News that British schoolteacher Gillian Gibbons had been jailed in Sudan after allowing her pupils to call a teddy bear Mohammed fed straight into the UK media’s hate factory and its "war for civilisation".
The Gibbons story was mentioned in a massive 257 articles in
The suffering in
To its credit, an Independent leader warned that it would be wrong "to treat Ms Gibbons’ case, as some have done, as a harbinger of the supposedly inevitable clash between the ‘enlightened’ West and ‘primitive’ Islam". (Leader, Ms Gibbons and a teddy bear named Mohamed,’ The Independent, November 30, 2007)
The advice was largely ignored, however. Following Gibbons’ release after eight days in jail, a December 4 Telegraph leader described how the "delight and mutual congratulations that have characterised the agreement between the Sudanese dictator and the British authorities… presents a nauseating picture". The arrest being, after all, "testimony to the danger of allowing a rogue state to proceed unchecked". (Leader, ‘
Such preposterous hyperbole belongs in the same category as Hitler’s description of
Phillips was similarly outraged when 15 British sailors were "kidnapped" by an Iranian warship on March 23 while on patrol in the Shatt-al-Arab waterway between
Iran was, of course, "steadily advancing towards its goal of obtaining nuclear weapons with which it is threatening to bring about the apocalypse it has been working towards for the past three decades".
Like the rest of the media, Phillips later fell silent when evidence emerged suggesting that the British sailors had in fact strayed into Iranian waters, and had therefore not been "kidnapped" at all. On July 22, the UK Foreign Affairs Committee reported:
"We conclude that there is evidence to suggest that the map of the Shatt al-Arab waterway provided by the Government was less clear than it ought to have been. The Government was fortunate that it was not in
Martin Pratt, Director of Research at the International Boundaries Research Unit at Durham University, pointed out that the British government’s map was "certainly an oversimplification… it could reasonably be argued that it was deliberately misleading". (Ibid)
George Monbiot –
This did nothing to dim the enthusiasm of journalists eager to portray
We wrote to Monbiot on the same day:
In your latest Guardian article, you write:
"I believe that
What is the basis for your belief, please?
You also write:
Is it your understanding that Ahmadinejad, rather than Khamenei, is the supreme ruler of
Finally, what is the basis for your belief that Ahmadinejad is "opposed to the existence of
DE and DC
We wrote a further two times but received no replies. Monbiot had earlier written to us in February 2005:
"If, as I think you have, you have begun to force people working for newspapers and broadcasters to look over their left shoulders as well as their right, and worry about being held to account for the untruths they disseminate, then you have already performed a major service to democracy." (Email, February 2, 2005)
These were kind words but they surely overstated the case. In truth, we have little power to hold journalists to account – it is a simple matter for them to ignore our emails.
Monbiot’s comments on
We asked him:
"Can you explain why you would prioritise the support of such a war ahead of a war to remove the Algerian generals, the Turkish regime, the Colombian regime, or maybe Putin? Would you also support a war to remove these regimes, if this turns out to be the only way?" (Email, November 26, 2002. See our series of Media Alerts, beginning with: http://www.medialens.org/alerts/02/021202_Monbiot_Iraq.HTM)
He replied the same day:
"The other nations you mention have some, admittedly flimsy, domestic means of redress: in other words, being democracies, or nominal democracies, citizens can, in theory, remove them without recourse to violent means. There is no existing process within
"As I suggest in my article, we must try the non-violent means first, and there are plenty which have not been exhausted. But if all the conditions which I believe would provide the case for a just war are met – namely that less violent options have been exhausted first, that it reduces the sum total of violence in the world, improves the lives of the oppressed, does not replace one form of oppression with another and has a high chance of success – then it seems to me that it would be right to seek to topple Mr Hussein by military means." (Email, November 26, 2002)
We asked him if he thought
"I do not believe that
So why single out
"… why did I write that column about
The elusive but key truth is that mainstream politics and media have an astonishing capacity to make certain issues seem particularly real and important while consigning others to oblivion. To criticise the actions of the Iranian state, for example, is to have a voice – our words are likely to matter, they may well be heard; they can lead to discussion and even action. To criticise the actions of a government of marginal media interest is to be a voice in the wilderness – we might as well be muttering to ourselves in the bath. The temptation for a professional journalist is to be ‘relevant’, to accept mainstream parameters of debate, and to ignore the costs of his or her actions.
By late 2002, establishment propaganda had made the need to take action to deal with Saddam Hussein’s regime seem real, urgent and important – Monbiot was swept along in the wake of that propaganda. Something similar appears to be happening again, now, over
On December 18, we analysed the
2007 – 14
2006 – 9
2005 – 9
2004 – 19
2003 – 6 (5 post-invasion, 1 pre-invasion)
2002 – 2
2001 – 3
2000 – 1
1999 – 1
1998 – 2
1997 – 2
1996 – 1
1995 – 1
1994 – 5
1992 – 1
1989 – 1
1988 – 2
Following the invasion, Iran took the place of Iraq as the West’s official enemy – it was the ideal scapegoat for the catastrophic occupation and a suitable device for maintaining the traditional fear of foreign ‘threats’.
We found a similar pattern when searching for the terms ‘Taliban’ and ‘women’s rights’. Since February 1995, there have been 56 mentions in the Guardian. Of these, 36 have appeared since the September 11, 2001 attacks. Following the September 11 attacks, there was the same number of mentions (nine) in the last three and a half months of that year as there had been in the previous three years combined. 90% of the mentions in 2001 occurred after 9-11.
US Spies Confound The Warmongers
Just two weeks after Monbiot’s comments on
"Tehran’s decision to halt its nuclear weapons programme suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005." (Ewen MacAskill, ‘US spies give shock verdict on
The report concluded: "We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003
Other evidence challenges the claim that
Journalists have long taken for granted that Iran is smuggling advanced roadside bombs, known as Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFPs), into Iraq. However, in October, historian and security analyst Gareth Porter described on Inter Press Service how the
Despite all of this, Porter observed, the
And so, while the media continue to capitalise on any excuse to promote a "clash of civilisations" between the West and "militant Islam", it remains a remarkable fact that the ‘threats’ faced are mostly invented. Much of the actual violence against the West has been, and will continue to be, in retaliation for grave Western crimes in
The simplest way for the West to bring its "war on terror" to a successful conclusion would be for it to stop waging war and to renounce terrorism.
The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you decide to write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.
Write to Melanie Phillips
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