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War, Media, Propaganda: Muslims As ‘Other’ — A Personal Narrative Of Islamophobia

Editor's Note

In a speech delivered on Thursday Oct. 15 at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis, MintPress News Editor-in-Chief Mnar Muhawesh discussed the personal tolls of war and corporate media fear mongering.

Published in partnership with MintPress News. Video missing? Click here.

Transcript:— First, I’d like to thank Citizens for Global Solutions for inviting me today and for everyone who came out to this forum event. In a world that seems to be mired by war and hate, it’s admirable to see such a long-standing organization continue to bring people from all walks of life and backgrounds together for the cause of peace to share the stories that are often censored, ignored, disenfranchised and even smeared by the corporate media.

I was told there might be hecklers in the audience tonight who are concerned and find it suspicious that a young Muslim woman was the head of journalism organization.

Now, despite the obvious sexism in that statement — that a woman is incapable of starting her own business in 2015 in the United States — what I found most interesting about that is just how fitting it is for tonight’s discussion, in which I’ll address “Muslims being treated as suspect and as the ‘Other.’”

This sort of white privilege orientalist sentiment — that Muslim women are incapable of being educated, intelligent, independent and financially successful — has ironically highlighted the prejudices we have deep inside ourselves.

I mean, just imagine if I were in the Middle East in Iran or Saudi Arabia, and a group of people tried to censor me from speaking at an event because they couldn’t believe a woman could start her own business. Let’s be honest here, it would be on the front page of CNN or FOX News, talking about how oppressed woman are in the Middle East.

And just this summer, a woman refused to be picked up by a hijabi Muslim American Uber driver. She filed a complain to Uber [the popular ride-sharing service], disgusted that they would allow a Muslim woman be a driver. This story went viral, of course, across social media, and this woman’s Facebook post shows her writing about how disturbed she was that Saudi Arabia wouldn’t allow women to drive. Too much irony in that one.

But the truth is, this kind of orientalism against Muslims in general and Muslim Americans who are becoming more prominent in the media in challenging the perspectives about Islam, about women in Islam, about the recolonization of the Middle East and Africa, is the result of over 14 years of war mongering and fear mongering by the corporate media.

A corporate press that is owned by six corporations — General Electric, News Corp., Disney, Viacom, Time Warner and CBS.

You heard that right, that means the defense, arms, cable and entertainment industries like the powers that be in Hollywood control over 90 percent of what 300 million Americans see, hear and read. So, statistically, for every 50 million Americans, one corporation provides their news.

How we hear and learn about the world, and even about what’s going on in our own nation, is through one lens, which is the media. But because of this consolidation, never has this lens been more narrow, more extreme and more manipulative than it is today.

And it begs the question why stories like ISIS, Iran’s non-existent nuclear weapons, Donald Trump’s racist rants and raves, Hillary’s emails, and cute cat videos choke up the airwaves while other real important stories completely go under the radar.

Through this process of media consolidation and corporate ownership, the entities the press is meant to hold accountable became the owners of that media. These media corporations spend billions to craft stories that distract, fear monger, entertain and propagandize rather than inform.

They’ve effectively turned the media into a lapdog for those in power, dulling the teeth of the watchdog the First Amendment was written to protect.

Creating an enemy to justify war

Since the U.S. launched its official “war on terror” in 2001, or after 9/11, a new era erupted in the American press: A general climate of fear and anger toward American Muslims was fomented, as seen in the “civilization of jihad” narrative and the biased media coverage of American wars for oil in the Middle East.

This climate of fear has manifested itself for the past 14 years in institutional policies that view American Muslims as a threat, and [they] are treated as suspect when doing anything, really.

Despite most of the 9/11 hijackers being from Saudi Arabia, President Bush went on to invade Afghanistan and Iraq — two nations strategically located in a resource rich region still untouched by multinational corporations, and regions which could later act as a military base buffer zones to China and Russia.

Now despite the United States’ long history of funding and arming both the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the terrorist mujahedeen movement in Afghanistan, the United States entered a new era of endless war, [grabbing resources], fomenting civil strife, supporting more right-wing militias, and spreading American-style democracy — or what we like to call “monopoly capitalism.”

Take the Iraq War, for example, which is many things to different people. If we look at Hollywood war porn propaganda movies like “American Sniper,” the Iraq War was a patriotic mission defending American freedoms and values. Even though the movie was released, 12 years after 9/11, the producers attempted to insult our intelligence by rewriting the U.S. destruction of Iraq by tying 9/11 to Saddam Hussein, to justify that war.

Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL, who the hollywood blockbuster was based on, wrote a book by the same name that encapsulates his hatred, bigotry and enthusiasm for killing Iraqi “savages.”

What he wrote in his book is a microcosm of the way the American press portrayed Arabs and Muslims alike to foment fear and justify these military operations. He wrote:

This caricature that has been painted by the media that Muslims are savages is also responsible for the rise of hate crimes that have targeted American Muslims.

Just this summer, I found myself and my family at the center of a hate crime because of Islamophobia: My own parents were held at gunpoint because a blonde, white middle aged suburban mom thought they looked suspicious.

My parents are Palestinian-Americans: my mother wears the hijab and my father has a darker complexion, were waiting to pick up my 16-year-old brother from a friend’s house in their car in Brooklyn Park. This woman approached my parents with a pistol directed at them and threatened to shoot them because she didn’t believe them when they said they’re just picking up their son

Now, despite the nearly 2 million civilian casualties in the Iraq War that we rarely hear about, for big companies, however, the War in Iraq was a lucrative cash cow for over 25 multinational oil, construction, agriculture, equity and banking corporations.

Take for example Dick Cheney’s former company Halliburton, which gained $17.2 billion in Iraq war-related revenue from 2003-2006.

But the often censored part of the Western wars in the Middle East is the human cost. Since 1990 it’s been estimated that up to 8 million Muslims have died due to direct and indirect military operations in just Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now take a second to think about that: 8 million innocent people. We’re not talking about terror groups, but civilians. This report was released a few months ago by the Nobel Peace Prize-winning doctors based in D.C.,Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Surprisingly, CNN released statistics just this month that showed that since 2001, about 3,000 Americans died due to terrorism. Americans are more likely to be killed by right-wing hate groups with guns.

So, how do politicians justify the murder of 8 million Muslims and convince the masses that these wars are being fought for human rights?

This is the most important question we can ask tonight because it can help us really understand how this climate of fear is crafted and war is sold to the public.

The answer is simple: Follow the money. In fact, Islamophobia is such a hot topic, that’s it’s an industry worth $200 million per year in the United States. This was revealed in an in-depth report by the Jewish Anti-Zionist Network. You can find the full report online.

The pro-Israel Republican donor Sheldon Adelson, the Koch Brothers, Newton and Rochelle Becker, the Sarah Scaife Foundation and the Bradley Foundation are just a few of the big names responsible for a huge portion of funding this industry.

These same donors, many of whom are invested in industries like the defense, oil, banking and construction that profit from war and instability in the Middle East, have one thing in common: They are part of the 1% global elite club. And guess what? None of us are invited.

All this industry really is, is a divide and conquer tactic so that we may point our fingers and hate an invisible enemy, while those at the very top continue to exploit the wealth of the masses across the globe.

Coincidently, our friends at the celebrity gossip site BuzzFeed just so happen to share some of these financiers.

In 2013, the Israeli Defense Forces, or the IDF, announced that BuzzFeed would be its official mouthpiece in the United States, according to the Atlantic and NPR.

Their reasoning: To influence a young American audience to ensure longstanding support for Israel and its foreign policy.

That same year, BuzzFeed launched its politics section, which should probably [be called] the State Department and Israeli press release center, that went after every progressive peace movement. It also just so happened to echo the Islamophobia industries’ talking points in its new politics section by promoting U.S. and Israeli foreign policy by dehumanizing Muslims.

In the process, the site launched an organized gossip-style ad hominem attack against several anti-Zionist activists, journalists and progressive causes, which I found myself victim to.

Other prominent journalists targeted by BuzzFeed has been Max Blumenthal, a Jewish journalist and author who writes about Israeli colonialism, occupation and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. We all had one thing in common: Our reporting challenged two narratives: Why the U.S. was going to war in Syria, and exposed unchecked Israeli colonialism and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

Long gone are the days of being simply called a Hamas sympathizer — Remember that label?

With the rise of ISIS and Iran-Israel [tensions] at an all-time high, these major news stories offered the Islamophobia network a new opportunity to leverage unrelated geopolitical events in order to create a caricature of Muslim Americans by fomenting public anxiety any time Muslims challenged US foreign policy.

If you spoke out against war, you’re now branded as a terrorist sympathizer being bankrolled by ISIS or the Muslim Brotherhood, or are government agents of Iran.

This sets a disturbing precedent for journalists trying to do the very job our corporate media has failed to do in working to inform the public about the gruesome realities of failed U.S. foreign policy that has been driven by fomenting civil strife, allowing the flow of arms in terror networks hands, supporting right-wing groups and grabbing of resources.

Having said all this, I’ve spent the last 15 years — since I was 13 years old — speaking about this very subject. It’s no coincidence that I’ve chosen this path of speaking up against injustice, whether it’s through exposing the puppeteers behind media manipulation, neoconservative attacks on peace movements or war profiteering.

Perhaps it’s because of everything I’ve shared with you today about war, the targeting of Muslims, media manipulation, and this overall climate of fear that we’ve all fallen victim to. These issues have literally affected and defined every aspect of my life as a Muslim American.

I’m certainly not alone, but it’s important to hear this from a personal perspective. But my story is one of trials and tribulations, identity crises, and standing firm and tall against the wind.

And I’d like to do that by sharing my personal story with you:

From my early childhood, I learned the hard way that wars were never really about defending human rights. Bombing people to save people just didn’t make sense.

Growing up in the United States, I actually didn’t know much about my parents’ culture, heritage or religion. I grew up in a very secular Palestinian family.

But one day my parents decided it was time to move back to the entire family back to Jerusalem to be closer to family and learn more about our Palestinian heritage.

I was young, just a kid at 9 years old. I didn’t speak a word of Arabic, and had no idea how this move would eventually change my life forever and impact my decisions as an adult.

Well, we moved to Jerusalem in 1997. We assimilated. I got to meet my parents’ family, make new friends, visit historic and tourist holy sites — Christian churches, Muslim mosques, Jewish temples.

The people and geography were a site to remember: The skies were always clear, the sun always shining, everyone you meet smiles at you and invites you in for a meal or some tea.

But all these details aside, it was hard not to notice even at 9 years old that we had just moved into apartheid and a semi-war zone under colonial occupation.

The first year we lived in Jerusalem, things were a bit calm politically. But, soon into the second and third years, the Palestinian Uprising, or Intifada, had erupted.

By this time, I was 12, [and] had already witnessed human rights abuses by a state that had convinced the world it was a civilized democracy.

I witnessed Palestinians subjected to discriminatory laws, having their travel controlled, living behind a 30-foot high concrete apartheid wall separating them from the world. Every single day was a matter of survival while living under martial law and military occupation.

I was surrounded with thoughts of children being killed by bombs, families left homeless from airstrikes, electricity and water cutoffs, entire cities having their water poisoned by Israeli settlers.

Men and young boys were abducted by police in middle of the night raids and held in indefinite detention without trial and on no charge.

I would cross through checkpoints where the taxi driver would yell, “Duck!” because Israeli soldiers would be shooting rubber bullets and live ammunition at young children who were throwing rocks at them because they were being blocked and essentially denied from going to school.

I would go to school at 6th and 7th grade with nearly half the seats empty in the classroom because the rest of those kids were blocked from crossing armed checkpoints.

Soldiers pointing guns at citizens roamed the streets, Israeli settlers would kidnap children and planting bombs at Palestinian elementary schools was common.

I was traumatized, to say the least.

Now, I didn’t come here to talk about the Israeli Palestinian conflict. But, I wanted to use the media coverage of Israel and Palestine as an example of just how irresponsible the media has been covering the subject accurately.

What the media has done for this conflict, however, is break it down in a language that they’re too good at — it’s a religious fight: Muslim versus Jew.

They describe it as: Palestinians are Muslim militants who want to kill all Jews and annihilate the state of Israel, which is the only democracy in the Middle East. Using the pretext of the Holocaust to increase sentiment.

When I described the experience I lived through, I don’t know if you noticed, by I didn’t mention religion.

I painted a picture of my personal experience living through a human rights crisis as a child. I described the reality on the ground of fascism, a police state, inequality, colonialism, and, most obvious, apartheid and war.

But this conflict and most conflicts are never presented to us that way, especially if it’s a U.S. ally and major arms buyer from the United States.

Little did I know moving overseas [that this experience would] shape not only my perspective on life but how the media operates.

We finally moved back to the United States in 2001, just a few months before 9/11.

I was absolutely traumatized. I suffered from what military service members suffer from when they return from Iraq, which is survivor’s guilt. I had PTSD and anxiety.

I was now living a comfortable life in Maple Grove, Minnesota, but I couldn’t forget what I had left behind, and the suffering I knew people there were still enduring.

I was now 13, felt like no one understood what I had witnessed. This is Maple Grove we’re talking about here. While most teenagers at this age are worried about football games, shopping and partying, I turned to the media to stay up to date on the war I could not let go of.

But what I got were images of Palestinian men covering their faces bearing guns, and the reporters would refer to the Palestinians as Hamas or militants. Never just regular people. Never the regular people that I saw and met.

The media instilled fear in the hearts and minds of Americans to help justify Israel’s apartheid and fascist policies on a defenseless population. Why wouldn’t they? Israel buys over $3 billion dollars of military aid from the U.S. each year.

The media did what the media does best in covering events in the Middle East: Say it’s a religious war.

A few months later, the tragic day of 9/11 took place. And immediately, the war drums were  beating. Although I was young, I was mature enough to understand that media was creating a new climate of fear as I mentioned earlier: Anger toward American Muslims was fomented, as seen in the “civilization of jihad” narrative, the region was filled with savages.

The media convinced us that the people in the Middle East hated us for our freedoms — they are backwards, savages, evil.

The media encouraged and even justified our country turning into a surveillance state and villainized over a quarter of the world’s population, who are Muslim, because of the horrific actions of a few.

Although I was only 13, it was obvious to me that solutions to these human rights crises could never be solved with more bombs, more weapons flowing into the region, more killing and certainly not a media that was acting as the military mouthpiece.

Within a few weeks after 9/11, peers who I thought were my friends, abandoned me and said that “my people” had committed 9/11. The administrative office of the school called me down one day, and searched my locker and undressed me to search me. They gave me no reasoning, they just said they were concerned about me.

It took one day, one experience, one tragedy, and I, like many other Muslim Americans across the nation, were officially an “Other.” And as a Palestinian, I was told I didn’t have a home in Palestine due to Israel’s ethnic cleansing, and as an American, being Muslim meant I had to try really hard to prove myself that I loved my country and supported its wars.

Through these experiences having lived through apartheid, having lived through a war, and having witnessed our media act as a lapdog to special interest groups, I pointed to the media as the source of the lack of solutions we have available bring peace, unity and real justice into the world.

I blamed the media for Americans’ lack of understanding [about] these issues and empathy for the human casualty on the ground.

My story of what I witnessed and what I lived through is only one of thousands of life under occupation. I have sat and watched events unfold in Palestine, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iraq and elsewhere, and wonder how the media continues to be complicit in Israeli war crimes in Gaza, NATO crimes in Libya and Syria, U.S. arms flowing to dictators in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and new right-wing militias.

But I found courage and catharsis in pursuing journalism to speak up not just for Palestinians, but for all people around the world who are suffering and who are being massacred in the name of power, money and greed, whether it be in Sudan, the Congo, Burma, Syria, Iraq, Central African Republic, China, Mexico and many more under-reported regions across the world.

And in 2009, against all odds, I became the first American woman to wear the hijab while anchoring or reporting the news. Ironically, I started my journalism career in St. CLoud Minnesota in a Michele Bachmann district — most people I would meet had never met a Muslim before. They’d always thank me for speaking and dressing “American.”

Soon after, I interned with NBC – KARE 11 for about a year and worked with their reporting and online news programs. I helped them launch the 4 o’clock show now hosted by Dianna Pierce and built their online presence.

But despite how much I learned from my work there and [my] work in a corporate newsroom, let’s be honest here: Even local news doesn’t get to the heart of the story. And this is mostly because of the corporate ownership of media that provides the public with sensationalized junk food news.

Don’t get me wrong, KARE 11 has a lot of great stories, but one of the top stories that was being covered during my time there was about a woman who dropped her wedding ring in a lake and the report was about how the city came together to find the ring in the river. While it was an interesting story and a heartwarming one, a lot of the coverage lacked depth.

I still felt like my career in journalism wasn’t being fulfilled. The whole reason I became a journalist was to challenge the establishment narrative, provide a voice for the voiceless, and expose the true costs of war

I then left the corporate media and launched my own personal blog called MintPress, where I freelanced and covered the stories that I thought the media was ignoring. I had the opportunity to interview some big names like former Pentagon official Col. Wayne Quist, who in several interviews explained to me the driving forces of the “War on Terror.”

Journalism has become my outlet for the helplessness that I grew up feeling when I suffered from PTSD for several years, the anxiety that I live with every single day because of what I’ve endured, for the trauma that I carry because of my life in a warzone and knowing that so many people I left behind are still suffering, whether it be in Palestine and Israel or anywhere in the world.

Providing a voice to the voiceless and covering national and international stories through the lens of social justice and human rights is the whole reason I started MintPress News, and I hope more of us can come together in the cause of human rights and know that every life is precious.

Because, at the end of the day, it really is not about Islam, this is a class war being waged by the 1% global elite. We are simply humans struggling in a life for freedom, in a world divided by nations.

Thank you.

Mnar Muhawesh

Mnar Muhawesh

Mnar Muhawesh is founder and editor in chief of MintPress News. Ms. Muhawesh is also a regular speaker on responsible journalism, sexism, neoconservativism within the media and journalism start-ups.