Posts about Mideast

Al Jazeera TV

I’m watching the new Al Jazeera English channel but it’s not easy. Go here and keep refreshing the 15-minute free sample.

It’s foolish that they try to charge a monthly fee for watching the stream and even more foolish that they based the business on getting cable carriage. If they’d just put the channel up online, they’d be getting a huge audience today.

The channel is quite slick and certainly comes from a different perspective. And, oh, they’re trying so hard to go against stereotype — in the first few minutes I watched, I saw some travel piece going through a Jewish neighborhood in Israel/Palestine, I think, and a promotion flashing images of Katz’s Deli in New York. I’ll have to watch a lot more to parse the political and cultural references and news coverage. But they’re not making that easy.

BBC PC

The BBC publishes its guidelines for language in coverage of the Mideast (yes, you already know they don’t like the word “terrorist”). Simon Wilson writes about it on the BBC Editors’ blog:

Although initially a little sceptical, the more I think about it, the happier I am that we are publishing this guide to the public. BBC journalists, whether they are in Israel, the Palestinian Territories or London, put an enormous amount of thought and effort into trying to get these things right. And if this shows just a glimpse of that to the people we are reporting to, it may prove a very useful exercise.

ONA: The definition of civil war in Iraq

Zeyad was interviewed on the stage at the Online News Association by USA Today’s Mark Memmott and the room was pin-drop-silent from start to end. I thought it was riveting and so did many others.

Zeyad told the story of the beginning of his blog and then about milestones in its life and the transformation of his thinking about the war — from the start of the war, when Zeyad was optimistic for Iraq; to the lack of media coverage of prodemocracy demonstrations in Baghdad in 2003; to the death of his cousin at the hands of American soldiers; to his current view of the war. When Zeyad pushed for and got an investigation into his cousin’s death (which found the Americans at fault), he said he saw a backlash among his readers. “They accused me of all kinds of things, particularly because I [had been] optimistic. I realized some people were supporting me just because I was saying things they wanted to hear.”

Memmott asked about the accusation that news media here are not covering enough good news in Iraq. “That what I thought in the beginning,” Zeyad said. “Over the last year, I think they are not covering how bad it is.” What are they missing? “Most of the coverage revolves around attacks on American forces and, of course, I understand that. But they are missing the sectarian violence going on around the country. And it’s also extremely difficult for Western media to get that story.” He praised a story in the Washington Post a week ago profiling a neighborhood and also praised some Times coverage. “But it’s not enough.” He said the TV coverage he has seen has been dreadful.

Zeyad explained that today, he gets most of his news from local message boards, “a great treasure trove. Sometimes, you have to sift through a lot of rubbish and propaganda…. But at the same time, you get some gems from these sites.” He explained that when he sees the same reports on opposing boards, he knows he has hit news. He suggested that media should be doing this themselves; he hasn’t seen evidence that they are.

He painted a terrifying picture of life in Baghdad, of “neighborhood shelling neighborhood.” In his Sunni area, “almost every night there is an exchange of mortar shells between neighbors and I haven’t seen that in any Western media. It goes on every night…. Sometimes, it’s just ordinary people from both neighborhoods. Trust is gone.” (Later, with Paul Brennan of the BBC, we sat in the hall and watched an Alive in Baghdad report about local patrols and Zeyad recognizes his own neighborhood.)

Asked whether this is civil war, he said: “I ask you back: How do you define a civil war? Does what I describe sound like a civil war — neighborhoods fighting each other? Yes, I think that’s a civil war.”

From the audience, he was asked whether he has feared for his life. “Yes, I was fearful for my life all the time and I had to weigh everything that I posted.”

Asked to quantify “how much of the story” Americans are getting — 80 percent or 20 percent, say — Zeyad said we are getting half the story. What’s missing? “The local story. I’m sure you get news about attacks — suicide car bombs — all the time, almost every day. And, of course, news about the government, which is really irrelevant. The government doesn’t control anything and doesn’t even control the Green Zone.” Coverage, he said, “should focus on the people and what’s going on on the street.”

Memmott ended asking whether Western media can do anything to help Iraqi bloggers. Zeyad replied: “They can help by publicizing the blogs… I don’t think they are getting the attention they should get. Right now they are a source of information complementing western coverage and they are a great source. They cover almost anything.” He points to the blog of an 18-year-old girl in Mosul, who writes about going through checkpoints to get to school. This isn’t just numbers, Zeyad says. “You get a great insight from these. It also puts a human face on the war. ”

: Here’s E&P’s report.

Moral proportionalism

I missed this rousing and right comment on the faked photo scandal and the faked issue of equivalency in Hezbollah’s war from Tim Rutten but just caught it thanks to Eat the Press:

It’s worth noting in this context that there is no similar flow of propagandistic images coming from the Israeli side of the border. That’s because one side — the democratically elected government of Israel — views death as a tragedy and the other — the Iranian financed terrorist organization Hezbollah — sees it as an opportunity. In this case, turning their own dead children into material creates an opportunity to cloud the fact that every Lebanese casualty, tragic as he or she is, was killed or injured as an unavoidable consequence of Israel’s pursuit of terrorists who use their own people as human shields. Every Israeli civilian killed or injured was the victim of a terrorist attack intended to harm civilians. That alone ought to wash away any blood-stained suggestion of moral equivalency.

‘We are all Hezbollah now’

The Guardian’s Comment is Free brings out the big guns to debate the Hezbollah-Israel war. Jimmy Carter delivers a mealy-mouthed post that ends up attacking Israel. But Harold Evans reminds us of the moral quagmire — can we use that word again — of backing Hezbollah and he does it masterfully:

“We are all Hizbullah now,” proclaimed one of the banners at the Stop the War coalition’s London march. Really? Is it possible that more than one person has taken leave of their senses?

It was a sign either of profound ignorance or a depraved indifference to human life. Either way, the moral idiocy of the sentiment betrayed the higher purpose of the march.

If we are all Hizbullah now, who are we?

Are we the violent hijackers of the state of Lebanon who started this war without provocation and without reference to the elected government? Are we the “democrats” who hold hostages for years and murder political opponents?

Are we the suicide bombers, Hizbullah’s contribution to civilization, randomly murdering innocents in the thousands – Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, for this cause or that, it makes no difference?

Are we Hassan Nasrullah, the latest pin up boy of terrorism, who competes with Iran’s mad Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the most dedicated to kill Jews? He makes no secret of Hizbullah’s genocidal ambitions. “If they [the Jews] all gather in Israel,” he says, “it will save us the trouble of going after them on a world wide basis.” Big joke.

Are we the puppets of our paymasters in Iran?

Are we the cowards condemned as such by the UN humanitarian chief, Jan Egeland, for hiding our fighters and rocket launchers among women and children?

Are we not the cleverest of tacticians? If the human shield works, we are free to attack, and if it fails, Israel will bear the odium. What does it matter that our cruel deceit violates Article 58 of the Geneva Convention?

Are we the renegades who have for six years shown what we think of the Geneva Convention, international law (and UN resolution 1559) by regularly launching rockets across the border into Israel loaded with ball-bearings to shred human flesh. Yes, people died, six in a school bus, but they were only Jews and did you see the world take any notice? Nobody marched in London.

Are we the fiends who over two decades of Islamic terrorism have kidnapped, tortured and killed numerous peacekeepers?

Read the rest. It gets even better, even stronger.

Carter, on the other hand, stays true to his tapioca soul and mumbles support for Israel before giving them the back of his hand, while not criticizing Hezbollah in the least. A shocking performance:

It is inarguable that Israel has a right to defend itself against attacks on its citizens, but it is inhumane and counterproductive to punish civilian populations in the illogical hope that somehow they will blame Hamas and Hizbullah for provoking the devastating response.

And how about blaming Hezbollah for hiding behind those civilians and launching attacks on civilians from their homes? Not our ex-President. He just returns to his own failed roadmaps to nowhere.

Making war look worse

This is a post I just put up on Comments is Free. The discussion there is already lively; if you feel moved to comment, please head over there….

Those bloggers have done it again: They’ve caught a fake used in a major media story.

After Reuters ran a photo last week of black smoke over Beirut, suspicious bloggers noted that smoke isn’t known to rise in incredibly symmetrical bulbous billows. That was clear evidence of Photoshopping, using a tool to “clone” one part of a picture so you can cut-and-paste it over other parts. Someone took this photo, added smoke and made it darker. You can see the before-and-after most clearly here.

The sleuth who proved the hoax was Charles Johnson, the man behind the controversial Little Green Footballs blog and the same man who uncovered the faking of the memos used in Dan Rather’s fateful – for Rather, that is – story about George Bush’s military service. In that case, too, Johnson took the original and the fake the showed how the deception was done by dissecting and overlaying the efforts at technical trickery.

Reuters, however, did not wait 11 days, as CBS did, to respond to the outing. Yesterday, it pulled the photo, apologised, and suspended the photographer, Adnan Hajj. The photographer was already controversial in certain blog circles for taking part in what some contended was a stage-managed presentation of the deaths at Qana.

One wonders why anyone, especially a photographer and journalist, would feel compelled to amplify war. No matter what side you are on, does anyone really need to make war worse?

This morning in New York, I watched a TV interview with the two police officers whose story as the last of too few survivors pulled from the World Trade Center has been made Oliver Stone’s new movie, which opens here Wednesday. Asked whether the movie conveyed their own horror at being trapped for 13 and 22 hours, they said that it couldn’t be made bad enough. Yet that surely did not stop Stone from trying. That is what artists often do when faced with tragedy: they struggle with how to make it bad enough. This is why Elie Wiesel has said that one must not bring theatre to Auschwitz or Auschwitz to theatre; one cannot make it bad enough and – as we have seen in countless movies and miniseries – efforts to make it worse only trivialize the tragedy by unnecessarily over-dramatizing it. And, no, I am not drawing a parallel in any way between any of these events, only between the efforts to amplify.

If this photographer were a dramatist, one wonders why he would see the need to Photoshop reality. Does blacker smoke make the damage worse? Is a dead child in Qana any more tragic if the scene around her is more photogenic?

But, of course, the photographer is not a dramatist. He is a journalist. And that makes the effort to goose up the news both more puzzling and more troubling. I suppose one could argue that these could be the acts of hacks hungry for Page One: it’s simple sensationalism. But I doubt that.

It seems more likely an act of agenda that fits into the current argument about proportionalism in the Hizbullah-Israel war. One side of the argument is, of course, that Israel’s security was violated by Hizbullah, and it has a right to defend itself and to assure that these attacks will stop by disarming or disabling Hizbullah. The other side of the argument we hear now is that Israel’s response is disproportionate, an argument I find puzzling in war, where the disproportion is in winning or losing (I have blogged on this here and here and here). If the effort is not to make war look worse but to make one side in it look disproporationate, then I suppose it makes sense to make the smoke bigger and blacker. It makes sense if that is your agenda.

It doesn’t make sense if what you’re trying to do is report the news.

The other subtext of this incident is one I hope is fading away: the supposed rivalry of blogger v mainstream journalist. There was quite the kerfuffle in the blog world this last week when the dean of the Columbia Journalism School, Nicholas Lemann, wrote in The New Yorker continuing that faux feud (read about it here and here). The professionals in this narrative supposedly say that they are the ones holding the standards.

But then along comes a case like the doctored Reuters photo, where the professionals are the ones violating any standards and the bloggers are the ones catching them at it. Where there’s smoke …

Photo fake: When will they ever learn…?

Charles Johnson — who helped expose the fake CBS memos that brought Dan Rather down — has done it again, showing how a Reuters photographer (clumsily) faked a photo in Beirut yesterday to add more smoke to the skyline. This time, it didn’t take the news organization 11 days to respond; Reuters pulled the photo, suspended the photographer, Adnan Hajj, and apologized just now. If you’re going to use the tools of technology to tell, you’d better learn that there are people out there who are better at the tools than you are. Count this as an ass, fact-checked.

Disproportionalism

With disproportionalism becoming the meme of choice in the discussion of the Israel/Hezbollah fight, it’s worth remembering these numbers (from Wikipedia):

* U.S. civilian deaths in World War II: 11,200
* UK civilian deaths in World War II: 67,800
* German civilian deaths in World War II: 1,840,000 (not including Holocaust genocide)
* Japanese civilian deaths in World War II: 600,000

And so what would the proportionalists have had us do? What is their argument? Should we have dragged the war and the suffering on longer because we were winning too quickly by killing too many, thus allowing more Jews to die in the Holocaust and more civilians to die by starvation and disease and more soldiers to die over time?
Should have stopped fighting when we were killing too many? Of course, in war, any death is a death too many. So what is the right number? What is the right proportion? Does proportionalism take into account the population of the enemies? So in the current case, whom do we put in this devil’s algorithm: the populations of Israel and Lebanon, or of Israel and Hezbollah, or of Israel and the Arab world, or of Israel and the Muslim world, or of Israel and the rest of the world? I guess that depends on whom you count as Israel’s enemies. How do you account for military putting civilians at risk by hiding in their midst? How do you account for cutting off the fighting by cutting off its support? Do you award bonus points to the guy who starts it all? What is a proportional war?

Or did they just learn this doctrine from Star Trek and its 500-year war?

Beaming to the surface with a landing party, Kirk and Spock are met by a young woman, Mea 3, who tells them that Eminiar VII has been at war with its neighboring planet, Vendikar, for over 500 years. Mea 3 takes them to the council chambers where they find banks of computers. Eminiar’s head council Anan 7 informs them that the two planets have learned to avoid the complete devastation of war because computers are used. When a “hit” is scored by one of the planets, the people declared “dead” willingly walk into antimatter chambers and are vaporized. Anan 7 further tells Kirk that his ship and all the crew aboard her have been declared casualties and will be executed. When Kirk flatly refuses, the landing party members are taken prisoner.