By Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban
Countries’ images in the past used to depend on what the people in those countries produce in terms of development, innovation, science and art. That image was a natural result of the achievements and the work done in those countries for the benefit of their people and other peoples too. But since forces known for their right-wing extremism took control of the world broadcast, print and electronic media, they started to be an important factor in shaping a positive or negative image of countries; and in this way interests, policies and extremist ideologies started to form the image of many countries. This problem has been exasperated after the media revolution to the extent that it has become difficult, in many cases, to arrive at the truth or to discern reality and distinguish it from this deliberately manufactured image which is, sometimes, at odds, or in sharp contrast, with reality.
Rightwing forces in the West, which realized the role of the media, started to exert a monopoly over the media (60% of the British media, for instance, is owned by one person). That is why the media has turned, in recent years, into a tool in war, aggression, torture, forgery and in justifying the crimes of tyrants. And that is why the Arabs’ image is being manufactured by their enemies, while Israel’s image has remained that of ‘an oasis of democracy’, although it launches wars and practices genocide and ethnic cleansing against the Palestinian people.
The Arab world is a model victim of the IT and information age, despite the fact that it possesses the largest number of satellite TV stations in the world, in proportion to its population; for the number of satellite stations does not mean the existence of a strategy or that these stations reflect the causes of these countries or present these causes on the local and global level in an appropriate and useful manner. The problem has reached a degree where it became difficult for outside observers of Arab media to have an actual assessment of Arab causes and their expected role in supporting these causes.
For instance, these days the second anniversary of the brutal Israeli aggression on Gaza is marked, while the victims of that aggression are still homeless as a result of the continuing criminal Israeli blockade. Nevertheless, Arab media outlets have neither preoccupied themselves with the anniversary or exposed continuing Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people in Gaza, Hebron, Negev, Lod and Nablus despite the growing support of people with free consciences in Turkey, Europe, Asia, South America who try to break this racist blockade.
In this framework, the arrival of the Mavi Marmara ship in Istanbul port constituted a Palestinian event par excellence. The people of Istanbul rushed to meet the ship which had carried the martyrs of freedom, while Palestinian flags were waved everywhere. The exiled Archbishop of Jerusalem, Hilarion Capucchi, made a moving speech, particularly when he asserted his determination to see Jerusalem in his lifetime and when people repeated Allahu Akbar after him in a scene in which all religious differences disappeared for the sake of gaining freedom and dignity for the Palestinian people. This episode was not broadcast on a single Arab satellite station despite the fact that it represents the historical Christian – Muslim brotherhood and constitutes a model for joint action between religions against occupation and injustice.
This coincided with a growing number of countries in South America recognizing the state of Palestine. It also coincided with the announcement of the launch of the Flotilla 2 on May 31, the 1st anniversary of the massacre perpetrated by the Liebermann – Barak – Netanyahu coalition against the unarmed civilians on the flotilla who were carrying food, medicine and wheelchairs to the handicapped in Gaza. The Spanish activists on Mavi Marmara built a memorial monument in commemoration of the nine flotilla martyrs killed, in cold blood, by Israeli soldiers in international waters. The Spanish activists are also planning to send two aid ships to break the Gaza blockade in the spring of 2011. It also coincided with the launch of the Asia 1 aid convoy organized by the Asian campaign to break the Gaza blockade. It includes 120 activists from 15 Asian countries and started from the Lattakia port in Syria on Saturday, January 1, 2011.
All these actions, which show the growing support of the free people of the world to the right of the Palestinian people to salvation from Israeli oppression, did not get the space they deserve on international media – which is understandable in light of the monopoly of Israeli money over Western media, nor unfortunately, on Arab media. Instead, recent TV programs focused on the population growth in Palestine which is the horror Zionist scenario used by Israeli leaders to encourage Jews all over the world to immigrate to Israel and become criminal settlers who kill and expel the native Palestinians. This image reflects the racist Zionist doctrine which deprives Palestinians of their natural right to live on their land and have their own culture, customs and aspirations. If such crimes and many others do not deserve to be shown in the Arab media to become part of the conscience of all Arab generations, how can we demand that the whole world should know about the crimes of Israeli occupation? Then, we will find that most people in the world will not accept a house to be destroyed, a family to be displaced, an olive tree to be uprooted, a child or woman to be arrested.
The Palestinian people have shown legendary steadfastness for over 63 years in front of the most brutal aggressive power in the history of humanity. They sacrifice their life and future for their country. Don’t they deserve from all of us that we tell the real story of their struggle for freedom and justice to all the free people of the world?
Prof. Bouthaina Shaaban is Political and Media Advisor at the Syrian Presidency, and former Minister of Expatriates. She is also a writer and professor at Damascus University since 1985. She has a Ph.D. in English Literature from Warwick University. She was the spokesperson for Syria. She was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. She can be reached through [email protected].
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.