Bin Laden in Afghanistan 248.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Targeting the mainstream media (MSM) of the "strong" side is a fundamental tactic for any "weak" group conducting an asymmetrical war. Unable to win on the battlefield, insurgents and terrorists seek to convince their foes' civilian population that the wars their leaders have undertaken are unwinnable, even immoral. They need the other side's public to stop their own armies. The strategy worked in Vietnam; it almost worked in Iraq; it's in play in both Afghanistan and Israel and, in a different sense, all over the West.
Indeed, forces of Muslim militancy have had extraordinary success over the past decade. Anyone in the optimistic 1990s who had predicted that anti-Semitism would return with a vengeance, that Muslims would publicly express their desire to destroy or subjugate Europe, that parts of Europe would be Islamic by mid-century, that a riotous Muslim "street" in European cities would render Ramadan a tinderbox, would have been ridiculed.
SO HOW could things have turned around so dramatically?
The answer is complex, but one aspect has received little attention: These are the victories of a cognitive war waged in the theater of our own media. My own research, which began as a medievalist investigating "the first blood libel of the 21st century" - the Muhammad al-Dura affair - has led me to conclusions I never anticipated: that Palestinian cameramen regularly film fake scenes of injury and ambulance evacuations (Pallywood), and that Western journalists regularly edit these fakes into bites they run as news.
But there's an even more dangerous element to the story. Not only do the media broadcast as "true" Palestinian narratives designed to arouse hatred, they also disguise the effects, and even the sources, of these narratives. When the footage of Dura, running constantly on French TV, unleashed attacks on Jews in France, the French MSM reported nothing for years. If Muslims hated Jews, it was quand mÃªme understandable.
As for Palestinian hate-mongering, it's a case of the less said the better. Reporting on a sermon broadcast on PA TV calling for Muslims to butcher Jews wherever they find them, William Orme of The New York Times, in an article on the role of incitement in the intifada, quoted only the opening: "Labor, Likud, they're all Jews, they're all the same..." To this day, the genocidal incitement of Palestinian TV is unknown to the Western public.
The relationship between Palestinian and Western journalism recently hit a new low/high with a Swedish article by Donald Bostrom, in which, without evidence, and against medical possibility, he accused the IDF of harvesting Palestinian organs. The refusal of the Swedish government to condemn this blood libel lest it infringe on "freedom of the press" is facetious. It did not hesitate to pressure the Swedish media not to publish the Muhammad cartoons.
The Swedish response to Israel and its appeasement of Muslim sensibilities points to a key problem: intimidation. Publishing lies about the Israelis will, at worst, get you pained protests; publishing anything that offends the Palestinians (or in Europe, the Muslims), could get you killed. Asked why British cartoonists pick on Israel but not the Palestinians, the head of the professional society that had just given its annual award to a depiction of Ariel Sharon devouring Palestinian children, said: "Jews don't issue fatwas."
That rare candor aside, most journalists, for fear of losing their audience, cannot admit how much they're intimidated, to what extent they buy access to Palestinian sources by scrupulously following "the journalistic procedures with the Palestinian Authority for work in Palestine." Were they to tell the West what was really going on, at best they'd lose access, at worst, their lives.
So in order not to admit even to themselves that they're misreporting, they become advocates: "I'm for peace, justice and fairness, so I support the underdog Palestinians." "In the Middle East a picture can be worth 1,000 weapons," said Bob Simon. 'So,' reasons many a reporter, 'if the Israelis have the weapons, why not level the playing field by giving the 'weak' the victory in the battle of images?'
NO WONDER so many Middle East journalists take the side of the Palestinians. Only that kind of pack mentality can present the image of Israelis as killers of civilians, when Israel has by far the lowest rate of civilian casualties in the world - a 2:1 ratio of target to civilian vs. a 1:10 ratio for the next best.
It may seem "cost free" to trash Israel and "respect" Palestinian sensibilities in the short run, but the long-term consequences are destructive. Through the MSM's (and the NGOs') laundering of Palestinian propaganda as real news, Westerners have had their minds colonized by the Palestinian narrative: It is our fault they hate us; if we could only make enough concessions, we could fix the problem.
This susceptibility of Western news media to Palestinian disinformation imperils not just Israel (its apparent target), but the entire West. It never occurred to the European journalists, for example, whose use of Dura aroused the rage of their Muslim immigrant population, that they too would be the targets of jihad.
And yet policies based on the idea that if only Israel were nicer then all would go better have failed miserably, despite the good intentions of those who insist on trying them. They are the policies our foes want us to adopt, not because they seek peace, but because they seek the advantage in war - a war in which the Jews are only one target.
The cognitive warriors of jihad want the West to offer up Israel as a sacrifice on the altar of Muslim honor. Westerners like Jimmy Carter and John Mearsheimer think sacrifice will appease, bring peace, end the jihad. For jihad's warriors, nothing could make them happier.
The MSM should be the eyes and ears of civil polities.
The writer is a medieval history professor at Boston University. He blogs at The Augean Stables, and has assembled all the information on Dura at The Second Draft. He is currently writing a book subtitled A Medievalist's Guide to the 21st Century.