Couched in Ignorance

Your TV and the Middle East

He started his speech by relating how he had been beaten nearly to death by Afghani villagers with rocks last December merely because he looked like an American. He didn't blame them, he said, because their village and loved ones had been decimated by bombs from our B-52s, which are not precise instruments for meting out justice, killing children and women as dead as they do terrorists. And their dead are scarcely even numbers in our news because American editors let their journalists know that accounts of civilian casualties in Operation Enduring Freedom were to be downplayed.

"I hate the 'what' and 'where' stories that leave out the why," Fisk said, continuing that in the U.S. coverage in the aftermath of Sept. 11, it was practically considered unpatriotic to ask why.

He had interviewed paratroopers in the Afghan invasion who had told him they were there simply to "fight terrorism." But these were Russian paratroopers in their invasion two decades ago, when one of the terrorists they were fighting was our "freedom fighter" Osama bin Laden. He related how some of the freedom-loving folks the U.S. had supported then would slaughter teachers for daring to educate girls.

Given several decades in which "the Arab world was humiliated and corrupted by the West," he said, there was no shortage of answers to "why?"

"To many Arabs who were appalled by the attacks on New York and the Pentagon, bin Laden does not sound insane," he said, citing our propping up corrupt Arab dictatorships, the children who have died as a result of our embargo against Iraq, and our unwavering support for Israel as reasons for genuine ire.

When an Israeli helicopter gunship blew up an ambulance containing two women and four children in 1996, it was Fisk who sifted through the wreckage to find the U.S. markings on the rocket they'd used. Though it was the deadliest incident of the day, Fisk said, the ambulance attack was downplayed in the U.S. press.

So it has always been, he claimed, citing how little coverage was given to the 1982 massacres in Lebanon presided over by Sharon. Now, he said, reporting has become so biased and deferential to Israel as to render it inconsequential. When our State Department shifts to referring to the West Bank's occupied territories as "disputed territories," the press follows suit without question. CNN has issued a memo that Israeli settlements—though illegal, according to the U.N.—are now to be referred to as "neighborhoods." Rather than mention Sharon's terrorist acts in Lebanon, he is called a "tough protagonist."

As a result, the American people have little idea of what is going on. The Arab press is worse, he said, never addressing their own governments' torture and corruption. Some of the best reporting, according to Fisk, is to be found in the writing of Israeli journalists such as Amos Oz. Fisk's own writing can be found at news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/.

We have no business playing Father Knows Best with any nation, any more than we'd like them paternally meddling with our affairs. We are so much a part of the problems in the Middle East, however, that we bear some responsibility to help find a solution, and we can't do that if Father Knows Shit.

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