Friday, September 02, 2005

Reblog: Are Arabs Human Beings?

As the deadly aftermath of Hurricane Katrina left the Gulf Coast reeling with power outages, floodwaters, thousands of refugees and a thousand dead, another tragedy unfolded on the other side of the world, as more than 800 Iraqi Shiite pilgrims were trampled or drowned to death in a stampede caused by fear of insurgent attacks and severe overcrowding.

But it appears that the Shiite tragedy in northern Baghdad was a mere blip on the radar screen among some news organizations, revealing to any impartial observer the true depths of bias and prejudice among some mainstream media outlets - and the audiences that depend on them. Below is a brief overview of the online coverage provided by domestic and international outlets when the news first broke; at the end of this article is a link to what these homepages looked like at specific times.

On Wednesday afternoon EST, the online coverage provided by most of the large American media was, relatively speaking, acceptable enough: prominent space was given to the massive domestic emergency crisis in Louisiana and Mississippi, along with some kind of clearly visible notice about the pilgrimage incident in Iraq. The top, immediately visible part of the website homepage for The New York Times, for instance, contained several stories about the hurricane’s effects, the fate of its victims, and a related photo. At the very top, though, there was a news alert about the Iraq stampede with a small explanation. Yet the “liberal” Times’ homepage was actually weaker in giving space to the tragedy in Iraq than two of its competitors.

On the MSNBC website, the homepage featured two large images: one of the “nightmare” in New Orleans; the other of the “Baghdad Stampede.” Most of the links below the images were concerned with the hurricane, but the Iraq photo was clickable for a story. Again, in the same time frame, the Washington Post website homepage presented a main image and story titled, “Houston Astrodome Opened for Flood Refugees,” flanked by feature stories about the crisis. The stampede in Iraq was somewhat prominently placed below this section, in the middle of the homepage.

Fox News, however, was an entirely different story. Its homepage featured a gigantic image of rescue efforts in New Orleans, flanked by a “latest headlines” section which featured various links about hurricane-related events. Underneath this part of the homepage, one scrolls down to see the rest: two more articles on Katrina, along with some celebrity, entertainment, and sports coverage, followed by business coverage and stocks statistics. Had Fox News forgotten about the Arabs - at least when they could not be featured as demons of the day? Well, not entirely. Tucked away in the second half of a right-hand column, in small type, underneath all the secondary Katrina links, was one, four-word link about the death of hundreds of Shiites in Iraq.

Guesstimating with the eye, one could fit approximately fifteen links of the size Fox provided for the mass death in Iraq into the box which appears in the upper-left corner of its homepage. That box reads: “Fair & Balanced.”

A look at the international coverage also proves revealing. On the website of the British daily, The Independent, the top story was ” ‘More than 600 killed in Baghdad bridge stampede’” and the top photo was of a grieving Iraqi woman. Directly underneath this story was one titled, “Katrina, America’s ‘greatest natural disaster.’” Another British daily, The Guardian, followed a similar line. The top photo, story, and map pertained to the Iraqi disaster; the ones immediately below it, of the same size, were about the American one.

The French publication, Le Monde, featured a top photo and title about Baghdad on its homepage. The next story on that page, immediately below, was about New Orleans. Another French paper, Le Figaro, ran the Iraqi and American tragedies side by side; the Iraqi one was in bold title and text, and the American one was a large photo of damage caused by Katrina.

Of course, all four papers mentioned above are thousands of miles removed - indeed, not even on the same continent - as Iraq, yet each of them devoted significant, priority space to what happened to those Shiites on pilgrimage in northern Baghdad.

It is illuminating, then, to look at the coverage provided by two papers from a country that is only a couple hundred kilometers away from Iraq, one that sits in the center of the Arab world: Israel. The website of the Israeli daily, The Jerusalem Post, contained a top story titled, “American immigrant sets himself on fire in Jerusalem,” apparently in protest of the Gaza pullout. The homepage photo was of a settler rally. Underneath this were two related pieces about the pullout. This was followed by an announcement of the new school year. Finally, the next link was about the Baghdad stampede.

Then there is Haaretz, Israel’s largest “left” daily paper. The main photo on its website was of a corpulent Sharon presiding over some Knesset vote. The top story read, “MKs okay Philadelphi deal on Egyptian deployment.” Underneath this story were three other stories, none of them having anything to do with the stampede in Iraq. To the right was a small section titled “More Headlines,” where, at the very bottom of the list, after mundane news about comptrollers, political bickering, and settler protests, there was a note about the rising death toll in the Shiite procession in Baghdad.

In the evening EST, the English version of Israel’s largest tabloid, Yedioth Ahronoth ran a top story and photo about some recent statements by Mahmoud Abbas. This was followed by two big links about Israeli politicians meeting in Jerusalem and kids going back to school. After all this, in a set of small links, and underneath the self-immolating protester story link, is one titled, “Iraq: Eyewitness recalls bridge disaster.” Also, the top four scrolling news alerts on the website were as follows: Bush releases oil; Islamist indicted for attack; Bush calls Katrina disaster historic; Shalom sends condolences to America (no one in Israel apparently bothered to send any condolences to Iraq). Indeed, the Iraq incident is not even mentioned in the scrolling update list.

Is this not telling? The four leading papers a continent removed devoted front and center space to hundreds of Shiites, mostly women and children, killed in a stampede of fear and desperation. And yet, in a country a stone’s throw away from Iraq, its three leading papers offered a paltry and pathetic mere inch or two of online web space to the tragedy.

Where was Israel’s supposed vast reservoir of humanity and sympathy at this hour? Alas - where was Elie Wiesel?

These signs of disregard for Arab life in the right-wing American press and the entire Israeli press are a small but unmistakable reminder that, for all the Western bluster about democracy and freedom, there doubtless remains a kind of global apartheid, in which the racial Other is worthy of not pity, not sympathy, but only abuse - including the abuse of indifference.

Via Roads To Iraq Related Link From one tragedy to the next

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