by Hamad Dabashi
“Gaza-Israel border: Clashes ‘leave 16 Palestinians dead and hundreds injured’.” That is a typical BBC headline when Israeli soldiers start killing, with coldblooded precision, defenceless Palestinians. “Palestinian officials say,” they would then add, “at least 16 people have been killed by Israeli forces and hundreds more wounded during protests at the Gaza-Israeli border … The Israeli military said soldiers had opened fire after rioting.”
Where did this particular noncommittal news prose come from, this language of equivocation, this pathological penchant for the passive voice, systemically compromising truth as you report it – what does diction of inbred prevarication mean, what would people around the globe reading these lines think had transpired on the “Gaza-Israel border” as BBC puts it?
It scarcely matters what did actually happen on that “border”. What matters is what and how BBC, or any other self-designated honorary club member of “Western Media” says happened. But what about the truth? What did actually happen? Who had lethal firepower at hand, who had bare bones and flesh exposed? One of the few Palestinian journalists who could tell the world the truth of what happened, Yaser Murtaja, was targeted by an Israeli sharpshooter and deliberately murdered. So, the world is at the mercy of BBC or the New York Times, etc, to say what actually happened.
What is the distance, the difference, between what actually happened as Palestinians experienced it, walking like innocent gazelles in front of a gang of vicious human hunters, and what the BBC, or CNN, or New York Times, etc, say what happened?
The case of mass deception
In their groundbreaking book, Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944), the founding figures of Critical theory Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer devote a by now legendary chapter to what they called “Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception.”
In this chapter, they investigate how advanced capitalist societies manufacture the social subjects as consumers of mass culture – as they are consumers of Starbucks coffee or MacDonald’s hamburgers – which is to say their subjectivities are the creations of a culture industry, receptacles of a massive body of disinformation that do not just entertain and preoccupy them but, in fact, engineer them as passive receptacles of an ideological domination beyond their recognition or critique. They give them a sense of false autonomy of choice.
What today we call “Western Media” is the paramount example of Adorno and Horkheimer’s insight, the production of “news” as perfect examples of commodity fetishism. Such news outlets as BBC, CNN, New York Times are brands under which this commodity that calls itself “Western Media” manufactures both a truth to be reckoned with and in effect the normative consciousness of the person who consumes that news and thinks herself informed. They may think themselves objective news outlets that occasionally feature or air a commercial for an airline or a washing detergent. But they are themselves a brand just like the other brands they advertise.
This “Western Media” has historically posited itself initially as the opposite of the news as used to be broadcast in the Soviet Bloc, or China, or “Third World” in general, which was branded as “state-controlled,” “propaganda,” and therefore false, and thereby posited itself as “independent”, “objective”, “fair” and “truthful.”
That political branding has now reached the point of normative self-designation of truth. It was, perhaps paradoxically – perhaps not, a rank charlatan like Donald Trump, now the president of the United States, who first put this “Western Media” on the defensive by out-branding them with his own “alternative facts”. His lies and charlatanism are one brand of news as opposed to “Western Media.”
This very “Western Media” is now in a state of self-defensive shock. It thinks itself under the threat of manipulative disinformation, as best evidenced in the Cambridge Analytica scandal where we learned private companies “mine data” from social media in order to manipulate critical masses of voters in national elections. In Cambridge Analytica, this “Western Media” has found a match for itself, a brand new competitor. Cambridge Analytica is a big shining mirror in front of “Western Media” outperforming them in their old-fashioned practices and branding.
Allow me to explain.
Colonialism then and now
Let us take the example of BBC and see how it has branded itself as the measure of fact and truth – while systemically engaging in what Adorno and Horkheimer called “mass deception”.
Let us begin by asking ourselves a simple question: Have the British learned their lessons from their long and vicious history of colonialism during which they ravaged the earth and its inhabitants and its natural resources alike? Do they regret that history – do they look at people from Asia, Africa, or Latin America with a sense of guilt, remorse, or apology? Shashi Tharoor, the distinguished Indian MP, for example, has argued persuasively that the British owe India reparation for the looting of their prized possessions. In any just world, that reparation would be paid both as a factual confirmation of what the British did to India and partial penance for their criminal atrocities.
But you might say let bygone be bygone. What is done is done. Let’s move forward. Fair enough. But has the “British” in the “British Broadcasting Corporation” (BBC) learned its lessons and regrets its atrocities or does it continue to flaunt the selfsame racist colonial attitudes, practices, and discourse of the British colonial conquest of India everywhere else. Just look at the manner BBC covers the Israeli conquest of Palestine and compare it with the colonial diction of their own conquest of India.
Two historic documents are today at the disposal of the world at large to see how the British attitude towards colonialism has remained constant and consistent: one is the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the other the manner – in both prose and the optics – in which the BBC today covers the Israeli colonial occupation of Palestine. They are identical in their treachery.
Compromising the truth
Today, the BBC is integral to the propaganda machinery of Israel – and the evidence for this is out there for the whole world to see anytime Israelis go on a rampage slaughtering Palestinians as they have been doing since March 30, when people of Gaza began commemorating their Land Day. The Israeli army began targeting and deliberately murdering Palestinians, as BBC and other specimen of the brand “Western Media” consistently softened the blow of this vicious massacre of defenseless people. The BBC made that crime against humanity – for which all the top politicians of the settler colony must be arrested and tried in a court of law – palatable, explainable, even justified.
The visual and verbal strategies of BBC for compromising the truth of what the Israelis have historically done and continue to do today are quite simple if not altogether crude and banal. They need to send their staff to get more advanced degrees in Newspeak. Their Newspeak is sophomoric and cliche.
Take a look at any of their coverage: First, show a close up of Palestinians’ raised fists and open mouths and angry faces and raised flags – they are threatening, aren’t they?: violent, dangerous, and menacing. Make sure the frame of your camera is quite tight. Don’t ever open the frame to show Israeli sharpshooters nearby firing live ammunition at thousands of defenseless and unarmed civilians protesting the systemic theft of their homeland facilitated by British colonialism. That will defeat the purpose, expose the lie, and ruin the brand.
Then comes the most pernicious wordings – beginning with “clashes”. What “clashes?” Clashes between what two items? “To clash” is to confront with demonstrably equal force – two swords clash, two punches clash, two armies clash – a live bullet does not “clash” with a defenseless body. A bullet pierces through and wounds and kills (does not “clash” with) a body. By opting for “clashes”, the BBC lies: It pretends there are two more or less identical elements, two armies, two opposing forces. There are no such things. On one side, there is a merciless army, armed to teeth by Barack Obama and all his predecessors and successors, on the other defenseless people. BBC conceals that fact with the word “clashes”- and in plural no less.
Then comes the real gimmick: Use scare quotes: Put “leave 16 Palestinians dead and hundreds injured” in quotation marks to compromise its truth. Your own reporters on the scene are deaf, dumb, and blind – they don’t see Palestinians are being killed and wounded by those Israeli sharpshooters – so attribute the “report” – not the truth – of their slaughter to Palestinian sources – that’ll compromise the veritable power of the report. “They” say so many are killed or wounded – the BBC does not acknowledge the truth of these dispensable Palestinians being maimed and murdered.
Doubly, cast doubt on the truth – “Palestinian officials say” so many are wounded and killed – not BBC – for BBC keeps its official reporting of facts only if Israelis are killed or wounded.
When it comes to the paralysing accusation of anti-Semitism against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party, BBC is front and centre, bold and brave, but when it comes to the slaughter of defenseless Palestinians, the BBC’s cameras and words stand right behind the Israeli soldiers, speaking and showing things from their point of view.
The simple truth
BBC is not the only item in this brand of “Western Media.” The New York Times is worse, the CNN worse than both of them together, ad infinitum, ad nauseam.
“Western Media” is a brand, a gimmick, a commodity fetishism at the service of systemic mass deception in “the West” itself and around the globe – and BBC is a paramount example of it.
This brand of “Western Media” has historically posited itself against state-controlled media across Asia, Africa, and Latin America, which is indeed the stage for the systematic lies at the service of the ruling states. But that media is so blatantly vulgar in its falsehood that there is a healthy dose of public distrust of it. Most people do not believe what the official media says in Iran, Egypt, or Turkey. They read or watch those news sources with a robust dose of suspicion and distrust. The “Western Media” has falsely branded itself against that fact and created a fiction for its falsehood as truth. Dismantling that falsehood and exposing its pernicious lies, or what Adorno and Horkheimer rightly called “mass deception,” is very easy.
The best and most formidable force against mass deception of the brand “Western Media” is simple truth-telling. Contrary to the liberal Zionist deceptive prose, the Palestinian predicament is not complicated at all. It is in fact very simple and it has a very simple solution. It is not the story of two peoples with two narratives. It is the story of one people with truth (Palestinians – Jews, Christians, or Muslims) and another European settler colony (Zionists – liberal or hardcore) with wanton cruelty and violence.
Israel is the last powerful remnant of European colonialism. With astonishing charlatanism it banks on an entire history of Jewish dispossession and Jewish suffering in order to dispossess and cause suffering on Palestinians, steal their land, build a garrison state and put it at the disposal of the continued colonial and imperial interest of Euro-American imperialism.
That is the simple fact, the simple truth, read it once a day and you are immune to all the mass deception of “Western Media”.
The Zionists do whatever they damn please to Palestinians – stealing their land, bulldozing their homes, uprooting their olive trees, coldbloodedly murdering them – and if anyone dares to utter a word against their war crimes and crimes against humanity they and their Zionist fifth columns in the US and Europe start screaming “anti-Semitism” at them – and because anti-Semitism is a European disease deeply rooted in Europe’s history, Europeans shut up when they are called anti-Semites.
But the world at large could not care less about this false accusation. We will fight anti-Semitism, we will fight Islamophobia, and we will fight racism, and above all we will fight colonialism and its last bastion Zionism. We will not be silent. We will bear witness to the historic justice of the Palestinian cause. Zionists are murderous thieves. They are stealing Palestine in the bright daylight and they are murdering Palestinians right in front of the world’s incredulous eyes.
BBC and its ilk can do all their juvenile gimmickry to compromise the truth. But the world is watching. The world is vigilant. Palestinian national liberation as best and most beautifully demonstrated in the global BDS movement and now in the Great March of Return will move on and will triumph over the racist and corrupt Zionist ideology – and BBC will be a bystander in that beautiful feast of truth.