Turn to world media for coverage of conflict in Iraq

by Diana Fu

Last Thursday’s bombings of the British consulate in Turkey elicited the usual slew of media commentary – the chain of terror is continuing against all U.S. allies and al-Qaida is as active and malicious as ever. Enough, I say. Let our “free press” tell us something that doesn’t come out of the mouths of our fearless leaders.

Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have chimed in synchrony about the “evil-doers,” “freedom,” “fanatics of terror” and “religious extremists.” By choosing to cover the conflict in Iraq using the wartime rhetoric of Bush and his buddy Blair, our “free press” leaves little room for alternative ways of interpreting current events. The average American, whether anti-war or pro-war, cannot think about Iraq without immediately thinking about “freedom-loving” nations, barbaric Islamic terrorists and the uncivilized “axis of evil.” It’s high time we start paying attention to world media coverage rather than relying on the tainted U.S. and British presses.

What’s tainted about our free press? Let’s start with the freedom rhetoric. In response to the recent attacks of the British consulate, Bush was quoted in a Nov. 20 New York Times article as promising to “confront their philosophy of hate with our own tolerance and freedom.” Bush then calls them “fanatics of terror” and “murderers of the innocent.” Blair echoes big brother Bush in The Sun, Britain’s leading newspaper. Despite 10,000 anti-Bush marchers last Thursday, a Sun staff editorial insists the “Bush-Blair partnership is solid as a rock and is a vital asset in these dangerous times.” Also, a Nov. 22 headline in The Sun read, “Two Faces of Evil” and was followed by blurry headshots of the two alleged Middle Eastern bombers looking stoic and drugged.

The message in both countries is clear: We are good and they are evil; we are free and they are slaves; we are sane and they are insane. Or, as Bush put it in reference to the British protestors, “I fully understand people don’t agree with the war, but I hope that they agree with peace and freedom and liberty.”

Let’s think about that statement. Which group of people – Muslims, Christians, Americans, Africans – don’t profess to agree with peace and freedom? Osama bin Laden and his crew of “evil men” believe they are liberating the world from the “evil” U.S. empire. Don’t they “agree” with freedom? How do you agree with such an abstract entity as freedom anyhow? Doesn’t it make more sense to practice freedom rather than agree with it?

Here, you might say, “Yeah, yeah, cut the nit-picky details. We all know it’s just political rhetoric. That’s just the way the media works.” But in truth, the way the media chooses to cover the war has real consequences in terms of shaping our interpretations about the war. If and when we choose to lobby or vote in accordance with our understandings of the war, it, in turn, directly impacts the actions of the U.S. administration. This reciprocal relationship is only possible in a democracy. However, if our interpretation is tainted in the first place, our ability to make an informed and independent decision about the war is crippled.

Returning to the freedom rhetoric, we should consider an alternative interpretation besides the Bill of Rights. The Bush administration views the war as a means of achieving freedom and liberty as U.S. national interest defines it. Namely, it is the freedom to pursue capitalism, freedom to consume, freedom to wage war and freedom to manipulate the rhetoric of freedom for pro-war propaganda. Yet our first reaction is to link any mention of “freedom” with religion, press and expression because the Bill of Rights has been stenciled into our heads since middle school.

It’s time we, as college students, challenge ourselves to seek alternative coverage of international affairs. A brief glance at articles in Le Monde (France), The People’s Daily (China) and The Mail and Guardian (South Africa) gave me very different interpretations of the bombings in Turkey. To be sure, those media are hardly free from bias, but at least they speak with a second tongue.

Diana Fu is a columnist. She welcomes comments at [email protected]