Jack Shaheen, an American writer, touches in his book “Reel Bad Arabs” on the negative image of Arabs and Muslims in American media and films.
He writes: “The words ‘Arab and Muslim’ stir hostile responses that make it hard for the public to differentiate between reality and imagination, and perhaps no nation in the world, because of this, has been subjected to so much misunderstanding.”
When we take a closer look at how the Palestinian narrative is playing in the West, we find that the media is intentionally ignoring stories of human suffering in Palestine and is not publicizing any wider details regarding the ramifications of the tragedy of the Palestinian people. For example, when they report the arrest and continued detention of the Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi, on charges of attacking an Israeli soldier, the Western media have focused only on the Israeli side — ignoring the essentially ludicrous notion that an unarmed 16-year-old girl could represent any kind of threat to the heavily armed Israeli military.
If this child were from Israel, we can only imagine how different the story would be, how many news stories would be published and how prominent they would be in news bulletins.
Bias against Arab interests, and efforts to discredit Arabs and Muslims, have existed for years in Western media — and especially the American press, which sided with Israel during Arab-Israeli conflicts in the 1950s and 1960s.
They spread misinformation and biased reports against Arabs, along with sympathy for Israel, without showing any care for journalistic ethics, credibility, objectivity, neutrality or professionalism.
Western media played an important role in distorting the image of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, painting a negative image of him as a dictator bent on destroying Israel. There were headlines such as “Hitler on the Nile” and “Nasser’s dangerous adventure.”
What happened to Nasser was a precursor to what happened to Iraqi president Saddam Hussein before the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The American media ran a smear campaign against the Iraqi president, linking him to Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden in spite of the ideological differences between them.
The American media succeeded in loading Western public opinion against the Iraqi president, who was described as the “Arab Hitler” 50 years after they used the same slur against Nasser. The aim was to prepare people in the West for the invasion of Iraq, to get them to accept its results, and to convince them that war was the only way to deal with a dictator who was threatening the world.
Bias against the Arab and Muslim viewpoint has existed for decades, particularly in relation to Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people.
Dr. Naif Alhadari
As the Bahraini writer Sameera Rajab has said: “Iraq was occupied by the media before it was occupied militarily.”
During the Iraqi occupation, Western media tried to blackout much information and many facts, especially regarding the weapons of mass destruction supposedly owned by Iraq.
This matter was ignored, even though it was one of the main reasons for the invasion. Meanwhile, many opinions and statements coming from inside the West that were opposing the war were ignored, so that the morale of the people would not wane. On this, Peter Steven, an American academic, says: “In the 2003 war, opposition views were contained and any criticism of the war was stifled very obviously.”
What is also worth noticing is that Western media has greatly played on the issue of minorities and ethnic and religious groups in Arab and Muslim countries. It has turned the issue into a hot topic, to which it has devoted many cultural and political programs in an effort to produce more distortion, disunity and crises in the region.
It is also using the issue as a trump card and political file that it stirs up now and then. For instance, it makes prominent any incident or conflict (even a transient one) between Muslims and Copts in Egypt, then converts the issue into a humanitarian one related to what it claims to be the persecution of the Coptic minority in a country with a Muslim majority.
What is really ironic is that the Western media is showing interest in all minorities in the Arab and Muslim worlds, while still ignoring Arab minorities in Iran (in Ahwaz) in spite of the persecution they are suffering — to the extent that they are not allowed to talk in Arabic and are barred from using Arab names for their children. The same is true of Baloch minorities in the east of Iran, who have been displaced and their social and religious icons destroyed at the hands of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Even during the recent protests in Iran, the Western media did not elaborate on the details, and their coverage of the demonstrations was completely different from their coverage of the so-called “Arab spring.”
Thus, Iranian protesters no longer trust biased Western correspondents in Tehran. For while many reports described the demonstrations as “economic protests” or a “power struggle” in Iran, in fact most of the demonstrators were chanting the same slogan that was heard in the Arab world during the protests of 2011: Death to the dictator.
• Dr. Naif Alhadari is a Saudi writer, researcher and media adviser. He has worked for several prominent Saudi media outlets.