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June 2002

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A colloquium on Media and Terrorism

GlobalomNet Media Service



The Ahmaddiya Muslim Community of Mississauga, held a colloquium on Media and Terrorism at the HJA Brown Education Centre in Mississauga. 
The event was moderated by Noel Catney, Chief of Police, Peel Region.
Keynote speakers were Afzal Mirza, Naseem Mahdi and Raheel Raza.

The event was well attended by a diverse crowd of people who enjoyed the Islamic exhibition set up in the foyer by the Ahmadiyya community.

 

Afzal Mirza spoke about the true meaning and connotation of the word Jihad and both the context of the Koran and Islamic history. He explained how Islam is a religion of peace and gave quotations from the Koran to support his views.  Naseem Mahdi spoke about the faith of Islam and living in Canada as pluralistic Muslims.

 

Below are excerpts from the talk on Terrorism and Media by Raheel Raza.

What an appropriate topic in light of the fact that last Friday May 3 was World Press Freedom Day.

 

This is the first time that world press freedom day was devoted to the questions of terrorism and media freedom.

 

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and Koichiro Matsuura of UNESCO released a joint statement on press freedom and the war against terrorism.

 

They pointed out that while millions of people die each year in acts of terrorism, in each of the past two years at least 50 journalists were killed in covering violent conflicts. 

 

This is called academic terrorism.

 

They went on to explain  that basic freedoms, human rights and democratic practices are the best guarantors of freedom…so the greatest service that the media can perform in the fight against terrorism is to act freely, independently and responsibly.

 

The question we ask today is how does media tie in with terrorism?

Let’s briefly examine the meaning of the word terrorism and its various implications.

 

According the Oxford dictionary, Terror, terrorize and terrorist mean to coerce with fear, fill with terror and use terror inspiring methods of governing.

 

According to official US documents, terrorism is “the calculated use of violence or threat of violence to attain goals that are political, religious or ideological in nature”.  This is done thru intimidation, coercion of instilling fear.

 

But along with the literalist meanings of the word, there is also a propagandist usage of the term which has become far more user friendly.

 

So lets look at the prevalence of terrorism in the world pre September 11.

 

Although many kinds of Terrorism exists in the world today, three come to mind: individual terrorism like Carlos the Jackal, institutionalized terrorism  like Hitlers regime and state controlled terrorism like the Taliban.

 

However, I believe that anywhere, anytime in the world where the weak are oppressed, and people are de-humanized - terrorism is alive and well.

 

Since earliest of times, terrorism, as an act of terror has reigned in the world. The 1793 period of the French revolution was rightly called a reign of terror.

 

From the holocaust in the second world war, to East Timor; from torture and death in Rwanda to flogging of women in Nigeria; from the attack in Nicaragua in the 1980’s in which thousands of people died, to Hiroshima – make no mistake, all this comes under the heading of terrorism.

 

It is reported that in 1990 the US provided 80% of the arms used by Turkeys counterinsurgency against the Kurds – killing thousands, destroying 3,500 villages and leaving 2.3 million people homeless – this was assisted terrorism.

 

Noam Chomsky – a name familiar to many of you -  world renowned political activist, writer, professor of linguistics at MIT and author of many books including Culture of Terror says in his book 9-11, that in 1986, the US was condemned by the world court for unlawful use of force i.e. international terrorism. US vetoed the Security Council resolution calling on all states to adhere to international law.

 

The point to note here is that these and other acts of terrorism were not termed as terrorism or reported as terrorist acts by mainstream media. They were reported in a different terminology by media across the world.

 

The slaughter of innocent Jews was called a holocaust; rape and massacre in Bosnia was called ethnic cleansing; ongoing killing in Ireland is called religious zealotry; in Saudi Arabia the terrorizing of domestic help is called racism; terrorism in South Africa was called apartheid – all very politically correct language when in actual fact these were undeniable acts of terrorism under any definition.

 

Lets  examine the current crisis in the Middle East where the aggressions of the Israeli army are called defensive measures and suicide bombers are called martyrs when very clearly they are both acts of terrorism emanating from different causes.

 

Let me tell you about some other kinds of terrorism.

In parts of the world where honour killings are practiced and justified against women and their rights are trampled – that is gender terrorism – but in Nigeria they justify it by calling  it  culture or tradition and this is how the media reports it.

 

In countries where minorities are persecuted like in Pakistan, where the Ahmaddiya community has been persecuted and harassed for decades, they pass it off as lawful and justified.

 

Recent non- judicial killings of the minority shia community in Pakistan are called  and reported non-committaly as sectarian violence – when the same sects have lived side by side for 1400 years and never reverted to the kind of violence as in the present times.

 

In Pakistan when these acts of brutality take place, the media either ignores them or calls them isolated acts of violence when this is in fact state sponsored terrorism.

 

You may ask why and I’ll tell you. When a government looks the other way and does not take active steps to punish perpetrators of violent acts, it become complicit in the crimes. When accountability becomes a thing of the past, terrorism exists side by side with so called law abiding governments.

 

Let’s examine some other ways where media, right here in North America can downplay acts of violence.

 

Rape of women is called sexual abuse – a term that can’t even begin to identify the terror and brutality associated with such an act. By giving it a politically correct term, it downplays the impact. 

 

Domestic violence is nothing else but terror – but is it ever reported as such?

The current case of Randal Dooley is the worst kind of terrorism against innocent children – something that exists in many parts of the world but does not fall under the technical category of terrorism.

 

My point here is that for years media has turned a blind eye to many acts of individual, systemic or state sponsored terrorism.

 

In individual countries,  events are reported, not based on their facts, but according to how the government of the time wants them presented and how well they sell in media.

 

On the question of whether there is actual freedom of speech – let’s not kid ourselves. Even in countries like Canada where we would EXPECT freedom of press, we have people who come down heavy on some editorials and columnists.

 

So, we continue this discussion based on the fact that freedom of press is only as limited as freedom of speech – in the press news is what sells.

 

But we can’t escape from the fact that media is one of the most powerful influences on our life today – it makes and shapes opinion. CNN is a perfect example of a North American media machine that has it’s own take on current events.

 

Talking of CNN, let’s take a look at media and terrorism post September 11.

 

Since the day that George Bush said, you are either with us or with the terrorists, the entire meaning of the word terrorism has changed and you have to only read Noam Chomsky’s book 9 – 11 to get a very clear picture.

 

Terrorism has become the most used word in the English language and the most mis-used word for media.

 

It’s applications and definitions have moved from actual terrorism of the domestic, psychological, financial and societal realm to that of state propaganda.

 

At a recent conference in California on Terrorism and Global Society, a California State University Professor noted that the actions of the Israeli PM Ariel Sharon  and quoted by our friend George Bush were reported as “being unhelpful”.  Sharon would be classified as a war criminal if the same acts were committed by parties Bush considers terrorists.

 

So post Sept 11 – the definition of terrorism has changed drastically. Primarily NA media and CNN decide who is a terrorist and what constitutes acts of terrorism.

 

Today as I stand here, there is non-stop rhetoric about global war against terrorism but terrorism continues un-abated in many parts of the world.

 

In fact in the Middle East and Afghanistan terrorism has exacerbated since Sept 11.

 

Recently, four of our best – 4 young Canadian peacekeepers were killed but this was reported in NA media as “friendly fire”.

 

Just think for a moment if roles were reversed – would this not have been called an act of terror?

 

My friends – the events remain the same – the narrative and images change as you cross the Atlantic. I’ve recently been there and seen how the same incident can be reported in entirely different ways by CNN and in Europe and the Middle East.

 

Johan Galtung, professor of peace studies and consultant for many UN agencies says “there are two different ways of thinking about, looking at, describing and ultimately writing about the same set of events. One, from a peacemaking perspective and the other from a sensational perspective.”

 

If I, as a media consultant, were to report on terrorism by implicating say the Muslim world, the Arabs, the Taliban and anyone “over there”, this is news and would be given air time and space in print media.

 

However, if I ever wished to address the root underlying causes of terrorism, maybe suggesting  that there is more than the eye sees, further implying that all Western governments are not totally innocent in these war game – then media would have no time for me.‘

 

Edward Said in his book Covering Islam explains that Media are essentially profit seeking corporations and therefore understandably have an interest in promoting some images over others.

 

In South East Asia, great disparities exist between countries with respect media access, information, dissemination and modern technology. Sadly many brave journalists have been silenced in trying to report facts and truth

 

In essence, to get an accurate assessment of media and world events, we have to read not just NA literature and listen to CNN but we must access alternate media across the globe and read the small print.

 

The bottom line is that Terrorism remains unchanged – only the way it’s reported in media has changed.

 

I’ll end once again with the words of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan that media must be neither cowed by threats nor become a mere mouthpiece of patriotic sentiments or inflammatory opinion.

 

Rather the media must search for and publicize the truth; present information and views impartially; consider their words and images carefully and uphold high standards of professional conduct.

 

The program concluded with questions from the audience.