Tuesday, 14 September 2010

stop this madness

well, i've got some of my energy back or at least enough to tackle another post. while i've had a lovely eid and really enjoyed meeting up with friends across the city, global events have left me feeling, well i'm not sure how to describe it really. empty, a little sick, hopeless & helpless. i'm talking, of course, about the situation in US with the islamic cultural centre in new york (& no, i won't use the deliberately provocative and patently untrue language widely used to describe that project) & the proposed qur'an burning which thankfully didn't happen.

i know i shouldn't feel so bad, given that even sarah palin managed to come out with a statement against the qur'an burning, as did so many other well-known americans. and there has been a lot of support from many quarters denouncing the bigotry involved. but it's so hard to take those as positives, when there are daily reports of vandalism, violence & harassment faced by muslims across the US, and by people percieved to be muslims (sikhs usually get the worst of this, given that they tend to be visible with their turbans & about the "right" skin colour).

i feel for these communities, and how difficult the times must be for them. it feels like the hate just grows & grows, and that there is no stopping those elements that are fanning the flames of bigotry. let's not forget the latin americans, who are getting their share of negative attention fueled by the controversial laws in arizona.

i watch glenn beck & sarah palin amass a pretty large crowd in washington, and i wonder where the opposing rally is. where are the people who are outraged by what is happening in their country, and why aren't their voices as loud as the haters and the bigots. i know they're there, i know they've had candle-lit vigils and other gatherings, but as yet they don't seem to have the same strength and power, the same ability to influence as the other side does.

still, it's easy for me to sit & criticise from afar. i don't know how much i'd be able to achieve if i was over there. it's just that there is something inside me screaming "stop this madness" & i don't really know what to do with it right now. because it's not just in america, it's all across europe & australia, with talk of or actual burqa bans, banning of minarets and the like. matched by the angry and often violent response across asia & the middle east. i can't see any end in sight, at least not in the immediate future.

however, i did want to explore a little further the role of the media in creating some of the present conditions. mostly in response to the second half pablo's post, where he posits that the media have failed in their duty to the public. i did make a comment there, but i had more things to say than would fit in a comment so i've decided to explore the issue further on my own blog.

pablo's main point is that the media should not have reported the proposed qur'an burning:

That is where they fail their obligations to the public. As with any democratic entity, the press has responsibilities along with rights. Those responsibilities include not inflaming or otherwise causing small events to bocome international incidents that have the potential to cause great harm to US interests and its citizens. It has an obligation not to stoke the fires of religious and ethnic hatred. And yet the right-wing media in the US has done exactly that, aided and abetted by conservative politicians like Newt Gingrich who see political gain being made off of the scapegoating of Muslims and (with regards to immigration and future demographics) Hispanics.

which i largely agree with. some commentors thought that the media does have a responsibility to report this incident because it is in itself newsworthy. lew went on to make the point thus:

I think framing the imperative for the media to forbear as ‘duty’ is problematic. I think the teabag media in this case were wrong to beat the story up, but don’t agree they had a duty to ignore it: that would have been disloyal to their audience base and core principles. Which only goes to emphasise how far removed they are from their stated principles: those enshrined in the Constitution &c. That being so, while the whole affair might be stupid and wrong in the international/trans-cultural context, it is an important internal debate within American and wider liberal-democratic culture. If it needs to be had, then the media have a duty to facilitate it.

he then goes on to list 3 criteria which should be satisfied before any news should be suppressed. i get his point too, and agree that you'd have to have an extremely high thresh-hold before deciding that a particular item shouldn't appear in the news, and you'd have to be sure that all other media would similarly not report it.

the issue for me, and even for lew i think, is not that they reported it, but the way they reported it. who had the most attention and the most speaking time? how much coverage was reportage & how much was opinion?

it would be stating the damn obvious to say that fox news is more opinion than news, which is why they have to keep reminding everyone that they are "fair & balanced". if they actually were, they wouldn't have to tell us. the most damage is done by the commentary they provide, the justifications and support for positions that they clearly know to be unsupported & often straight out wrong.

damage is also done by giving speaking time to the pastor who was in charge of the whole qur'an burning thing. ok, report he's going to do it, but why give him air time to spread his message of hate? or if you're going to give him air time, why not give 10 times as much air time to someone who has something more sensible to say ie give him as much air time as he is due. given that it's a small church that seems to be on the fringes, he's not an important figure at all, so i'd say he's due about 15 seconds.

it would also be nice if reporting in other countries followed that pattern ie why make this big news in asia & the middle east? and if you are going to make it news at all, how about it gets the attention it deserves (which is not much), and put into context to show that many people in america were very much opposed to this event? i've not watched any of the eastern media on this, but i'm willing to bet that a few of them were doing just what their western counterparts were doing, but with the opposite angle.

it's all very well to say that this is a debate that needs to happen in america. but is this the best manner, and is the cost really worth it? i don't see how any kind of useful or sensible debate can happen in the current atmosphere with the current players. and the cost is the daily harassment & vandalism that i mentioned above. the thing is that the people who have to pay the price in order for this debate to happen, they should really get to have a choice as to whether they want to pay it. which is not in any way practical i know, but i'm just pointing out the unfairness of the situation.

this is where the parallel to the clayton weatherston trial falls down a bit (as brought up in a subsequent comment over at kiwipolitico). while mr weatherston being given a daily platform on the evening news was offensive, it didn't cause damage. but the coverage of the proposed qur'an burnings & the islamic cultural centre, and especially the kind of coverage we're seeing by irresponsible media outlets like fox & their eastern counterparts, are causing direct damage. they are creating an atmosphere that incites violence, even though the messages may be coded (though sometimes they are actually pretty direct).

one of the main problems is that there is no accountability here. the people who are putting out this kind of coverage do not have to face the consequences of their words. it's the groups they target who have to face the consequences, but they don't seem to care about that.

the question, then, is how to fight back (in a non-violent way of course, unfortunately i seem to keep having to make that point regularly). how to counter the voices in the media that are causing harm, not just to US interests & citizens as pablo puts it, but actually to everyone across the world.

i had a call from a friend last night, who asked me to put my mind to this very topic. unfortunately i haven't come up with anything yet. i know what the outcome should be: that alternative voices should be stronger and more powerful than the ones spreading hate & bigotry. but getting there seems to be an impossible task, especially because the media corporations who are putting out this stuff are so big & so well funded. and as for me, i'm pretty low on energy and motivation just now.

i hate to end on a negative note. so i'll keep remembering the fact that sarah palin, hilary clinton, barack obama & so many others have spoken out about what's happening. i'll remember matthew & john who took the trouble to visit our mosque, to offer their friendship. and deep down, i know for a fact that there are plenty of decent people who are unhappy with this current state of affairs, and they are doing what they can to fight against it in their own way.


Acid Queen said...

While I agree with most of your post I have to disagree with the idea that giving Weatherston a platform to spew his hate is damaging.

It absolutely was damaging for the friends and family of his victim, and also for all the other women who have been raped and abused, to listen to this man proudly proclaim his victim was a slut and a whore and deserved it.

If that's not damaging I don't know what is.

But I think you're right, the media has a responsibility not to report the views of religious figures with very small groups of followers.

stargazer said...

yes, you're right & i'd forgotten what i'd written about mr weatherston a while back. thank you for pointing it out.

and i'm not advocating for no reporting of the proposed qur'an burning but much more responsible reporting & much less editorialising, particularly of the inflammatory kind that some media outlets specialise in.