A recent encounter on the current standoff between the Muslim world and West with a friend on the blogosphere led us to the question: How can we cross that divide and find a common ground in the middle where we can move forward in peace?” In this series of my writings, I shall attempt to address the question and offer my views on the matter.
As it is indeed a complicated matter, I have chosen to tackle the topic in several parts, the first of which is presented here: (Subsequent parts to appear in due course).
Using the Media More Astutely
Compare these: “The Koran flushed down the toilet”; “Muslim inmates tortured in Guantanemo, Abu Ghraib and Bagram”; “Pupils ordered to remove headscarf”; “Muslims scorned after 9/11”; “Civilians targeted by US troops”.
To these: “Man to be executed for conversion to Christianity”; “KFC franchise looted, burnt in response to cartoon blasphemy”; “Muslim guerillas responsible for attack on US troops”; “Osama and Muslim cohorts kill civilians”.
A Muslim would think, “Heck, the Infidels are running roughshod.” He then woud cast a glance at the situation in Kashmir, Palestine, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina—all involving his “Muslims brothers”—all being “meddled with” by the “West”. He is disappointed at the state of the Ummah. Then, at the Friday sermon, he hears of the “grandeur” of his “forefathers”—the glorious days of Islam when Saladin, in an act of pure gentlemanliness, lent a steed to King Richard during the Crusades; when the Jews, Christians and Hindus lived peacefully under their reign in Medina, Cordoba and Delhi; when they were discovering algebra and inductive reasoning and exploring the heavens while the Christians were waiting for Luther’s advent. The contrast baffles him. He then says, “Something has to be done”.
He looks up at his government for reciprocity. He finds that it is peacefully submitting to the will of the US, not that of Allah: It is letting the US to use his land for launching offensives against his Muslim brothers in Afghanistan.
Then, on TV he sees the picture of a modestly dressed man holding a rosary, praising Allah, eulogizing the Prophet and vowing to make the West pay for what they are doing. A flare of hope! He is delighted. He joins them to become a “terrorist”.
At this, an American thinks, “Darn! I’m ‘onna vote for Bush, Jr. He’s so good at crushing terrorism. Those wife-beating rapists sure need a lesson.” Consequently, Bush and the likes of him get second terms. They pursue their “anti-terrorism” pursuits. The Congress approves trillions in defense and anti-terrorism expenditures. Bombs are made and dropped on marriage ceremonies in Baghdad—“inadvertently”. Special Forces members kill inmates at Bagram during torture. Countries are sanctioned and told to comply and do more for the “global war against terrorism”.
All of these are covered by the media. Another Muslim hears of it. He is again disillusioned by his government. He joins either Al-Qaeda or Hezbollah and becomes a terrorist. Then comes election time. Votes are cast. The likes of Bush win again. The cycle is repeated.
While these two situations are too general, they do give a good picture of what the media can make go through the minds of the people.
More than anything else, today, the stereotypes of the East in the eyes of the West and vice versa are responsible for the wrong going on. And the media is responsible for creating these stereotypes.
If all a man in the UKsaw on TV were atrocities committed by Bin Laden and gang, how would he think of the East? And, on the contrary, if all a Muslim heard in the news were reports about the Koran being flushed down the toilet by American soldiers, how would he think of the West? Certainly, not very positively.
The media is a very powerful tool, and, like the WMDs, if not used responsibly, it can yield undesired and deleterious consequences. Its maladministration has already inflicted a good deal of harm, but the damage isn’t beyond repair as yet. We must break the matrix of "necessary illusions".We must learn to convey the complete picture instead of delivering half-truths.
Accordingly, the Muslim countries need to slacken their tight grip at media censorship. Also, the likes of CBS, ITN, CNN, Al-Jazeera and BBC must give due attention to covering all aspects of a story instead of covering all of the “catchy” aspects of a story.