(Ms. Nadrat Siddique writes from University of Maryland)
Washington Post etc: The Forces Behind the 'Honor Killing' Propaganda
Links Between the Media and the Power Structure

Despite any vestiges of truth in the Washington Post article on women inPakistan, and the legitimate claims of the women's rights movement there(women have always had to fight for our rights--they have never been "given" to us), I think the fact that we're all forgetting is the nature of mass media in this country. Starting from World War II (or earlier), when the media was used to denigrate the Japenese to ease the public conscience around their arbitrary and unconstitutional internment in prison camps on U.S. soil, in complete contradiction to the putative democratic ideals of this country, and their holocaust in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this institution has traditionally played the role of facilitator of U.S. government policy, labelling, blackballing, and stereotyping the group or nation-state which is to be the next target of an amoral and profit-driven U.S. foreign policy.

The current monopoly in media is evidenced by the dearth of competing daily newspapers in any major U.S. city, and the incredible pressure which is placed on alternative papers until they are forced out of business, or to scale down to non-competitive levels. Prime examples of this type of quashing was of the "Washington Star," in my own city, and of the "Baltimore African-American," in Baltimore. (For more on this, read "The Media Monopoly," by Ben Bagdikian, published by the media watchgroup, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (F.A.I.R.)) A monopolized media, by its very nature (since there are few voices to counteract it), is far more susceptible to government and corporate control than a multi-faceted media, as exists in some parts of Europe.

If Islam (or "radical Islam," ie, any form of Islam which doesn't accede to Western neocolonialism and cultural imperialism in Muslim countries)--as Senate counterintelligence committee reports, and a plethora of position papers published by the Department of Defense at Fort Leslie McNair (available at all Government Printing Offices) bluntly state--is the new enemy, replacing the Evil Empire in all its inauspiciousness, then it would seem that the demonization which is by turns applied to the current "Public Enemy No. 1" might now be applied to Muslims, and to Muslim countries, to "neutralize" any potential sympathies for those countries. Thus, the public outcry which might arise as a result of a U.S. onslaught is quelched. Such was the case when the U.S. bombed Tripoli, Bagdad, Khartoum, or Afghanistan, in each instance preceding and succeeding the campagin with a barrage of propagandistic reporting against the targeted party. No conspiracy is at work here, only the practicality of a government which knows that it is easier to carry out a campaign (and to fund it), when public sentiments disfavour the target. And practiced war criminals (such as Washington) are very practical indeed.

It is in this context that one must examine reporting on Afghanistan, Pakistan, and many other Muslim countries. One analytical method is to select a major newspaper, such as the Washington Post, and to read it on a daily basis. Since returning from Afghanistan in 1990, I followed the Post reporting on the subject, on not quite a daily basis--since I am in school, and time is limited--but close to it. I wondered at the lack of reporting on the positive efforts and struggles to rebuild the country by the democratically elected government of Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani (Jamiat-e-Islami). The only reports coming out of Afghanistan in this time interval were of internecine fighting among the various Afghan factions and the claimed haplessness of the Rabbani government. Nothing on the real starvation risk faced by many Afghans. And nothing on violations of women's rights.

Then followed a period of coalition rule, in which power was shared by Rabbani, Hizb-e-Islami leader Hikmatyr, Hizb-e-Islami (the other Hizb) leader Abdul Rasoul Sayyaf, and others. Again, little or no reporting on the steadfast efforts by this coalition to rebuild the country. And nothing on the conditions of women.

Then the Taliban came to power. There were suddenly reports of women's rights violations in the country. Many of the complaints were legitimate, and resulted from the Taliban heavyhand which extended to both men and women, in their effort to keep order during the transfer of power in a very volatile political climate. At any rate, most of the violations were rectified by the Taliban when they were confronted with them--indeed the Taliban appeared quite open to compromise. The complaints continued however, in many instances fueled by Afghan women members of the residual Khalq and Parcham communist parties.

(For those not up on their Afghan history, these parties had prevailed under the Afghan communist "President," Najibullah and his predecessors, against the will of the vast majority of Afghans, who had opposed them in popular uprisings beginning in 1978.) These young members of the Afghan equivalent of the Comintern went to the extent of launching propagandistic websites, which might be mistaken as containing factual information by the unsuspecting. The Afghan government, with its resources strained from years of war, attempted to answer, but the high tech propaganda of the Khalqi and Parchamis prevailed.

Not long after, Afghanistan became tagged with another label: aider and abetter of a terrorist. Afghanistan, like most sovereign nations, exercising its right to allow entry and residence within its borders to individuals of its chosing, allowed Osama bin Ladin to remain in Afghanistan, after the U.S., in the absence of any solid evidence, labelled him the ringleader of an international terrorist ring. Shortly thereafter, camps in Afghanistan's Southern region were bombed in an unprecedented violation of International Law, ostensibly to destroy "terrorist camps," in the region. The policies hadn't changed since Vietnam: Blackball 'em, THEN bomb 'em, then starve 'em into submission. Only we've forgotten the policies.

Pakistan, like Afghanistan, was a region on which coverage by the national newsmedia was, until recently, scarce. Reports on the condition of women were few and far between when Benazir Bhutto was in power. Likewise for much of Nawaz Sharif's term of office. The condition of women in Pakistan, of which a thorough and insightful analysis is possible only if one resists the urge to apply the usual eurocentric barometer, certainly warrants improvement. This condition, however, has remained more or less constant for the past decade or so, since the women's movement, to my knowledge, has not been able to mobilize the support or to apply tactics which might be effective in ameliorating their status in a Muslim country, in which, by Qur'anic injunction, women are given equal rights with men. This is comparable to the existence of laws prohibiting sexual harassment in the U.S.--such protections exist, but often are not invoked by the victims of sexual harassment due to lack of knowledge, resources, fear, etc. In the Pakistani case, this has much to do with the women's own lack of other than a perfunctory knowledge of Qur'an and hadith, a shortcoming which they share with their male counterparts, who only memorize the verses of the Quran, with little or no understanding of its meaning.

When Mussharaf came to power, he stepped out of line by refusing the U.S. ultimatum to hold an election when the U.S. wanted it (as if the U.S. is some kind of universal election monitoring committee--perhaps we ought monitor elections in the two countries to whom we give the most foreign aid--Israel and Egypt--since amendments to the U.S. constitution prohibit aid to countries which are gross violators of human rights). Suddenly, there was oppression of women in Pakistan (although nothing had changed within Pakistan itself)!

Sensationalized reporting of the bizarre and violent has long been a hallmark of local Pakistani newspapers, as it is in the U.S. National Enquirer and other tabloids. Depraved and senseless acts of violence occur in every country, every day; and usually they are treated as depraved and senselesss acts, rather than as the norm of that society. Which is why one's natural skepticism should be aroused when a previously apathetic media suddenly become hyperobsessed with the conditions in a Muslim country, and lead one to ask: Which political initiative is this political propagandizing in support of?

2001-12-10 21:39ct