Ahmadinejad deserves fair reporting
Media in the west paint Islamic figures from Iran to Hezbollah with a broad "anti-western" brush that neglects their origins
By MATTHEW CASSEL, Guardian, October 18th, 2010
The complicity of western media with their governments could not have been more clear this past week, when the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, came to Lebanon.
The message that his visit was a "provocation", as it had been labelled by the US, French and Israeli governments, was dutifully reinforced by those countries' media. One American journalist, functioning more as a propagandist, wrote in Slate: "This is Ahmadinejad's first visit to Lebanon, and he couldn't have picked a better time to provoke outrage."
But just who did he outrage exactly? In total, hundreds of thousands of mostly Shia Lebanese came out to the various events celebrating Ahmadinejad's visit. Even rightwing Christian politicians in Lebanon such as Samir Geagea – who couldn't be further away on the political spectrum from Hezbollah and Iran – came out to welcome Ahmadinejad, who he described afterwards as "moderate" in tone.
To add some colour to their articles, many reporters made a point of mentioning an incident where two camels and 10 sheep were apparently slaughtered during the welcoming ceremony. A Sydney Morning Herald article opened: "Camels were sacrificed in his honour, their blood flowed through the streets and the air filled with a roar of welcome." Some even tried to explain the significance of animal slaughter in Islam.
I'm not even going to reach for a book on my shelf or search Wikipedia to find Islam's connection to animal killing. Instead I'll resort to common sense: human beings kill animals. In English we call them butchers. Not one article bothered to mention that the "sacrificed" camels, with "their long, graceful necks slit open" would actually be eaten afterwards. When it involves Arabs or Muslims, the implication is that they're savages killing merely for the sake of killing.
But more important than what was included in most western coverage of the past week was what was left out. The misrepresentation of Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran remains rampant in western media coverage. Both are always painted with a broad "anti-western" brush that neglects their origins.
The Islamic Republic was a result of 26 years of a western-imposed absolute monarch that brutally repressed all dissent, especially the Islamic movements. In 1979, those Islamists led a nationwide revolt that overthrew the west's puppet.
In Lebanon, a few years later, Hezbollah was born. At a time when the predominantly Shia south of the country was under attack and occupation by Israel (the US's "special friend" in the region) those same Lebanese Shias organised and armed themselves with the aiding of the nascent Iranian regime to liberate their land. And they did, twice.
With such crucial historical context, it's not hard to understand how such groups can be both fiercely opposed to the policies of western governments and also have legitimate grassroots support.
Lebanon has always been the arena for many of the region's political battles. And Hezbollah, largely for its uncompromising resistance to Israel and the west, has become the most powerful player in the Lebanese political landscape. And by extension, Hezbollah's allies, Syria and Iran – operating amid western-backed despots and disastrous western-led wars and occupations – have also enjoyed an increase in their regional influence.
If Ahmadinejad's visit to Lebanon signalled anything, it's that the balance of power is shifting in the Middle East. And as that happens we'll most likely see even more leaders and movements in this region take stands against the policies of western governments. More camels may even be killed in the process.
Hopefully western media can distance themselves from their governments to accurately report these changes, rather than share in their condemnation and disappointment, paving the way for them to put their threats of war into practice.