Olive Branch Optimism
what a wonderful world...
Friday, December 22, 2006
Islam & The Middle Eastern Media (uni essay)
The Middle Eastern media pushes an image of a united Muslim community which is against Western influence in the area as being the dominant identity of Islam; yet reporting by Arab and other regional media reflects the fractured nature of the religion. There are four main issues to assess when looking at representations of Islam; the representation of women, extremism, sectarianism, and of course the “Muslim Street”. I am using the news media as the basis for this discussion. An identity crisis has been gradually developing between Sunni and Shia Muslims, which becomes evident through reporting on the sectarian warfare in Iraq and other conflicts zones. As is the case here in the West, there is always a level of focus upon extremist Islam in the Middle Eastern media. The news media shows varying levels of support and opposition to militant elements of Islam depending upon the context of the situation and the reporting. The dominant narrative of an all encompassing Muslim identity, the “Muslim Street” is reinforced by Muslim responses to the misrepresentation of Islam; and in the reporting of such events. Since many media in the Middle East are funded by influential religious groups or political parties, very little open dissent from dominant representations are given room to exist.

This sectarian backing of media companies in the Middle East is partly responsible for the increasingly divided sectarian nature of the Muslim community (particularly in Iraq). Views and reporting in the Middle Eastern media is often built upon a sectarian basis, for example on the 12th October, 2006, the Jeish al-Mehdi militia launched an attack in the Iraqi town of Khan Bany Saad east of Baghdad. IraqiRabita.org, a Sunni-backed agency reported the attack as a “mad rush” which “besieged and heavily pounded” the village with rockets and mortar rounds; to which “brotherly Iraqi resistance fighters” responded quickly, forcing the militiamen to “flee the scene”. The article claims that the extremist militia required the support of a “conspiring police unit” to exit the area; an accusation leveled at further damaging the reputation of the Shiite controlled Interior Ministry. (Iraqi League Correspondent in Diyala, Translation: Mr Nashwabn Abd, 2006). This kind of reporting is not uncommon from religious or government-backed Middle Eastern media companies. To reiterate the idea that reporting of conflict in the Middle Eastern media is often based upon sectarian lines one only needs to look at the recent Hezbollah//Israel debacle.

Hezbollah’s decision to cross the border onto Israeli soil and capture two Israeli soldiers initially received much hostility from major Sunni-backed media agencies. Saudi journalist Hussein Shobokshi a Saudi columnist for the Sunni Arabic daily newspaper, Asharq al-Awsat (backed by Saudi Arabia, printed in London) and host of al-Arabiya’s current affairs show “Al Takreer” (broadcast from Dubai) said the only beneficiary of these actions could be the Shia Islamist government in Iran. Mr Shobokshi added that though Hezbollah is “a Lebanese party” the Iranian hand is “more than visible” and its intentions are not always innocent (Shobokshi H, 2006). Tariq al-Homayed the Sunni editor in-chief of Asharq al-Awsat, also responded to the actions with vocal opposition to the Hezbollah decision stating: “Mr. Nasrallah bombastically announced he had consulted no-one when he decided to attack Israel, nor did he measure Lebanon’s need for security, prosperity and the safety of its people. He said he needs no ones help but Gods to fight the fight”. As the conflict continued and both sides of the “Muslim Street” began speaking out in opposition to the Israeli occupation of Lebanon, Sunni and Shia media alike quickly became very supportive of Hezbollah’s resistance to occupation (Rising, D. 2006).

After the bombing of the al-Askari shrine in Sammara, Iraq on February 22, 2006 Arab media placed the blame squarely upon “Zionists” and “occupiers”; the Shia Irani regime’s state-controlled media outlet, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) claimed the bombing was part of a “Zionist” strategy to “create a divide between followers of Islam and push Iraq towards a civil war”. (Ayatollah Khamenei, 2006). The language used in the article emphasizes unity amongst Muslims and presents fractures in this unity as being the result of Zionist or Western meddling. This is in-line with the dominant narrative of a united Muslim identity, the “Muslim Street” which spans across the streets of Arab, Middle Eastern and other predominantly Muslim nations. Unfortunately secular and moderate followers of Islam have not isolated extremist elements from the Muslim Street, and as such their messages and identity is skewed by the actions of those extremists.

Identity exists on many levels; but for the purpose of this essay we will assume there are three main levels; a personal identity, a cultural identity and an “imaginary” identity. The personal level in this case is an individual Muslim: they choose whether they are Sunni or Shia, whether to wear a hijab, burka or no traditional clothing at all. (Riverbend, 2006). They choose whether they believe in Islamist politics or if they prefer secular ideologies. They choose whether to be a moderate or an extremist. They even choose their level of identification with the dominant cultural identity of Muslims; but they can’t choose to be totally devoid of it. Unfortunately for moderate Muslims representations of the Muslim Street are associated with violent, reactionary thinking in both western and Middle-Eastern media. This can be seen in the disproportional representation of the reactions by not-so-moderate Muslims in response to the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten’s printing of provocative cartoon depictions of Mohammed,, one of which depicted Islam’s highest prophet as a suicide bomber.

Many Muslims are secular and believe that religion is an issue between them and god and “not something that should involve society” (Simsek, B. 2006). Many of them did not respond violently or make threats in response to these cartoons; rather they formed a group with the hope of counter-acting the extremist views of Danish Imam’s and other extreme members of the Muslim Street (Gudmundsson, H. 2006). Unfortunately their voices were drowned out even in the Middle Eastern media by the actions of extremists who preach Jihad and Sharia laws; the disproportional representation of extremism leaves moderate Muslims with a violent image painted across their true identities; creating an “imaginary identity” fit for consumption by those whose views are less-than-friendly to Islam. This leaves us with one final issue: Islamic law (Sharia) and the representation of Muslim women in the Middle Eastern media.

Muslim women are grossly underrepresented in the English language Middle Eastern media and as such we must look outside of the news media for representations of women. Women play important roles in the social and economical function of Islam and of Middle Eastern nations themselves; but due to the patriarchal nature of Muslim society these roles have traditionally been down-played and often completely ignored by the Middle Eastern media (Trinnier, M. et al. 2005). Muslim women are exploited for use in advertising similarly to the sexually-driven way that Western media exploits western women. They are portrayed through song as a source of seduction, temptation and as the cause of much suffering to Muslim men. In films and drama’s women are often portrayed as working in low-end jobs or as dancers, they are portrayed as either in need of a man, or as housewives; very rarely is a woman portrayed as succesfull, be it as a housewife or in business (al-Dhaheri, A. M. 2000).

This representation is not accurate; using the example of Iraqi women writers from the Olivebranch Network one can see that Muslim women can be independent even in the worst of times, despite their own fears of doing so; like Miraj when she decides to go out and get her flavoured milk (Miraj, April 27, 2006). They can hold successful jobs working important positions for important media companies such as the editor of the Reuters translation room in Baghdad (Linda Albermani, 2006.). They can even confront deadly situations like Miraj when she walks around her home carrying a gun to protect herself and her family by possible murderers when her fear is sparked by something abnormal (Miraj, September 13, 2006). Muslim women are so underrepresented in the Middle Eastern news media that it is virtually impossible to find any form of representation of them in English language articles.

All though the Arab and Middle Eastern media is becoming increasingly diverse with the proliferation of satellite TV technology and the emergence independent broadcasting companies there is still a long way to go before they become truly representative of their populations. Heavy-weight religious elite’s and political leaders still control much of what makes it out; particularly in the English language versions of Middle Eastern media, and as such their perceptions and representations are skewed to fit their different agenda’s. Muslim women are underrepresented and when they are they are presented as being less worthy and useful to society than what they actually are. Religious divisions and difference are often overlooked in an attempt to present the Muslim Street as having a united identity which surpasses all ethnic and sectarian issues; but this is not accurate. One can see through examples even from within the media itself that sectarian issues fuel debate and influence the representation of events, groups and issues. Islamic extremism is disproportionately presented in Middle Eastern media just as it is in Western media; because it is controversial and people want to hear about it; not necessarily because it is supported. All in all the representation of Islam in the Middle Eastern media has a disproportional focus on men, on extremism and a lacking of focus on the actual sectarian and ethnic differences between Muslims; should it accomplish dealing with these issues it would be much more accurate in its portrayal of Islam, and maybe then Western media would follow suite and not be able to get away with perpetuating Muslim stereotyping.

Tadros, M. (December 1999). Kill Them With Your Brilliance! Al-Ahram Weekly On-Line. (Egypt). Retrieved on October 12, 2006 from: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/1999/457/feat2.htm

Iraqi League Correspondent in Diyala. (October 10, 2006). Iraqi Resistance captures Al-Mahdy militiaman with Iranian made telecom equipment and ammunitions. Iraqi League News. (Iraq) Retrieved on October 12, 2006 from: http://www.iraqirabita.org/english/index.php?do=article&id=755

Rising, D. (July 28, 2006). Support for Hezbollah growing in Mid East. Associated Press. Retrieved on October 13, 2006 from: http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20060727/mideast_arabreaction_060727?s_name=&no_ads=1
Ayatollah Khamenei. (February 27, 2006.) in Supreme Leader: US ignites ethnic, sectarian war in Iraq. Islamic Republic News Agency. (Iran) Retrieved October 14, 2006 from: http://www.khamenei.de/news/news2006/feb2006.htm

Gudmundsson, H. (January 19, 2006). Denmark: Moderate Muslims Oppose Imams. Brussels Journal. (Belgium). Retrieved on October 16, 2006 from: http://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/689

Simsek, B. in: Gudmundsson, H. (January 19, 2006). Denmark: Moderate Muslims Oppose Imams. Brussels Journal. (Belgium). Retrieved on October 16, 2006 from: http://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/689

al-Dhaheri, A. K. (2000). Women’s Rights and the Arab Media. Centre for Media Freedom, Middle East and North Africa. (London). Retrieved on October 16, 2006 from: http://www.cmfmena.org/publications/womens_rights.rtf

Miraj. (April 27, 2006.) Flavoured Milk. The Olivebranch Network. (Iraq) Retrieved on October 27 from: http://olivebranchoptimism.net/2006/04/27/flavoured-milk/

Miraj. (September 13, 2006.) Don’t be tricked!! It’s just an illusion! The Olivebranch Network. (Iraq). Retrieved October 27 from:

Riverbend. (August 5, 2006.) A Summer of Goodbyes. Baghdad Burning. (Iraq) Retrieved October 27, from: http://riverbendblog.blogspot.com/2006_08_01_riverbendblog_archive.html#115472425289075262
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
An Inconvenient Truth
What a name and what a book (haven't seen the film yet). As some readers may know I have been on a holiday on the other side of Australia (the beautiful Gold Coast) for two weeks (got back saturday night shortly before midnight). Before we left I spotted Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" in book form at the airport book-shop. I picked it up, flipped through and baught it. There was no iffing and butting about it. The book is an invaluable source of information with a level insight and research I have rarely seen in any discussion of Global Warming.

The book also has a personal "Al Gore" touch to it- relating the experiences of Al Gore and his family to attitudes about environment, human interaction and global changes. It's amazing how an event involving a person or people close to you can cause an emotion or realisation which has across-the-board impacts on your life views. Al Gore discribes how situations in his life have brought him to appreciate and understand the environment more, to fear losing places and a lifestyle dear to his heart, to want and be able to make a difference all of his own in the fight against global warming.

After winning Presidency and then losing it again during the Florida votes scandal, Al Gore did not relegate the rest of his years to fighting against the Bush family, republicans or any other personal vendetta. He asked himself (my interpration) "Well, What CAN I do now?". The answer for Gore was obvious. A long history of supporting and investigating research on global warming since his days as a university student, Gore had become increasingly concerned about the level of ignorance and even denial of the imminent dangers and changes caused by Global Warming.

This was a timely, brave decision made by Gore. In the context of having one of the biggest political acheivements possible just snatched from under his feat he did not run from politics out to a little hidden-away piece of paradise to live a life of luxury and self-pity, like many would. He instead decided to act as a catalyst and inspiration to those who need guidance on what the real facts are and how to fight the impeding crisis of Global Warming. An inspiration to persons like myself who have an absolute dedication to finding solutions to what could be the greatest theat the human race has ever been exposed to since pre-historic civilizations.

There are many practicle do-it-yourself ways to decrease your damaging "human impact" on the fragile ecosystems upon which we rely. Al Gore suggests many ways to ensure your life leaves no negative impact on the sensitive global environment. The primary fouc for those who wish to live this way is to start by adjusting your way of life to a "Carbon Neutral" one. No this does not mean riding a bike instead of driving, eating raw vegetables or living in a house with no airconditioning or refridgerator. In this modern world there are many ways for a person to counter-balance their carbon emissions. Fore those with extra cash it can be as simple as buying "Carbon Credits"- in effect paying others to reduce carbon emissions or create "carbon-sinks", such as planting forrests which turn Carbon Dioxide into Oxygen as they grow.

For others who do not have excess wealth there are many other suggestions which are not exclusively geared towards reducing and offsetting your own a carbon emissions(though this is most definately a suggested first-step for anyone who does not wish to be labelled a hypocrit during arguments). Political activism, as much as the word connotes so many things I would never stand for; is not just a farce. It is a necessary step in evolution and an increasingly important one in the fight against Global Warming. Environmentalists have long been labelled "greenies" "do gooders" "lefties" "tree huggers" "hippys" and millions of other names which can often be much more vulgar- but the time has come to put aside the names or adopt that childhood cliche "sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me"- and hold it close to your heart as the struggle to avoid the collapse of civilization as we know it.

We do not need to revert back to the 15th century horse & carts and forget about industrial evolution; there are many practical, already in-use technologies and methodologies and plans wich can be used to decrease human-impact on the environment whilest still harbouring advancements in technology. The first step is to start talking to others in the community about Global Warming. Hear their opinions and see the amazing level of resistance to accepting Global Warming's existance despite the scientific communities consensus on global warming. The next step is to research the facts on global warming. If you are going to continue to debate a topic without becoming angry, frustrated and feeling like your getting nowhere because others think they already know the subject inside out- you need to know the subject inside out yourself. If you don't you risk entering merky waters during debate and getting stuck there forever, admittedly there are some things which can not be proven; what will happen in the future is one of them.

What we can prove however is what has happened in the past, and we are not just talking years, tens of years or even centuries. Scientists can take samples from many parts of the earth where weathering has left detailed "footprints", which allow them to understand how the earths seasons changed, what temperatures existed, what levels of acidity, humidity and carbon were in the air. The most important of these samples are those which come from our poles, Artica and Antartica- respectively. These poles can show us the level of polar-cap melting and expansion, which subsequently can tell us the average global temperature of times past. Ice samples can also show levels of Carbon Dioxide existing in the earths atmosphere year-by-year (well, season by season) dating back to the last ice-age. The results, not surprisingly, map potentially devastating impacts caused upon the normal cycles of the earth since the advent of human industrialisation.

The scientific community is at an absolute consensus. These are not some "whack-job science freaks" who love "armageddon style conspiracy theories", these are the worlds most respected scientists. They all agree that Global Warming poses an imminent threat to the Earth's delicately balanced ecosystem which has allowed life to thrive and humans to advance and evolve at an increasingly rapid rate for thousands of years. Now we have advanced too far too fast without noticing the changes in world around us, and the time has come that we must advance further forwards at an even more rapid pace- but this time with an absolute dedication to conservation, preservation and redevelopment of the eco-system that supports us.

In another post to come soon I will show examples in the form of images of the devastating impact we have had on our environment, as well as proof of the aformention scientific research on how the earth has changed (or rather, stayed the same) for thousands of years since the last ice-age.