THE Press is so powerful in its image-making role, Malcolm X warned, that it can make a criminal look like he’s the victim and make the victim look like he’s the criminal.

The words of Malcolm X, the icon of African Americans’ struggle for dignity still ring true, four decades on. In fact, they are all the more relevant today when spin has been perfected into an art form by its successful practitioners such as Thomas L Friedman.

The New York Times columnist and old hand on the Middle East is one of the foremost spin meisters of the US establishment. He is one of those incredibly talented opinion makers who can make the victims look like oppressors, justice as injustice and truth as falsehood. People like Friedman can turn logic, reason and facts upside down and get away with it.

In his latest salvo, Friedman has returned to his familiar territory, the Middle East and the Palestine-Israel conflict: “As a result of the Palestinian Intifada of 2000-2004, Israel concluded that partnership at that time was impossible with the Palestinians, whose leaders were too divided and dysfunctional to prevent suicide bombing. So Israel erected a wall, unilaterally pulled out of Gaza and basically said to the Palestinians, ‘We’ll continue to engage you, but only from a position of strength, only after we’re insulated from the daily threat of suicide bombings or the burden of occupying Gaza.’”

This is spin at its best. So it’s the Palestinians’ own fault, if Israel has occupied their land, continues to kill their men, women and children and shuts them off from the rest of the world by building a barrier on their own land. Blame the victims’ for the injustice inflicted on them. This is what Israel and its friends in the US establishment have done for the past half a century.

So if the persecuted, besieged and utterly helpless Palestinian kids and teens are blowing themselves up, it is their own fault, of course!

Last week, a Palestinian grandmother, Fatma al Najar, all of 64 years, took her own life near an Israeli patrol. Many in her family had come in the line of fire of Israel’s brave soldiers and her home had been destroyed. But if she killed herself as the last resort, of course she is to blame.

But about this some other time. Listen to what Friedman has to say. He goes on to argue: “What would be the equivalent (of Israel’s wall) for the West and the Muslim world? Also build a wall? How do we insulate ourselves from the madness of the Middle East — if Iraq and Afghanistan can’t be made to work — without giving up on reform there, which is still badly needed?”

Friedman answers his own question by suggesting:

“Build a virtual wall. End our oil addiction.

“We Americans need to end our dependence on this part of the world for energy, because it is debilitating for us and for them. It is terrible for us, because addicts never tell the truth to their pushers. We are the oil addicts and they (Arabs and Muslims) are the oil pushers.”

Hmm. So we are now the ‘oil pushers’ —  a la drug pushers. So now the Arabs are to be vilified and demonised for providing most of the world’s oil? So if the world is dependent on Arab oil for its growing energy needs, Arabs themselves are to blame? So while the world economy, especially the US economy including its gas-guzzling SUVs, runs on Arab oil, Arabs are to get brickbats for pumping it up at ridiculously low prices.

And it’s awfully nice of Friedman to propose the wall ‘insulating’ the US from what he calls ‘the madness of the Middle East.’ That would be really something! Makes sense too. For the Middle East, the cradle of civilisation, hadn’t known what Huntington calls the clash of civilisations —  until big powers came along.

Who sowed the seeds of this conflict in the holy land in the first place? Who drove Palestinians out of their homes forcing them to wander across this ancient land? What is their sin, for which the so-called Children of Israel continue to punish them?

Friedman and people of his ilk clearly believe in Goebbels’ dictum that you can turn a lie into truth by repeating it ad nauseam.

First you occupy the Arab land using deceit, manipulation and force and then accuse them of being incapable of living in peace with Israel! Friedman and other friends of Israel conveniently ignore the fact that it’s not the Palestinians who have gone and occupied someone else’s land. It’s the other way round!

And we all know what the civilised and peaceful Israel has done to the people it calls the terrorists. Israelis have killed nearly four hundred Palestinians in the past four months alone in the current siege of Gaza, many of them women and children, as in Beit Hanoun. And it has been killing them for the past 60 years.

Yet as far as Friedman and the Lobby-controlled US media are concerned, it is the Israelis who are the victims and Palestinians the oppressors. Not the other way round. This is what Malcolm X must have in mind when he warned: “If you aren’t careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

The media can get away with murder. That is the power of spin.

Aijaz Zaka Syed is Assistant Editor with Khaleej Times. He can be reached at aijazsyed@khaleejtimes.com
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