Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
The South Reduced:
How the News Promotes a Mistaken View of the World
By Ramzy Baroud
Al-Jazeerah, ccun.org, May 3, 2010
I am not good at flying kites. But during a recent visit to the
Olympic Village of Beijing, I felt compelled to do so. Despite the cold and
late hour, there were many kite runners around me. A salesman insisted that
I try my hand before committing to any purchase, and I did. Once I finalized
the purchase of ten small kites, I shared the one I was already flying one
with a most adorable boy. He thanked me, then asked me not to play with his
Earlier, at Tiananmen Square, I had watched throngs of
people giddily roam the vast expanse, snapping endless photos in front of
the Gate of Heavenly Peace, in the Imperial City and around every monument
in the Square.
A formation of about 10 soldiers was suddenly in
tatters when I asked if I could take a photo with them. Their excitement
seemed to surpass mine.
None of this should by any means take away
from the seriousness of the violent crackdown at the Tiananmen Square
protest of 1989. That date should be remembered and lessons must be gleaned.
But why the reductionism? When one thinks of Tiananmen, why does one only
conjure visions of hordes of protesters and gangs of soldiers? The bloody
scene is used time and again to single out China as an anti-democratic
regime, juxtaposed conveniently against Western ‘democratic values’.
One hardly ever reads positive news from China, or any other
‘non-Western’ countries – unless an agenda exists for promoting selective
positive news from those countries, for example, a supposedly successful
election in Afghanistan conducted under the auspices of Western armies.
In Thailand last week I saw no signs of the Red Shirts, or the Yellow
Shirts either. I did, however, see some shirtless Thais. Considering the
heat and humidity, this was not surprising. The point remains that aside
from a standoff at a major Bangkok shopping center, the rest of the
metropolis seemed to operate as normal. A Thai man struggled to communicate
his political views on to me in English. I had found him watching a video on
some social network website. The video featured a dog and a cat, the cat
representing the Red Shirts, and a dog, the current government. They barked,
meowed and hissed, but they didn’t physically engage. The man laughingly
commented, “This is how things are in Thailand.” Then, in a more somber
tone, “It’s all about power and control; no one cares about Thais who cannot
afford a shirt - red, yellow, or otherwise.”
True, but it
also seems that Western media cares little about these countries, outside of
a very narrow context. The story of China is only worthy if it involves
government restriction (e.g. of Google), or economics, i.e. how China’s
economic growth will affect Western economic recovery. Even if the story is
related to art rather than politics, somehow it finds its way back to the
same old theme, for example, the government censoring struggling artists.
Once the Red Shirts and the government sort out their problems,
Thailand will certainly disappear off our radar. It would take an economic
crisis, rigged elections, or even a tsunami to bring it back as a story
worth telling. In the meantime, the country will return to its convenient
role for the West - a cheap destination for adventure-seeking travellers
with some money to spare, a topic in blogs advising ways to get more money
for your buck, or baht, and clever ways to dodge Thai con artists.
China and Thailand are the norm, not the exception. In a recent
discussion with a Reuters editor, I complained about the fact that every
story on Malaysia had some kind of negative undertone. Example include:
Muslim, Christian clashes over the use of the word “Allah”; the trial of
Anwar Ibrahim; the ugly politicking. The news makes it easy to quickly
imagine Malaysia as the most dysfunctional and unfortunate society on earth.
This was not the impression I got during my last visit to Malaysia. It
is, in many respects, a thriving society. It has its internal politics, like
anywhere else, but essentially Christians and Muslims seem to be getting
along just fine, as they have been for many years.
Media channels –
especially those dispatching their news from various Western capitals -
focus not simply on sensational news, but they also intentionally
sensationalize news, and purposely relay the news so as to be understood
within Western contexts. Thus ‘democracy’, ‘elections’, ‘government
restrictions’ and ‘terrorism’ are the usual buzzwords.
south is also stereotyped in the south itself. Newspapers in non-Western
societies depend on coverage provided by Western news agencies for their
international news. An Indonesian friend recently commended on my ‘bravery’
for going to South Africa. For him, South Africa is just ‘Africa,’ where
‘primitive’ people, along with lions and other wild animals prey on innocent
white tourists. Thank you, Hollywood, for perfecting the art of stereotype.
Similarly, some people show utter disbelief when they discover that
Iran is one of the world’s busiest travel destinations - not necessarily for
Americans or Israelis, but for people across the globe. Yes, Iran has much
to offer in terms of culture, history, scenery and societal achievements.
There is far more to the country than clashing soldiers and youth, or fiery
statements pertaining to nuclear weapons, Israel and the Holocaust.
A few years ago, in Stockholm, I asked a group of officials to tell me the
images that popped in their heads when they thought of Palestinians. I asked
them to be honest, assuring them that nothing they said would offend me. But
when I heard back from them, I was indeed very offended. The images were
unfailingly gory. Even the ‘positive’ images amongst them were disturbing
The western media will continue to reduce
non-Westerners, for they have a vested interest in doing so, and it has
become habitual. A first step in overcoming this would be to empower our own
local and regional media, and to create rapports amongst them. We can
only challenge the abhorrent narratives about us when we start to present
our own truth and experience, and support others to do the same.
Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net)
is an internationally-syndicated columnist and Chief Editor of the Brunei
Times. His latest book is "My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold
Story" (Pluto Press, London), now available on Amazon.com.
Visit my website:
www.ramzybaroud.net. Also watch Aljazeera's documentary about my latest
book: My Father was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story. (Pluto
Press; Palgrave Macmillan, 2010). The subtitled program is available at
YouTube in two parts:
Part I &
Part II. Then, check out this short film (in
about the book. The book is available from
Amazon UK and