This is an abridged version of a paper presented by Zafar Bangash, Director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought, at a conference on Islamophobia held in Tehran on October 6 and 7, 2009.
Two misconceptions need addressing before proceeding with discussion of the role of Western governments and media in promoting Islamophobia. The first myth is that governments in the West represent the will and interests of their people; second, that Western media are free and independent. Both governments and media in the West are controlled and manipulated by big corporations to the detriment of the larger public interest. The concentration of media ownership in a few hands has further eroded any lingering doubts about the role of the media as purveyors of truth and honesty in reporting.
It should, therefore, not be surprising to see the media act as cheerleaders for government policy however harmful it may be to the larger good. The alarming increase in Islamophobia in the post-9/11 environment must be viewed against this backdrop. While Islamophobia pre-dates 9/11 by many centuries (the Crusades, for instance), it has taken a particularly virulent form in the last eight years. It has become a useful tool to advance the geo-political and strategic goals of the West, more particularly of the ruling elites in the Western world. The events of 9/11 provided the pretext to launch an open war against Islam and Muslims as alluded to in the bold statement by members of The Project for the New American Century that were part of George Bush’s election team more than a year before the attacks of 9/11, “Preserving the desirable strategic situation in which the United States now finds itself requires a globally pre-eminent military capability … the process of transformation… is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event — like a new Pearl Harbor.” (emphasis added).
The reference to Pearl Harbor has led some commentators to suggest that the US government was aware of the 9/11 attacks but allowed them to occur in order to have the pretext to launch its pre-set agenda of wars and domination. Irrespective of who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks — and there are different versions of it — the fact is that it was used by the US to launch a full-scale war against the Muslim world.
Hitherto, this war was waged under different ruses: to “save” a country from being taken over by communism — Vietnam, Nicaragua, or Afghanistan, for instance — or “save” it from its own people by engineering a coup, as in Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), and Indonesia (1966). The Vietnam War was also launched on a lie. In early August 1964, the Americans claimed that North Vietnamese U-2 Boats, supplied by the Soviet Union had attacked American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin. Both Newsweek and Time magazine even carried pictures of Russian-made U-2 Boats that were allegedly involved in the Gulf of Tonkin attacks on US naval vessels. A leading American journalist, Don Cameron exposed the lie in a 1973 lecture; the Gulf of Tonkin attack had never occurred.
In his first address after the 9/11 attacks, then US President George Bush declared, “You are either with us, or against us.” Given such a stark choice, most rulers in the Muslim world immediately fell in line with US demands and started to advance its agenda in their respective countries. While the US and its Western allies left little or no room for exploring alternative ways of dealing with the problem of terrorism, they also moved quickly to ensure that no opposition to such belligerence was permitted even in their supposedly free and democratic societies.
This took two separate forms. First, governments in the Western world — North America, Europe, etc. — immediately passed a series of oppressive laws that drastically curtailed civil and individual rights and liberties. Such laws were aimed specifically at Muslims in these societies. It was equally revealing that while the attacks had occurred only in the US, oppressive laws were also rushed through in such countries as Canada, Britain, France, Germany, and a number of other European countries.
Second, the Western media took up the crusade with lurid tales of the Muslims’ alleged misdeeds. The effect has been devastating for both the Muslim world as well as Muslims living in North America and Europe. In the days following 9/11, more than 1,200 Muslims were rounded up in the US and thrown in jail. Many were brutally tortured, some died in prison. Others were expelled from the US because they had either overstayed their visa or had entered the US illegally. At any given time, there are at least 10 to 12 million people living illegally in the US but only Muslims were targeted in this campaign.
The wars launched by the West — in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, and now spreading into Pakistan and Iran through sabotage and subversion — have been facilitated by this campaign of Islamophobia in which Muslims are demonised. Without such demonization, the ruling elites would still have launched these wars of aggression but they would have faced greater opposition from their own people. There would be less support for such wars of aggression and therefore, it would have necessitated greater effort in securing public acquiescence for wars where their sons would have to go and die.
The media war against Islam and Muslims, and by extension against any group or country that is deemed a hindrance to Western hegemony is serious and follows a familiar pattern. The ruling elites set the agenda. The corporate media then take it up and saturate the airwaves as well as the print media with one-sided news and views. An entire army of academics, think tanks and other so-called experts are mobilized to give credence to this campaign to ensure that only one version is projected from all sides.
Full Spectrum Dominance
This is referred to as full-spectrum dominance of news. There is only one version put out on all TV and radio channels as well as in the newspapers. No alternative point of view is allowed to intrude during the early days of the propaganda onslaught to ensure only one version sticks in the minds of people.
After the attacks of 9/11, the media took its cue directly from the US government. This version was not only projected but the media added its own spice as well. Within hours of the attacks, the US government claimed the attacks had been planned by Osama bin Laden sitting in some remote cave in Afghanistan at whose behest 19 Arabs hijacked four commercial airliners to attack several US landmarks. Prior to the attacks, these 19 Arabs had taken lessons at flying schools in the US. It was also reported that the night before the attacks, most of the alleged hijackers had gone to nightclubs to drink and dance. Yet they were presented as “pious Muslims” who were willing to undertake suicide missions in anticipation of going to Paradise.
Several questions remained unanswered because the media never asked them: “pious Muslims” about to go on isthishhadi missions went to nightclubs to drink and dance the night before; the alleged ringleader, one Mohamed Atta not only took his suitcase but also his passport while on a suicide mission (the passport was allegedly recovered from the World Trade Centre rubble despite the official claim that the fire was so intense that it melted steel causing the buildings’ collapse!); people who could not fly even single engine planes, according to their flying instructors, were suddenly able to fly huge jetliners and manoeuvre them in a manner that would make experienced air force pilots envious; three buildings collapsed while only two were hit by planes; and no air force planes were scrambled to intercept planes that had strayed off their assigned flight path at a time of day (early morning) when the sky in the US is saturated with planes flying in different directions. Air force planes are routinely scrambled to investigate civilian airliners going off their assigned flight path. This is standard operating procedure in the aviation industry of every country. For the record, the previous year (2000), US air force planes were scrambled 69 times, each one in less than 20 minutes of a plane straying off its assigned flight path to investigate.
The West’s overriding identity is formed not by what it believes in or follows but what it rejects in others. Thus the West can only define itself in relation to the “other” that it must constantly reject and demonize. In the sixties, it was Communism. Since its collapse, Islam has replaced it as the new enemy. Based on this, we can see why the West appears so determined to target Muslims and persist in its campaign of Islamophobia.
War on Terror
The campaign of Islamophobia is waged under the rubric of the “War on Terror” that is essentially a war of terror. Any person, group or state that opposes the policies of the Zionist State of Israel, the US or the West in general is branded a “terrorist.” This means the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the world are “terrorists” because they oppose US/Zionist/Western armies’ attacks on their countries.
The Afghans are “terrorists” because they oppose US-NATO troops in Afghanistan. One does not have to be a Taliban supporter to understand the devastation inflicted on the hapless people of Afghanistan. The US has bombed wedding parties and remote villages killing tens of thousands of innocent civilians. The most conservative estimates put the death toll in Afghanistan at 100,000. This is only possible because the US and its allies have branded all Afghans as supporters of the Taliban and therefore, not worthy of sympathy. Similarly, the incessant campaign to demonize Muslims in the media ensures that most people in the West would have little sympathy for Afghans or Muslims in general. When human life is cheapened in this way, it makes it easier to rationalise crimes perpetrated against innocent civilians.
The same holds true in Iraq. The invasion of March 2003 was launched on a pack of lies: that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD). True, Iraq had WMDs in the eighties but these were supplied by the West — the US, Britain, Germany and others — and Saddam’s regime was financed by them when he was waging a war of aggression against the Islamic Republic of Iran. Saddam used chemical weapons against Iran from 1983 to 1988 yet this was seldom mentioned in media reports at the time because Saddam and his Baathist regime were doing the West’s dirty work. When he outlived his usefulness, the issue of his use of chemical weapons was brought up.
One other point about Saddam and Iraq is instructive if only because it sheds light on the role of the media. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, American officials were looking for any linkage between Saddam and al-Qaeda. In early 2002, then Vice President Dick Cheney’s office put out a false report about Iraqi purchase of yellow cake (unrefined uranium) from Niger to produce enriched uranium for bombs. Judith Miller of the New York Times eagerly pushed this propaganda line and in a series of articles in August 2002 claimed she had “evidence” of Iraq having acquired yellow cake from Niger. Cheney then cited Miller’s reports as “proof” that Saddam was building a nuclear bomb!
Joseph Wilson, a former US ambassador to Niger, investigated and exposed the report as baseless; the documents purported to have concluded the transaction were forged. His report clearly embarrassed Cheney’s propaganda through the New York Times. In retaliation, Cheney’s office exposed the identity of Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame, who was working as a CIA agent. Miller’s story was used by the US government as part of its campaign to build support for its invasion and occupation of Iraq that was essentially motivated by the desire to grab Iraq’s oil. Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of US Federal Reserve Bank, admitted in his 2007 book that the Iraqi invasion was about oil.
The lies about Iraq’s WMDs have a striking parallel with the vicious US campaign against Iran’s peaceful nuclear program. Again, this is officially sanctioned and amplified in the media. While Iran’s uranium enrichment is perfectly legal because Tehran is adhering to the NPT agreement, its legitimate operations are presented as illegal. The media plays a major role in this distortion.
This is clearly evident from the latest spate of news stories that erupted on September 25, 2009. Four days earlier, in a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Islamic Republic of Iran informed the agency that it was building a small experimental reactor near Qum. Under Iran’s NPT obligations, it did not have to do so until uranium or uranium enrichment equipment was introduced at the facility. Mere construction of the facility did not oblige Iran to reveal it to anyone. IAEA officials promptly notified the Americans about Iran’s letter, once again confirming that the agency is little more than a tool of the West.
More seriously, on September 25, US President Barack Obama, flanked by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, tried to dramatise this by declaring during the G20 Economic summit in Pittsburgh that “a secret” nuclear facility had been “discovered” in Iran and that Iran had to come clean on this score. From there on, the media hounds constantly barked about Iran’s new “secret” nuclear facility and the existential threat it posed to Israel. Not one media outlet — television, radio or newspaper, barring some internet websites — had the moral integrity to state that Obama’s announcement was false; that Iran itself had notified the IAEA and that the facility would not become operational for another 18 months. There was no need to hype the story but when there is a wilful campaign of distortion and demonization; truth is not allowed to intrude.
We must also note that the West has been highly successful in projecting an image of its media as free and fair. It is nothing of the sort. Two of the leading media outlets — the BBC and Voice of America — are government financed. In fact, only a year ago, the BBC launched a new Persian language TV program into Iran. The British Foreign Office is paying 7.5 million British pounds sterling to maintain the service. The US government also finances 24 separate Persian satellite TV programs into Iran to beam hostile propaganda against the Islamic Republic.
The propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran dates back to the very beginning of the success of the Islamic Revolution 30 years ago. The late Professor Edward Sa‘id has dealt with the subject in his highly acclaimed book, Covering Islam. In more recent years, the US campaign has been intensified because of the repeated failures of US/Zionist policies. In September 2007 the New Yorker magazine reported that Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert at New York University, had asserted that Dick Cheney ordered top neo-con media outlets, including Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, to unleash a propaganda campaign to sell conflict with Iran.
The fruits of that propaganda are now visible. In a poll conducted in early 2008, “a quarter of Americans believe that Iran now poses the biggest threat to the United States, confirming that a sustained neo-con propaganda campaign to demonize Iran and its leaders for their own strategic benefit is having a significant impact,” according to Steve Watson, writing on the blog, infowars.net (Global Research, April 2, 2008). Watson went on, “According to a new poll by Gallup, Iran is top of the enemy list, with 25 percent, followed by Iraq at 22 percent, then China with 14 percent, and North Korea with 9 percent.”
Despite repeated denials by officials at the highest level in the Islamic Republic of Iran, including the Rahbar, Imam Seyyed Ali Khamenei, Western media reports continue to ignore such declarations and endlessly repeat the false allegations against Iran. Even in light of the falsehood exposed in the case of Iraq in 2002 and 2003 regarding WMDs, the same lies are being spun to demonize Iran and to prepare people for war against the Islamic Republic. Even the outgoing IAEA chief, Dr. Mohamed El-Baradei’s statement that the threat from Iran is hyped, is ignored because it does not fit into the campaign to demonize Iran, Islam and Muslims. Dr. El-Baradei is accused of having been duped by the Iranians.
There is the reverse side of this as well. On September 18, 2009, the IAEA General Conference passed an Iranian-sponsored resolution demanding that the Zionist State sign the NPT and open its nuclear facilities for international inspection. Not only did the Zionist representative David Danieli dismiss this resolution, he also declared that his country would not accept such demands. The US representative, Glyn Davies said, “Such an approach [demanding Israel sign the NPT and open its nuclear facilities for international inspection] is highly politicised and does not truly address the complexities at play in the Middle East.” Representatives of successive US regimes have been screaming from every podium trying to project Iran’s legitimate and peaceful nuclear program as a threat to world peace, yet Israel’s 200 or more nuclear weapons are beyond discussion and its nuclear program not open to inspection. US/Western hypocrisy could not be more blatant.
What is even more revealing is that not one media outlet — TV, Radio or newspaper — in the West reported in any significant way the IAEA’s September 18 resolution. A Google search on the internet revealed that only Chinese, Arab and Iranian media outlets dealt with the story at any length. The media acted as filters to protect Israel from censure but amplify allegations against Iran and Muslims because it suits their campaign of Islamophobia.
A similar mindset operates in dealing with Hizbullah and Hamas; both Islamic movements are struggling to defend the rights of their people in Lebanon and Palestine respectively. While neither has attacked the US directly, unlike al-Qaeda, for instance, both have been branded as “terrorist” organizations, clearly showing Zionist influence on US policy. In the case of Hamas, it goes even further. In January 2006, when Hamas won the election in Palestine, Western governments immediately cut off funding to the Palestinians because the Islamic movement was now going to be in control of Palestinian territory. This also reveals the West’s hypocrisy regarding democracy, elections and respect for the wishes of the people. The West is only for democracy if it likes the winner.
The media’s role has been even more disgraceful. Far from challenging the false assertions of governments the media amplify them and act as willing accomplices in targeting and demonizing Muslims. Spreading Islamophobia, it seems has become the quickest route to success and progress.
Its consequences, especially in the US have been devastating for Muslims. The labelling of Hizbullah and Hamas as “terrorist” organizations has affected a number of Muslims charities in the US. Over the years, these charities have collected A tax that is the duty and social obligation of every Muslim. This as the fourth Pillar of Islam. More and other donations from Muslims and sent them to look after the widows and orphans in Palestine and Lebanon. Since 9/11, a number of Muslim charities, most notably the Holy Land Foundation, have been targeted. They have been accused of “supporting terrorism” because these charities provided food and other assistance to needy families suffering Zionist brutalities. After lengthy trials costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, these Muslim charities have been shut down and their directors — all Muslims — have been handed down long prison sentences. It seems, in the US and the West in general, it is now a crime for Muslims to even practice their deen.
Such policies could not have been as successful had they not been underpinned by Zionist academics giving Islamophobia an air of respectability. We must name specific individuals. Perhaps the leading figure in this campaign of Islamophobia is Daniel Pipes, a leading Zionist and virulently anti-Muslim. He even runs a website called Campus Watch where he publishes the names of academics he deems pro-Palestinian. To their credit, many American professors were so offended by Pipes’ scandalous campaign that they themselves sent in their names to be placed on his list as supporters of Palestinian rights. Pipes and fellow Islamophobes like Steve Emerson are given regular space in newspapers and appear on television to spout their anti-Islamic venom. Other fellow travellers include Anne Coulter, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, the last two have their own shows on Fox News owned by the Australian Zionist Rupert Murdoch.
Even leading think tanks are pressed into service to promote Islamophobia. The Rand Corporation, American Enterprise Institute and other Zionist-dominated think tanks serve a similar purpose. The Pentagon runs its own program through the Minerva Research Initiative (MRI) whereby it finances American academics in leading universities to advance the propaganda campaign of US government by providing it academic respectability. As James Petras, scholar and author, wrote in the Information Clearing House blog, “These ‘scholars for empire’ are currently engaged in at least fourteen projects. MRI money has attracted a wide assortment of university affiliated psychologists, political scientists, anthropologists, economists, professors of religious studies, public affairs specialists, labor economists and even nuclear physicists from MIT, Princeton, University of California at San Diego, and Arizona State University among others” (April 4, 2009).
Islamophobia is a fertile field where rich pickings can be made. The media and academia act as willing tools in this campaign whose victims are helpless Muslims within the US as well as globally.