Middle East, Muslim world losing battle of hearts, minds

Special to Times of Oman

Journalism is just a gun, suggested Warren Ellis, it's only got one bullet in it but if you aim right, that's all you need to blow a kneecap off the world. But how often is this gun held and aimed right?

Blaming media for their woes comes rather readily to Arabs and Muslims. In fact, after the long festering Palestine-Israel conflict, the only issue that evokes strong passions across the Middle East and the Muslim world is the apparent, in-your-face 'bias' of Western media.

The rest of the world can perhaps never understand the anguish and helplessness that ordinary Arabs and Muslims go through every time the media trains its skewed spotlight on their affairs.  It is commonplace to hear Arab and Muslim intellectuals talk of the 'Zionist lobby' controlling and setting the agenda of the global media. But is the media bias really a myth? I don't think so.

The Western narrative is indeed hopelessly lopsided and dictated by its geopolitical and economic interests worldwide and powerful lobbies, especially the all-powerful Israeli lobby. According to the received wisdom, it is this monopoly over the media that allows them to distort, misrepresent and misinterpret reality.

From Palestine to the general state of affairs in the Middle East and elsewhere, the world views us through the Western and Israeli prism. Thanks to this stranglehold of the Lobby over the Western media — patiently built over the past several decades — Arabs and Muslims almost always lose the battle of hearts and minds even before it's begun.

So the Palestinians struggling to survive in their own land in which they have lived for centuries have to suffer the indignity of being demonised as 'terrorists'. Their fight for freedom and dignity is painted as the terrorism bent on blowing themselves up to destroy 'civilized Israel' and its Western friends.

And while the West props up its friendly potentates as 'democratic' and 'moderate' leaders, Arabs and Muslims are vilified for their somehow 'inherent' inability to 'embrace' the glorious ideals of Western democracy and freedom that the rest of the world has adopted and practices successfully.

This is an impossibly asymmetrical and one-sided battle. We are faced with a monstrous Orwellian media machine and its awesome, overwhelming power that has for years controlled our world and dictated its agenda.

From the worldwide media empire of the likes of Rupert Murdoch to the stable of Time-Warner that owns some of the world's most powerful newspapers, magazines and other media networks, the control of the Lobby and its long-extending, powerful tentacles is complete.

This control even extends to the Hollywood, the mighty dream factory that plays a critical role in evolving and perpetuating lasting stereotypes, myths and impressions about good guys and bad guys in Hollywood-speak.

The fact that some of the top editors, columnists, writers and filmmakers in the US and elsewhere are Jewish or pro-Israel also doesn't help our cause. Just look at the New York Times and Washington Post, the two most respected voices of the US establishment, and the proud line-up of their editors and columnists.

The media's role has been reduced to paying endless tributes to personalities. Most official media in the Muslim world are preoccupied with what is considered non-news elsewhere while editing out the real needs, concerns, and challenges facing their people.

Our affairs are run and dictated by those who have never been known to be our friends or cared for our interests. 

Indeed, our key institutions and decision making bodies including media are peopled and manipulated by forces that have nothing but deep contempt for Arabs and Muslims.

Indeed, today in media owned by Arabs and Muslims it is hard to find stories and voices that mirror our reality or empathize with issues and concerns of the larger Muslim world.

It is a hopelessly bleak and gloomy scenario across the region and it seems to get gloomier by the day. That old wise man called Shakespeare promised there is a tide in the affairs of men.

When will our tide change though? Will it ever? The answer is in negative unless there is a change in our attitude as a people.

The writer is a Gulf based award winning journalist. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.


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