Nir Rosen on Western media fraud in the Middle East

Journalist and author Nir Rosen writes the following in an article for Al Jazeera about the myriad obstacles to the dissemination of truth in Western reporting on the Middle East:

Relying on a translator means you can only talk to one person at a time and you miss all the background noise. It means you have to depend on somebody from a certain social class, or sect, or political position, to filter and mediate the country for you. Maybe they are Sunni and have limited contacts outside their community. Maybe they are a Christian from east Beirut and know little about the Shia of south Lebanon or the Sunnis of the north. Maybe they’re urban and disdainful of those who are rural. In Iraq, maybe they are a middle class Shia from Baghdad or a former doctor or engineer who looks down upon the poor urban class who make up the Sadrists. And so in May 2003, when I was the first American journalist to interview Muqtada Sadr, my bureau chief at Time magazine was angry at me for wasting my time and sending it on to the editors in New York without asking him, because Muqtada was unimportant, lacking credentials. But in Iraq, social movements, street movements, militias, those with power on the ground, have been much more important than those in the establishment or politicians in the green zone, and it is events in the red zone which have shaped things.

You don’t understand a country by going on preplanned missions; you learn about it when unplanned things happen, when you visit a friend’s neighbourhood for fun and other neighbours come over. You learn about it by driving around in a normal car, not an armoured one with tinted windows. That’s when Iraqi soldiers and police ask you to hitch a ride and take them towards their home. A few months ago, soldiers at a checkpoint outside Ramadi asked me to give one of their colleagues a ride to Baghdad. He was from Basra. In addition to the conversation we struck up, what was most revealing was that a soldier outside Ramadi felt safe enough to ask a stranger for a ride, whereas before he would not have even carried his ID on him, and that a stranger agreed to take a member of the security forces. I’ve since given rides to other Iraqi soldiers and policemen.

And another observation:

One reason for the failure of journalists to leave their green zones may be a combination of laziness and aversion to discomfort. But in Iraq, Afghanistan, other developing countries and areas of conflict in some countries, you have to leave your comfort zone. You might prefer an English-speaking whiskey-drinking politician over six hours of bouncing along dirt roads in the heat and dust in order to sit on the floor and eat dirty food and drink dirty water and know you’re going to get sick tomorrow, but the road to truth involves a certain amount of diarrhoea.

Click here to read the full article.

3 thoughts on “Nir Rosen on Western media fraud in the Middle East”

  1. Read the full article. Anther taste:

    “And then there are the little Abu Ghraibs. The big scandals like Abu Ghraib, or the “Kill Team” in Afghanistan, eventually make their way into the media where they can be dismissed as bad apples and exceptions, and the general oppression of the occupations can be ignored. But an occupation is a systematic and constant imposition of violence on an entire country. It’s 24 hours of arresting, beating, killing, humiliating and terrorising, and unless you have experienced it, it’s impossible to describe except by trying to list them until the reader gets numb. I was only embedded three times over eight years – twice in Iraq for ten days each, and once in Afghanistan for three weeks.

    My first embed in Iraq was in October 2003, six months after I first arrived. I was in the Anbar province. I saw soldiers arresting hundreds of men, rounding up entire villages, all the so-called military aged men, hoping somebody would know something. I saw children screaming for their daddies while they watched them bloody and beaten and terrified, while soldiers laughed or smoked or high-fived or chewed tobacco and spit on the lawn, as lives were being destroyed. I know one of the men I saw arrested died from torture, and countless others ended up in Abu Ghraib. I saw old men pushed down on the ground violently. I saw innocent men beaten, arrested, mocked and humiliated. These are the little Abu Ghraibs that come with any occupation, even if it’s the Swedish girl scouts occupying a country.

    Many journalists spent their entire careers embedded, months or even years, so multiply what I saw by hundreds, by thousands and tens of thousands of terrorised traumatised families, beatings, killings, children who lost their fathers and wet their beds every night, women who could not provide for their families, innocent people shot at checkpoints. Then there are the daily Abu Ghraibs you endure when you live in an occupied country, having to navigate a maze of immense concrete walls, of barbed wire, waiting at checkpoints, waiting for convoys to go by, waiting for military operations to end, waiting for the curfew to end, military vehicles running you off the road, fifty calibre machine guns pointed at you, M16s pointed at you, pistols pointed at you, large foreign soldiers shouting at you and ordering you around. Or maybe in Afghanistan, the military convoy runs over a water canal destroying the water supply to a village of 30 families who now have no way to live, or they arrest an innocent Afghan because he has Taliban music on his cell phone – like many Afghans do – and now he must make his way through the Afghan prison system.

    But if you are white and identify with white American soldiers, then you ignore these things, they just don’t occur to you. And so they never occur to your readers.”

  2. What a goddam wonderful article. The end was so terrific. “Our job should not be about speaking truth to power. Those in power know the truth, they just don’t care. It’s about speaking truth to the people, to those not in power, in order to empower them.”

    MY HAT OFF TO YOU, NIR. And thank you.

  3. Great article and some very deep insights – BUT – you could also include in the discussion the SANITIZED LANGUAGE OF THE MEDIA when they talk about indiscriminate mass killing “such as collateral damage”,
    or “terrorist” a person who is fighting for freedom, or “enhanced interrogation” as torture – the list goes on and on.

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