Very sharp and very funny: the latest episode in Bad News Hughes' Diary of Indignities.
HonestReporting has an interesting communique on the way that media coverage, by focusing on the old stereotype of Palestinian rage, is missing out on what's actually happening:
[W]hile the media are obsessed with Arab emotion, an entirely rational process has been taking place on the Arab street:
● The IDF anti-terror policy is working: Israel's stepped-up campaign against terrorist leaders since early 2003 has resulted in a 50-percent decrease in the number of Israeli terror victims. Palestinian deaths have likewise decreased significantly.
● Terror groups are in disarray, their leaders in hiding: Senior Hamas official Ismail Haniyeh told a reporter this week, 'Hamas might have a crisis on its hands after losing its leaders.' Another terror leader said people are 'unaware of the limitations and amount of pressure imposed against the Palestinian combatants.' And as opposed to Rantisi's bravado ("I prefer to die by Apache"), Hamas' new leader is afraid to reveal his identity or location.
● Palestinian leaders are getting the message: Yassir Arafat today expelled 21 Fatah fugitives from safe haven in his compound. And after the Yassin strike, 60 Palestinian leaders urged restraint in a prominent newspaper ad, arguing that the suicide bombings have backfired and calling for 'a peaceful, wise intifada.'
It seems that the stereotype of Arabs as 'rash' and 'emotional' ― as opposed to 'calculating' and 'rational' Westerners ― is coloring media coverage of this conflict. This is a variation on the 'soft bigotry of low expectations' that excuses the lack of Palestinian democracy by presuming Palestinians are incapable of reform.
Christopher Hitchens thinks war correspondents in Iraq are betting on failure:
I am not a war correspondent, though I have put in some time at the Europa Hotel in Belfast, the Commodore in Beirut, and other places of journalistic legend such as Meikles in Harare and the Sarajevo Holiday Inn. In any case, the emergence of a consensus among a press corps is something one can witness without having to duck the occasional incoming projectile. It was widely agreed in the Manchester, N.H., Sheraton in the early weeks of 1992 that Bill Clinton was a "new Democrat" and the presumptive nominee. There were very few if any Milosevic sympathizers among the Sarajevo contingent (a bias that suited me). There were no more than three Bush-Blair sympathizers in the Kuwait Hilton during the days of the "southern front" in last year's Iraq war, and I know this because I was in that case in the minority. One doesn't have to be an "old hand" to detect the signs of a conscience collective or, if one doesn't care for it, a "herd mentality."
It's now fairly obvious that those who cover Iraq have placed their bets on a fiasco or "quagmire" and that this conclusion shows in the fiber and detail of their writing.
While looking through the latest Private Eye, and wondering whether it's still worth buying, I was pleasantly surprised to see their lead letter this issue (not online):
Sir, I am a UK citizen of Iraqi origin and have been a keen reader of Private Eye for many years. I have supported the war on Iraq as it was the only option available for removing the dictatorship in Iraq. I have been in Iraq recently after 21 years of exile and can assure you that despite all difficulties, the majority of Iraqis are happy with the change in Iraq, oppose the violence of the insurgents and feel optimistic about the future of Iraq.
I note with regret that you keep attacking Bush and Blair regarding the war in Iraq despite the fact that the coalition forces, supported by so many countries, are doing their best to help establish democracy in Iraq. You even had space to publish alleged corruption by the INC but you never seem to bother mentioning anything about the dark forces of Muqtada Al-Sadr, the former regime agents and the Al-Qaeda agents who have already caused huge suffering in Iraq and who intend to turn the country back to the days of tyranny.
More importantly, you never mention anything about the negative rule of most of the Arab media, particularly Al-Jazeera, and their direct colluding with the insurgents. This was clearly evident in recent pictures of kidnapping of foreign hostages. I find this surprising from a satirical paper which keeps a watchful eye on what other media outlets publish.
In the summer of 2002, Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, issued a stern warning to the BBC: a US invasion of Iraq would "threaten the whole stability of the Middle East." As I wrote at the time, "He's missing the point: that's the reason it's such a great idea."
As journalists try to make some sense out of that explosion in North Korea (interestingly, Kim Jong-Il hasn't made any public appearance since then), Front Page reports on a visit last year by a delegation from the National Lawyers Guild of the United States. Their conclusions can be found here. The success of the trip was clearly helped by the fact that both the members of the delegation and their North Korean hosts shared a common view of the world: the US is the main enemy.
At the airport in Pyongyang we waited for some time while bags were x-rayed coming into the country. One member reported much of her nervousness dissolve as she waited in line and watched guards laughing and joking with each other. It was not a highly charged and intimidating scene, and was more relaxed than most U.S. airport security.
We were met by Mr. Jo Chol Ryong and Mr. Bang Gum Chan of the Korean Democratic Lawyers Association and taken in a small bus to a large guesthouse just outside the city. It was grey and misty but we tried to take in everything we saw. Our first impression of the city was that it was large city of two million, green, fairly modern, quite beautiful in parts especially near the Taedong River. There were more cars than we had heard about, but their relatively low numbers meant quiet streets with primarily pedestrians and cyclists. People appeared active and heading home after a days work, as in most countries for that time of day. [...]
Throughout the days ahead we were moved by the level of North Korean pride and determination to overcome obstacles, including diplomatic and economic ones by the United States, and sympathized with their need for perpetual readiness for war and their experience of centuries of invasions and occupations. The Korean experience must be viewed through this lens.
There's a brief discussion of war crimes, but it turns out that these were all committed by the US, so it was another opportunity for our brave lawyers to express their shame to their North Korean hosts:
When we emerged from the shelter [at Sinchon, where war crimes allegedly took place] there were hundreds of North Korean soldiers being told the heartfelt story from a woman whose family had died at Sinchon. Her voice shook with emotion and the soldiers watched us carefully as we moved forward to place some flowers at the monument and mass grave site of Sinchon. Shame does not even begin to describe the feelings we experienced at Sinchon, but it has bolstered our commitment to work for peace and demonstrate that war cannot be an option.
Altogether the trip seems to have been one long idyll. How immensely moving this scene is:
One of our final contacts with people came picnicking along side groups of North Koreans along a crystal clear river in the mountains. We were surprised at the relaxed atmosphere among the people themselves and with us. After learning that there were Americans there, one group next to us sent us over a huge plate of clams. We spoke with them and exchanged hopes for peace and relayed greetings from the millions of peace-loving Americans. As we walked another group wanted to take our photos and to sing them a song. While the delegation disavows any notion of in-tune group harmony, we sang “We Shall Overcome” as the group clapped and smiled joyfully at this likely first for both of us. As we finished they surrounded us and joyfully filled our pockets with apples, as our eyes filled with tears of appreciation. Little did we know upon going to this country, where its populace was allegedly being starved, that we would have our pockets stuffed with produce!
When we returned to our hosts at our picnic site, we were entertained with beautiful Korean songs with each of them taking turns. Playfully each person would finish singing and they would point to another who had to step up and sing. We know that if the contest between the lawyers of each nation were singing that this would have ended with our defeat quite swiftly! We ended up singing old anti-war and protest songs by a creek in the woods of North Korea with pockets bulging with fruit. The threat of war seemed not only far away, but inconceivable.
What of the dear leaders?
One afternoon we visited the birthplace of Kim Il Sung, the first leader of the DPRK. He appears highly respected and much loved here because he fought his entire life for the sovereignty, independence and dignity of the Korean people, first against the Japanese, then against the Americans. Despite the allegations made by some in the west that a “personality cult” exists in North Korea, that was not our impression. On the contrary we found that their former leader Kim Il Sung is regarded in much the same way as people regard, for example, Mao in China, Churchill in WW II Britain, or Washington in the United States. Our visit to the birthplace, as one delegation member noted, might have been a stroll around Mt. Vernon – the home of George Washington.
Kim Jong Il appears to be respected as someone who continues to fight for the same principles as his father. He was not immediately appointed after his father’s death, but took a long period of mourning. The Korean Workers Party and National Assembly took much time and allegedly engaged in extensive discussion before electing him. He had been heading the military for some time and continued in this role in the interim. However, there appears to have been some chaos and an actual vacuum of leadership during this time-period. This may have contributed to the economic struggles of the late 1990’s.
We learned that under the Juche principle, a strong leader is necessary to guide the will of the collective as represented in the Workers Party and the Assembly. However, as discussed below, the North Koreans have an elaborate system from the shop or farm level up to receive input on key national issues. How well this is utilized is a project for further delegations, but to assert that there is no democratic participation, only top-down decisions, in the DPRK appears an exaggeration.
We did not meet Kim Jong Il, something that appears possible on a later delegation. We also cannot on such a short trip have sufficient time to assess the basis of his apparent support. However, the absence of weapons and visible military intimidation makes the usual explanation of a brutal intimidating dictatorship suspect. We do know that a state of war leads to a nation rallying around its leadership and North Korea has had the threat of war hanging over it for over fifty years. Until there is peace, it is unlikely that we will fully understand the strengths and weaknesses of the current leadership.
From all observations, in light of the survival of their nation under great pressure and great obstacles, it appears that there are many positives that are overlooked by the simplistic rhetorical bashing of the media. We can only conclude that the people we met appear to have genuine respect for the insights and actions of the “Dear Leader” who is guiding their country. Yet, we questioned whether challenging him openly would result in prison or other penalty. From our own experiences in the U.S. or Canada, we have seen people in our own countries persecuted for their beliefs and opinions. We have watched while Muslims are attacked or detained without due process, teachers fired if they opposed the war and brutal attacks by police against those opposing the war in Iraq. Look at the reaction to Michael Moore as “disloyal” for calling the war fictitious and saying to President Bush “Shame on you, Mr. President.”
Our hosts answered that such challenges to the Leadership rarely happen. The reasons for this might be tied to the Juche philosophy, the reluctance to question a leader during a state of war (something Americans can relate to), peer social pressure or, as some in the West allege, fear of retaliation. We simply cannot know about a broad cross-section of DPRK citizens from our short trip. As more delegations travel to the DPRK, and a peace economy and society prevails, we will begin to understand this relationship more.
The reason challenges to the Leadership rarely happen might possibly be connected to the penal camps scattered across the country, and the principle of family punishment. From a report produced by the US Committee for Human Rights in North Korea:
“The injustices and cruelty these prisoners suffer is almost unimaginable,” said David Hawk, a well-known human rights researcher and author of the report. “Beyond a starvation diet, torture, beatings and inhumane living and working conditions, this regime practices a form of collective punishment where three generations of family members are given life-terms along with the family member charged with political crimes.” [...] This practice can be explained by a 1972 statement by “Great Leader” Kim Il Sung, who said, “Factionalists or enemies of class, whoever they are, their seed must be eliminated through three generations.”
But hey, this "US Committee for Human Rights in North Korea" is a probably a CIA front. Another chorus of "We Shall Overcome", anyone?
Saudi blogger The Religious Policeman has a rant about those Imams with their Magic Markers:
One of the few pleasures in life is to go to the larger bookstores here and buy a copy of an English-language newspaper. Usually it’s one of the British papers, occasionally the IHT or USA Today. They come on that very thin airmail paper. And invariably, they’ll contain apparently random splotches of black. Closer inspection reveals that a young western lady was showing some leg or shoulder, but has been “Magic Marker’d” vigorously, and of course it soaks thru the thin paper to obliterate the other side as well. My wife gets especially annoyed because her copy of Good Housekeeping suffers even worse; all those adverts for showers and “ladies’ things”, you can imagine.
So who’s responsible for poring thru the tens of thousands of magazines and papers that come into the country? Well, in the north of Riyadh there is a certain college of theology, the The Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University.
This institution was created as one of the solutions to our youth unemployment problem. [...] Each year it takes in thousands of the less gifted of our students, churns them thru an “Islam-by-numbers” remember-everything but understand-nothing sausage machine, and they appear at the far end to become government-salaried Imams with a job for life. (Are we going to run out of mosques for them? Eventually, but one of our Kings once decreed that every Saudi in the land should have a mosque near enough for him to be able to walk to. “That’s every fifty meters”, quipped a very rude Western expat I once knew. And no, I don’t despise all Imams. I have been inspired by some very holy, learned and wise ones. However, none was a graduate of this place.)
So how do the students make a few Riyals in their spare time? Not serving in Fudruckers or a coffee shop, not real work, that’s for sure. You guessed it, they are our censors! Yes, these wheezy-chested, acne-pitted, dentally-challenged, long-bearded apologies for manhood are the ones who decide what I may or may not see. Even though I was already married and embarked on my career when they were still noisily filling their diapers with waste material and foul odors. All their spare time is obviously taken up with poring thru the world’s press, drooling into their beards, shuddering with delight at the sight of Mrs. Bush’s ankle, and then obliterating it with a scribble of the Magic Marker.
Some of the things they do are ludicrous. I was once reading a UK paper when I noticed that a quarter of a page was missing. Checking back to the table of contents, I worked out that it was a report on a speech by Jack Straw, the UK Foreign Minister. Now to the best of my knowledge, Jack Straw does not give speeches wearing a skimpy little cocktail dress that reveals far too much of his legs and bosom. So why was it cut out? I checked the internet news to find out, the speech was about Zimbabwe and Southern Africa. Was it because he’s possibly Jewish? I still have no idea, but if I ever meet the student who did that, I’ll roll up his Spiderman comic and insert it thru his nearest sphincter.
If anyone was thinking about a suitable response to the letter of the British diplomats which both the Guardian and the Independent ran as headline news....well, Melanie Phillips has beaten you to it:
The advanced state of Britain's utter moral bankruptcy is on vivid display today with the publication of the scream of venomous outrage by 52 ex-diplomats against Tony Blair's backing for George Bush over Iraq and Blair's failure to rein him in over his support for Israel. Their letter speaks volumes for the rancid prejudice which animates so much of the British foreign policy mandarinate, and has now unfortunately influenced the attitude of so much of the population.
I get the feeling she wasn't very impressed.
When was the last time your daily paper didn't include an item on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
With over 900 articles on this conflict emerging on an average day from English-language media outlets, Israel ― a tiny nation the size of the state of New Jersey ― receives approximately 75 times more coverage than other areas of equal population. In comparison to other nations involved in armed conflict (where world media attention increases), Israel receives over 10 times more coverage by population. [...]
The over-reporting of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an important element of anti-Israel bias for two reasons:
● DISTORTION OF GEOGRAPHIC REALITY ― The prominence granted to Israeli power though massive news coverage distorts the geographic reality: Israel is a tiny nation surrounded by Arab states that, at best, coldly tolerate Israel's existence. To the average news consumer, this key strategic reality is lost behind the barrage of Israel headlines that give one the impression Israel has a large physical presence in the Mideast.
In fact, one could jog from the West Bank to the Mediterranean Sea in little over an hour. Israeli leaders communicate this point to foreign diplomats by taking them on a helicopter ride from Tel Aviv, flying east toward the West Bank. After a few short minutes, they turn to guests and say: 'I'll let you know when we've crossed into the West Bank...We already did.' This, to disabuse foreign guests of the notion that Israel is much larger than their regular news providers suggest.
● EXCESSIVE SCRUTINY OF ISRAEL ― Israel's conscientious anti-terror effort is scrutinized by the world press in a manner no other nation is forced to confront.
For example, while tens of thousands have been massacred and gross human rights violations have struck African nations such as Congo and Sudan, the over-reporting of Israel focuses far more concern on alleged IDF insensitivity to Palestinians. As Harvard's Zuckerman finds himself asking, 'How many Congolese would need to be slaughtered to make the front page of the New York Times?'
In the Times, Michael Binyon reviews "My Life as a Weapon: A Modern History of Suicide Bombing" by Christoph Reuter.
Why has the phenomenon reappeared now? In his concise, well-researched and illuminating study, Christoph Reuter traces it to the reinvention of an historic archetype long thought to have vanished: the martyr. And despite his powerlessness, the martyr’s strength lies in his compelling example. He says to the world: “We fear humiliation more than we fear death, and, therefore, we have no fear of your well-trained and well-equipped armies, your high-tech arsenal.”
But, as Reuter says, suicide attackers are not killing machines who come out of nowhere. They are born of the societies and myths they grew up with. “What makes the deed effective is its embeddedness with a network of reimagined medieval myths and popular-culture hero-worship.”
More than anything, these myths have been propagated by radical, fundamentalist Islam, which burst upon Iran with the Khomeini revolution in 1979. But if this was the defining moment for the subsequent spread of religious fanaticism throughout all branches of Islam, it was the Iran-Iraq war that brought forth the official cult of the martyr. The embattled clerical leadership in Tehran, shaken by the early military success of Iraq, decided to mobilise the most revered incident in Shia history — the final stand of Imam Hussein’s 72 followers at Karbala in AD680 — as a way of confronting Saddam Hussein on the battlefield. Child martyrs, volunteers or not, were to be sent to their death across the minefields to clear them for seasoned Iranian troops.
From 1981, 10,000 boys, no more than 13 or 14, were drafted into martyr brigades, given a brief and brutal military training, decked with special headbands and hung with a plastic key for their entry into paradise, and sent in human waves into the Iraqi guns. Most were expected to die; indeed, a national cult grew up to celebrate their heroic deaths. Their families were not allowed to grieve, but were obliged to rejoice at their sons’ sacrifice.
The tactic, like the slaughter on the western front during the First World War, gained almost no military advantage. But it confirmed suicide attacks as a central tenet of militant Shia Islam. After the Iran-Iraq war ended, the tactic was adopted in other wars — in particular, by Hezbollah, the Iranian-supported Shia fighters in southern Lebanon. The first and most spectacular demonstration came on October 23, 1983, when a yellow lorry approached the US Marine barracks in southern Beirut. Instead of stopping when challenged, the driver accelerated, smashed straight into the building and detonated a huge bomb that killed 241 American troops. Later, the only surviving American eye-witness said that the driver “looked right at me and smiled . . . As soon as I saw the truck over there I knew what was going to happen.”
The review, and to judge by it the book being reviewed, are strangely emotionless in their descriptions. We're used to the most appalling cruelty being visited on enemies: that's as old as history. And those in power sending the young to their death - as in the First World War - is sadly familiar. But children of 13 or so being sent to their deaths "with a plastic key for their entry into paradise" is surely about as low as it is possible to go.
In the Observer magazine, an article on one of the female Palestinian suicide bombers ("shahidas"), Wafa Idris, makes the point that these women are generally outcasts from their society in one form or another: in Idris' case a divorcee and a "troubled young woman who was prone to bouts of melancholy and depression".
Knowing this, the point that Reuter wishes to make, about the "compelling example" of the martyr, is rather vitiated. There's nothing compelling or noble about sending children or vulnerable women to their death. Despicable is a more apt description.
Binyon closes his review:
Despite the worries of some Palestinian leaders at the global condemnation, Reuter sees no let-up by Islamist radicals; indeed, he scorns Bush’s claim that al-Qaeda is on the run. But he believes that no society can sustain suicide bombings in the long run. In the main non-Muslim conflict where the tactic has been copied, by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, the use of child bombers has fallen. And in Iran itself there is now total disillusion; the child martyrs are no longer celebrated, and families openly question the point of the sacrifice.
This leads Reuter to the book’s thought-provoking conclusion: suicide bombers cannot be defeated by Western military might or the threat of reprisals. That only confirms their zealotry. “Global manipulators of resentment and fear like bin Laden can be defeated only from within, by their own societies and cultures,” he says. As events in the troubled Muslim world show, that is likely to take a very long time.
This is not a thought-provoking conclusion: it's so obvious that it's barely worth stating. Of course the ultimate defeat of terrorism will only come when attitudes within those societies that nurture it have changed. But force can have a considerable effect on these attitudes, particularly the belief that suicide bombing works: an attitude that gained some credence with the perceived success of Hezbollah in driving the Israelis out of Southern Lebanon.
Another step towards the end of suicide bombing would be a clear condemnation of this practice from the Western societies these attacks are aimed at: in particular an end to the fatuous notion that these crimes are understandable, or in any way justified.