The Middle East:
Where the Ridiculous is Mainstream & Nonsense Kills
By Barry Rubin
In the nothing is too ridiculous category, al-Safir, the left-wing, Syrian-backed, pro-Hizballah newspaper, that the New York Times is now using as a reliable source on Lebanese politics, has a scoop. According to the newspaper, an Israeli security agent paid a Palestinian $3000 to put a poison pill in a Palestinian’s coffee in order to give him polio. The man’s father says his son is paralyzed and vomiting blood:
“If things don’t move forwards during the next few hours, I and my family will burn ourselves in front of the Red Cross headquarters in Ramallah in order to alert the world to our cause,” Haitham’s father said. “When I die, my son will say to everyone that I was a hero martyr.”
Oh, they gave the name of the alleged pill. It’s Oleptro, a commonly used antidepressant.
Now why is this kind of thing important except for laughs?
1. It has political consequences internationally. The constant demonization of Israel in every aspect of Arab discourse–including sports stories–makes it impossible and seemingly undesirable to make peace with that country. This is no ordinary dispute easily solvable by compromise but a battle between good and evil, deity and devil, that can only be resolved by total victory.
2. It has political consequences at home. If anyone in the Arab world wants to make peace with the well-poisoning (Suha Arafat to Hillary Clinton), Arafat-poisoning (many Palestinian Authority officials), polio-inducing, poison tear gas-using (last week) they are a traitor and should be killed. Of course, Egypt made peace with Israel (Anwar al-Sadat assassinated), Lebanon tried (Bashar Gemayel assassinated), and Jordan did (King Abdallah I assassinated). But the radical nationalists and Islamists are working very hard to reverse the peace agreements in Egypt and Jordan.
3. It is incitement to violence against Israelis and others. Comparing the level of incitement to violence in the Arabic-speaking world to demagogic extremist media shows in the United States (like MSNBC) shows a rather enormous gap. People have died in attacks attributed by the perpetrators to phony atrocity stories.
4. It leads to antisemitism and the delegitimization of Israel thus leading to further violence and making it harder to achieve peace. The world’s leading form of hate speech is precisely the hate speech that is ignored in a world that has become absurdly over-sensitive to alleged slurs.
5. By refusing to publicize the volume and nonsense in such daily stories, the Western media prevents Western publics from understanding the four points explained above. In addition, by fully publicizing this kind of thing, editors and journalists would understand how absurd it is for them to publicize uncritically only slightly more credible examples of made-up stories to discredit Israel.
These range from phony massacres in Jenin, to fabricated stories about Israeli soldiers killing Muhammad al-Dura (a boy in the Gaza Strip who can be seen to move on the videotape after supposedly being dead), to globally publicized sensationalism about a woman supposedly dying of tear gas..
In other words, it should be recognized that these are not news story but a systematic propaganda campaign which uses the Western media as suckers. If contemporary media practices had been around during the Middle Ages we would be saying front-page stories about Jews poisoning wells and CNN reports about the latest child being murdered to make matzoh for Passover.
And no the previous sentence is no exaggeration.
6. Publicizing and explaining this phenomenon would also show how Israeli sources, including the Israeli government, is a far more reliable source than al-Jazira or al-Safir or al-Akhbar and the rest.
As I read over this article it amazes me that I have to write something like this. All of these points should be so totally obvious that it wouldn’t be necessary. But such is the enlightened, anti-racist, oh-so-sensitive world of 2011 that not to point out these realities is unthinkable.