The Horrors of Media Warfare

In recent years, policy and decision makers have given increasing attention to the importance of media coverage in the context of wars. Much as a result, we witness ever-more complex ‘media offensives’ in which, stakeholders are willing to go further than ever before in order to hoist their victory flags on our television screens and monitors. Within such an environment where truth is merely a corollary to the success or failure of detailed media campaigns designed in dark rooms of power, it is quite expected that issues of morality — or even basic human instinct, for that matter — are suspended in stupor.

The grand conceit of mass media in Afghanistan and Iraq is now an open-secret. From the initial engineering of entirely misleading narratives up to present day coverage of on-ground realities, the achievements of propaganda in battlefronts that have erupted in the post-9/11 world will make their way into history as some of the most eminent examples of wholesale deceit and deception.

One alarming development in this vein has been what some may call the ‘militarization’ of media warfare. Silencing the voices of journalists and media outlets (brutally, if needed), has become a feature of modern wars. It is not in the least surprising in this regard that 2009 marked the bloodiest year on record in terms of journalist fatalities. At one level, this ploy serves to pre-emptively counter the possibility of having to deal with ‘awkward’ questions about war conduct. Yet it is perhaps in its capacity to generate widespread fear and terror that this strategy attempts to circumscribe the role of reporting, and thus predetermine the contours of victory on the media scene.

In Iraq, we witnessed the rise of novel phenomena; from the notion of embedded journalists to the concept of RRMT (Rapid Reaction Media Teams). During Israel’s war on Lebanon in 2006, one of its first targets were the broadcasting headquarters of the Al-Manar television network and the Al-Nour radio station in its bid to settle the outcome of the media war at the outset. Two years later, we had a far more evolved strategy to block-out media coverage during Israel’s war on Gaza; the infamous ‘Hill of Shame’ brought about the notion of ‘spectator sport’ reporting. Journalists and TV crews were gifted with a “spectacular panoramic” overview of the bleeding warzone from a distance safely calculated by the party that was doing all the bombing.

For all these instances, the object is evidently clear: to shield the perceptions of the outside world from the scourges of war. All we witness after the censoring is a bite-sized version of all the suffering and pain, the ‘blood and gore’. Sights and sounds are packaged precisely in order to little arouse (if at all) the primordial human instincts of compassion and empathy.

Despite the tragic experiences and setbacks suffered in the last few years, the same trend continues with total impunity. As the adage confirms, the only thing we learn from history is that we never learn from history. In the provinces of north-west Pakistan, the empire carries out drone strikes at will whilst the dead remain faceless and fade away as disputed statistics. In the war-torn Yemeni province of Saada, the situation is arguably far more desperate.

During the last two months, the intensity of battle has taken a turn for the worst. With the advent of direct Saudi and US involvement in the war against Houthi ‘rebels’, the battlefront has seen relentless bombardment day after day. Still however, imagery out of Saada has been limited to rising smoke plumes from lifeless hills in a jagged terrain. Obvious questions arise on the intent of filters and newscasts by airing such images, which I leave to the reader.

Images of innocent children forcibly robbed of life are missing altogether in this de-sensitized version of war; the screams and squeals of the wounded, the sorrow-filled faces and abjectness of widows and orphans do not feature in this war. By associating lifeless images of bombed hills with the deadly loads of F-16s, our perceptions are not only conditioned but ultimately, it is our natural reaction to the deep agony and torment suffered by fellow humans that is curtailed. Newscasts and orchestrators of PR campaigns establish — albeit implicitly, through their coverage — that in the case of the ravaging war in Saada, the Saudi-Yemeni-US military alliance is only ‘wiping out’ rogue rebels whilst innocents remain untouched by the blind killing and destruction.

Similarly, at the propaganda level the Houthis have been variously branded as clients of Iran, ((‘Emperors of Silent Wars,’ Dissident Voice, 14 December 2009.)) and more recently as noted by Jane Novak who is a long-time analyst and expert on Yemeni affairs, airstrikes on Al Qaeda are being conflated with strikes on Houthis to give a veneer of legitimacy to the ongoing bloodshed. ((‘Airstrike Blowback,’ Armies of Liberation, 23 December 2009)) Whatever asymmetry that exists in the military firepower of the two sides is simply being carried forward and multiplied on the media battlefield.

Whilst the tools available for media and communication have greatly evolved, such a spectre of media warfare is neither arbitrarily unique nor modern at its heart. It is rather, merely another chapter in the age-old standoff between power and truth.

According to the Islamic tradition, our sense of duty towards the Divine firmly interlocks with securing the rights of the vulnerable and downtrodden. Silence in the face of oppression is akin to partaking in oppression. Human beings are thus individually and collectively established by faith as ‘monitors of power’; whenever power transgresses its natural confines as a tool to establish justice, it becomes incumbent for a Muslim to make a stand. Such sentiments are shared in one way or another by, dare I say, the majority of humanity.

For those who reject to live subject to the rule of whips and lashes, there is thus a need to wake up and make a dignified stand against the constant drive (by those in power) to immune us all from the agonies of our fellows as a matter of norm; carried out all the while, under the rubric of grand slogans in service of the meagre interests of a tiny elite.

Ali Jawad is a political activist and a member of the AhlulBayt Islamic Mission (AIM). He can be reached at: Read other articles by Ali, or visit Ali's website.

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Mulga Mumblebrain said on December 29th, 2009 at 12:03pm #

    We must remember that the hideously biased media reports from the Western War of Terror against the Islamic world are not just intended to mislead the public and incite hatred in them for Moslems, but also are active expressions of race and religious hatred. The War of Terror, now metastasising into Yemen and Baluchistan, with Eritrea now targeted, Iran struggling with vicious attempts at destabilisation, and Israel threatening yet another slaughter in Gaza,or another onslaught on Lebanon, is an enterprise based on absolute hatred, the type of genocidal impulse clearly enunciated in the Torah, in the various demands from God for the absolute extermination of the Jews’ victims.
    We see this intense race hatred and bloodlust in the Western media’s now routine refusal to report civilian deaths from the victim countries. We have lots of narcissistic self-pity over the handful of professional killers in the Western armed forces killed by the resistances in Afghanistan and Iraq, but not a word over the vastly greater number of innocent civilians, including children, killed by these invaders.
    This effect has been slowly expressing itself in the Western media, primarily under Zionist influence. In Australia the media is dominated by Judeofascists, whose vilifications of Islam and its adherents, and slimy apologias for Israeli brutality, and vile slurs against any who dare criticise their Holy Reich, totally dominate the media, particularly Rupert Moloch’s empire of slime. The Palestinians have been totally banished, even the Fatah Quislings.All stories concerning Iran are ferociously negative, and, often enough, clearly mendacious, but in a debased propaganda and hatemongering system, the Big Lie is the currency. And the technique of the Big Lie has spread to all other fields, from climate change denialism to the financial crisis of casino capitalism. Just how much further we will sink before ecological collapse ends this vile charade of a species going raving mad and becoming spiritually bankrupt, God only knows, but I am certain that the rivers of blood spilled so far are as of nought compared with those to come.

  2. Don Hawkins said on December 29th, 2009 at 3:40pm #

    And the technique of the Big Lie has spread to all other fields, from climate change denialism to the financial crisis of casino capitalism. Just how much further we will sink before ecological collapse ends this vile charade of a species going raving mad and becoming spiritually bankrupt, God only knows, Mulga

    Just how much further we will sink before ecological collapse ends this vile charade this was well written and what we see with our own eye’s now if you look points in the direction of what this man wrote. We have heard much about Copenhagen but what Cummins wrote could be why many are a tad bit worried. Very soon we get to see the Senate here in the States on the climate bill and we will know more. Do the policy makers understand the seriousness of what we face oh yes they sure do so let’s watch and see the big plan and how the media just a business handles the next few months. If you read this article the first few paragraphs is it true of course a nobrainer and will become more clear in just a few years then what?

  3. Rehmat said on December 29th, 2009 at 3:55pm #

    Well the latest anti-Muslim media episod is so-called “Nigerian terrorist”. Every Zionist media organs, such as CNN, BBC, CBC, CBS, etc. have filled the waves and internet pointing fingers towards Al-Qaeda (has not heard Islamic Iran being named as yet) behind the failed terrorist activity. However, no one is interested to dig into Israeli connection – even though Amsterdam airport security is handled by Israeli firm ICTS – and same goes for many European airports and all the US airports used by the so-called “19 hijackers” behind 9-11 terrorism.

    The ‘Nigerian Terrorist’

  4. Mulga Mumblebrain said on December 30th, 2009 at 3:04am #

    Well Rehmat, I’m smelling a Lee Harvey Oswald type patsy in this Nigerian student. I think that we might very well discover, although we can be sure that the Zionazi propaganda system will suppress it, that this is yet another black propaganda set-up. I expect the next propaganda shoe that will drop will be some supposed link to Iran, hence cranking up the hate before our Judeofascist rulers celebrate next Purim in proper, Torah, style.
    That was an interesting piece on organics, Don. We all know that, even now, a return to organic, local, seasonal food production, massive, worldwide reforestation, switch to renewable power production and radical reductions in Western, particularly elite, conspicuous over-consumption, could still save us. But the fiends, the psychopaths, the robopaths, those dead sould who know the price of everything and the value of nothing, will never allow it. As I’ve often said here, I truly believe that they know the science of anthropogenic climate change to be real, but see global climate catastrophe as the means by which to cull billions of non-Europeans. Then, I imagine, they believe that they can geo-engineer the planet back to stability quickly. Of this I am convinced, given what I have learned of the elite’s murderousness and greed, and their fanatic determination to derail any attempts to avert the catastrophe. Needless to say I hope I’m wrong, but I doubt it to be so.

  5. Maryb said on December 31st, 2009 at 1:31am #

    A case in point Mulga. The surviving hostage Peter Moore has been released. Milipede glows with pride at his efforts when announcing the news. Now the press get to work by saying that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were responsible for the kidnapping and killings. The BBC were even saying this morning that he was captured by Iran because he had found evidence of Iranian involvement in diverting aid. All so much dirt and muck.

    This is a comment from Medialens.

    Astonishing piece about Iraq hostages in Guardian
    Posted by Hidari on December 31, 2009, 12:22 am

    This is on the front page at the time of writing.

    ‘The five British men kidnapped in Iraq were taken in an operation led and masterminded by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, according to evidence uncovered during an extensive investigation by the Guardian.

    The men – including Peter Moore, who was released today after more than two years in captivity – were taken to Iran within a day of their kidnap from a government ministry building in Baghdad in 2007, several senior sources in Iraq and Iran have told the Guardian.

    They were incarcerated in prisons run by the al-Quds force, a unit that specialises in foreign operations on behalf of the Iranian government.

    One of the kidnappers has told this paper that three of the Britons – Jason Creswell, Jason Swindlehurst and Alec Maclachlan – were subsequently killed after the British government refused to take ransom demands seriously.’
    Now try imagine this being rewritten such that the tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis ‘imprisoned’ by the Americans were termed ‘hostages’. And try and imagine the Iraqi army being described as ‘a unit that specialises in foreign operations on behalf of the American government.’

    And imagine reading in the Guardian that ‘XXXX was targeted because he was a computer specialist installing a sophisticated tracking system that would show how vast amounts of international aid money from Iraqi institutions was diverted to the United States’ (in, I might add, what some people consider to be the greatest theft in history).

    This is assuming that the story has any validity whatsoever, considering that it is based on the usual shadowy, unnamed ‘sources’. However, note the final paragraph: ‘The Foreign Office said tonight: “We have no evidence that the British hostages, including Peter Moore, were held in Iran’.