BY SAEED NAQVI
The story could not have been summed up more succinctly: the photograph shows David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy in Tripoli holding aloft the hand of a Libyan leader they would like to promote. Below, the headline across three columns – “Islamists Rise in New Libya”. This was refreshingly honest.
The world Information order, like much else, was shaped when India was a colony. It is a matter of astonishment how the Indian elite allowed itself to be a passive recipient of images beamed at it by the western media and, in foreign coverage, its Indian transmitters.
I had lodged the issue in some deep recess of my mind and allowed it to freeze until the so called Arab Spring impelled me to the region. Here I was again, the lonesome Indian journalist, in Ramallah, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Cairo, Amman, Baghdad, Bahrain, the oil bearing eastern province of Saudi Arabia.
Later, in Damascus, Homs, Hama in Syria just as I had been to Sana’a, in Yemen and Tripoli before all hell broke loose. I list these news spots only to make a point: unless you have your media there, in the midst of the story, how would you ever know the lengths to which the Western media can go, when it rallies behind a national agenda, to dissemble and purposefully shape your mind? Even the coincidence of that telling photograph and the contradictory headline would require decoding unless you have followed the drift of the from a consistent source.
On my return from Damascus, when I suggested to a senior leader that an Indian delegation should visit important countries in what is virtually India’s “near abroad”, he looked at me like I was pushing him into the line of fire.
“You are not suggesting that we go to Hama, are you?” he asked weakly.
Hama causes raised eyebrows because of the harshness with which Hafez al Assad suppressed an Islamist uprising in 1982. But all recent reports of protests being put down by tanks and rockets are concoctions, in most instances, as a group of six Indian journalists recently found out. Damascus seemed more at peace than New Delhi is before or after the recent High Court blast. Yes there was tension in Hama, a certain restiveness, nasty graffiti painted over in black. But no trace of a “massacre”.
The negative images on Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya channels are being flashed by the Islamic rebels who have been equipped with technology provided by the US keen to weaken Syria’s links with Iran and Hezbollah.
James Glanz and John Markoff of the New York Times say: “The Obama administration is leading a global effort to deploy ‘shadow’ internet and mobile phone systems that dissidents can use to undermine repressive governments that seek to silence them by censoring or shutting down telecommunications networks.”
“The effort includes secretive projects to create independent cell phone networks inside foreign countries, as well one operation out of a spy novel in a fifth-floor shop on L street in Washington, where a group of young entrepreneurs who look as if they could be in a garage band are fitting deceptively innocent-looking hardware into a prototype “Internet in a suitcase” – all part of what is being called “Liberation technology movement”.
The suitcase can be secreted across a border and quickly set up to allow wireless communication over a wide area with a link to the global Internet.
“The state Department is financing the creation of stealth wireless networks that would enable activists to communicate outside the reach in countries like Iran, Syria and Libya.”
In this Information war, on whose side are we? In the absence of our own sources of information, these are the traps we can walk into. If BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya were to provide free service to Indian channels, do you think our great “independent” media will be able to resist the bait?
When the Anglo-French plot on Libya was first hatched, I wrote in these spaces that folks in Benghazi luring Europe are the very same who started 2006 uprising against the Danish cartoons. The sole voice was drowned out by the drumbeat of “revolution”. And now, after six months of relentless NATO bombing and Special Forces operating away from the cameras (these were focused on t-shirt and jean wearing youth brandishing AK-47s on pick up vans), Qaddaffi remains elusive and a wave of something resembling Salafism is already discernible. H.D.S. Greenway, in a superb piece, says: “Libyans will remember Qaddaffi differently in the chaos that is coming.”
Let us, then, move on to Baghdad – a shattering experience. I visited my favourite “mazgouf” joint which means fish from the Tigris grilled on open fire on the riverbank. It looked exactly what it was: a bombed hut. The fish is no longer from the Tigris but a nearby lake. A macabre incident ended that culture of eating. Human body parts were found in the stomach of the fish which, having lived for thousands of years on live bait, had become scavenger because of bodies floating down the river since the invasion.
Yes, we need our own reporters in every part of the globe otherwise the world will pass us by. Events will take place outside our ken.
(Saeed Naqvi is senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)